Second Take: Deadwood – Suffer the Little Children

Everyone's God's child, and many are suffering, in Deadwood's eighth episode. #Deadwood #HBO


Season One, Episode Eight: “Suffer the Little Children”

Note: each writing will spoil the episode in review but will not discuss any future episodes.

In “Suffer the Little Children,” many in Deadwood make both valiant and dubious attempts to better their stations in life. Since all are the children of God, it mostly ends up in misery and pain.

The eighth episode isn’t complete agony, though. Riders arrive with the smallpox vaccine, and that’s not all: it’s possible that the United States will soon broker a treaty with the Sioux, which would put the entire territory looking down the barrel of statehood, all of which is a pleasure to Al’s ears for various monetary reasons. It also makes backing off of Alma Garrett’s gold claim a little easier to swallow for him, even if E.B. finds the idea physically distasteful (there goes his retirement). It’s all for the best, as Seth Bullock will only stand for the widow being treated with care and concern — not for bilking — if she stays or leaves Deadwood. As it turns out, she’s staying.

But of course, it’s still Deadwood. There are a lot of dismay, including flat-out torture. Flora tries to quit her job under Cy Tolliver at the Bella Union Saloon, but Cy sees her for the liar that she is. He catches her in the act of robbing Joanie, and Cy gets his men to beat both Flora and her brother Miles out in the street before bringing them in for more of the same. When she’s with Joanie, Kristen Bell lets Flora’s eyes do all the talking, telling the story of how she’s playing Joanie. Bell uses quick, side-to-side looks around the room, never fully focused on Kim Dickens’  Joanie. Flora takes full advantage of Joanie’s affections in order to create a facade, but the robbery hardly goes unnoticed. Not much gets by Cy, who shows himself to be even more sinister than in previous episodes: after he beats and murders the two would-be thieves, he employs the language of an abuser to Joanie once again, saying he “did what [he] had to do” and that he “can’t bear to see [Joanie] unhappy.” He’s willing, so he says, to let Joanie out of reach, but it doesn’t seem as though he would go so far as to let her out of sight. She needs to run fast. Less obvious is his partner Eddie in the background of the beatings, who grimaces with each bit of physical abuse Cy dishes to the kids.

In a mirror of another child of God who suffers in the same way as Joanie lies Trixie. Much like Joanie, she wants to die or be let go. It’s incredibly sad to think that Trixie did not feel as though leaving for New York was not an option, though previously offered by Alma. In an action off screen, Trixie makes an attempt to commit suicide, likely at the thought of having to return to her life at the Gem Saloon. (Al gets more antsy the longer she’s away.) In the end, though, she not only reenters the Gem but also gives Al the chunk of gold given to her by Alma to make a fresh start. In an act no one would’ve guessed from earlier in the season, Trixie wordlessly slaps Al. And though she’s given him the gold, he’s more interested in her arm.

Deadwood is often noted for its grime and rough demeanor, but it has some deeply tender and well earned moments. One of which is when Sophia, whom we’ve really only known as the “squarehead girl,” tells Trixie her own name just after saying “Trixie.” It’s touching as Trixie lays in the doctor’s quarters debating life or death. It also seems to spurn Alma to attempt a more motherly approach with Sophia when she sees Trixie has formed a bond with her.

Last of note is how Al treats those with impairments or defects. He showed some kindness, at least for Al Swearengen, for the Reverend when he had his spell at the Gem, and this episode demonstrates more of his relationship with Jewel, whom he (lovingly?) calls “the gimp.” It’s obvious that Al has her in there in order to feed her, keep her off the streets, watch after her, and give her a job; that doesn’t mean that he’s not going to handle her much differently than anyone else, especially when it comes to barking orders. Al may just have a kind heart yet, but not one that doesn’t take an opportunity to berate a person.

It’s an episode where those who try their best at betterment find that when you miss, you will suffer and suffer in drastic ways. May we all be God’s children.


Other Takes:

  • Al tells Dan to give E.B. the knife often used to dismiss of other problems. E.B. won’t brandish the weapon!
  • The “B” in “E.B.” stands for “bold.”
  • Al agrees not to bother the widow at all since he feels that he and Seth will have to put aside any disagreements or dislikes if the camp turns into a part of the United States.
  • It’s a selfish choice by Alma to stay in Deadwood, especially in regards to the child and Trixie, both of whom would be doing better elsewhere it seems.
  • Seth’s been without his hat since being attacked by a Native American.
  • Charlie passed out from hunger, not from a needle, Jane.

Quote of the episode:

Al to Dan on killing a man who stared too long at a girl: “You might, Dan, want to learn how to indicate interest in a girl other than murdering another person.”


7 comments on “Second Take: Deadwood – Suffer the Little Children

  1. Pingback: Second Take: Deadwood – Mister Wu

  2. I’ve never really understood Trixie’s suicide attempt nor the doctors’ conversation with alma about the situation. Trixie is somewhere around thirty years old. She must have come to terms with being a whore by now. And, what? She didn’t want to go to new york because she would not know how to fit in? So she committed suicide? Then, she slaps Al. Like he was the one who cut her wrist. Did she think there would be no consequences for costing Al the gold claim?


    • I definitely see your points. There’s no telling how long that Trixie had been in prostitution, and perhaps Al was to blame for that to some degree so maybe that’s why she slapped him. The suicide attempt I see from Trixie’s point of view as an only choice. When someone is so steeped in a particular life or lifestyle, especially one that’s as abusive as that of the Al/Trixie relationship, it’s hard to see a way out other than dying.


      • That’s a good point. We don’t know how long she has been at her trade. And perhaps that, and other suicide circumstances would have been made clear had the series continued.

        Due to slow wits, I really was not able to follow the doctors’ conversation with Alma about the situation. Could you (or anyone else) give a line-by-line explanation of what he was communicating?


        • I can take a stab at a summary.

          The doctor was telling Alma that Trixie’s situation in the camp isn’t safe, likely for trying to take her own life as well as not following Al’s orders (if Doc knows about those plans). He then tells Alma that he lied to Trixie and told her that Alma would take her and the child to New York. Alma lies, says that she offered that, then clears the lie by explaining she only offered to send Trixie and the child away to New York.

          The Doc calls that particular version cruel to Trixie, implying that a prostitute would only be able to fit in such a high-class society by coming off more as a nanny for Alma and not just a friend who’s been sent by Alma to join their ranks.

          I think that’s the gist.


      • Thank you. Most of what i do not understand is the connection between going to NY and the suicide attempt. Somehow i thought we were to conclude that going or not going to NY had some sort of involvement in the suicide attempt. Did not going to NY bring it home for her that she would never find a way out? Because the next season (or two) she did find a way out. So that was the source of my confusion – what did the NY decision have to do with the suicide? I think I understand what you are saying though. And thanks again for your article.


        • It is a bit of a stretch, I think, for Trixie to make the leap of not being able to consider New York to killing herself. Maybe there was something left on the writing room floor for that to be clearer. I’ve always taken it, like you said, that not going to New York made her think that was it. Luckily, with the help of Sol, she does find her way out; that’s right.


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