Season One, Episode Nine: “No Other Sons or Daughters”
Note: each writing will spoil the episode in review but will not discuss any future episodes.
Even from the beginning, Deadwood has been mostly about the notion of starting when you’ve already begun in earnest already. In “No Other Sons or Daughters,” it’s this type of restarting that is driving Al up the wall with headaches, though he blames it as much on drinking twenty-five cups of coffee and breathing in too much fresh air.
Al is a nervous wreck at the idea of having everything he’s built — in the case of the camp, that’s pretty literal — being stripped away. He sets out to create some form of unofficial government to ward off any idea that Deadwood needs to be created in the first place, hopefully saving his own self-appointed role as ringleader and, therefore, money maker. Al also knows that several of these legislative types will have to be paid in bribes — bribes that could increase at any of their whims — to avoid disruption. All of it has cost Al his patience with others that morning as he does little more than trot the thoroughfare, drink those before-mentioned cups of coffee, and cuss those whose help he’ll need, all the while telling them to meet at his Gem Saloon to start the municipality. It’s just one final nail in the bullshit coffin when Al finds out that they have a warrant for his arrest for a murder in Chicago. (Al doesn’t bother to deny it; he just asks what it’ll cost him).
What would normally fall under the critique of boredom at best for a television show — forming a government — is a highlight of the episode, all due to the intersection of the characters and the dialogue (often saying less than the glances between characters). This is definitely one thing that Game of Thrones has in common with Deadwood, its predecessor. It’s a brilliant move to reveal through conversation that Seth is the health commissioner, Charlie is the fire marshal, and Doc couldn’t fill any position for former crimes of grave robbing. It’s a perfect example of when telling is even better than showing as it allows Seth, Sol, and Charlie to have character-building discussions after the meeting’s done.
Elsewhere, the Reverend Smith is continually getting worse. It’s obviously an ailment so serious that not even the doctor can offer a remedy. Reverend Smith, too, is having to start anew since he can no longer feel Christ’s love through his Bible readings. Though Jane tells him to join the club of most everyone else, it’s a sad moment.
Like others, Trixie is facing a new-yet-old life again, back as a whore under Al Swearengen’s reign despite visits of concern from Sol Star. Al tells her with as much gruff as he can muster for her not to “fucking try doing away with [herself] again.” Though harsh, Ian McShane keeps the hint of tenderness limited to his eyes.
There’s just a tender and beautiful and touching moment that calls for nods to music director Stephen H. Flick: his clear ear knows exactly when to let an occasional scene be haunted by the background noise of a guitar or fiddle. In this case, it’s Charlie saying what could likely be a final goodbye to a drunken Jane, who has no plans to stay in Deadwood. She can’t bear the thought of drinking so heavily near her dead friend.
In the final scene, Bullock reports again to Alma Garrett and breaks his usual stiffness by allowing himself to admit that he’s not married by love but for duty to his dead brother. His wife was his brother’s widow and the son is a nephew to him. (Though none of that is historically accurate on the real Seth Bullock.) The news leaves Alma aflutter as the episode ends.
It’s all about starting over and how to do that in the face of already feeling at place: Joanie wants her own place but has to get through her nerves as a woman now on her own; Charlie works through his own anxieties with his own business; Jane deeply struggles with starting and stopping with her long-lost friend in the ground; the reverend must find a way to live without the comfort of his biblical text; Eddie Sawyer must reckon with living under Cy’s control, which Eddie cannot do now after seeing Cy kill two kids. (In an interesting conversation, Cy admits to Eddie that he knows Eddie is gay.)
So it’s all about starting over even though you’ve got two firm feet planted.
It’s the story of the United States, after all.
- Charlie Utter is worried enough about how he looks in his new frock coat that he asks E.B. if he looks stupid before then asking a newly-met Joanie Stubbs. It’s drunken Jane to lets him down hard when she tells him, yes, he looks ridiculous.
- One of E.B.’s workers has backtracked his drunken, shit-stained path only to find that he has the final piece of writing that Wild Bill ever did in the form of a letter to his wife. It’s in E.B.’s greedy hands now, so who knows what will come of it!
- Ellsworth may not be shit for spilling the truth, but he seems great with kids.
- The smile that Ian McShane employs after leaving Johnny in his office has more hilarity in it than seasons in some sitcoms.
- Seth only volunteered for a position out of fear of being asked to be a sheriff again, a role he no longer wishes to fill.
Quote of the episode:
Al, talking to himself as much as Trixie on the possibility of annexation: “I don’t want to talk to these cocksuckers, but you have to. In life, you have to do a lot of things you don’t fucking want to do. Many times that’s what the fuck life is: one vile fucking task after another. But don’t get aggravated. Then the enemy has you by the short hair.”