Season One, Episode Ten: “Mister Wu”
Note: each writing will spoil the episode in review but will not discuss any future episodes.
If pressed, most fans of Deadwood would say that “Mister Wu” is their favorite episodes, and much attributed to do with the sheer amount of dialogue that’s quotable, hilarious, and deft. Overall, though, the happenings of Deadwood in “Mister Wu” finds several characters testing one another.
The main plot concerns news from Al’s dope provider (not to mention reliable fixer for dead bodies), Mr. Wu, and how he was robbed. The bandits ran off with balls of dope, leaving both Al and Mr. Wu empty-handed and equally pissed off. (It’s just before this scene that sadly, as if the frequent references to the Native Americans as “savages” and “dirt-worshipers” weren’t racist enough, that Johnny, another of Al’s bartenders at the Gem, makes a huge fuss of the Asian man coming through the front door.) The comedy of communication from Al and Mr. Wu escalates as Al goes from trying to understand his Asian business partner through drawings to Mr. Wu yelling “Cocksucker!” to varying degrees.
Al quickly discerns that stealing is to be laid upon his man Jimmy Irons and the Bella Union faro dealer Leon. He brings in the addict Jimmy to suss out what went down, but Jimmy not only brings in a cat piss smell, a smell that happens whenever anyone lies, but also the details of what happened. Al not only knocks him out of his chair, but he causes Jimmy to shit his pants. Al proceeds to make him throw himself off of the balcony, quite a feat for a man with shit in his pants.
To make matters worse, the bagman for Yankton, Silas Adams, is early, coming in as E.B. and Swearengen count the money. (A hysterical moment: E.B., though well known for his sweaty palms, constantly has to lick his fingers.) Silas also brings a letter from the magistrate that Al needs to pay even more for the removal of that warrant lingering over his head. Needless to say, Al and Silas don’t take very kindly to one another in their first encounter, as they exchange several fuck yous.
Elsewhere, Seth proposes that some of the collected money go to making the camp a bit cleaner by creating a dump and infirmary. Though that makes sense, but E.B. lets him know in his own condescending way that the money has to fill those Yankton pockets first.
In the saddest movement of the episode, the Reverend Smith, due to his debilitating seizures and brain disorder, is now drawn to the Gem’s piano. At first, Al is benevolent about it, escorting him out and explaining that he can’t come back; Al soon gets more than just irked at the idea of a minister frequenting his establishment (though after-hours could be arranged). It’s here that Al finds out from the Doc that the Reverend is in worse shape than any help from the doctor would provide. Also of note is that though Seth has been annoyed with the Reverend in previous episodes, Timothy Olyphant plays his nighttime encounter with him with such care and sympathy, it’s hard not to get choked up. And, too, the light musical touch works wonders to help with the pathos of the scene where it’s becoming more obvious that the Reverend doesn’t have long for this world. It won’t be a pretty ending, either.
One of the other final scenes has Al taking in Silas and letting Silas know exactly what kind of man he is. What Al does here is a masterstroke, but an odd one none the less: not only does he bribe Silas, but he demonstrates the power he holds in camp by letting Silas (and a doped-up Leon) witness his murder of Jimmy. Al informs Silas that Cy Tolliver makes no agreement in trading a white life for an Asian one. Al puts on the deceit that he is letting Jimmy draw straws on who has to die, but Swearengen has no intention of rustling more feathers than he has to. It’s a nice subversion of the usual Western tropes where the guy who deserves the killing — the asinine, loud-mouthed Leon — doesn’t die at all. In fact, he walks away with a punch to the face and a warning not to call Mr. Swearengen “Al” again.
It all works as a collection of people who are attempting to establish a firmer ground with the others that they know they have work with from here on out as Deadwood goes from territory to annexation. It takes doing what’s wrong, even when that’s what’s right.
- Seth Bullock finds the health commissioner job to be just as much of a headache as he supposed the non-existent sheriff’s job to be.
- During his initial conversation about the robbery, Mr. Wu uses the phrase “baak gwai” to define the thieves, roughly translated as “white trash,” “white ghost,” or “white person.” Also, it’s an long-running Alabama band.
- Joanie Stubbs seems to be happier away from the Bella Union, but she still has no true way of starting her own business, unless Eddie comes through with robbing Cy. We know what happened last time someone tried that.
- Al makes it official that Silas will be a new had not just by introducing him to Dan but by telling him to get a fucking haircut.
Quote of the episode:
E.B. Farnum, pissed to be a mayor and stuck outside with the reprobate of the camp: “August commencement to my administration, stand stymied outside a saloon beside a degenerate tit licker.”