Season One, Episode Twelve: “Sold Under Sin” (Season Finale)
Note: each writing will spoil the episode in review but will not discuss any future episodes.
When I would think back to Deadwood‘s final episode of its first season, two things always stuck with my memories more than other events and both are symbols of hope: the reverend’s death and Jewel’s dance with Doc to close the episode.
Hope encompasses “Sold Under Sin.” Hope: the camp will soon be a part of the United States in some form; Doc is made to think that his prayers for the reverend are answered; Jewel can walk even better than her disability allows; the idea that Seth will do a better job as sheriff than Con Stapleton even dreamed of doing; Eddie Sawyer will rake in enough money from Cy Tolliver and the Bella Union; Magistrate Clagett will no longer be around to hover over Al Swearengen and it’s likely that Alma’s father Otis Russell will no longer bother her, either.
After a brief look at the debilitating Reverend Smith, played so well by Ray McKinnon, its news that Magistrate Clagett is back in town, and this time, he’s with the army. Turns out, he hasn’t seen his bagman Silas Adams, but Al lets the magistrate know the message none the less.
The Doc comes to the Gem to help Jewel install her new boot to her foot, and once again warns her that it is not made to do anything but help her. If it does otherwise, she’s to let him know. She agrees, and thankfully, the boot works well. While there, the Doc asks that Al see to the reverend. It’s an odd choice to hole the minister up in a saloon-slash-whorehouse, but it makes some sense. The Doc will be too busy to tend to a man who’s on his dying bed, and there’s no one like Jane around anymore to help see to his needs. Al agrees to allow one of his girls to help out with the man, though it’s later in the episode, in the midst of a very occupied day, that Al shows the man some mercy by euthanizing him in the back room of the Gem. Al’s statement of “You can go now, brother,” is a touching moment where Swearengen addresses the minister in death as well as the brother that he likely could never help in such a way. The sad moments in Deadwood are more frequent than people may notice upon first watch, but they are often the deepest of moving.
In the hotel, Alma is coming the realization that her father is out for control of her money, and will even vaguely threaten Sophia in order to gain the control. It’s then she takes the girl, rushes to Seth Bullock, and this time, Sol must leave while Seth has time alone with her. Seth Bullock, always quick to temper but also very aware of his defect, follows Otis Russell, a degenerate, to the Bella Union. It’s sudden, yes, but the beating comes from Bullock in the course of only one and a half episodes. Most shows would need to expand that arc and its conflict over the course of four or five episodes, but the writing here is so deft with the bulbous amount of talking from Russell (a well done job by actor William Russ from Boy Meets World!) lets that conflict stew and build during their short walk from the hotel to the saloon. By the end of it, not only do audiences know what a dangerous man he is, but most are itching for Seth to at least punch him. Otis Russell gets his and more. It’s a great and realistic beat to have several key characters of the camp present: everyone in a camp that size would realize that something is amiss.
But that’s not all that’s going on. Con Stapleton, thoroughly bought out by Cy Tolliver, tries to settle a dispute between Leon and an Asian man who is related to or works for Mr. Wu. Stapleton does little to nothing, and Seth, already pissed off enough, warns him not to muck up another issue in the camp.
From there, though still fuming, Seth goes to let Dan know that Otis Russell may not need to make it back to New York. Seth, though, displays his other defect, self-righteousness, when he goes on to tell Dan, “I don’t swim in that shit” when it comes to murder. (In a witty comeback, Dan tells him, “You ought to pin that [badge] on your chest. You’re hypocrite enough to wear it.”) However, Bullock is aware as anyone else his shortfalls. He eventually makes it over to Captain Bubb of the visiting army to request that he and his men take care of Otis Russell and the captain obliges since Seth lost his brother while serving.
One of the last of the episode’s big moments occur when Seth visits Alma, and she answers the door damn near breathless. They finally allow themselves the sex they’ve tamped down for weeks. And elsewhere, Silas officially joins the ranks of Al Swearengen as he murders the magistrate in cold blood. Finally, as Seth steps over the blood stain of that Clagett, Al convinces him to wear the badge.
While it’s hopeful, all, there are hints of forgiveness, too, particularly between Al and Trixie in those final shots at the end. Al accepts his future. It’s a melancholic Al Swearengen in that final scene where he gazes over his domain and sees the Doc and Jewel dancing. It’s not the Gem that makes Al sad, though, and it’s not the Gem he’s quite taking in, even. It’s the future; a future that he has fought hard to come to pass, that’s cost him a lot (even losing Trixie at some point during it all), but that he believes makes Deadwood — and his pockets — a better place.
- Merrick is overjoyed at the thought of the paper now in possession of a camera. He’s like a kid with a new iPhone, he is!
- E.B. is offended once again: he thinks as the mayor, he should know the things of the camp, like when the army visits! “Can you imagine Al, that as mayor, I might like to learn the cavalry’s in camp, other than by coming upon them posing for photographs in the goddamned thoroughfare.”
- A nice moment of acting when Merrick is bewildered on what to follow through on for the paper when he stands shocked in the thoroughfare while so much is going on: a parade, a recent beating of a man in the Bella Union, and a shot Asian man in the alley.
- One of the soldiers, clearly with PTSD, mumbles about having to eat his mare during their hardships. It’s no wonder the men are deserting as fast as they arrive in camp.
- The title of the episode seems to refer to both Alma’s arranged marriage and Trixie (and the rest of Al’s girls).
Quote of the episode:
E.B. Farnum to Otis Russell as he leaves the hotel that morning: “Anti-meridian constitutional Mr. Russell, or will we roll the bones again?”