Season Two, Episode Six: “Something Very Expensive”
Note: each writing will spoil the episode in review but will not discuss any future episodes.
Al Swearengen’s back to business, albeit limited to his office; Cy Tolliver takes a gamble that seems to pay off temporarily; Sol Star may begin a new venture with Alma Garret. It’s the unveiling of mysteries as many of characters learn new things.
Deadwood is great in part because these are characters that you want to spend time with; they’re so fully realized, it doesn’t take long to get to know any of them. So when the opening scene shows a rugged Al sitting up on his bed and ready to face the camp, it brings an immediate excitement to the episode. Also, the look that he gives the Doc after Cochran calls him a miracle is hard to read but it seems to show a man who’s willing to accept a new lease on life.
Alma Garret calls for Sol Star to see if he would be the chief officer for a bank that she’s wishing to start in camp. He’s a great choice, but Seth Bullock, his hardware store partner, is completely against the idea, since he had just stopped sleeping with the rich widow. This brings in several other plot threads: Sol and Ellsworth, both present for the morning meeting, figure out that Alma’s pregnant from her sickness; the notion of Sol working with Alma angers Seth to the point that he walks the camp to find Steve, whom he punches out of anger (though Steve certainly deserved it from his previous actions); Trixie urges Ellsworth to consider marrying Alma so that she can keep her child without much shame. For a bit of table setting, those threads are all intriguing, and conclude for now with Steve being caught by Hosteler messing around with Bullock’s horse.
In other pairings, Cy asks Wolcott how long he’ll be buying claims and looking foolish since the claims are likely to be negated by Commissioner Jarry, who, by the way, leaves camp in anger due to feeling so threatened. Cy Tolliver also tries his hand with his new knowledge: Wolcott likes to frequent high-end prostitution and treat them abusively. Tolliver believes that he can call out Frances Wolcott about his attitude as he thinks that he has the upper hand on Walcott. He doesn’t. While that doesn’t play out the way that Cy wishes, it does cause Wolcott also to act out of anger. He goes to Le Chez Ami, murders the snitch Doris, murders Carrie, and murders Maddie all in succession. Just before the killings, there’s a beautiful moment of direction from Steve Shill where the camera shifts focus slightly from Joanie to Wolcott, giving the viewer a sense of the danger that hovers over Le Chez Ami.
Luckily, Joanie manages to escape and whisks the other girls away out of fear for their lives via Charlie Utter’s freight business. The cold, calm, calculating way that Wolcott kills is that of a serial killer. He reasons that he has to do it, yet shows no shame. Cy Tolliver swoops in to help cover it all up for him — Tolliver makes his worth even higher in the eyes of Frances Wolcott, and therefore, Mr. George Hearst.
Al’s daily dealings start with Trixie and end with Mr. Wu. From Trixie, he learns that she’s been studying with Sol Star in order to do accounts, and Al lovingly and perhaps begrudgingly approves. It seems as though he’s fully let go of Trixie. Trixie, though, is still fond enough of Al to report to him on things that she sees in the camp, so it’s helpful to him to have her out in the world. E.B. comes in to let Al know that he’s been trying to deal with Wolcott and garner them opportunities at money only for Al to suss out that E.B.’s under Wolcott’s thumb for the tune of ten-thousand dollars. Miss Isringhausen makes her presence known to Al, tells her lies of being in danger from Alma, and lets him know the plan is to pin Brom Garret’s murder on Alma. Al needs the day to think on it. Al’s next visitor, Mr. Wu, lets Al know that the “San Francisco cocksucker” not only is going to be providing dope but has brought in a group of girls, savagely treated like slaves, in order to make prostitutes of them. Al invites the San Francisco pimp (Mr. Lee) into his office with Wu in hiding and offers him twenty thousand to which he barely looks down. He’s a Hearst employee, so he’s used to money.
Perhaps it’s here to commend the show for its clear sense of place: when a character leaves his current post — like when an angry Silas Adams leaves Al’s place after being used by Alice Isringhausen — it’s obvious where in the camp he is and how far he has to walk to get to where he’s going. What a set!
Lastly, poor Merrick welcomes a school teacher, Mary Stokes, who both find out in horror that his newspaper business has been wrecked by vandals per the demand of Cy Tolliver as payback for Merrick not running the commissioner’s notice on the front page. None of that seems fair and, of course, exactly the kind of thing that Cy Tolliver would have done.
All kinds of mysteries start to unravel as the last scene shows Al watching Joanie get rid of her girls. These known secrets are starting to cause all sorts of causalities throughout camp.
- Hosteler, from persuasion of the General Fields, agrees to let Steve go after he signs his name that he was — in polite terms — messing around with Bullock’s horse.
- With a slit throat, Maddie got what she deserved. She knew that Carrie was in immediate danger with Wolcott wanting her services, but she was playing it all for more and more money. But now, what’s Joanie to do? She’s left alone.
- Wolcott’s murders are so brutal that even Cy, as sinister as he is, finds them hard to stomach upon first look.
- Wolcott ponders if he should cut off his arm in order to stop from his evil habits.
- Leon and Con Stapleton took it upon themselves to add shitting to the ruination of Merrick’s newspaper business.
- Seth’s back to being troubled at his house with Martha, barely saying a word to either her or his son.
- Al notes that they need to “muscle up,” an intriguing line. Crop Ear’s unavailable, though.
- I can’t dissect what Walcott meant just before he killed Carrie when he says that he didn’t want to be seen. Perhaps in reference to actually having sex with her rather than his usual way of keeping his pants on? He’s embarrassed?
Quote of the episode:
Wolcott, on his way to kill Doris and perhaps others, chillingly: “Past hope. Past kindness or consideration. Past justice. Past satisfaction. Past warmth or cold or comfort. Past love. But past surprise? What an endlessly unfolding tedium life would then become. No, Doris…we must not let you be past surprise.”