Season Two, Episode Twelve: “Boy-the-Earth-Talks-To”
Note: each writing will spoil the episode in review but will not discuss any future episodes.
Capitalism works better than any economic system, but Deadwood is in full examination of how it looks when it is allowed to thrive unregulated.
As Mr. Wu escapes Al Swearengen’s saloon, George Hearst arrives in the camp; he and Al make instant eye contact. Hearst, as an emblem of pure, untethered capitalistic power and greed, soon sets to changing things, even if it means through destruction. He tears down one of the hotel’s walls after buying it only hours after being housed there. Not only does he cause a commotion, he does so with no care that there is a wedding happening downstairs. Or perhaps he does clamors about in spite of the wedding as the wedding is that of Alma and (Whitney!) Ellsworth, his primary rivals when it comes to the ownership of gold in the camp.
It’s a smart touch on David Milch’s part to further subvert Western tropes by casting Gerald McRaney who at this point in his career had been known for affable dads or affable detectives. He also does a good job in the role.
But back to Mr. Wu. After sneaking out, he makes an attempt to attack Lee in the Asian alley of the camp. Wu and another manage to kill one of Lee’s men but also have one of their own murdered in the fray. It’s only due to Johnny who happens to be walking by that no more are dead. Through helping, Johnny has tipped Al’s hand and now Al has to come face-to-face with George Hearst much earlier than he wanted. They have to determine what to do with the Asian factor of the camp in an Al vs. Hearst manner. Hearst, though, agreeably says that whichever Asian faction wins out is fine with him: he’ll use the winner to staff his gold mines. Though Hearst comments that he wishes to get along with the people who preceded his presence, it matters not to him as long as he gets his money out of the ground.
Shortly after, Swearengen parses Yankton’s proposal concerning inclusion of the camp as part of the Dakota territory. He agrees, brings in Bullock for the signing of the document, tells Merrick to print the news, and settles in for the evening knowing that the elections are soon to come and with them, the legitimacy that he’s been fighting for.
The other big events all happen simultaneously: Alma and Ellsworth — with the help of a happy Deadwood camp — celebrate their nuptials, Tolliver is stabbed in the gut by Andy, Al’s gang of men help Wu oust Lee, and Wolcott hangs himself over the dismay of not being in Hearst’s employ any longer.
Molly Parker, who has been better in the second season, gets a great voiceover moment here where she converses with her dead husband and admits her ongoing love for Bullock. Plus, it’s nice to see the camp come together one last time this season. It’s been a specific motif: the camp is a living, breathing organism unto itself and this serves as a final reminder this season just as the Hearst virus begins a full invasion. It’s also an interesting juxtaposition to have all of the death and murder occur. The wedding is a new beginning and the deaths serve as several endings.
It’s of note as Wolcott hangs himself that as long as Hearst doesn’t know about the awful things that happen under his watch, he doesn’t care. He never asks about the prostitutes that Lee has burned nor did he investigate Wolcott’s previous murderous episode in Mexico. Tolliver promised Wolcott a cliff. The desperation was clear in Frances’ expression when Hearst tells him that he can no longer work for his operation — his cliff was self-created. Wolcott could no longer live without the idea of being Hearst’s primary man, but perhaps more so, he could not live knowing that Hearst rebuked his actions. Hearst is disgusted and that knowledge compounded Wolcott’s festering guilt, which he’s alluded to all season. This isn’t a suicide that comes from nowhere.
Now the entire camp is facing a particular cliff with Hearst in the camp and grabbing for more and more control. Whether he be a cliff or a virus inside of a body, there’s no way of looking at his capitalistic methods as anything but a demise for Deadwood.
- Hearst buys the hotel, but he keeps E.B. on as the manager. Giving $100,000 for the establishment, he also makes E.B. a wealthy man. E.B. acts as strangely as he ever has in his encounter with Hearst, which makes sense. E.B. Farnum has always been fearful of those in power.
- Jane wears a dress! (And undergarments!)
- A hilarious moment: Ellsworth is confounded by the idea of a man wearing lavender mittens for a wedding. It’s “the rigor” in New York, whatever that means! Edited to add: a careful reader, “Rope Burns,” noted that he references here “de rigueur,” which means required by etiquette or current fashion. I can’t remember when writing this piece if I realized that and went along with the joke of the series or didn’t and added this particular, bullet-point note. Thanks, readers!
- The title of the episode comes from the name that the Native Americans have given Hearst. He thinks he’s connected to nature, but he only uses it for money and power. Usually those types find that they lose to nature at some point.
- Charlie’s back! He’s a welcome sight, no matter what Jane thinks.
- Al’s convinced that Bullock will try to seduce Alma one more time even though she’s celebrating her new marriage that night. They certainly do share a look but that’s it for now.
- Tolliver’s own cliff comes in the form of a former friend turned preacher. Andy nearly guts the man and whether he lives or dies is the only true cliffhanger (bad pun, yep) of the season. There are several, more subtle threads left to inspect next season, though.
Quote of the episode:
Al Swearengen to George Hearst on Hearst’s back pains: “Declining years spare us no fucking indignities.” Ain’t that the truth!