Season Three, Episode One: “Tell Your God to Ready for Blood”
Note: each writing will spoil the episode in review but will not discuss any future episodes.
Special note: for season three of Deadwood, The Alabama Take will publish reviews three times per week — each Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday — in order to be ready for the release of the movie, which will air on May 31st.
The first episode of the final season of Deadwood opens with a George Hearst agent in the Gem Saloon purposefully antagonizing Cornish miners, also under the employ of Hearst, to the point that one of the Cornishmen lies dead on the Gem’s floor. Having Dan update Al, who’s on his balcony to take in the morning, on the ongoings between the two groups of men propels the narrative forward immediately, even causing disorientation to the viewer — is there something we’ve missed?
And it’s that disorientation is partly the feeling of the entire camp all due to the arrival of Hearst weeks before. The opening shot of Al on his balcony establishes how Deadwood has grown even though it’s been only six weeks since season two ended (per the drunken, racist, awful Steve, who wants to overtake the livery). There is extra signage in camp for new endeavors and the thoroughfare is less shit piled. In fact, there’s a sort of mulch spread about to keep it more tidy. With camp children walking to school on a daily basis, this makes sense. It also puts this season’s happenings right in the middle of summer of 1877 if my math is correct.
As the Cornishmen dies in the short gun fight at the Gem and Dan runs the two groups of men out of the saloon, the reaction of Al Swearengen — annoyed, angry — directly juxtaposes with George Hearst — relaxed, satisfied — as he lies in his hotel’s floor.
Elsewhere, Seth Bullock asks his wife Martha, new teacher that she is now, to read over his speech for the coming elections. He’s running for sheriff against Harry Manning, Sol’s running against E.B. Farnum for mayor, and Merrick’s overjoyed at it all. Yankton has brought in the camp into the territory and with it the need for legitimate, rather than ad hoc, officials.
But before the elections or speeches are to begin at all, Seth Bullock is scheduled to meet with George Hearst. It’s taken that the two haven’t met in the six weeks that Hearst has been in Deadwood. But before any of that takes place, Al needs to talk to Seth. The quick scene and knowing looks goes to provide evidence that this is not the second season’s premiere. These two are very much working together and without much trouble between them.
As for the school, it’s — believe it or not — stationed in the former Le Chez Ami. Kim Dickens has a lot of screen time in this episode, and deservingly so. She brings a worried air to Joanie as she manages Cy Tolliver’s deteriorating whores, nurses Cy himself, and contemplates suicide in a boarding room run by a pestering Shaunessy. She’s wayward. She’s also torn between trying to better Cy or letting him rot.
The two climaxes of “Tell Your God to Ready for Blood” ensue in two separate meetings with George Hearst, the richest, most powerful man in Deadwood. First, Seth arrives with Al’s suggestion in mind that he play dumb about the incident with the Cornishmen in the Gem, which Seth does. In that meeting, Bullock has a definite tell: he repeatedly scratches his nose out of anger, anger due to knowledge that Hearst has designs on ownership of the entire camp, not just his mines and the money. Hearst prods with a barely veiled aggression. The shots of the scene here work well to demonstrate that Hearst’s aggression ramps up and up by having Gerald McRaney get closer and closer to Timothy Olyphant’s face. In return, Olyphant is shot in such an extreme close up so that his anger seems to bend his very appearance. In the meeting of passive aggressiveness, Hearst offers to back Seth as sheriff as long as Seth takes a message to Alma that he would like her to take her all of money and leave Deadwood. She’s a threat to his own power; however, that’s one step over the line for Bullock. In a sad moment, it leads to a beating to E.B. Farnum. Bullock’s under the impression that E.B. has told Hearst of the affairs between Alma Garret Ellsworth and him. It’s a violent, bloody, scary scene as Seth Bullock cannot control his anger at all, a trait Charlie Utter says later could come in handy for a sheriff. It’s up to poor Richardson to gather Al and try to get Seth to stop. It’s a good thing, too. It’s not clear that Bullock had a mind to quit until E.B. was dead. E.B. never gets an easy way out of anything, and Al later finds that E.B. didn’t tell Hearst a thing about Alma and Seth’s ended affair. Unfortunately, Seth has now tipped his hand in that direction. Hearst knows something now. It makes Bullock debate pulling out of the race for sheriff, but Al will hear none of it. Charlie points out that without Seth in the sheriff’s office, they would be forced to have Harry Manning, a man not known for his intelligence.
The second meeting with Hearst is, of course, Al’s to make. Here, the intensity of Hearst is palpable. Al drinks like a fish in his presence in order to display that he can hold his liquor like a man. Al lets him know, whether the Cornishmen were meeting to unionize or not, Hearst does not have any control of the Gem Saloon. He makes it clear that he will even tear down aspects of the camp — in this case, the elections — if Hearst doesn’t respect what’s Swearengen’s. And if Hearst doesn’t take account and cure the insult of trying to show Al that he has control of Al’s place, too, then Al threatens to “[l]et the camp return to its former repute: unstable and unsafe for commerce.” It’s a dangerous move for his safety, but Al does not like the notion of some rich and powerful entity coming in and telling him what to do. Just look at each of response to the Pinkertons coming to camp. Al even goes so far as to let Hearst know that he cannot be dangerous to a man like Hearst, but he can certainly be a pain in his ass for a long time to come. The meeting ends and Hearst tells his Captain Turner to go back to the Gem for another visit, thus proving he was behind the killing of the Cornish all along.
With Hearst firmly intent on being a controlling figure of Deadwood, Al and Seth are very clearly on each other’s side now. Al not only wants Seth as a friend for the good of the wealthy camp but he flat-out needs Bullock as a partner as he even says as much in the last act of the episode as he requests that Bullock stay “within hailing distance” in the days to come.
What an episode. “Tell Your God to Ready for Blood” is one of the best titles of any episode of television and if the season promises more passively angry discussions between these power-hungry characters, then an explosion is to be expected. It’s a matter of who is left standing when the blast settles.
- Al wants Sol Star as mayor and has even devised Sol to continue his “whore fucking” by getting him to overtake Silas Adams’s house that will have a private entry that Trixie will enter.
- Richardson continues to carry his magical antlers that was once given to him by Alma Garret Ellsworth. Hilarious!
- Martha’s notes for the schoolchildren reveal the backward thinking of the day: “A lady should not choose a man who chews tobacco” and “Indians are sometimes very cruel.” Yikes.
- Trixie calls Silas Adams “Miss Bernhardt” because he put on such a show to Sol over the foreclosure of the house. Sarah Bernhardt was a famous actress of the time period.
- Alma passes out from the pregnancy and the Doc advises she take at least some medicine despite her complaints.
- Mose Manuel seems very different after his near-death experience. Jane hates his presence which, she claims, strikes fear in the children at the school. Martha doesn’t seem to mind him, so he can’t be as bad as he was when he shot his own brother last season.
- Jane, as if speaking for me during prestige era of television, asks, “Why is everybody fucking whispering all of a sudden?”
- Much like most people, Charlie Utter is deathly afraid of public speaking.
- Cy is bedridden and asks where his Bible is?!
- “Albert Swearengen”!!
- The title is spoken by Al as he leaves his meeting with Hearst. He condemns Richardson for his paganism and warns, “Tell your god to ready for blood.”
Quote of the episode:
Tom Nuttall to his bartender Harry Manning who is running for sheriff: “I’ve got an idea. Instead of running for office and tending bar, why don’t you just tend bar and let everybody punch you in the face?”