Second Take: Deadwood – Leviathan Smiles

deadwood

Season Three, Episode Eight: “Leviathan Smiles”

Note: each writing will spoil the episode in review but will not discuss any future episodes.

In many cultures, the leviathan is a sea monster of some sort, a beast, possibly a whale or serpent or crocodile. Its meaning has even been transferred to a large vessel and the Devil himself. The Hebrew word for leviathan is rooted in the words “coiled” and “twisted,” much like George Hearst’s back. In Deadwood, the leviathan is obviously the ever dominant and seemingly omnipotent Hearst. And here, he’s smiling.

It’s that smiling reaction that has Seth Bullock up in arms in the opening scene. Merrick has printed the paper with Bullock’s letter to the killed Cornish worker’s family in it — the worker that Hearst had killed for attempting to unionize and be treated with dignity and respect — and Bullock is full of anxiety as to Hearst’s next move. George Hearst will be seeing the letter that morning and will certainly interpret the insult that the letter implies. So it’s in a flurry of heated dialogue with his wife Martha that Bullock rushes out into camp and even mildly threatens partner Sol Star. The dynamic between the Bullocks is welcome, albeit angry. It beats the cold, awkward demeanor the two had for each other in seasons past. Here, they are a couple. Seth even calls her “Martha” again, a far cry from the day of “Mrs. Bullock.”

It’s there in the middle of camp that morning that Seth and Sol witness the arrival of a new stagecoach with pistol-firing men on its heels: the famous Wyatt and Morgan Earp. Wyatt Earp actually did spend some time in Deadwood (as did Bat Masterson, who isn’t in the episode) in order to pursue the wealth of the Black Hills, per The Black Hills Visitor and various other sources. (It’s even rumored that the real Wyatt Earp left Deadwood due to a disagreement with Seth Bullock.) The Earps in “Leviathan Smiles” provide the focal point of the episode. Seth immediately questions them on their claim that they fended off road agents for the stagecoach. Bullock is skeptical, as shown in Timothy Olyphant’s stare at the two, but not more so than Al Swearengen, who knows that road agents won’t act unless approved by him. He knows no thieves were out for a stagecoach that morning, so Wyatt Earp lays the truth: the two brothers were making an attempt to make an immediate name in the camp. Morgan, especially, wants to use that good name to cozy up with the sex workers.

Wyatt and his brother are certainly making names for themselves for over at the Bella Union, Cy Tolliver all but hires Wyatt on the spot for his handiness with a gun. It’s alluded to that Cy wants to use Wyatt and his brother against Bullock for George Hearst when he decides to attack but Cy will not let them know that they are working for Hearst’s interests.

Hearst’s interests aren’t all gold and power, though. He has more concerns about his aching back, the likes of which allows Jack Langrishe to play healer for Hearst. It’s obvious that Hearst is affable enough to those whom he believes are in his service. Why, he actually seems warm to Jack when they meet in the hallway of the Grand Central. And Jack lets Al know that he took the opportunity to hoodwink Hearst, likely just to say that he could because it looks as though the ruse may be played out after being spotted on Al’s balcony later in the episode.

The tension that Bullock was displaying early in the episode nearly boils over with Morgan Earp, who has set aside a large quantity of tools to work their timber claim, but left them in a pile in the middle of Seth and Sol’s store. Seth confronts the brothers, but cools when he sees that it could get heated. It could be that Bullock doesn’t want to butt heads with people who are likely associated with Al Swearengen, so he pays Al a visit. It’s a great scene, though short, between the two where Seth finds out that Al has only made the Earps’ acquaintance that day himself. Al makes a joke that allows the men to look at one another with grins. It’s important because not only is this a show with few people genuinely smiling, but it goes to show that with Al, much like his wife, Seth’s relationship is much improved with him since Hearst’s arrival. Seth even leaves the meeting with a bit of sympathy in his heart for Wyatt Earp. He lets Wyatt know that he, too, once attempted to lay down the badge but found the rest of the habits that come with it hard to ignore.

In another part of camp, the drunk and now livery-owner Steve shows that he’s really just afraid. He lives in fear of being even more stupid and ignorant than he actually is — he needs General Fields to help him learn how to run the livery, specifically the accounting aspects. So he wants the General Fields to stay on again, but this time, rather than asking, Steve decides to de-shoe his horse so that he won’t leave. That gets Steve a kick of the face. It’s a smart move not to show the actual accident as it was already telegraphed. Instead, General Fields comes back to find him in his condition. Fields wants nothing more with Steve (as would anyone), so he gives the Doc money to cover Steve’s medical expenses. General Fields wants to leave for San Francisco, but it’s not that easy. Even with Jane’s help, he’s stuck with the drunken and now disabled Steve as well as the livery.

Then there’s the leviathan himself. Hearst insults and verbally attacks Merrick for printing the letter, calling Merrick a coward. But he also grins with pleasure as a heard of men come roaring into camp all for the sake of Hearst’s protection and for his plans to have complete control. The episode begins and ends with gun shots and one definitely could conclude that these noises are just the beginning of some actual violence.

 

Other Takes:

  • I would not have guessed that Richardson could read, but there he is, picking up the paper as soon as it arrives to flip to the back pages.
  • Shaunnessey — as if not annoying enough — tries to reference Romans 1:24–28 to Joanie as he kicks her out of his place, which is seemingly a nod to the growing relationship between Joanie and Jane: “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves…And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” Jane, in response, tells him “Fuck yourself with a fist punch up your ass, today, at the present moment,” arguably her funniest moment of the series.
  • I think I’ve failed to mention in previous reviews that Jack Langrishe was an actual person in Deadwood history. In fact, his first performance there was at the Bella Union and he even went on to become a state senator for Idaho. No matter here. The plot line with Chesterton — who finally died, thank God! — in order to develop Jack’s character was an utter fail, a huge misstep in a great run for the series.
  • Hearst is rude to the point of fury with Aunt Lou’s over concern with her son.
  • Mose makes a very brief appearance as he keeps watch over what will become a new school. Talk about a changed man.
  • It hasn’t been said enough here, but there is such an exquisite beauty to the set of Deadwood. The night scenes are so well lit by countless flames and atmospheric of the times one would assume.

 

Quote of the episode:

Jack on his hoax of healing Hearst of his back pains without even touching him: “Campaign towards relief protracted, punctuated by Pentecostal whoops and manual pushes and prods while invoking arcane authorities — the host’s unhealthy soul reliable to sustain his symptoms.”

 

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