Season Three, Episode Twelve: “Tell Him Something Pretty”
Note: each writing will spoil the episode in review but will not discuss any future episodes.
The last scene in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises has the emasculated and wounded Jake lamenting with his long-time love Brett. She muses, “We could have had a damn good time together.” He replies (ninety-three-year-old spoiler!), “Yes. Isn’t it pretty to think so?” It’s a novel about love that can never be as Brett is a lady who has sex with no love and Jake is a man who loves with no sex. The title to Deadwood‘s last episode hearkens back to that final line in Hemingway’s classic. It would be pretty to think so, but it isn’t the case.
For a finale, “Tell Him Something Pretty” is partly about new starts as several chapters come to a close. In a two-season plot thread, Alma Ellsworth finally succumbs to George Hearst: she sells him her gold claim so that she can remain in Deadwood peacefully. The other option was to keep the claim, leave camp, and risk the ongoings of a bloody war until Hearst had his way. The outcome was destined in Hearst’s favor and no one is happy for it, as the episode begins with Charlie Utter disturbing Hearst in his hotel to let him know that Odell’s body has been delivered to town. It allows Dayton Callie, who plays Charlie Utter so well, to have that push and pull of anger and politeness as he scolds Hearst for his tone yet manages to tip his hat partly in shame at Aunt Lou as he leaves the Grand Central.
And George Hearst getting what he wants as well as its aftermath is the primary focus here. It’s a deplorable notion that Hearst kills Ellsworth in cold blood with immunity yet gets what he came to camp for by owning all of the major gold claims. Even Seth Bullock’s indignant admonition carries little weight as he seethes that “Every bully I ever met can’t shut his fucking mouth” to Hearst. It allows Gerald McRaney the one-upper that Hearst is “having a conversation [Bullock] cannot hear,” not to mention the final insult he gets to thrust upon Sol Star for being Jewish. Hearst is still the master while everyone else is the peon.
That’s not the end of George Hearst just yet, though. He’s managed, with the help of Commissioner Jarry and the army men, to give Harry Manning a hefty lead for sheriff in Sturgis. He also demands that Al Swearengen kill the whore who shot at him as payment. Al makes the gamble that Hearst didn’t get a good look at Trixie and that he can kill Jen in her place to the obvious dismay of Johnny who has grown close to Jen while teaching her to read throughout the season. Not having Jen die onscreen allows a couple of things to happen: first, it removes some of Al’s brutality that he’s carried with him since the first episode and second, it also allows the viewer to imagine the pains Al had to go through in order to come to heal by murdering one of his own. All of it culminates in a tense scene where several gather, including Bullock, Utter, Dan, Silas, Hearst, and the Pinkertons, in the Gem Saloon as Al has to present the corpse to Hearst for approval. The ruse works, and Hearst leaves the camp as now the head. The rest are merely the body parts for him to use.
A few other threads get tied as well. Joanie and Jane seemingly begin a full-fledged relationship full of a gentle love for one another as Joanie lets Jane know that she wants to protect her, see about her, despite visiting Cy Tolliver briefly. Trixie and Sol look to deepen their relationship. Jack Langrishe, though postponing the theater’s opening, would likely be ready to open it now that things have come to peace. Leon meets his untimely end not from dope, believe it or not, but from Cy Tolliver’s angry blade. And George Hearst, whose last name is as famous for journalism as it is gold, plans to start his own newspaper in Deadwood as an answer to the “fake news” reported by Merrick in The Deadwood Pioneer about him just as he leaves for the Anaconda where he’ll be more alone, per his preference.
Bullock deplores the idea that Hearst as won the war, and tells Charlie that he did very little in the view of it all and that he will still battle the internal fight of not feeling like a sucker as he lays down that night as it will be “a project tonight.” It will be a project for them all and for a while to come.
While it doesn’t look like much in writing, the episode is a masterful examination of loss and how that transpires beginnings. The last shot is of Al Swearengen, once again cleaning up a bloodstain. Johnny wants to know if Jen died without suffering. Al says little more than he tried to be gentle and that’s all he will say about it going forward. Then Al says the title of the episode and of the series as a whole. Much like The Sun Also Rises, the camp of Deadwood is the lost love — or at least, the love without full consummation. The people of Deadwood are still there and still together but Hearst has nearly everything. It would pretty to think of what a future would be without his presence, and the presence of the Pinkertons hovering over them all, but it’s a useless endeavor.
In season two, Commissioner Jarry, in response to the drunken Steve, said that “[y]ou cannot fuck the future, sir. The future fucks you.” How true he is. It would be pretty to think it’s not like that. Maybe someone should ask George Hearst.
- While the outcome of the election is in limbo, Harry Manning does get his beloved fire wagon, a gift from his boss Tom Nuttall.
- It’s noteworthy that Hearst claims to have no fear to be anywhere in the camp yet walks with armed guards to the Gem to see the dead body.
- There’s a nice shot at the end of the episode where E.B. gets a chance to feel what it is like to have some power as he peers from Hearst’s self-made balcony on the Grand Central Hotel.
- I’ve sometimes wondered why Al never carried or used a gun and it’s an okay moment for him to address it here in the final episode of the series. Turns out, he didn’t want to learn to be good at it.
- Aunt Lou and Richardson have such a funny rapport and their scenes allow Richardson to do more than cower. It’s a shame that actor Ralph Richeson, who plays Richardson, died in 2015 and won’t appear in the upcoming movie.
- Another death of an actor who will be greatly missed is Powers Boothe who played Cy Tolliver with such steely and determined rage and impatience it was hard not to be mesmerized by him each time he was on the screen despite the evil of his riverboat gambler character.
- This final episode had many great lines so it was hard to pick just one quote. A couple of my favorites are when Jack Langrishe tells Hearst in a moment of melancholy: “One prays always, Sir, as one’s store is depleted by time, new acquaintances may become one’s friends,” which is then alluded to by Cy having to “befriend” Newman in order to complete Hearst’s bidding going forward without the man in camp. Another is when Cy says of his latest prostitute Janine: “The thirst this girl has for knowledge, she’s barely time to suck a prick.” Cruel, but funny.
- With the eloquent way the show ends here — and definite suddenness as several threads are left hanging — the finale feels abrupt knowing there were no more seasons to come. It definitely helps create a desolate, tired, and resigned tone.
- And with that, my second take coverage of Deadwood comes to a close! The next bit of writing concerning the show will be the upcoming movie in May. Hope you join us then! But before I leave you, I highly suggest checking out this piece written by the great Matt Zoller Seitz on creator David Milch, the Deadwood movie, and his recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
Quote of the episode:
E.B. to Al Swearengen as he tries to decide on if to slip a note to Hearst or encounter him face-to-face (and also summarizing the season as a whole): “Fear is every man’s portion.”