The Quick and the Deadwood: Full Faith and Credit (3.4)

Al:   "Another invite.  Fucking Hearst. Must take me for a fucking optimist."

Just a few scattered notes on the fourth episode of Deadwood's last season, since I neglected this post for too long a time after watching to give you more holistic coverage.  George Hearst would never tolerate that sort of sloppiness.  I'd better watch my back.

This week we see various explorations of belief (or lack thereof) in word or promise - faith and credit - as Alma opens the town's first bank, Hearst continues to dally with Al in the most threatening and condescending way, and Joanie receives a genial offer from the actor-manager Langrishe for the whorehouse-turned-schoolhouse that sets last week's rape-tinged encounter between Alma and Hearst into stark relief.

We get a trace of Al's back-story, in the middle of another surprisingly tender scene between him and a much blustered-at whore.  (Whores are always falling for Al in a Stockholm syndrome sort of way.  And many of his best "soliloquies" are in fact delivered in company - in the midst of less than engrossing blowjobs.) His mother left him at an orphanage when she went to sell her body in Louisiana - he recalls being held down by an orphanage owner while she screamed from the boat that she had changed her mind, hence his mania for freedom. With this comes the realization - fleeting - that he denies his whores exactly that freedom.  He holds them down, both figuratively and literally.

There are continuing racial tensions with the return of Deadwood's two black residents, Samuel Fields and Hostetler, bringing the horse that killed Bullock's nephew/stepson.  Steve the Drunk, who has been caring for the hostelry in Hostetler's absence (having threatened him with lynching if he stayed), spews uninterrupted racist bile for much of the beginning of the episode.  Bullock, who is stuck mediating the issue, deals with Steve's drunken tirade with considerably more patience than any modern sheriff would.

This highlights the canniness of Deadwood's treatment of the conflict: it would be historically implausible for Bullock to come to Hostetler's defense on an abstract foundation of civil rights principles (although the sheriff is allowed enough enough basic goodness to show frustration with Steve's racist paranoia).  Instead, the show permits him to develop an impatience with Steve's irrational rage and suspicion, especially as contrasted with Hostetler's saintly forbearance.  He sympathizes with Hostetler because Steve is an unreasoning, uncompromising jackass, rather than because Steve is a racist.  However, with irksome neutrality, Bullock doesn't allow this leaning to influence the outcome of the conflict, which seems to me to favor the Drunk.  Alma's bank gives Steve a loan, allowing him to buy the hostelry from under Hostetler.  It seems fortuitous to me that Hostetler actually wants to sell and get out of town; otherwise, this would look considerably more like an eminent domain-type forced sale, using racism to deprive a black citizen of the right to ownership.  Not to say ethnic cleansing, since the deal assumes (rightly) that Hostetler won't want to stay in a camp that tolerates and even rewards the Drunk's rhetoric.  Deadwood seems destined for racial homogeny, and a sameness that privileges the more idiotic facets of the populace while eliminating the more sensible.

The most interesting facet of this episode (both within the world of the narrative, and as a meta-issue regarding representing historicized racial conflict to a modern audience) is the difficulty of Hostetler's position.  He deals honorably with his responsibility for the horse that killed the boy, telling Bullock that he and he alone must bear the consequences of the horse getting free.  He thanks the prickly, bilious Steve for caring for the hostelry in his absence, and explains why he ran in fear of his life. But in the face of an avalanche of hateful bigotry from Steve the Drunk, his goodness begins to seem... passive.  Both to him and to us.  How do you maintain dignity in this face of this kind of treatment? Does non-violence and rationality fail when your opponent refuses to play by the rules of reason and justice?

Take a look at Todd VanDerWerff's brilliant essays about the final season at the AV Club - I will link to them in my future posts.  In his first entry, he discusses the effect of the show's fuzzy cancellation on its original reception ("HBO had always prided itself on being the place for TV creators with something to say could turn to say what they needed to, but it also was a business, and Deadwood was just the most notable example of a show that probably would have continued had it debuted even a few seasons earlier but got caught under the aegis of a network in transition.") and what distinguishes the tone of Season 3 from its predecessors:
If season one of Deadwood is its most self-consciously mythic season and season two is about humanizing and expanding on those myths, season three is the series’ most self-consciously humanistic season. 
His second post takes up "True Colors" and "Full Faith and Credit" ("maybe the most rage-filled episode of Deadwood (no easy feat)"), and ponders whether Deadwood doesn't struggle, at this point, from a plague (a veritable surfeit) of characters.

Or, of course, you could read Sycorax Pine on

2 Responses so far.

  1. Vasilly says:

    I haven't seen any of the episodes of Deadwood but it sounds like something I might enjoy. Great post!

  2. Thanks, Vasilly! You'll have to come back and tell me what you think when you have seen them.

    I am thinking of trying this out with other great TV series, but from episode 1 rather than partway through the series, as I did with Deadwood. Maybe one of the ones I own, like West Wing, Buffy, or Homocide. Or perhaps something more contained, like Slings and Arrows.

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