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''Deadwood'': Everyone's a target

On ”Deadwood,” Mrs. Ellsworth becomes a target in Hearst and Swearengen’s game of deception

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Molly Parker, Deadwood

”Deadwood”: Everyone’s a target

The big chess game between Hearst and Swearengen, which has turned into a matchup between Hearst and everybody else in Deadwood, keeps moving slowly toward checkmate, but the players sometimes still seem to be shuffling around their pawns. Fortunately this episode provided more than enough action and sharp dialogue for loyal viewers, who have learned to enjoy watching the subtle shifts in the balance of power while keeping an eye on the dwindling number of episodes and hoping for an endgame that will justify all the waiting. (By the way, I’m filling in for your regular writer, Paul Katz, who is currently awaiting Wu’s instructions outside Custer City.)

The first feint in tonight’s game was the fore-and-aft potshots taken at Mrs. Ellsworth, which provided Swearengen the opportunity to show a little gallantry by leaping to her aid and offering her refuge in his den of iniquity. While regaining her equilibrium, she panted, ”I need to take off my corset,” to which Al replied with the night’s best line: ”No one objects to that here.”

Showing the gamesmanship we’ve all grown to admire, Al moved his pieces into place, sending Silas off to guard the schoolhouse, agreeing to request reinforcements, and making sure that Ellsworth didn’t do anything rash by having Dan — played by tonight’s credited screenwriter, W. Earl Brown — knock him out and take him into custody. (Brown, who’s come a long way from playing Warren in There’s Something About Mary, wrote himself some good, if perhaps uncharacteristically well-spoken, lines in his scene with Ellsworth.) And Al quickly let Hearst know he knew who was responsible for the shooting, by telling him, ”You yourself, sir, are absolutely safe.”

All this politesse and strategizing explains why Hearst’s envoy Barrett, like us viewers, was tricked into forgetting the old shock-and-awe Swearengen. After Barrett and Swearengen hashed over the battle between Dan and the Captain, Barrett said, ”You don’t seem halfway like such a halfway bad f—ing person.” Almost as if that were an insult, Swearengen responded by sucker-kicking Barrett where it hurts most, beating him into submission, and slitting his throat. Then he took to his balcony and taunted Hearst, implying that he had killed his man. Looks like Al still has a pair of those parts he had just treated so unkindly.

What do you think? Why is Tolliver literally opening his own wounds? Are you moved or bored by the romance between Jane and Joanie? And does anybody have any idea what the connection is between Langrishe and that exotic dancer?