''Deadwood'': Everybody's an amateur. Langrishe's talent show may be the camp's last carefree moment before the coming bloodbath

By Gary Susman
August 07, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
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”Deadwood”: Everybody’s an amateur

Howdy, Dead-ites. I’m just passing through camp; your regular scout, Paul Katz, is off practicing his quick-draw skills for the coming war that’s likely to occupy this season’s final three shows. Meanwhile, this week’s episode seemed largely a time-filler, much like the talent show organized by the Langrishe troupe that distracted the townsfolk from their troubles: an opening sideshow before the curtain rises on the main drama yet to play out.

In fact, the episode’s title was ”Amateur Night,” which seemed apt, and not just because we got to see several Deadwoodians display previously hidden talents, but also because professionalism seems to have deserted the camp. Few seemed to be performing their tasks with their usual competence, save for Alma (who even Trixie seems to believe is finally on the wagon) and Aunt Lou, who insisted on cooking for the hotel despite just having learned of the death of her son Odell. (It seemed for an instant, though, that she might, in her grief, show Hearst the business end of her carving knife.)

Oh, and maybe Sheriff Bullock is finally behaving like a professional too. For once, he seemed to keep his temper in check as he arrested Hearst’s new thug-in-chief. That is, Bullock later told Johnny, he restrained himself from his usual police brutality and merely dragged the man by the ear to jail, as he did Hearst himself a few episodes back. So Bullock didn’t need a lecture from Al this time, he told Johnny.

The arrest capped the end of a pathetic one-day reign of terror by Hearst’s new posse. Riding through town, whooping and harassing the locals, they reminded me of the buffoonish goons Harvey Korman hired to terrorize the town of Rock Ridge in Blazing Saddles. Sure, Merrick got a severe beating for publishing in the newspaper the letter that had angered and embarrassed Hearst, and one of the junior thugs trash-talked Morgan Earp, but the man ended up moaning on the ground with a bullet in his thigh. (Doesn’t everybody in the Old West know better than to mess with an Earp?) And these are the guys everyone is worried will destroy the camp? Even a drunken, unarmed Tolliver, standing in the new schoolhouse’s doorway and menacing Joanie and Jane, seemed scarier.

Speaking of the Earps, their presence over the last two episodes has seemed a distraction as well. (Though it was funny to learn that Morgan sucks his thumb when he sleeps.) Their timber claim having proved worthless, it’s likely that they’ll follow Bullock’s advice and duck out of town before the bloodbath begins.

Looks like the General is finally going to escape Deadwood as well, having unceremoniously dumped the vegetative Steve the Drunk in a wheelbarrow at the No. 10 Saloon and made some arrangements with Alma for the repayment of Steve’s mortgage on the livery (arrangements made more to honor Hostetler’s memory than to bail out Steve). I’m sure I’m not the only one relieved that the weird attraction-repulsion pas de deux between the General and Steve appears to have finally run its course.

And then we have Wu, once dandified, now looking pretty shabby, drawing elaborate diagrams to tell Al he has 150 men waiting outside of town. On the other hand, Jarry is back in town, suggesting that he can marshal for Hearst the political support from the territorial governor. So the chess pieces all seem to be arrayed; now we’re just waiting for someone to make a move.

Not that this episode was without action — one bloody beating, one shooting, one mysterious death on the road (poor Odell!). Still, any episode that ends with Richardson juggling and Al singing a ballad about his own funeral to a mounted moose’s head above the bar (why didn’t he share his vocal talents with the rest of the camp at the amateur night?) is clearly just marking time.

So, how do you think the last three episodes will play out? Is Langrishe, who’s busy befriending every bigwig in town, plotting something or just being a social butterfly? And is there some metaphorical significance to the tree growing inside the schoolhouse, or is it just a source of sticky, pungent sap?

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