One of the things that’s fascinating about this embryonic society in Deadwood is the way that class works in multiple directions. Brom Garret’s wealth and pretensions labeled him a tenderfoot and a potential victim, someone whose rigidities about honor and general impracticality were laughable rather than honorable. His widow, Alma, has some of the weaknesses, and in these couple of episodes, we see her overcome them as she shakes off both laudanum and the restrictions she’s placed on herself in the name of propriety. “I had better manners before I began to abstain,” she tells Bullock. But as she defies expectations, she also begins to gain admirers in the camp for sticking it out. “I’d have bet a month’s wages that burial would be taking place in New York City,” Jane says of Alma. “That is, if I had a fucking paying job.”
That doesn’t mean she doesn’t make errors — Alma’s not entirely a frontier woman yet. When she offers to send Trixie to New York City with a recommendation that would get her work as long as she’ll take care of Flora, Alma misunderstands how vulnerable that prospect makes Trixie feel. “I got no people anywhere,” Trixie snaps at her. “What the fuck? What would keep you here? Do you want to fuck this man? Then fuck him…I know my place, you rich cunt. And I’m going back to it.” Despite that toughness, Trixie’s got her own kind of vulnerability. She may be able to tell Al why she’s helped Alma get clean even as he’s sexually assaulting her: “Her being high wasn’t going to have nothing to do with whether she sold you the claim. And she wanted to get off the dope. And that little one needs someone to care for her, and maybe get her the fuck out of here, and I knew it wasn’t going to be me.” But she still tries to overdose, telling Alma, who’s apologizing for her emotional distress that “I don’t remember you being the one who made me a whore Mrs. Garret.” Life for women in Deadwood is a constant negotiation between the kind of sensitivity that can induce Sofia Metz to speak her own name for the first time and the kind of fortitude that will let you stand up to both of your employers and survives.
Where Alma and Trixie are actually not wildly dissimilar, and negotiating their separate ways towards a balance that will make them even more alike, Joanie’s making the mistake of falling for one of the vicious specimens of humanity to wander through the camp. Kristen Bell’s Flora, ostensibly in town with her brother to search for her father, charms everyone from Dan, though Al sees through her, asking, “Do you worry for her, Dan? Wandering our thoroughfare? Her tiny self almost swallowed up in horseshit?” Joanie takes on the task of training her for service in the Bella Union, telling her, “I prefer you happy, honey. But if you can’t be you need to pretend at it better than you’re doing, or you’re going to be hungry, and cold, and done to for nothing outside.” But she falls for her anyway, missing that Flora’s actually the kind of person who dismisses a smitten customer with a savage “You geek-looking fuck. Get away from me before I cut your fucking heart out,” and tells her fake brother of Joanie, “I can move the dyke. Held me in her arms all night like she was a little fucking kid.” After catching Flora and Miles trying to rob the Bella Union, Cy beats them both to the point of brain damage, shoots Miles, and has Joanie execute the woman who deceived her. After it’s over, he gives her a similar version of the lecture Joanie gave Flora earlier, telling her “Do you like it, no? Do you enjoy it? No. But do you have to look like you do? Yes. You bring warmth into my life. I can’t bear to see you unhappy like this.” But the shock therapy doesn’t actually work: Cy both wants Joanie coarsened and fragile, and it’s not clear to me that she can move in one direction or another without breaking.
And at the end, I’m interested to see Trixie go back to Al, even though Alma doesn’t seem to be the only alternative presented to her in this episode. Sol Star’s clearly interested in getting to know her better in some capacity, or, as E.B. puts it, “And even so, admit her to your trade at public hours. Congratulations, sir, on your enlightened thinking.” In a town where everyone’s supposed to be starting over, a lot of the women, at least, seem to feel like they only have so many options.