I’m impressed that in this first season of Deadwood, the show’s managed to dedicate an emotionally significant moment or storyline to every character we’ve seen on-screen. In particular, I appreciated the way these last two episodes made Jewel a person, rather than a vehicle for the expression of Trixie’s nurturing nature or Al’s private inner goodness.
There are an amazing number of shots of the muck that constitutes Deadwood’s streets in this first season. People have it splashed on their nice dresses, are beaten to the point of brain damage in it, and jump into it after being threatened with their lives. Jewel may be the only person to fall in it, calmly get up, and keep going. There’s a serenity to her. “I came here on my own Doc,” she tells the physician, who is reluctant to listen to her ideas for a corrective brace. “I got something I want to show you.” “That boy was goddamn able-bodied before he got his leg shot-up,” Doc warns her, but he is excited in spite of himself, even prying the broom out of her fingers when the brace arrives as she jokes “You’ll have to remove it from my clutches.” The season ends with the two of them dancing, Jewel telling the Doc to think of himself as graceful as a woodland creature.
And that isn’t the only role Doc plays in the conclusion of this stage in Deadwood’s development. There’s something poignant about the divine sanctification of one Civil War veteran’s mercy killing in answer to another veteran’s prayers. Jewel’s book breaks something in the doctor as the reverend enters the final stage of his illness, leaving him crying in his office “What conceivable godly use is this protracted suffering to you? What conceivable use was the screaming of those men? Did you need to hear them to know your omnipotence?” Al, for once, is the answer to someone’s prayers.
And even as Al commits another murder in his own interest, he also finally establishes legitimate law in Deadwood. After a long battle, Seth Bullock succumbs to the role of sheriff, in part because of his own impatience with the man who does take the role, and in part because he’s also succumbed to Alma’s charms. The latter event takes place upon the arrival of Alma’s scum-like father in town. The man starts out by telling his daughter “I always thought it was going to end like this, button. A rooming house in a mining camp in Indian territory, you caring for a Norwegian foundling and operating a bonanza gold claim.” Then, he tries to pimp her out to Seth even though he’s married, telling him “I’ve learned that no matter what people say or how civil they may seem, their passions rule.” And finally, he reveals to Alma that he’s racked up massive debts on the credit that her marriage opened up to him, threatening her with perpetual domination. Seth responds by removing a number of his teeth, taking Alma to bed, and putting his badge back on for the first time. “I know where it goes,” he tells Al. And he knows how to conduct a proper hanging, too. Seth may not have ended up with the role he wanted, but he’s found a home he wants to protect.