I think these two episodes, particularly coming back-to-back, are my favorite of Deadwood‘s third season. It’s sort of hard to imagine seeing them separately in their perfectly complementary explorations of two events that are simultaneously public and private: a funeral and a wedding.
Both events are lovely in their own way. In the first season, funerals were tiny affairs, held at the edge of town and poorly attended. Now, they’re events that bring the entire community together, that inspire Trixie to inspect Al’s entire stock of whores to make sure they’re respectable; that gets Jane in a bath even if it’s not enough for her to complain that the water “burned my snatch”; that it finally snaps Martha out of her brittleness and convinces her to invite the town in. And the wedding gets Trixie in a truly beautiful dress, her loveliness inspiring Jewel to come up with the money, we know not from where, to outfit her with jewelry for the occasion; to get Jane not just bathed, but in a dress and dancing in the streets; for Al and Sol to finally make their peace. “Ain’t you two a fucking picture?” Al comments from the rooftop where he observes both events, refusing to take direct part. “Whirling her around’s okay, Star, just don’t step on her fucking toes.”
Of course, the couple that really comes together in these episodes is Seth and Martha. When Martha asks Seth if it’s all right with him if she keeps teaching even after William’s death, he reacts with genuine passion for the first time, telling her, “I would, yes, I’d be delighted.” And that discussion of how Martha will approach her classroom provides a way for them to talk about losing the son who was Martha’s by birth and Seth’s by sense of honor. “I believe if I teach them with love and joy, I won’t make them afraid,” Martha explains her anxiety about wearing mourning in the classroom, despite her powerful need to have an outward symbol of her grief. “And I don’t want to lose him.” “You’ll never lose him,” Seth promises her. A moment later, he takes her hand. In that moment, he makes her his wife as he didn’t when he said his vows. And later, she finds the first sprout from William’s sunflower seeds, the promise he rescued from a broken vessel and brought to Deadwood to tie his father by blood and his father by marriage. The universe has proven confirmation of Seth’s comfort, tying them closer together.
The other marriage is a metaphorical one, between Wu and Al. The pair of episodes starts with them in crisis, with Wu in despair over Lee’s treatment of the bodies of the whores he’s working to death, and Al unwilling to do anything about it for fear of upsetting his delicate negotiations with the Hearst syndicate and with Yankton. “I know about the burned-up whores. I know about the San Francisco cocksucker taking a match to them…Sweargen fucking gets it. Sweargen doesn’t give a fuck,” he tells Wu. And even though we only ever hear a few words from Wu, the clarity of his hurt is painful to behold. But in the end, Swearengen’s men don masks and help Wu rid Celestial’s Alley of Lee, and Wu makes a pledge of allegiance to Al and to his adopted country, brandishing his cut-off braid and declaring “Wu! America!”
And of course there’s a parallel death, that of Francis Wolcott, who is cut off by his true love, George Hearst. “What did you think that was about?” Wolcott asks Hearst about a letter Hearst sent to get him out of jail before. “I didn’t think about it,” Hearst confesses. “You were my agent in Mexico.” And even if Hearst can’t see it, Wolcott understands for the first time that he is as much an instrument to Hearst as the very ground, rather than an man who is known and valued. “As when the earth talks to you,” he tells his employer and protector, explaining what he thought never needed to be explained. “You never ask its reasons…To me, there is no sin. It happened in Mexico and now it’s happened here.”