One of the things about living on a frontier is that everyone’s hustling to survive and there isn’t an enormous amount of time for everyone to sit around the Gem and talk about their feelings, even if the Gem was the kind of establishment where you felt inclined to be vulnerable in more than the conventional ways. But it’s extremely satisfying in this pair of episodes to watch three characters snap themselves out of bad circumstances.
First is A.W. Merrick, who has had his presses wrecked and his hopes for a romance with the new schoolmarm dashed after running afoul of Commissioner Jarry and the Hearst interests. Al comes to pay a visit through a connecting door he was previously unaware of, though as A.W. explains “Several of your patrons in different stages of undress have illuminated me” of its existence. “I’m in despair,” A.W. explains to his neighbor. “The physical damage may be repairable, but the psychic wound may be permanent.” But Al gives him a smack and some good advice: “The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you’ve got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man and give some back.” A show like The Wire might have deepened the despair, but Deadwood believes that there’s still goodness in the world. When A.W. exerts himself, befriending his new office-mate, the Russian telegraph operator, they’re rewarded with one of the most joyful scenes of the recent golden age of television, Tom Nuttall’s bicycle ride:
Then there’s Jane, who is in a dangerously bad way, telling Charlie, who finds her with bloodied lips, that “I woke up on the dirt in the fucking graveyard, questioning dusk or dawn.” Charlie tries to bring her back to herself by finding a way for her to do for others since she won’t do for herself, suggesting she visit the bereaved Joanie Stubbs because “Seeing as you know about losing friends, you might be a good person to go on and talk to her,” but he tells Bill’s grave that he doesn’t have much confidence in her recovery. Still, when Jane bestirs herself to visit Joanie’s mausoleum of a whorehouse, there does seem to be a spark. When Joanie offers Jane a drink, Jane initially explains that “Yes, but my opening position is no,” before explaining that her preference in booze is “That it ain’t been previously swallowed. Bourbon, if you got it.” And if Joanie gets Jane wanting to drink in a moderate way, Jane gets Joanie talking about the terrible fate that’s befallen her.
Joanie’s been the most beaten-down character in the show practically since its beginning. So there’s something particularly powerful about seeing her bestir herself for the first time since the murders. Cy can’t figure out that Joanie is looking for new patterns, asking her, “What the fuck did you come here for if not to be protected?” And when Joanie smashes her bourbon bottle against Wolcott’s head and tells him to get out of establishment or she’ll kill him, I actually cheered. Maybe Joanie wouldn’t have been able to ward off Wolcott if Charlie Utter hadn’t softened him up for her, but I’m so glad that she saves herself. I understand why Alma’s dithering about Ellsworth’s (totally adorable, btw) proposal; I understand why Martha speaks to Seth in code. But in the case of these terrible murders, backed by powerful institutions, it’s wonderful to see Joanie get her own justice when the law can’t, or won’t, protect her.