‘Deadwood’ Late Pass: Race, Patient Advocacy, And Freedom Of The Press In ‘Complications’ And ‘Something Very Expensive’

A.W. Merrick’s been a cheerful if somewhat marginal figure in our story up until this point. And so the journalist in me was delighted to see A.W. stand up for himself in matters of business and the heart, and to call out Cy Tolliver for interfering with him. First, Commissioner Jarry shows up in A.W.’s office, thinking he can boss the jovial newsman around with a mere “Great respect for the fourth estate. Here’s a statement to be printed.” But A.W. may back down to Al Swearengen in matters of phrasing, but he is no fool about the nature of his community, especially when he sees how meaningless that statement on property rights is. He is, after all, an investor in Deadwood himself. “What will exactly will or won’t qualify or mitigate the presumption of ownership eludes me,” he warns Jarry. “Without an accompanying explanation this statement may work an unsettling effect.” When Jarry tries to bully him, A.W. sticks to his guns and rather than puts out the paper, prints the notice, and sticks around to interpret it.

And when Cy Tolliver, snakelike as always, has A.W.’s press smashed (“Got any sledgehammers?” asks his goon. “Always,” Cy replies, very nearly twirling his moustache.), A.W. confronts him, declaring “We differ, Mr. Tolliver, on the function of the press.” Cy may think he’s being smooth when he mock-queries “Ain’t the lesson for you in this, Merrick, that with fucked-up machinery the press can’t function.” But I don’t think we’ve seen the last of A.W. Maybe it’s that he’s energized by the presence in town of the new schoolmarm (“How I revere your, your profession,” is the new best dorky compliment a guy can give.) or maybe it’s just that he’s found an issue that galvanizes him. But it’s nice to see the president of the Ambulators get his chance to be a hero.Cleverness isn’t only A.W.’s preserver in these two episodes either, as we see as the lens on Deadwood widens to include its black community, made up of Hostetler and Samuel Fields. While Chinese characters like Mr. Wu don’t yet have much relationship with the respectable people of Deadwood, it’s interesting how quickly the show moves to have our favorite characters reaffirm that racism is wrong, at least in such terms as they understand it. “Don’t fucking look around,” Jane tells Samuel after he accepts her offer of a drink from the bottle she won’t sell him. “I don’t care who sees a nigger drinking with me, or drinking from the same bottle, or how stupid his fucking outfit is.” Later, she treats his burns after an angry mob tries to tar him out of incoherent rage at Commissioner Jarry’s announcement. Similarly, Seth tracks down Steve Fields, the perpetrator of said tarring, and warns him “There’ll be no murdering people in this camp of any color or assaults on officials of any stripe…If you can’t live with that, get out of this fucking camp.” But I appreciate that it’s Hostetler and Fields who take revenge on Steve Fields, forcing him to sign a statement admitting that he’s had sex with the sheriff’s horse. It’s a witty move, and it’s based on their own calculations that it’s better to have a hold over the man for later than to pursue justice for some burns and humiliation now. Unlike the white characters who are riled on their behalf, Samuel and Hostetler know there can always be worse.

And the final hero of these two episodes, magnificent as always, is Trixie. She’s sharp with Alma when Alma confesses her pregnancy and her fears, explaining that “I might very well die in delivery…I meant to say more likely than other women I might die because an ailment when I was little shaped me for difficulty in childbirth…I feel Doctor Cochran judges me.” Trixie’s harsh in return, particularly about the possibility of abortion. “I can tell you this much Mrs. Garrett. If you take the tea, lay plenty of dope in,” Trixie warns Alma. “Because I’ve killed seven. And every bleeding out I laced one good and tight.” But behind Alma’s back, she goes to war on her behalf, smacking down Doc in one of the great acts of patient advocacy, shaming him for driving away “One as might die in childbirth, more likely than us lucky others, but so sponged down in your disapproval when she was kicking the fucking dope she’s afraid now to seek your care.” And then she sits down with Ellsworth in full yenta mode, staring him down and demanding to know if he’s prepared to stand up with Alma “If she wanted a child, how a woman wants one that ain’t certain she’s made to bear many, willing even to bear it out of wedlock but for the hurt she’d do another and the humiliation she’d do, and to that woman’s little boy…the right fucking thing. Don’t get fucking coy with me.”

Of course, being coy is literally killing people across town, as the conspiracy of silence that surrounds Mr. Wolcott’s predilection for killing hookers reaches up to George Hearst and down to Joanie, who acquiesces by getting her girls out of town rather than calling the law. Silence equals death, but there’s only so much the nascent law can do in Deadwood. Screaming just might have gotten more people killed earlier.