Tuesday, August 01, 2006

We Got Wood. Deadwood.

Because of bar exam related stuff, it's been a couple of weeks since I've blogged on my favorite HBO show. Actually, that's not the only reason. I've sort of lost all semblance of knowing what was going on. I think Season 3 has been, on the whole, much weaker than season 2.

A couple of thoughts: First, the development over season 3 and dispensation this week of Steve the Drunk is just as annoying as the similar plot arc with Vito that ran through the recently ended season of "The Sopranos." The actor did a fine job of nurturing the faintest flickering of a sympathetic character in a role that primarily required staggering around drunkenly and spewing racist invective. Nonetheless, it was a commendable effort to a meaningless end. In a show quickly approaching its network-mandated conclusion, time spent with Steve was dead air. That's even more true now that it appears that the payoff of that entire protracted plot thread was to put Fields in charge of the livery. I mean, as nailbiting as the ultimate dispensation of the livery might be, there's bigger shit afoot...

Like Langrishe, who also paid off a plotline of sorts when the sick old guy who he carted into the camp a couple of weeks ago finally kicked the bucket. He seemed like a nice enough old fellow, and I'm sure it was very sad for all involved. But I didn't need to see that guy dying for 20 minutes last night. And what else happened? He gave Hearst a backrub for some reason, and suggests that this can be of use to Swearengen in saving the camp. I don't know how this works, but if an assasination attempt upon Hearst by Langrishe is in the cards, I don't think Hearst has too much to worry about. I vaguely understood some subtext last night about Langrishe being both a comic and tragic character, but this show has always had Calamity Jane for that, so Langrishe is more a study in redundancy than in duality.

And speaking of Jane, she's been exploring her sexuality with Joanie. That's terrific. I can't imagine what this could be leading towards, unless it's a kinky sandwich where Jane and Joanie are the bread and Moses Manuel is the meat in the middle. Don't miss the season finale.

Oh, and Wyatt Earp showed up for some reason, to no great effect.

Seriously, I think this season has been all over the place. The basic idea is there, and there's a powerful thematic, almost iconic image that's been repeating, of Swearengen and Hearst staring each other down across the thoroughfare. Hearst is plotting the destruction of the entire camp, Swearengen is plotting revenge. There's plenty at stake; Alma has put herself in a precarious situation, and the camp as well, with her fall back into addiction. Hearst wants her gold, and so do those Eastern relatives.

And Tolliver is as interesting as he's ever been; a perfect front for Wolcott in season two, he was a natural ally for Hearst. The two share a propensity for brutality, and Tolliver could be reliably controlled by his greed. Instead, Hearst horribly mishandled Tolliver. Now Tolliver's response, for the first time in a while, may be unpredictable. His instinct for greed and survival will counsel him to stick with Hearst, who seems the stronger dog in the fight, but his anger may send him into alliance with his old enemies against his new master.

And Earp could have been exciting if he wasn't for all the extraneous Steve/Langrishe/Aunt Lou/Odell stuff that's been gumming the works. It seems each episode spends maybe ten minutes moving the main story arcs forward, and the rest of the time with tertiary characters. It seems like we've seen more of Steve the drunk than Swearengen the last few weeks.

The Sopranos adopted a structure last season of building up, and building up and building up, towards some kind of impending climax to the series, but the payoff was deferred to the coming run of shows. Everyone was let down. Deadwood has, unfortunately, adopted the same model this season, and it's been a real letdown. The early promise of the first couple of episodes has drawn out into an exercise in digression. Instead of building tension, it seems the producers have let the show go a bit slack, and the great Deadwood moments, like Dority's vicious fight with Captain Turner in the muck of the thoroughfare, have been too few, and too suffused in the surrounding inanity to carry the plot the way they should.

This could all tie up in an interesting way in the remaining episodes, but it's time for things to hurry up and start happening, and I'm afraid that, instead, we'll get an episode centered around Richardson or something. The side characters are important to give the camp a sense of verisimilitude, and prevent it from seeming like a set, but I hope the creators have some narrative purpose they're pursuing here, and are not just tailoring the plot in accord with their affection towards actors or characters.

But, with Steve the drunk finally out of the way, Earp in the camp, and Hearst's "bricks" arriving this week, things might start to pick up steam beginning next Sunday. Here's hoping.

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