Thursday, July 13, 2006

Episode 29: "A Two-Headed Beast"

Okay, let's just get it out of the way. Sure, I could write about Alma going back on the dope, the sad fate of Hostetler, and Steve's goofy smile at the bank, cleaned up about as well as Bart Simpson or Calvin before a school picture. But this episode was all about THE FIGHT, the heavyweight title bout between two of Deadwood's biggest and baddest. I said I wanted "a major knock-down, drag-out, ugly brawl," and damn if Richardson's deer antler didn't give me one!

Over on this porch, we have Al's right-hand man, the deadly teddy bear, and... is that grease I smell? Dan Dority! And across the thoroughfare is the big oaf giving George Hearst license to cut off the finger of one of the great villains in television history, a man of few words but deadly actions. Keep an eye on this fella - Captain Turner!

Could the fight live up to the anticipation? Turner taunting Dan through Adams (who's rockin' a great fuckin' beard, by the way), with "Go tell your friend I know he's afraid of me"? And dismissing Dan as a threat, telling Adams "I guess he looks big to you"? That was some historical trash talk.

Then there's poor Dan. Oh, he wants to fight. He wants to feed "Captain Cuntface" (HA!) to Wu's pigs, so bad that he's twitching with rage. But that mean ol' Albert Swearengen won't let him - even if it means taking a "coward" insult from Sheriff Bullock. Not until he figures out what Hearst is trying to accomplish with this. Once he realizes that no strategy is involved, that Hearst is just being arrogant, looking to flex his muscle through his bodyguard, he finally gives Dan his blessing to go get his ass kicked.

Here's where Milch should've swiped some cues from the Rocky soundtrack. Bill Conti would've eaten this shit up, man! Dan lubes himself up with grease, street-fightin' style, while Capt. Turner loosens up with some calisthenics. It's on, baby. Meet you in the thoroughfare!

Johnny tells Dan he has his back by offering to put the Captain down if the fight's not going his way. Way to psych your boy up, Johnny. Dan, already lathered up, snorts with disdain. Oh, if looks could kill. But there doesn't seem to be a lot of confidence in Dan's chances among Al's trusted circle. On his way out the Gem's front door, Adams has the solemn look of a man who's about to witness an execution.

While staring each other down, both Dan and the Captain ditch their belts and weapons. A fair fight, with nothin' but the tools your Mama gave you. Mano y mano. And then this thing turns into Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. No standdown. No circling each other, with fists raised, waiting for the opponent to make a misstep. No dancing. These two beasts just ran at each other and collided.

And this looked like a real fight, man. It was just ugly. No melodrama here, with tight close-ups of each of the combatants, or punches that sent one another flying 10 feet away. Dan and Turner rolled around like animals in the mud, grappling for leverage, sneaking in punches at any opportunity, using fists, elbows, knees, or whatever other body part would help. And I was riveted. HBO could only hope for a brawl this good on "Boxing After Dark." No sporting event I've watched this year has entertained me more.

Why? Because I didn't know what was going to happen. Dan's not one of those characters that makes you say, "Oh, they'd never kill him. He's too important." And unlike Al, Bullock, or Hearst, we don't know if history says he'll move on from Deadwood to other things. So there was a real chance we were going to watch Capt. Turner break the poor guy's neck, with his boss man watching from a terrace. And there were plenty of times during their ugly dance when it looked like Dan was done. Even Al thought so, once the Captain stuck Dan's face in a puddle of mud.

But Dan wasn't going down like that. If he had to die in that fight, he was going to try everything. So he dipped into the "dirty fighting" bag. And what did he pull out? CAPTAIN TURNER'S LEFT EYE! OH MY GOD! No, he di'int! NO, HE DI'INT! Stuck his thumb right in and yanked that sucker out. Turner screamed in horrible pain, like... well, a man who just got his eyeball pulled out, and pitifully tried to crawl away, while his eye dangled from its socket. Finally, Dan - either to put the Captain out of his misery or to shut his wailing up - ended the whole thing with a couple of log swings to the head.

And once the thing's done, in maybe the best shot of all (and I loved the way the director framed Hearst and Al before and after the fight), Al just takes the toothpick out of his mouth and walks back into his office. Like the whole set-to was just a distraction that kept him from his regular work. And he just leaves Hearst there to look at his buddy's dead body, face down in the thoroughfare.

I was spent after watching it. I'm spent after writing about it. I need a cigarette. Or another shot of whiskey. Unlike Dan, who just wants a pat on the back from his boss, the man he loves.

And now, I'm much like Al, talking to Chief Head in the Box, pleading for wisdom. "Did you not want first to fuckin' understand?" I'm trying to understand, dear Hoozie, some of the characters whose exploits we watch each week.

What exactly is Dan so shaken up about? Would a hug from Al, some positive reinforcement and appreciation, make him put some clothes back and face the world again? The week before, Dan admitted that Al hurt his feelings when he asked Adams to be his representative with Hearst. Is he upset that he had to resort to dirty tactics to win the fight? Or maybe he knows just how close he came to being killed.

Why does Stapleton grab and talk into big boobs like they're bullhorns? Could that possibly get him off? And while I'm on the subject, has there ever been a more honest exchange between boss and employer than Stapleton admitting to Tolliver that he probably couldn't do the job asked of him because of his "spasm of sex interest"? Try that one with your boss tomorrow.

Did the N----- General know Hostetler was on the verge of killing himself? He seemed to have a knowing look while Hostetler was getting all hot under the collar, as Steve was accusing him of lying (yet again). And he had a look of resignation once he heard the gunshot, too.

Why exactly is Trixie keeping her mouth shut with Alma? She'll bust anyone's balls in the camp, yet when it comes to Mrs. Ellsworth doping, Trixie just gives the stink-eye? What's up with that?

And does anyone have a better living situation than Sol "Pain in the Balls" Starr? Dude just knocks on the wall, and out comes Trixie like Grandma Groundhog to service his johnson. That, my friend, is one sweet arrangement. And don't he know it, sitting up with hands folded chastely over lap, in gleeful anticipation. "Too fuckin' healthy minded," my ass.


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