TV Rewind: Deadwood
“Reconnoitering the Rim”
By Eric Hughes
July 12, 2012
An episode ago had Swearengen waking from a night of slumber and then pissing into a pot while overlooking Deadwood from his bedroom window. I read it like a not so subtle statement of masculinity. You know, “I’m a man. These are my people. I shall look out at them from a second-story window while peeing into a cup.”
Up to then, Swearengen was calling just about all the shots in the lawless town. Owner of what I assume to be Deadwood’s most successful business enterprise, the dude welded enormous power through tremendous intimidation - “fuck y’all, ya cocksuckas!” - and access to money. Intimidation led him to wealth, and the two together made him Deadwood’s prized turkey. And he knew so. Everybody did.
Then the guy across the way sells his hotel business, and a savvy entrepreneur from Chicago moves in. By the end of the day he’d open up a swankier establishment than Swearengen’s Gem named The Bella Union. In the short term, at least, Swearengen might indeed have his first formidable business rival.
In response, Swearengen doesn’t cower in the corner - he wouldn’t be the Al Swearengen monster he’d created in Deadwood if he did - but he also doesn’t play the game, I don’t think, with the same kind of gusto we’ve come to expect from the guy.
Swearengen looks out his window at what’s unfolding on the streets below. Cy and the women and the frickin’ Bella Union parade happens upon everything. Energy is high. The people are gleeful. And Swearengen is looking out the window. Just looking, really.
It’s real interesting, then, watching Al look out the window. Despite not saying much anything, you know his insides must be screaming. In his own home, certainly, he can say whatever he so pleases. But no words seem to satisfy, it seems, and so Swearengen just looks out the window.
Some time later, Swearengen dresses up nice and waltzes inside the The Bella Union to formally introduce himself to the new neighbors. How astounding is it that The Bella Union folk transformed the insides of a hotel into a craps hall, bar and brothel in just a few hours? Very astounding I’d say!
Nevertheless The Bella Union, as Cy discloses to Swearengen, is slated to open by 8, and so after the formal introduction, Swearengen attempts to work out some business agreements with Cy. Should they charge uniform rates for their whores? Should they offer different games for their patrons to play? That sort of thing.
Not only does Cy not bite at any of it, he makes the convincing argument that The Bella Union and the Gem are offering different atmospheres, and that the money they’re attempting to earn wouldn’t (well, shouldn’t) bleed over into the other’s pot.
Swearengen takes it like a champ. And by that I mean he shakes Cy’s hand - without spitting into it first, mind you - and wishes hi luck. And with that, the stage has been set for some juicy battles.
I don’t hate Al Swearengen by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know I’d handle my days a hell of a lot differently than he does. For one, I don’t kill people. That’s the easy one. But beyond that, Al’s a rather conniving fellow who I’ve also come to realize is an incredibly paranoid man. In every sense of the word, really: He suspects everyone is out to get him.
Take the episode’s final scene, where his whore, Trixie, is shaving his feet hairs with a razor. She’s doing so as delicately as can be, as it were, and he continuously yells at her not to cut so deep. She cuts some more, and he yells again, “Don’t cut so deep!”
Now I’ve never had a whore, nor anyone, cut my foot hair with a razor before. From the looks of it, though, Trixie was doing just fine. And yet Swearengen still had something to bitch about, and fear. He feared his whore was digging into his foot too deeply with a turn-of-the-19th-century razor. And this is the same guy who, a day ago or so, fatally stabbed a dude in the chest.
I had this in mind during additional viewings of Al’s meet and greet with Cy. My eyes trained on Al. He appeared so small and meek, I’ve decided, next to Cy and his Chicago money. Like a pug happening upon a pit bull. Cy had all the answers that went beyond penetration by Al’s probing questions. And so Al totally balked at it.
Through all Al’s shady dealings and extreme narcissism, you can’t help but feel for the guy. Cy’s already figured out where Al’s money comes from - the disadvantaged, the slow - and Cy’s been in town for what, four hours? It’s an open secret, really, and yet Cy’s the first dude we know about who’s poking, perhaps successfully, at Swearengen’s robust shell.
Hickok’s a foe, but in a dick measuring/BMOC kind of way. Swearengen’s true game is money. And Cy’s, I think, is too.