Summering in Deadwood: “Sold Under Sin”
Season One, Episode Twelve
[A note before we move on: friend of the blog Todd VanDerWerff is going through the show from a different perspective than I am, having already seen it, and is recapping the show for The A.V. Club. You can check out his thoughts on the first three episodes there – I am sure they are far more entertaining than my own.]
Just as I expected, there was a moment in Season One of Deadwood where my ability to successfully stop after each episode to blog about it, or to find enough time after watching a disc to sufficiently try to summarize where things were going to that point, pretty much disappeared. This isn’t a sign that I have become disinterested in the show, or even necessarily that I was so engrossed that I couldn’t take the time to stop. Rather, it was a combination from some “real world” commitments and the fact that this show may have some of the most unique pacing I’ve seen in a drama of this nature.
Admittedly, I’m used to watching The Wire in terms of my epic ensemble HBO shows go, and as such I got used to a single plotline denoting a season, and that plotline representing the plot that you could sort of follow your way through. In the process, you learn things about each character, the process serving as the main impetus while the characters react as seems necessary, often times to tragic or at the very least suspenseful results.
But what I’m learning watching “Sold Under Sin” is that Deadwood operates differently: yes, each season represents more one large storyline than any small selection of storylines contributing to a whole, but what sets Deadwood apart is that there isn’t really a plot to speak of. While the show’s finale shows the outside world infiltrating this lawless camp more than it has before, the show has been clear from the beginning that this was an inevitability, rather than anything we would find surprising or that would bring forth surprising behaviour from these characters.
On some level, this would be a complaint about another show: I can’t think of a single characters whose path has fundamentally surprised me, or gone in a different direction than I expected, and the show has relied almost entirely on nuance and performance in terms of its characters fulfilling predetermined destiny more than charting their own path. The show’s plot, meanwhile, has moved so slowly that a majority of its more explosive conflicts are left entirely absent from the finale, left smoldering while smaller and more recent conflicts prove the most dramatic in the episode. If we were to judge this finale based on these qualifiers, expecting dramatic shifts in character or plot resolution, “Sold Under Sin” is an abject failure.
But, just to be clear, this isn’t a show that should be judged on those qualities: those acting nuances are just plain compelling, the performances coming alive in this episode as in every episode right in line with Milch’s particular brand of dialogue, and the smoldering embers of conflict in the town are so full of potential that it was all I could do, even finishing the finale as the sun rose, to keep from popping in the first disc of Season Two.
And isn’t that the right way to judge a show, especially one which has clearly not yet begun (and considering its cancellation might not end) its journey?