By Matt Zoller Seitz
"You stay in hailing distance."
That was the last line of last week's "Deadwood," delivered by saloon owner Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) to appointed sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), after a dramatic day that set up a confrontation between Al and the town's newest would-be patriarch, mining magnate George Hearst (Gerald McRaney).
When last we left our nasty little town, Hearst had terrorized Al by staging a shooting in his saloon, the Gem, to let everyone in Deadwood know who was really running things on the eve of the town's first elections.
How fitting, then, that the follow-up episode, "I Am Not the Man You Take Me For," started with a strangely beatific image of Al in his bed in the wee hours of the following morning, being stirred awake by a speech from a drunken miner who'd clambered atop the makeshift speechmaking scaffold erected down in the street outside Al's saloon.
Al listened for a moment but didn't get out of bed. At one point he turned on his side as if he'd made a decision to ignore the speech—as if he'd decided that it was just a dream and if he paid it no mind, it would go away. The drunk fell off the scaffold into the street and broke his neck; Al went back to sleep but seemed both surprised and disturbed the next morning, when he ambled to the window in his long johns and saw the hooplehead ("Deadwood" slang for a know-nothing prospector) lying there.
Like so much in "Deadwood," this low-key sequence of events had a metaphoric undertow. When we first met Al, he was a literally cutthroat capitalist who used to pride himself on the acquisition of power, money and property by any means necessary, killing anybody who stood in his way. Now, between brokering a deal with the regional government in Yankton, sponsoring Deadwood's first elections, and fending off a fearsome challenge from Hearst—the most powerful foe he's ever faced—he has to be wondering if his changed circumstances are real and irrevocable, or just a strange dream that will vanish when he wakes.
To read the rest of the Star-Ledger review, click here.