"No one gets out alive, Doc."
That's Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) talking to the tenderhearted, terminally ill Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif) in Sunday's Deadwood. Swearengen's terse statement didn't just reveal the empathy that has become his watchword; it was the key that unlocked this episode's unexpected sweetness and wrenching power.
Death has always hovered over Deadwood; like many hard-edged TV dramas, it's set in a savage universe that kills characters without warning. But Deadwood separates itself from nearly all other such series—with the possible exception of ABC's Lost—by portraying death (and its kissing cousin, near-death experience) not just as random individual tragedies, but as communal events that have the power to change the course of human events.
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