Deadwood has never shied away from theatrical flourishes that make metaphors concrete. But the one that kicked off Sunday's episode—a portentous, King Lear-style thunderstorm that howled through town and turned the already muddy streets into soup—was so capital-D Dramatic that during certain shots, one half-expected the camera to pull back and reveal a proscenium arch framed by velvet curtains. Dramatically speaking, a storm was about to hit the camp; what simpler way to say that than with an actual storm?
On this gray, wet morning, the Deadwood Pioneer published a letter by Sheriff Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) to the family of a miner who was murdered for trying to organize against his boss, George Hearst (Gerald McRaney). Hearst, a gold mining tycoon who aims to rule Deadwood by destroying its burgeoning sense of law and order, was in a vulnerable spot for the first time since arriving in Deadwood. In the past few days he had already been humiliated by the public death of his feared chief henchman in a street fight (the killer was Dan Dority, boss strongman for Hearst's main business rival, Al Swearengen) and by his subsequent arrest by Bullock for cursing and threatening the sheriff. Fearing Hearst's wrath, the town's most influential citizens then gathered to discuss a pre-emptive strike against any gunmen he might hire; but instead of using force, they decided to publish Bullock's heartfelt condolence in the Deadwood Pioneer, in order to “bear witness” to the man's death and bring the camp together against Hearst and his minions.
As the storm winds blew, the newspaper's publisher, A.W. Merrick (Jeffrey Jones) and his constant companion and maybe-protégé, the telegraph operator Blazanov (Pasha D. Lynchnikoff), went from storefront to storefront, delivering the paper. It was a Robert Altman-style narrative hand-off device, moving us from location to location and character to character while building dread of Hearst's response. A succession of simple but meticulous shots by director Ed Bianchi—the show's most elegant storyteller—invested this elemental display with Old Testament coldness. (The wide shot of Blazanov and Merrick entering the Grand Central Hotel in the background, while two out-of-focus pots swung and clanked in the foreground, was pure John Ford.) After 52 minutes worth of anxious anticipation, the human storm finally arrived, heralded by hoofbeats of Hearst's hired guns riding into town and assembling beneath Hearst's balcony.