Vice kingpin and frontier power broker Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), once the reigning goblin prince of Deadwood, acted like a real prince in Sunday’s episode—the kind of man who jumps off a balcony to help a woman in danger.
The woman was Alma Garret Ellsworth (Molly Parker), proprietor of the camp’s first bank, owner of the area’s second richest gold claim, and now the target of what looked like an assassination attempt. The shots hit a storefront on either side of Alma; the shooter was a Pinkerton agent employed by gold mogul George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), who once tried to buy Alma’s claim. Later in the episode, Al, who’s studied Hearst carefully after being repeatedly abused by him, deduced the attack wasn’t meant to hurt Alma; it was intended to frighten the camp and provoke Alma’s husband, Whitney Ellsworth (Jim Beaver),and Alma’s ex-lover, Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) into a violent response, giving Hearst an excuse to unleash his hired guns on Deadwood.
It’s telling that when Al, a volatile man himself, profiled Hearst not as an evil wizard, but a wealthy, sadistic terrorist with a bad back, he devised a counter-strategy that required participants to keep a cool head—even Ellsworth and Bullock, who were so enraged that it’s a wonder their heads didn’t pop.
This article was originally published in the Star-Ledger.