The closing shot of last night’s Deadwood episode was never meant as a series-ender. But that’s what it was, and for a number of reasons, it was both appropriate and troubling: Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen kneeling on the floor of his office, cleaning up a bloodstain.
The blood belonged to one of Al’s prostitutes, Jen (Jen Lutheran), whose only crime was vaguely resembling Trixie (Paula Malcomson). Trixie impulsively shot and wounded mining mogul George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) in last week’s episode to avenge Hearst’s contract killing of the good-hearted miner Ellsworth (Jim Beaver), husband of Alma Garret Ellsworth (Molly Parker), owner of Deadwood’s bank and its second largest gold claim.
Of course Hearst demanded that Trixie be killed. Al realized Hearst never got a good look at Trixie’s face because he was too busy looking at her exposed chest. So Al decided to sacrifice someone he didn’t care about in order to save a woman he still loves—and save Deadwood in the process.
The shot of Al scrubbing that floor didn’t just remind us of how many throats he’s slit. (He’s so experienced he’s been known to lecture employees on their scrubbing technique.) It suited the narrative of this episode, “Tell Him Something Pretty,” which complicated the show’s master narrative—barbarism giving way to civilization—and showed how the former never really gets pushed out by the latter, just enclosed and domesticated.