House Logo
Explore categories +

Molly Parker (#110 of 14)

Deadwood Recap Season 3, Episode 12, "Tell Him Something Pretty"

Comments Comments (...)

Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, “Tell Him Something Pretty”
Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, “Tell Him Something Pretty”

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.

Deadwood Recap Season 3, Episode 11, "The Cat Bird Seat"

Comments Comments (...)

Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 11, “The Cat Bird Seat”
Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 11, “The Cat Bird Seat”

Deep down, you just knew that Whitney Ellsworth (Jim Beaver) was too good to live.

When we first met him, the Deadwood character was a grizzled, foulmouthed prospector. You sensed decency there, but it was buried under so many layers of hard experience that you weren’t sure if he’d ever excavate it. Yet over three seasons, he established himself as one of the se ries’ most good-hearted characters, along with Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif), Martha Bullock (Anna Gunn) and Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie). Time and time again, Ellsworth stepped up and did the right (often difficult) thing, sacrificing his own comfort to give comfort to others, namely his wife, mining heiress, banker and drug addict Alma Garret (Molly Parker), and her adopted daughter Sofia (Bree Seanna Wall), who was orphaned in a stagecoach attack in the show’s very first episode.

And now he’s gone—shot dead in a tent by a Pinkerton goon while seeing to Alma’s gold claim in Sunday’s episode “The Cat Bird Seat.” That Ellsworth’s death was so brutally matter-of- fact—banal, even, like the death of certain Sopranos characters—somehow made it more hurtful, because he was on his way toward being not just a good person, but a great and significant one, an example of how to behave toward one’s fellow human be ings. Just last week, when Alma was shot at by a Pinkerton in the employ of her chief business rival, George Hearst (Gerald McRaney)—in an attempt to spur El lsworth and Alma’s ex-boyfriend, Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Swearengen), into a violent reprisal that would give Hearst an excuse to level the town—El lsworth let himself be talked down from his rage. To invoke the old western cliché, he refrained from doing what a man’s gotta do. Now one wonders what might have happened if he’d gone ahead; he still might have ended up dumped in a buckboard, but at least he might have taken one or two Pinkertons with him.

Deadwood Recap Season 3, Episode 10, "A Constant Throb"

Comments Comments (...)

Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 10, “A Constant Throb”
Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 10, “A Constant Throb”

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.

Deadwood Recap Season 3, Episode 9, "Amateur Night"

Comments Comments (...)

Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 9, “Amateur Night”
Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 9, “Amateur Night”

Sunday’s Deadwood contained a simple exchange between madam-turned-do-gooder Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens) and deputy Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie) about the new schoolhouse that could be read on multiple levels at once.

On a pure plot level, this particular scene was about Joanie asking for help in locating the man responsible for building the town’s new schoolhouse, a simple wooden structure that just happens to have a tree growing up through its floorboards and out through the its roof. Joanie told Charlie she was acting on behalf of the schoolteacher Martha Bullock (Anna Gunn), the wife of Charlie’s boss, the sheriff (Timothy Olyphant); Martha wanted to be able to tell the kids why their schoolhouse looked the way it did. What would possess a man to build a house around an old tree instead of cutting it down?

Charlie asked Joanie why the teacher felt she needed to track down the architect and find out about the schoolhouse’s past.

“To finish the story,” Joanie replied.

“More than where the man got to once he was through, I think the story was of the tree, and the schoolhouse built around it,” Charlie said.

Deadwood Recap Season 3, Episode 7, "Unauthorized Cinnamon"

Comments Comments (...)

Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 7, “Unauthorized Cinnamon”
Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 7, “Unauthorized Cinnamon”

“No one gets out alive, Doc.”

That’s Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) talking to the tenderhearted, terminally ill Doc Coch ran (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.

On this series, unlike many others, no deceased character is ever forgotten; we are frequently and pointedly reminded of their passing, sometimes when we least expect it. Some invocations are straightforward—Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie) and Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) visiting the grave of Wild Bill Hickok (Keith Carradine), for instance, and talking to him as if he were standing right there. Others are more subtle: Seth and Martha Bullock (Timothy Swearengen and Anna Gunn) walking the adopted daughter of Seth’s mistress, Alma Garret Ellsworth (Molly Parker), to school, a ritual they would have done with their own son if he hadn’t been trampled by a runaway horse.

The show’s sensitivity to pain and loss is so acute that it even extends beyond the series’s roster of lead and supporting characters, embracing people you never even knew when they were alive. At the end of the fourth episode of season one, the vigilante pursuit of Wild Bill’s killer was interrupted by the arrival of a horseman who rode into town bearing the severed head of a Native American—a bit of terrorist street theater, designed to divert Deadwood’s citizens from their domestic anxieties and unite them against a (manufactured, it turned out) external threat.

But rather than discard the head after it had served its purpose, Swearengen ended up stor ing it in a box in his office. From time to time—often when he needs to think out loud and can’t endure conversing with characters who likely aren’t as smart as he is—Swearengen will haul out the box and address it like Yo rick’s skull. Grotesque as this description may sound, Swea rengen’s conversations with the head illustrate the show’s empa thy; the gruff Western gangster, who in season one electrified throngs of hoopleheads with speeches about “dirt-worship ping heathens,” tenderly addresses the box as “Chief” and has, over time, gifted it with the personality of a wise warrior—Swearengen’s equal and perhaps even his shaman.

Deadwood Recap Season 3, Episode 5, "A Two-Headed Beast"

Comments Comments (...)

Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 5, “A Two-Headed Beast”
Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 5, “A Two-Headed Beast”

Savage men who disagree beat each other’s brains in. “Civilized” men who disagree send proxies to beat each other’s brains in.

Such was the lesson of Sunday’s Deadwood, which climaxed with TV’s most brutal one-on-one fight since Tony Soprano and Ralphie Cifaretto had their last tango in season four of “The Sopranos”: a street brawl between Dan Dority (W. Earl Brown), chief muscleman for Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), and the hulking Captain Turner (Allan Graff), Man Friday and designated leg-breaker for George Hearst (Gerald McRaney). The showdown ended with the battered, bloody, clearly overmatched Dan, prone in the mud beneath Turner, jamming his thumb into Turner’s left eye socket, ripping his eyeball out a la Little Jack Horner digging into a Christmas pie, then rising to his feet, grabbing a chunk of firewood and silencing Turner’s screams with a caveman-style coup-de-grace.

It’s hard to say which pay cable mano-a-mano was nastier; featured “Sopranos” weapons included kitchen implements and an insecticide, and the denouement was a bathtub evisceration complete with gratuitous toupee joke. But in the end, the Deadwood fight was dramatically richer. It had a much more tangled motivation than, “It was a long time coming,” and the fact that it occurred in broad daylight in the town’s main thoroughfare meant it had implications beyond who would kill whom.

Like so many public events on Deadwood, the Dority-Turner fight was political theater conducted before a horrified live audience, an event designed to send a message to onlookers that when the drama ended, the town’s direction would be irrevocably altered. I suspect that when the show finishes its regular run, the Dority-Turner fight will earn a spot on any shortlist of the show’s most significant public events—equal to, and in some ways greater than, the shooting of Wild Bill Hickok in season one (signaling the death of the Old West’s mythic self-image and the embrace of a more mechanized, commercialized, safe era) and Alma’s wedding at the end of season two (which united the town in spirit, while behind closed doors, Swearengen was uniting it legally, by closing the charter deal with Yankton). The fight between Dority and Turner was really a fight between Swearengen and Hearst. It was a showdown between the lesser and greater of two evils—the first of whom, in his roundabout, often repellent way, has the camp’s best interests at heart.

The Society Method: A Portrait of Alma Garret Ellsworth

Comments Comments (...)

The Society Method: A Portrait of Alma Garret Ellsworth
The Society Method: A Portrait of Alma Garret Ellsworth

Among hardcore Deadwood fans, a discussion of favorite characters could go back and forth for hours. When the debate shifts to assigning a least favorite character, though, the verdict comes down in a hurry: Alma Garret Ellsworth. While the other characters’ flaws and failures get treated with empathy and seriousness, Alma’s characterization usually hews to Farnum’s harsh summation: “A haughty cunt.” True, her biography doesn’t engender a rooting interest—she marries into New York high society, comes to Deadwood ostensibly seeking adventure among the unwashed, lays around her hotel room in ball gowns doing drugs the whole time, and, when her husband dies, takes up with the married sheriff. Meanwhile, her inherited gold claim turns into an unwitting bonanza. Her hostile reception among viewers, though, may ultimately be the result of her character’s many ambiguities. With Alma (Molly Parker) what looks like one thing often turns out to be another.

Moments out of time: the quiet revelations of Deadwood

Comments Comments (...)

Moments out of time: the quiet revelations of Deadwood
Moments out of time: the quiet revelations of Deadwood

“No grand gestures, fucking Bullock, until I’ve had my talk with Hearst,” Al warns while trying to corral the fallout from Bullock’s beatdown of Farnum. Al’s paranoia is well placed, as grand public gestures of all kinds dominate Deadwood. In Season Three, though, fleeting looks and barely discernible gestures have assumed a growing place in the storytellers’ arsenal. They tell a story of their own, often one that contradicts the characters’ words.

In the season-three premiere, Martha Bullock (Anna Gunn), now the camp’s schoolmarm, reads sentences for the children to transcribe. When an eager student raises her hand to indicate that she’s the first to finish, Martha looks over the work, corrects a misspelling, and tells the girl, “It’s not so important always to be right, Mary. Or to be first.” At this point, Martha loses her place in the lesson plan for a moment as the pertinence of the advice to her own life sinks in. In season two, when Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) offered upon her arrival in town to end his affair with Alma and start clean with Martha, she bitterly repudiated him on principle. But in season three, Martha begins to shrug off the impossible legacy of tragedy piled on humiliation and opens to the possibilities that are left. On the way, she drains the poison from her resentment and attempts an authentic relationship with her husband.

Deadweek: A Gift for Reinvention—The Women of Deadwood

Comments Comments (...)

Deadweek: A Gift for Reinvention—The Women of <em>Deadwood</em>
Deadweek: A Gift for Reinvention—The Women of <em>Deadwood</em>

Set, as it is, several decades before women won the right to vote in the United States, one might be forgiven for expecting the women of David Milch’s Deadwood to fall into the seemingly set roles women have held in western after western. There’s the supportive frontier wife and the feisty prostitute, the nearly regal madam and the schoolteacher, even a woman who seemingly wishes to take on the role of a man to survive a male-dominated world.

But the women of Deadwood are more than types. Just as the men of Deadwood remade themselves in the process of transforming a piece of land into a mining camp, the women likewise came to begin anew. But where Deadwood’s men may have reinvented themselves once, the women of Deadwood have done it several times over.

Alma Garrett Ellsworth (Molly Parker) may be the Deadwood citizen who is the least like the person we first met. She has gone from a perpetually drugged trophy wife to one of the town’s foremost powerbrokers who clearly has the upper hand in her second marriage. When she first arrived in camp, Alma was deeply dependent on her husband, a stereotypical East Coast dandy who knew nothing of the ways of the frontier. She was weak, reliant on crutches of all sorts. But a string of events pushed her into the mainstream of Deadwood society. First, her husband was murdered, and she dealt with the calamity by breaking her addiction. Second, she found herself caring for a child, the victim of a massacre by agents only vaguely under the control of the series’s central character, Al Swearengen (Ian McShane). Third, she was adopted into the body of Deadwood as a whole, and forged friendships with the prostitute Trixie (Paula Malcomson) and various men, including Wild Bill Hickock (Keith Carridine) and Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), whom she would eventually take as a lover. Finally, Alma discovered that her gold claim (inherited from her dead husband) was extraordinarily rich, giving her by default plenty of leeway in her dealings with the locals.

Deadweek: From Caesar to Corleone—The Dramatic Evolution of Deadwood

Comments Comments (...)

Deadweek: From Caesar to Corleone—The Dramatic Evolution of <em>Deadwood</em>
Deadweek: From Caesar to Corleone—The Dramatic Evolution of <em>Deadwood</em>

In fighting off waves of melancholy over Deadwood’s premature demise (HBO and creator David Milch will wrap things up with a couple of TV movies), it’s helpful to reflect on the improbability of the show’s existence. Poised to enter its third season as a modest hit, and riding a wave of critical admiration, the series has flourished amidst inhospitable conditions. A densely plotted serial belonging to the least popular of genres, the western, Deadwood owes as large a debt to high school civics class as it does to the shoot-out at the OK Corral. With its pug-face character actors, horseshit-speckled costumes, convoluted dialogue and the foulest disposition you’re likely to find outside of the local drunk tank, the show is what you’d charitably call “an acquired taste.”

What’s so remarkable about the show is not just way it’s forced an audience accustomed to spoon-feeding to surmount its own prejudices, but the fact that it continues to do so in astoundingly break-neck, Byzantine ways. While network mates (both deceased and soon to be) Carnivàle and The Sopranos leisurely genuflect over the comings and goings which shape the world around them, Deadwood lays down track scarcely before it rolls over it, leaving the flat footed choking on its dust. Like the mayfly, a season of Deadwood has a very short lifespan—typically a matter of weeks. But oh, the things it accomplishes in that time.