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William Sanderson (#110 of 7)

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 10, “He’s Our You”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 10, “He’s Our You”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 10, “He’s Our You”

Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews) has always been one of Lost’s most under-served characters. If you go back and look at the Pilot, the revelation that he’s an Iraqi is played for friggin’ COMIC EFFECT, for God’s sake. Andrews’ performance is so solid (to the point where he’s one of the few Lost cast members to score an Emmy nomination, somewhat inexplicably) and his presence is so great that he’s been kept alive long after other characters the show had no idea how to service would have been killed off. Every season, the series tosses in an episode that pretty much boils down to, “Hey, Sayid used to torture. Isn’t that MORALLY AMBIGUOUS?!” and calls it a day. Without Andrews, most of these episodes would be complete yawns (only “Solitary” and “The Economist” are really worthy of his talents), but the actor has managed to save most of these by just gritting his teeth and pushing through the pain. Like, pretty much all I can remember about Season Three’s “Enter 77” is that the Sayid flashback was ridiculous (I think it involved a mystical cat?), but Andrews was SO GOOD that I liked it more than I probably should have.

On the Circuit: Blade Runner: The Final Cut

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On the Circuit: <em>Blade Runner: The Final Cut</em>
On the Circuit: <em>Blade Runner: The Final Cut</em>

Is there anything more to see, anything left to say about Blade Runner? More to see, yes. That’s always the case with the great ones, and the fact that there isn’t much left to say about Ridley Scott’s sci-fi cult classic doesn’t contradict the first claim; it illuminates it. “More of the same” is a very good thing in this case.

The Final Cut is remastered from original 35mm elements and transferred to High Definition digital video at 4K (4096 horizontal pixel) resolution. Projected in HD at 24 frames a second for this year’s New York Film Festival, this Blade Runner has no visible grain, dirt or scratches, stuttering frames, reel-change “cigarette burns” or soft-focus moments when the film gets loose in the projector gate. Funny how I thought I’d miss all those things, their “organic” qualities, but this restoration gives us a pristine image without sacrificing warmth. The picture even fooled our editor, who at first thought he was looking at a 35mm projection. This Blade Runner removes every barrier to getting lost in Scott’s fire-and-rain Los Angeles short of presenting it as interactive theater.

Here are 10 images, sounds and ideas from Blade Runner that stand out in 2007 and/or HD:

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

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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 9, "Amateur Night"

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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 5, "A Two-Headed Beast"

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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.

Deadweek: A Mystery to Himself—A Portrait of Seth Bullock

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Deadweek: A Mystery to Himself—A Portrait of Seth Bullock
Deadweek: A Mystery to Himself—A Portrait of Seth Bullock

The following is a feature on Seth Bullock and actor Timothy Olyphant that originally ran in the Star-Ledger May 5, 2005. I wrote it early in the season, after having seen just the first two episodes of season two, which showcased Bullock’s volcanic temper and showed the arrival of his wife Martha (Anna Gunn) and stepson William (Josh Eriksson) and the end of his affair with socialite Alma Garret (Molly Parker). For various reasons, the piece didn’t run until later, after weeks of Bullock’s being sidelined by domestic drama, and on the brink of an even more bleak, recessive period following his son’s death. However, Olyphant and creator David Milch’s insights into Bullock remain relevant, and are highlighted again in the first five episodes of Season Three, so for what it’s worth, I’m reprinting the piece here.

Let us now praise the law.

On HBO’s western Deadwood, the law is Seth Bullock, a hardware store owner and sometime politician who somehow wound up wearing a badge in a Gold Rush mud-hole full of hustlers, killers and thieves.

But Bullock is not your standard Western goody-two-shoes. As written by series creator David Milch and played by Timothy Olyphant, he’s Andy Sipowicz in a Stetson, a dark knight weighed down by invisible armor. His public mission to civilize a lawless town mirrors his private struggle to contain his own demons.

Bullock is a brave, righteous lawman, but also a sullen, hypocritical bully. He prizes loyalty and craves respect, but is rude to his friends and often takes their love and patience for granted. He cheats on his absent wife (Anna Gunn) with recently widowed Alma Garret (Molly Parker), yet still strides through Deadwood as if he has a lock on virtue, and thrashes any man who dares disagree.

He cracks down on common thugs and killers, yet forges a deep and curiously respectful relationship with the town’s deadliest crime boss, saloon owner Al Swearengen (Ian McShane). He can spot a troublemaker from a block away, yet seems unable or unwilling to see his own flaws.

“What it comes down to is the burden of responsibility,” said Olyphant, 37, during a visit to the Los Angeles set of Deadwood in January. “It’s the burden you went out and took upon yourself. You regret that moment for every day you have to live it all out.”

At this point, Olyphant has no regrets. As the leading man on TV’s oddest, most dramatically complex series, he gets to explore powerfully contradictory feelings each week. But playing Bullock is still a challenge for Olyphant, a well-read, talkative fellow with a droll wit.

Deadweek: Season 2, Episodes 13 & 14: “A Lie Agreed Upon, Parts 1 & 2.”

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Deadweek: Season 2, Episodes 13 & 14: “A Lie Agreed Upon, Parts 1 & 2.”
Deadweek: Season 2, Episodes 13 & 14: “A Lie Agreed Upon, Parts 1 & 2.”

A preview of the first few episodes of Season 2. Originally published in the Star-Ledger March 6, 2005

HBO’s Deadwood, which begins its second season tonight, is the greatest dramatic series in the history of American television. It attains this distinction by doing so many difficult, contradictory things at once. It is, in no particular order, a western, a gangster picture, a political drama, a lewd farce and a comedy of manners; an operatic potboiler chock full of sex, violence and profanity; a sustained long-form narrative that interweaves parallel plots tighter than hangman’s rope; a satire on American hypocrisy and greed; a portrait of needy, ambitious people who see through other people’s illusions but cleave tight to their own; a revisionist look at frontier life; a case study of a civilization struggling to create itself, and a weekly showcase for characters and dialogue so rich in complexity and contradiction that they deserve to be called Shakespearean.

In comparison, even the most noteworthy television seems inadequate. HBO’s The Sopranos is a gangster potboiler, a social satire, a kitchen sink drama and a riff on psychology and dreams, but rarely all at once. NBC’s Hill Street Blues and ABC’s recently departed NYPD Blue were panoramic urban dramas, police procedurals, morality plays and character studies, but not simultaneously. Deadwood, in contrast, operates on multiple levels in every scene and sometimes every line.

The first four episodes of the second season showcase Deadwood at its most ambitious, imaginative and confident. Be warned, though; like other serial dramas, this one tosses newcomers into unfamiliar narrative waters and expects them to swim, and the water is deep and dark. Tonight’s premiere contains a nasty fistfight and an even nastier gunfight ending not in glory, but in embarrassment and painful injuries; the second episode includes a frank, protracted sex act and a bloody autopsy scene, and the third and fourth installments revolve around a singularly painful medical procedure performed without anesthetic. Ugly? Yes. Gratuitous? Rarely. Like the shooting of the police captain in The Godfather or the blinding in King Lear or the psychologically intense sex scenes in Last Tango in Paris, this western’s graphic content aims to shock audiences out of their complacency. The series earns its freedom by putting the nastiness in context: It was a hard time and place, inhabited by hard people.