Three Kinds of Murderers
SPOILER ALERT! I haven't generally posted on Deadwood even though it remains one of the best shows on television. Last night, Mrs. Bartender and I watched the season (and for many intents, the series) finale. While I'm sure many were disappointed that it ended not with a bang but with a whimper, as I reflected upon it (come on, can you do that with Two and a Half Men), I realized how perfect the ending was. As is often the case in literature (and sometimes life), the bad guys (or at least kind of bad guys in the case of Al) are more interesting than the good. And here, the contrast between Hearst, Cy, and Al is striking.
Start with Hearst--clearly the most evil and, unsurprisingly, most rational of the lot. His murder of Ellsworth was completely appropriate. He knew that killing Ellsworth was the best way to get him what he wanted--Mrs. Garrett's holding--and he did it without a single pang of regret, and, lo and behold, it worked. While he did want to avenge the woman who shot him, he was unwilling to destroy Deadwood for no reason. Once he got what he wanted--the holding and his (supposed) assailant dead--his work was done, and he moved on to his venture, the Anaconda. That he would die a little more than a decade later as a U.S. Senator is somehow fitting for this purely rational and purely evil man.
Then there is Cy. He aspires to something grander, but he is, at most, a second fiddle. Rebuked by Joanie (for a woman) and used (and abused) by Hearst, he is able to do no more than threaten to shoot Hearst only to murder instead the hapless opium addict, Leon, seemingly to demonstrate his frustration. This murder serves no purpose other than demonstrating Cy's impotence. He is cruel but weak, and it is no surprise that he has become nothing more than what he is.
Last comes Al, the true centerpiece of the series (and outstandingly acted by Ian McShane). He too shares a streak with Hearst of using murder to pursue a rational end. But there are major differences. First, he lets emotion interfere in a way Hearst never would. Simply put, Al cannot kill Trixie. She has done too much for him, and he knows it, and he lets sentiment put his own life at risk should the ruse be discovered. Second, even though Al is willing to kill an innocent prostitute, he knows he has done something wrong and must atone. That the show ends with Al cleaning the blood himself demonstrates his penance. As Adams aptly explains, "When he ain't lying Al's the most honorable man you'll meet."
Finally, kudos for the use of the Boss's version of Oh, Mary, Don't You Weep to end the show. A great song from a fantastic album.
Thankfully, we have 4 more hours of Deadwood before we say goodbye for ever.