The second season of HBO's "Deadwood" required some adjustments on the part of viewers because it was more of the same, only different. The key dynamic of the first season was the arrival of Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) in Deadwood, intending to be a merchant opening a hardware franchise with his friend Sol Star (John Hawkes), but in the wake of the murder of Wild Bill Hickok ending up taking over the duties of sheriff from the inept Con Stapleton (Peter Jason). The big question was what the assumption of this responsibility would do to his uneasy relationship with Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), the proprietor of the Gem Saloon and unofficial master of Deadwood. However, Bullock's high and mighty attitude is at odds with his behavior with the widow Alma Garrett (Molly Barker), a hypocrisy that Swearengen will try to exploit.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the second season is how quickly creator David Milch reverses the two key relationships that help define Bullock. In the premier episode of the season, "A Lie Agreed Upon, Part 1," Swearengen rides Bullock about his affair with Alma and the two ends up in a vicious fight that sends them off the balcony of the Gem to land hard in the streets, just as Bullock's wife, Martha (Anna Gunn), his brother's widow, and her son, William (Josh Eriksson) arrive on the stage. Bullock has a broken nose and Swearengen broken ribs, and while both are temporarily out of action everybody in Deadwood assumes they are going to finish what they started. In "A Lie Agreed Upon, Part 2" there is a great effort by his friends to keep Bullock from going back to the Gem to get his badge and gun, which he removed before the fistfight. But when Bullock calls Swearengen out, his badge and gun are returned to him, along with an apology from Al. Suddenly, Bullock and Swearengen are on the same side, with the interest of the camp at heart.
Meanwhile, the arrival of his wife and stepson have ended Bullock's affair with the widow Garrett, and from the intimacy of their last tryst in her hotel room a curtain of formality drops between them. The only problem is that they are still enamored of each other and she turns out to be pregnant with his child, and being pregnant and unmarried is an unacceptable situation for a Victorian woman. This change of affairs now puts the relationship between Sol and the prostitute Trixie (Paula Malcomson) into the forefront of the show on the romantic front, since the idea that Ellsworth (Jim Beaver) would propose to Alma to give her situation the appropriate cover of legitimacy, is not exactly a love story. But then "Deadwood" was never exactly a romance.
More importantly the politics and economics of the town are now in flux. The arrival of a county commissioner from Yankton and the question of whether Deadwood would remain part of the Dakota Territory or become part of the Montana Territory, has Swearengen trying to play both sides to his advantage. But politicians might be the least of Al's worries, as Francis Wolcott (Garret Dillahunt), agent for the mining magnate George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), arrives in town. The plan is to make people think that the government is going to disallow claims, so that Wolcott can buy them cheap for Hearst, and Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe) and E.B. Farnum (William Sanderson) are enlisted in this cause. However, Wolcott's predilection for cutting the throats of prostitutes who look at him when he does not want to be looked at, makes him an even bigger wild card.
Things are changing quickly in Deadwood, but what stands out in this second season are the points where the action slows down and memorable episodes focus on Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif) trying to remove a kidney stone from Al ("New Money") or the entire camp waiting for a injured child to die ("Advances None Miraculous"). I also find it quite interesting that Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens) becomes the conscience of the town as she breaks from Tolliver and the Bella Union to open up her own brothel, Chez Ami. That this would make Joanie and Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) kindred spirits of a type is not surprising since the two women better represent the spirit of Deadwood than the likes of high class ladies like Alma and Martha (and with Trixie ministering to Al instead of looking out for Sofia, who is now with Alma, the spot is open for grabs) The shifting shades of community become one of the most compelling aspects of "Deadwood" as the pieces on the chessboard get rearranged and the game develops. There is more than constant swearing and great acting at work here.
The audio commentaries are a mixed bag, but there are enough insights to make them worth listening to. The final disc offers the most interesting bonus features, beginning with a featurette on "The Real Deadwood 1877" that allows historians to hold sway. Then there are three looks at the "Making of Season 2 Finale: Boy-the-Earth-Talks-To." The first "Trusting the process with David Milch" looks at how the show's creator works, whether lying on the floor of his office writing, rewriting, and rewriting again dialogue, or giving his actors background on a scene so they might have a chance of understanding some of what they are saying. "Mr. Wu Proves Out" focuses on the staging of some key scenes, but the highlight becomes when actor Keone Young says to Milch that one day Wu should cut off his queue and Milch gets all excited and says they should do it this season (which they do, as We learns another word of English). "The Wedding Celebration" is basically teaching the cast to dance for the big finale. There is also a collection of "Deadwood Daguerreotypes," with both historical photographs of the town and posed color portraits of some of the cast.