Andy Cramed's boots
February 11, 2013 4:31 PM   Subscribe

There's a scene in Deadwood and I can't figure out entirely what it's doing there. It's spoilery, so details below the fold.

At the end of William Bullock's funeral, we see Martha Bullock come up the walkway in front of the Bullock home and sort of force Andy Cramed off to the side and into the creek (video). Soon after there's a shot of just his boots as he stands in the water. My question is, what does this little sequence do? I know that David Milch's style as both writer and showrunner involved a lot of improvisation, especially towards the end of a season, but there's something about this moment that feels significant that I can't put my finger on -- I've noticed that Milch likes to imbue certain characters and situations with allegorical significance (Merrick as an embodiment of the fourth estate comes to mind) and for some reason I feel like that's going on here and I'm just missing something. I could be wrong, and it might just be there as another instance of Martha Bullock's anger and denial at her son's death, but in any case that scene has stuck with me since I saw it.
posted by invitapriore to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I forgot to mention that the other possible reading I had was that the shot with his feet in the water has a sort of baptismal air to it, but that feels weak to me in light of the fact that his transformation from conman to preacher is long-completed by this point and it's hard to fit it in with how he got his feet in the creek in the first place.
posted by invitapriore at 4:34 PM on February 11, 2013

This is a great catch that I didn't recall from watching the episode originally. In the moment that sets this up, Cramed allows himself to step into the creek so as to make way for Martha Bullock, which strikes me as a sign of humility—the man of the cloth making way for the bereaved. The shot of his boots would then reinforce that—that even if that moment of humility was partially forced upon him (by Martha's progress), he accepted it as rightful, since no one deserves more deference than the grieving mother.

Makes me want to watch the whole series again. Curse HBO for cancelling the fourth season.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 4:46 PM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Cramed's been washed clean, and this is a symbolic baptism.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:21 PM on February 11, 2013

When I first saw it I took it as a sign of Andy's inexperience. By this time, he's only been a preacher for a very short while, less than a year, and this is most likely the first funeral he's officiated. You see earlier in the episode that he's not quite used to this role yet, when he clumsily asks the grieving parents for what Bible passage to read, and they can't think of any, and Martha more or less breaks down. He doesn't quite know how to handle a situation like that.

So when Martha changes her mind, and allows people to come in to see the body, he knows he has to be there to greet the people attending, but he handles it awkwardly. He steps aside and his boots lands in the water, but he can't figure out how to get out of the situation without embarrassing himself further, and breaking protocol.

I don't quite buy that there is any more symbolic meaning to that specific event (that it is a symbolic baptism occurred to me to, but that's a little bit silly), but if you want to read more into it, where you have to look is into his character.

If you were to identify the most central theme in Deadwood, it would almost certainly be the formation of a community, and the birth of civilization. The first preacher the town had was a creature of the frontier, a possibly mad (and definitely ill) man who was constantly searching for redemption, seeking it in the wildest of places. There would be no room for him in a civilized Deadwood (and indeed, the more civilized Deadwood gets, the more his body starts breaking down).

Cramed is a different kind of beast: he was part of the chaotic origins of the settlement, a thief and a hustler living outside the civilizing influence of the law. He was drawn to the camp for its place outside the law, but he decided that he wanted to be more than than that, that he wanted this place to change for the better. So he chose this path, a path totally opposite to what he was before, and he decided to be a civilizing force, a force that bound together this group of people into a real community (similar to what Bullock did when he decided to become sheriff). But he's not there yet, he's still trying to get comfortable in his role as a spiritual leader and guide. In short, he's going through an adolescence of sorts, a similar kind of adolescence that the camp itself is going through as it too grows into its place as a properly civilized society, not just an outlaw outpost.
posted by gkhan at 8:13 PM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth, I really like gkhan's explanation. It's quite holistic, and I think the boots-in-the-water scene is indeed of a piece with the passage-from-the-bible scene. Milch also spends so much time in the show depicting all the little indignities every character faces—I'm thinking along the lines of Farnum's patchy coat. The newbie preacher, forced to stand in the stream because he's never dealt with a funeral crowd? Perfect.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:35 PM on February 11, 2013

I always thought it was a literal depiction of Andy "getting his feet wet". It has pleasing high-low symmetry with the baptismal/washed clean metaphor, but, as much as I am part of the Milch-is-a-genius camp, Deadwood definitely occasionally had weird little just plain overliteral moments. Andy's whole reappearance is kind of silly, but it (and the entire funeral) is a convenient axis for the portrait of community formation so important to the theme of the show, so it makes sense that every aspect of it would be explicated.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:37 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Excellent. This bit from gkhan's comment...

You see earlier in the episode that he's not quite used to this role yet, when he clumsily asks the grieving parents for what Bible passage to read, and they can't think of any, and Martha more or less breaks down. He doesn't quite know how to handle a situation like that.

...jibes well with something I noticed, which at first just struck me on a subconscious level as kind of weird, but on repeated viewings is glaring, which is that he just has absolutely no idea how to enunciate the various texts that he's preaching from. He starts off trying to sing them like psalmody, and then drops that idea, and then the force of his emphasis on different words varies wildly over the course of the sermon, and yeah with all that other stuff it's clear to me now these various facts are all pointing to his inexperience (which, incidentally, the "feet in the water" explanation meshes well with). I think you're right, too, Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell -- everything we've seen up to this point leads us to believe that Cramed's transformation is deep and genuine, and that little moment of grace on his part is just one more indication of that.

Anyway, thanks everybody. I think all of these answers pick out something true about this sequence, so I labeled them all best.
posted by invitapriore at 2:30 PM on February 13, 2013

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