Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Thoughts On Season 3, Episodes 1-3, Of The HBO Program Deadwood (2004-06)

  • Hearst is here.
  • He’s not the Bad Guy.
  • He is a bad man, but not the Bad Guy: Darth Vader is a Bad Guy, but George Hearst is time, or gravity, or the dawn.
  • George Hearst is amalgamation and capital, and he won.
  • On the show, and in the world that made the show, George Hearst won.
  • Al Swearengen died in a Denver thoroughfare, his skull cracked open.
  • Wild Bill Hickock was murdered in the first season.
  • Cy Tolliver never actually existed.
  • 01_fosterandpartners_hearst_tower
  • Hearst won.
  • The real George Hearst was born in Missouri, and though he liked to mention the log cabin in which he was raised, his father owned a general store and several farms that were worked by slaves; he ended his life with the equivalent of half-a-billion dollars (which doesn’t seem like all that much nowadays, which is completely fucked up) and being called Senator.
  • The American fucking Dream.
  • Hearst was obviously a tough businessman, but most likely not a murderous psychopath who shook with rage every time he had to speak to another human being.
  • David Milch made that up, but he made it up very well.
  • This is George Hearst:
  • George_Hearst
  • Actually, that’s Gerald McRaney, but you take my meaning.
  • One of the visual motifs of Deadwood is the mirror.
  • Scene after scene starts with a character as viewed via a mirror, and this is symbolic doubly: first, it represents one of the major themes of the show, which is Public vs. Private, the office or hotel room vs. the thoroughfare; second, for every character on the show, there is a reflection, skewed and warped.
  • Al Swearengen and Cy Tolliver.
  • Trixis and Joanie Stubbs.
  • Charlie Utter and Sol Star.
  • The fuckwits, Leon and Con, from the Bella Union and the Gem’s thoughtful cuthroats.
  • The Doc and Merrick, too: they are differing takes on what it does to men when they are needed.
  • Some it puffs up.
  • Others find it a burden.
  • Who then is George Hearst’s counterpart?
  • Deadwood is, by its creator’s own admission, a meditation on the formation of society, of how a community comes together, and George Hearst is the nemesis of that idea.
  • To live together requires compromise, and Hearst will not.
  • He is not the enemy of the town, but the enemy to the very concept of “town.”
  • The workers need someplace to sleep, he supposes, and whores to keep them docile, but towns get in his way.
  • Hearst is vulgar and coarse and animalistic, and he takes his meals in his room, and if you did not flash to his psychopathy from his words or deed, then the way he drinks his coffee will clue you in: he pours it from the cup into the saucer and then drinks from said saucer.
  • Which was a thing back then, honestly.
  • Cools the beverage quicker.
  • But it looks so fucking insane.
  • If you did that in Phil’s restaurant nowadays, men in white coats would come and catch you with a net and bring you to the booby-hatch.
  • George Hearst has brought his Aunt Lou along, and we’ll get to her because she is one of the characters on the show that gets more interesting with each viewing like Calamity Jane, and also because Hostetler and Franklin Ajaye are on their way back into camp and you and I both know that Im going to get into a whole 1870’s Black Lives Matters thing.
  • Also: I’m just gonna call Franklin Ajaye by his real name instead of his character’s name.
  • No reason.
  • If Hearst can be compared in opposition to a mortal man, then it is to Charlie Utter.
  • George Hearst is indecent.
  • Charlie Utter is a decent man.
  • There are a few in the camp–Ellsworth and the Doc and Trixie–but Charlie has no inciting incident that spurs him towards rejection of evil and into the service of community, and the camp: he is by his nature a good man.
  • Charlie Utter is defined by his friendships: all of his actions are born from love for his fellow fucking man and woman, no matter what kind of pain in his fucking ass they was.
  • This is Charlie Utter:
  • charlie-utter-1920
  • The actor’s name is Dayton Callie, which is a wonderful name, and his face has been punched many times, and he speaks in this oddly-emphasized Southern woof that stands out as lovely and strange even in a show full of actors allowed to do whatever Antebellum bellow they felt like.
  • (In addition to everything else that is just exactly perfect about Deadwood, the voices and accents are gorgeous and funny and absolutely never wrong: most shows, even great ones, have an actor or two who doesn’t know how to say their lines, but not Deadwood. There’s Alma Garrett’s refined elocution, and Dan Dority’s Tennessee twang, and Calamity Jane’s petulant razzum-frazzzum, and the Doc’s tortured whisper, and the Preacher’s melodic yelp, and Wild Bill Hickock’s slow drawl. Yes, the writing is good, but the saying might be even better.)
  • Charlie Utter is first introduced as a friend, and remains so throughout the series: he arrives in camp at Wild Bill Hickock’s side; he does literally everything a man in 1876 could do for another man: Charlie tries to keep Bill from getting murdered.
  • And then Charlie Utter hunts down the murderer.
  • According to custom.
  • But then Charlie Utter–in the company of Seth Bullock–consigns the Coward Jack McCall to the army base nearby instead of stringing him up.
  • I like to think that Charlie Utter just didn’t want to kill anybody.
  • This is not to ascribe pacifism, or even the Deadwood version of it, to Charlie: the man had no compunction about whipping someone in the thoroughfare.
  • But–and here is what makes Charlie Utter a decent man–the people that he beats up truly deserve it.
  • It may, in fact, have been morally wrong not to kick the shit out of Wolcott.
  • His essence can be summed up in one line; he says it to Joanie Stubbs.
  • After Wolcott has murdered the prostitutes, she runs by him without enlisting his aid, but later tells him what’s happened; Charlie spirits the remaining whores out of town so they won’t be killed, too.
  • The past was terrible.
  • When Charlie Utter returns to camp and calls on Joanie Stubbs, he tells her this:
  • “Don’t ever walk past me.”
  • From any other character on the show, it would have been a threat, a warning; from Charlie Utter, it is a promise.
  • The most hurtful thing a person could do, in Charlie Utter’s opinion, was to not let a friend back his play.
  • Charlie Utter will back your play.
  • The story continues: Powers Boothe is recuperating from being stabbed and pretending to not be fucking evil, but Powers Boothe is just fucking evil; Martha Bullock is now the teacher of the school, and the textbooks they used in the past were awful; Adams sells Sol Star his house for the purposes of surreptitious Trixie-fucking; Alma Garrett has an abortion that features Doc and Trixie screaming multi-syllabic obscenities at each other; Cornish miners speak Cornish, and we see Cornish dongs, and they are murdered ruthlessly; Calamity Jane takes a bath.
  • George Hearst and Al Swearengen are machinating against each other, and then Hearst chops off Al’s finger.
  • It looks like this:
  • ep26_06_thugalhearst
  • The goon is Captain Turner and he’s going to be beaten to death in the thoroughfare by Dan Dority.
  • I told you there were going to be spoilers.
  • And this is the moment when you hate Hearst.
  • Al Swearengen, our anti-hero, our blackhearted poetic center of the storm, the slaver and murderer who in the first season only did not kill a child because another option revealed itself?
  • He wouldn’t do this.
  • Al’d cut your throat–Al was always good in close–but he wouldn’t do this to you.
  • Now it’s personal.
  • At the end of the episode, Al stands with his throbbing hand on his balcony.
  • He is talking to Jack Langrishe, who we will get to, and Langrishe says this about the camp:
  • “A thing of this order, you’d not see ruined, or in cinders.”
  • And Al says back:
  • “I will if I have to. Avoiding it if I could.”
  • It’s the last part that’s important.


  1. “Calamity Jane takes a bath.” ah. Here is the one problem I have with Deadwood that I mentioned in the first post; some may find this criticism too PC/feminist for their taste, but alas.

    The Calamity Jane bath/lesbian scene struck me as a really unnecessary exercise in sexualising a character and getting her to take her clothes off that did nothing to really advance the plot or our understanding of the character/her motivations/her history/etc.

    Also, again a little PC here — the whole run of the show, as far as I remember, we see exactly one Native American and he is portrayed as little more than an aggressive savage.

  2. Mean, Green, Devil Eating Machine

    July 14, 2016 at 10:20 am

    That building, it folds down at night when it is not occupied. You can fold it floor by floor, or, the whole thing. Coolest architectural advance of the 21st century!

    p.s. totd dot com is back in 2nd place in the Eastern Division as far as search results go.

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