Thoughts On The Dead

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

Thoughts On The First 8 Or 9 Episodes of Deadwood

  • If you come at me with The Wire, I will fight you and–according to the laws of custom–be allowed to shoot you in the back in public: Deadwood is the best TV show EVAR.
  • The Wire is about how terrible the present is, and I know that already.
  • Deadwood is about how terrible the past was, and I don’t know if I’ve told you this: the past was terrible.
  • (It should be stated upfront that I will be taking the entertainment program as actual history and researched events even though in real life, Seth Bullock got to town after Wild Bill Hickock had already been killed, and Al Swearengen was barely in his 30’s, and there was a Bella Union saloon but it was owned by a guy named Tom Miller instead of Powers Boothe. Deadwood is best understood as semi-fictionality: they’re real people, kind of; and this all happened, sort of.)
  • Okay: it’s the 1870’s in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the land has been granted to the Sioux in a treaty, but then someone found gold and you know how that goes.
  • Men, broken and battered from the Civil War mostly, make their way to the camp to pan for their fortunes, and other men, cleverer men, followed the miners to sell them stuff.
  • Prospecting for gold requires tools–a pick and a pan and overalls and a beard–so Seth Bullock gives up his job as sheriff to open up a hardware store in Deadwood with his friend, Sol Star, who is Jewish.
  • Finding gold, however, requires a place to spend one’s money, so Al Swearengen opened up a saloon.
  • Saloon meant something different back then.
  • You could rent a slave for sexual purposes.
  • We call them whorehouses or brothels, but Al Swearengen was a slaver.
  • He was also a throat-cutting cocksucker.
  • And yet he is nowhere near the worst human being on this show; at least he’s got style.
  • Plus he looks like this:
  • al-swearengen-1024
  • Which will take you far.
  • Anyway: the whole town is illegal; it’s not actually in America and there are no laws of any sort.
  • You are allowed to stab people in bars.
  • There is also no medicine, beyond opium and having someone sit by your bed while you die.
  • You may also have opium if you are not sick because, again, there are no laws whatsoever.
  • To be honest: if you are anything but a white, male, rugged individualist, you should not go to Deadwood.
  • Rich white women were treated better than poor white women, in that they were not immediately forced into sexual slavery.
  • Children simply should not have been there at all.
  • You know how I disapprove of children at Dead shows?
  • I much more strongly disapprove of children in Deadwood.
  • The first season revolves around a child, though, sort of, partially.
  • There are a lot of plots going on, which makes sense: what else was there to do but plot?
  • There was no movie theater in town, and the internet service was spotty.
  • So everyone is double-crossing everyone else, and spying on one another, and eavesdropping.
  • Except the whole town is one street and all the floors are made of wood, so it is impossible to sneak around.
  • People all up in people’s business.
  • While wearing incredibly complicated clothing.
  • Look at this bullshit:
  • bullock deadwood.jpg
  • The suspender loops on the shirt?
  • Oh.
  • My.
  • God.
  • It’s almost worth the smallpox and racism.
  • Almost.
  • Here’s how racist the past was: actively.
  • Sometimes you assume that racism was merely permitted in the past, but you’d be wrong: racism was enforced.
  • If, say, you were an enlightened sort and made friends with a Chinese guy, the other white people might kill you.
  • Obviously, they would also kill the Chinese guy.
  • You should not be Chinese in the past.
  • Even in China, it was kind of shitty, but in South Dakota, it was the pits.
  • Oh, right: TV show.
  • Many plots: road agents have killed the Squareheads, but left a mute child alive.
  • I feel the creators missed a chance to have Sigourney Weaver adopt the child.
  • (Although it should be said that a mute child actor is the best kind of child actor, so kudos to the writers.)
  • The mute child could name her family’s killers, so there is much drama, and Nick Offerman shows us his penis; throats are cut and there is quite a bit of acting.
  • Not actoring, though this show could have very easily slid into that morass: there are heavy-duty monologues and soliloquies addressed to the rafters, but the cast is a murderer’s row of grimy, ugly dudes and women with interesting noses.
  • Also Kristen Bell, who I forgot was in this, and should not have been in this, or at least been given a storyline that made sense or went anywhere; she existed mostly to highlight the difference between Swearengen’s crew and the rival saloonkeeper, Powers Boothe.
  • Powers Boothe is fucking evil, and he seems to enjoy it.
  • Swearengen’s just practical.
  • A rich couple has recently arrived to camp from New York City; their names are Brom and Alma; she is addicted to taking laudanum in diffused light from a glass bottle atop a wooden dresser.
  • Because that’s how Westerns work.
  • If I watch a Western and there’s not a rich white lady who’s been left back at the hotel by her husband getting high in her nightgown while surrounded by cameos, I feel cheated.
  • The dude gets thrown off a cliff because of course he does: rarely do you root for the tosser in that situation, but the dude was so damned dumb.
  • At a certain point, I lose sympathy for characters that don’t realize they’re tropes.
  • And there are a shitload of tropes; Deadwood is both a deconstruction of Westerns, and a fulfilling straight oater: you get Wild Bill Hickock drawing down in the street, but you spend far more time with the poor schmuck who’s got to scrub the blood from the floor.
  • There are quite a few blood-scrubbing scenes.
  • Oh, yeah: Wild Bill Hickock is there.
  • He looks like this:
  • hickcok bullock
  • It’s worth watching the show just for the costumes and hair.
  • And the hats.
  • Each character has a different style hat, and you can tell how much thought went into matching the hat to the person, and that adds another layer of enjoyment to the program.
  • Except for Al Swearengen, who never wears a hat, although he doesn’t leave the Gem too much.
  • He’s essentially Jabba the Hut that says “cocksucker” a lot.
  • Holy shit, does that cocksucker say “cocksucker” a lot.
  • It’s a cliche to call Deadwood‘s language Shakespearean, but it would be incorrect not to: it is high operatic frizzle-frazzum; Gabby Hayes starring in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Globe Theatre.
  • Anyway: Wild Bill Hickock gets shot in the back while holding a Full House of Aces and Eights (kinda).
  • Spoiler?
  • The guy who shoots him later reincarnates as a serial killer, but that’s not important right now.
  • And Calamity Jane bellows at people, and there is horse riding, and Ricky Jay becomes involved, and the rich lady quits taking laudanum with the help of Trixie the Whore, and an Indian shows up and does a war dance, and several people are stabbed, and a preacher has a brain tumor.
  • Also, there is a plague, and the town doctor is Brad Dourif and this is the extent of what he can do for you if you get sick:
  • doc cochran
  • Doc Cochran tried to mean-mug sickness away, but it did not work ever.
  • Brad Dourif also delivers every one of his lines in what can only be called a rageful whisper.
  • Bedside manner was different back then, but so was everything.
  • For example, when Trixie the Whore meets Alma Garrett (the rich lady), she (Trixie) instantly asks to bathe her (Alma’s) child.
  • “She’s so beautiful. Let me wash her.”
  • In Trixie’s defense, it is difficult to overstate the amount of drinking, so she was probably half-crocked when she said that.
  • One would have to imagine that it is exaggerated for dramatic purposes, because characters will down shots to punctuate beats in their conversation; in a four-minute scene, each may take seven or eight shots of whiskey.
  • That’s a tough pace to keep up and not die.
  • There seems to be no beer, though cider and sarsaparilla have been mentioned.
  • You can also get water from the creek, but that is where the town stores dead bodies prior to burial.
  • The past was terrible.
  • Great line: “The jury will now retire to the whores’ rooms and begin their deliberations.”
  • I’ll be honest: this will probably continue, as I tend to get a bit obsessed with things and will–the second I hit the Publish button–begin watching another episode.


  1. Which parts would Billy and Mickey play?

    Hint: they might work for Hearst.

  2. This makes me so happy. I need to re-watch the whole series.

    I have only one complaint about Deadwood, but I’ll only mention it if/when you get to that part of the narrative.

  3. Before I saw Deadwood I thought Unforgiven was the best Western ever.

  4. May I lead the huzzahs? Please keep this going. Or maybe start a parallel blog devoted to my second favorite thing with the word ‘dead’ in it.

  5. Maybe they could just film the long awaited final season, and if anyone is unavailable, John Mayer and Jeff Chimenti can take their places.

  6. Luther Von Baconson

    July 10, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    time for a cowboy to dream

  7. Broke this t-shirt out today.

  8. God I miss this show.

    Brad Dourif – suppose you could draw a tangential Dead connection from his role on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

  9. brad dourif attended the same boarding school that our bobby was kicked out of and our john perry barlow was not. so this all relates to an awesome television show AND the dead.

  10. A little bit of context. A year before this series aired, Jeffery Jones (the newspaper guy) was arrested for possession of child pornography and soliciting a 14-year old boy to take photos. I don’t know if casting/filming took place before or after the arrest but it was definitely awkward watching back in the day.

    The Shakespearean comparisons are appropriate. I believe the soliloquies were written in iambic pentameter.

    Finally, some website has to have a graph of the cross-pollination of Deadwood, Lost, Sons of Anarchy & Justified. A lot of the actors have appeared in 3 of these shows. I don’t know of any whose been in all four.

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