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As someone who's also only seen the first season, thanks to the modern wonders of the DVD player, I think you're pretty close on this, Lance. The one thing I'd add is that I think Swearengen is backing Bullock because he thinks he's got Bullock figured out, and he'd rather have a predictable person, a known quantity, to deal with than someone whose actions he couldn't foresee.


Sorry - no idea what you're talking about. Was it on C-span?


In the DVD extras there are a couple of extended (and very entertaining in their own right) interviews with David Milch in which he gives us some pretty important guides for interpreting his intentions for the show.

Deadwood is, he tells us, a study in the murky area where Law meets Order. It's facile to say that Bullock represents Law while Al is Order, but it's a starting point. Al appears at first blush to be motivated entirely by money -- note how, early in Season One, he murders the footpad who waylaid the Squarehead family, not because it was Wrong but because the footpad had queered Al's bigger hustle, the Gem and its whores and poker. Can't have nickel-and-dime crime getting in the way of The Big Stuff. Nothing, it's clear, should prevent the hoopleheads from spending their hardscrabble earnings in the Gem.

Deadwood is a town outside the United States. It is, in the most literal sense, Lawless -- meaning that Al can spring any hustle he can dream up, with impunity -- unless someone else of equal or greater strength forces him not to. The only possessor of such equal or greater strength, in Al's mind, in the United States Government -- not because of its moral authority, which it's clear it doesn't possess in the slightest degree, but because its corruption and hunger for graft is so great that Al can't even dream of equaling it. If Deadwood becomes part of the Dakota Territory, the Big Boys will come to town and Al will suddenly become a tiny little fish in a huge pond, instead of the town's mightiest grifter.

That's Al at the beginning of Season One. Over the arc of the season, we learn much more about him, about his childhood of abuse (during that incredible scene -- "Now-you-can-go-faster!") and about how he's bought his whores away from the very same orphanage where his own mother abandoned him, and even brought along the dead-weight Jewel, who can't make any money for him. It's plain he actually rescued the women from a life far worse than the one he's given them -- witness how, during the smallpox epidemic, he gives the day off to one of the whores ("handjobs only today") who's frightened she's caught it, even though she's resistant to the disease.

So he's slowly revealed as protective, paternal, tender (oh, how tenderly he delivers Rev. Smith from his suffering!). Criminality is what pays the bills in Deadwood, and protecting his hustle is at first blush why he imposes Order. But as time goes on, for reasons both selfish and selfless, he becomes a subtlely nuanced practitioner of the Golden Rule -- the foundation of all Law.

The peaches at town meetings is a perfect little illustration of the power of civic ritual to impose Order. In the absence of Law, the whole town is doing nothing more than making it up as they go along, and whatever rituals they can muster can only help. Remember the funny bit with Merrick, walking with Bullock and Starr after dinner, suggesting they should form a club for post-prandial walks? "The Ambulators!" he suggests wistfully, yearning for, yes, Order.

Does Al Swearengen want Bullock to clean up the camp?

He wants Bullock to bring Order to the camp.

Your instincts for Season Two are pretty close. The first few episodes deal extensively with exactly the conflict you perceive. Without giving too much away, in Season Two a third variable is introduced: Law, Order...and Money.

Amalgamation and Capital.


Yeah, I'm only a DVD educated viewer myself, and it seems to me that the series depicts the birth of civilization in Deadwood. Al laments the end of the simplicity of total control and direct effort which allowed him to create the town, but he clearly can see that when the region becomes American territory things will change. He works to get his own legal problems in order, and prepares for his own place as the major player in the future town. Seth is acceptable because he is smart enough to recognise his own limits in relations with Al, honorable enough not to use his power for his own benefit, and strong enough to actually do the job. Plus, Al just kinda likes the guy.

That's my take.



I think you're right about Al liking Seth. I think Al likes a lot of people. And his liking or not liking isn't based on whether or not they're on his side.


I can see where an honest sheriff would be far more predictable than a dishonest one like Con Stapleton. Even if you've got a guy bought, you have to worry he won't stay bought. He's alwasy available to the next highest bidder.


So you're saying an honest, incorruptable, competent government is more useful to a small time crook? That explains the Bush administration then! It's not that they're out to destroy the country with their graft, mendacity, and bungling. They're saving us from crime.

Douglass Truth

Libertarians and anarchists ought to be watching the show. As Milch says in his comments on the DVD, it is a place without law, but certainly not without order. People who simplemindedly think that government is bad simply don't recognize that order is what people want, and that it arises naturally (but not perfectly, see Al!) from chaos. I think the show is fantastic; Al's monologues give me the chills. When the gimp gets her "fuckin' boot" I got all shivery.
The way Deadwood shows that real people are all mixed up, and not just good guys or bad guys, is real educational. Wish we could generalize on that theme. Even the worst of us has a soft spot, and that soft spot is the way in to the soul. For some people, it might be pretzels.

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