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  • Lance Mannion
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Such brilliant timing - I am just about to watch season one again - it's been over a year and I just got season two, my roomies also want to see season one before we venture into two as they have never seen the show at all. I enjoyed it a lot th first time around - while I recognize a lot of historical inaccuracy, it is generaly pretty pervasive in tee vee and if I otherwise like a show I don't let that get me down. It is telling that the producer/writer who started Deadwood was planning to set the show in Rome but HBO told him they had a Rome show in the works already, so it got set in the "wild west" instead. I also find it amusing that Deadwood had a season finished by the time Rome finally materialized.

Jay B.


Admire the perspective, but I'm not so sold on Hearst-as-gargoyle being inexact. They may be, but in the context of the story and the show, it's inescapble. As "Seth Bullock" is a mostly-inarticulate steamer, "George Hearst" has to be the price of 'civilization', just as much as the corrupt henchman from Yankton is. That other mining impresarios in real life used Pinkertons to kill union men is not in doubt.

And since anyone who would have been that kind of dramatic character (the imperious mining magnate) in the show would have been thought of as George Hearst even under a different name (like anyone who saw Citizen Kane understands), they may as well used the name. There would have been little practical difference. The slithery malevolence of the Hearst character and fight between the motley townsfolk and "big business" was riveting television, and was at least part of the story of the West, even if it wasn't this particular one in the historical record.


At the risk of sounding like some senile Pollyanna, I have to say that, even given the legitimacy of every one of your quibbles, we still should get down on our knees and thank whatever invisible being might exist that Deadwood and Swearengen and Wu and Trixie and Jane and Joanie et al. happened. I am grateful that David Milch exists, that HBO turned TV time over to him so that he could give us Deadwood, that the program so moved all of us that we have the need to keep writing and reading about these characters. Best show ever, even if Seth and George really weren't quite as Milch portrayed them.


Thanks for ruining all the plot points for me, Lance, though you did warn there would be spoilers. Like you, I'm a DVD person rather than a subscription TV guy, and am about halfway through the second season, though I haven't yet seen the episode you were referencing.

I'm somewhere between James Wolcott, who recently trashed the show as being a non-poetic "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," and the idolators who think the show is the best thing since Shakespeare.

The oddest ahistorical detail for me is how there is zero homoeroticism on the show. The Wild West was way more bisexual/queer than is being represented. When you've got thousands of men and just a few women, well, just look at all those other same-sex institutions like prisons, convents, monasteries, armies, and well, you get the idea. Even the great Calamity Jane character, who feels real, isn't allowed any lingering looks over any other girls, which feels wrong.

The first season DVD set has an interesting group of interviews where one learns that Mr. Milch went to HBO with not just a "Rome" story, but a tale about upstanding characters within an Empire where The Law has ceased to exist, and the entire enterprise is being run by gangsters/tyrants. The theme has something of a contemporary resonance as everybody but KM would probably agree.

(By the way, I couldn't make it through the first episode of "Rome." Not only has "Deadwood" taken the same themes and gone further with the language, metaphors and sheer salaciousness, but the acting, writing and stupid British accents of all the Romans got on my nerves fast.)

Anyway, the odd detail in the Extra Materials in the first season of "Deadwood" was that the historical Sol Star, in business with Bullock, got insanely rich, was a good person, and was "A Lifelong Bachelor." What WAS their actual relationship, anyway? It certainly had to be more interesting than the Wife-of-My-Brother / In-Love-With-The-Top-Whore storylines that both Bullock and Sol are saddled with in the TV series.

Ian McShane, however, was given a good role and made it great. He's why the show is going to be watched forever.


Raenelle, Jay B., You can bet that when Season 3 makes it to DVD I'll be watching, all my quibbles forgotten, at least for each hour I'm watching. I hear Gerald McRaney is absolutely terrific as Hearst.

But Raenelle, I don't think my complaints are quibbles. My objection to the way the Bullock character is being played is a historical quibble. Like I said, we don't know what went on inside the real Seth Bullock's head. Being successful and being well-adjusted don't often go hand in hand. The real Bullock might just have been better at hiding his demons than the ficitonal one. My real complaint with the way he's being played is that the character has become way too static, to the point of being almost irrelevent to the unfolding of the story arc. It seems long past time for the "real" Bullock to start showing himself.

As for Hearst, everything Jay says sounds like it will be great fun to watch. I just wish Milch had called the character George Kane.

Mike, sorry about the spoilers. But I think one of the beauties of the show is not that surprises but watching how the inevitable plays itself out, so in a way knowing what's coming makes the drama more intense.

Yeah, that's the ticket.


"I hear Gerald McRaney is absolutely terrific as Hearst." He is terrific as Hearst. He makes you forget anything and everything he has done in the past. You forget he was ever capable of playing a kind character.


I respect history as much as most. Hell, I teach it at a community college. But, IMHO, good history is easily found; good drama, not so much. I still wish they'd kept Wild Bill alive.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Ahistorical profanity? I was under the impression that the profanity was surprisingly historical. Certainly, the old West was chock-full of naughty language (so much so that Hollywood had to invent fauxfanity like "dad gum" just so their movies wouldn't get laughed off the screen by anyone who actually remembered the settling of the west). And Slate recently covered the extensive research Milch used to justify the language to HBO, in case they ever had censor troubles. So---any source for the profanity being innaccurate?

Td Raicer

Frankly, I could care less whether Deadwood is historical. How many classic movie westerns are historical?

It is brilliant drama-the best tv show since Joss Whedon (who should have his own network) got kicked off the air.

Too bad we will have to settle for a couple of 2 hour movies instead of the originally planned seasons 4 and 5.


I've read an immense amount of historical fiction that is based on an essentially documentable situation but veers off into the stratosphere. I have no problem with it. I regard "Deadwood" as much the same. But then I tend to ignore a certain percentage of what Milch says in any interview. I'm willing to believe one thing for sure: he did an immense amount of research to absorb the ambience, flavor, what have you, of Deadwood at that time, and then took off on his own tangent. Nothing wrong with that.


Good point about how historically inaccurate
Deadwood is. Of course watching people acting
badly is much more entertaining than watching
people acting rationally and sensibly.
Deadwood by portraying a world that is more
violent and vicious than real life
is just another show that supports
mean-world syndrome.

Deadwood is a drama not news, but isn't one
of the justifications for shows like this is
that in addition to entertaining, they point
to larger truths.

Deadwood's larger truth is "do whatever it takes
to keep people watching".

Joe Knight

Great article! I believe also that David Milch let his political views show in his Hearst charactor. Until the last show though I thought he would make it right. Boy was I wrong. As far as I am concerned he created then fucked up the best TV show of all time. Joe


"In reality, civilization was imported all at once to the various Deadwoods that sprouted up all across the continent from Plymouth on out to San Francisco."

i am coming late to this one, i know.
you made the above point to descry the glacial pace of the growth of civilization in "deadwood". but then you listed all the aspects of civilization one by one, alluding in your sentance structure to that very pace.
Civilization grows slowly and without organisation. The hardware store arrives, then the bank, then the first wives and children, then the first school...etc. My use of the structure which deadwood follows is intended to show its logic.

Indeed civilisation, like organic life itself, is wholely against the virtue of universe. The organisation of cellular life, and a few billion years down the road, civilisation is the only opposing force to the entropy inherent in our existence.
That is why civilisation developed over 70,000 years in the case of the modern man.
In this broad sense I do not think deadwood's depiction is misguided or ahistorical in any way on this front. In fact, it is the first 'western' I have seen which so clearly showed what the 'west' may very well have been like in places where there was no "law at all". In fact, there it is - Law is civilisation. How can you say that civilisation happened "all at once" unless your scope is wider in terms of time then the show's. If indeed, "all at once" implies 5-10 years of dedicated settlement and lawmaking, then I am sure you are correct. But we have not even reached 5 years of progression in 3 seasons of deadwood. Milch, imho is right on target.
as far as the violence - again, no law is important here. Was every town as violent as deadwood? i imagine not, yet I also imagine towns that were far more violent then the show's depiction...I leave that question to those that want to spend more time then I have in researching death tolls in frontier towns...

On bullock - the show has gradually rotated over the 3 seasons from the first season's axis - bullock, to the 2nd and 3rd season's - Al. The fulcrum, perhaps, being the final episode of season 1. Bullock becomes a lesser character particularly in season 3 because the more interesting character is Al, as far as Milch and his team are concerned. I tend to agree heartily, as i find Bullock to be very much how al see's him: tedious and belicose, given to folly due to an imbalanced temperance.
He is not a hero, for a hero would do a diservice to this show, as they are very rare, and beholden to circumstance. Deadwood was not the time or place for heroes.

Lastly, Hearst. I do not agree with your reasoning here. Hearst is not "an allegorical monster of corporate capitalism", Season 3 is not a political struggle.
Again, i turn to Al. The struggle is Al's. To allow civilisation to swallow him up, the same civilisation he has fled from, the same one that made him so cynical (watch any of his soliloque's to verify his outlook), he must accept it in order for his deadwood to flourish. It has little or nothing to do with capitalism. it does with man's inner struggle with the control and law of civilisation. Look who al turns to to pose his quandaries and question his role in the world: the severed head of an "uncivilised" indian. (note: the "uncivilised" quality is based on Al's worldview) Al must eventually accept control, civilisation, law, and in so doing must diminish.
None of this has to do with capitalism, who's laisse-faire qualities are not far from Al's strong heart.

well, that is my mouthful for the evening.


K. Montanaman Matthews

Hey Lance,
In the beginning, I would curiously watch Deadwood and the bail at the violation of my sensibilities through seemingly gratuitious foul language and violence. Aut as an owner of land in the "Gold West" territory of Montana, I got very interested in the history of this "stuff" starting with Virginia City MT and the road agents of the time. I found that "Deadwood" is in many ways a lightweight version of what happened all over the gold rush region of the far west. Anything and everything was routinely done in these places and the towns frequently died before "civilization" could take root,
As for the George Hearst defence, one has only to read the history of the Comstock Lode to realize that to make Hearst out to be some kind of nice guy amongst the capitalist barbarians of the time is to speak in relativist terms.
After much reading of the history of the mining towns of the 1850 to 1900 era, one has to regard your view of the era as uninformed or purposely biased.



Well a bit of drama was added of course, as for the details I can wager that most are not 100% and that many of the side characters are for entertainment reasons.

BUT I have a hard time believing a major gold operation in that period in time was not cutthroat.

Also how can you not believe the DNA that created such evil scumbags as William Randolph Hearst, and Patty Hearst didn't evolve from an evil scumbag sperm doner like George. For gods sake these people invented the Death mobile.


I know I'm late to the game, and to this topic of conversation...and I'm not interested in how historically accurate or inaccurate the show is. I'm just trying to restart conversation on the matter of Deadwoods unfortunate end, in the hopes that HBO or milch will notice...the show needs its a movie or two, or the axed 4th season...its the best show in the history of t.v., and us fans deserve do the actors. (They seemed very disappointed in the shows end too.)

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