Hard to believe HBO’s Deadwood has been off the air for nearly a decade now. Thankfully it remains available via Amazon, Netflix and other sources to those of us who appreciate finely crafted western stories with richly developed, larger-than-life characters who wage wars both great and small in the confines of a time period when a fast gun was often bested by an even faster mind…
That first season was a simmering affair, with the characters glaring and scowling at one another as each notable force in the far flung outpost of Deadwood, a newly born town in the Black Hills of the then-Dakota territory, sized one another up. The casting of each was top notch, but perhaps the very best portrayal was that of Al Swearengen, saloon owner and pimp of sometimes ill repute played with a rare intensity by veteran actor, Ian McShane.
In the initial episodes, McShane is both the physical and spiritual counterpart to former lawman turned businessman, Seth Bullock, played by actor Timothy Olyphant, later of Justified fame. (It is said Olyphant’s work on Deadwood was crucial in his being handed the Justified gig. Watching him as Bullock it is easy to see why.)
Deadwood’s dialogue is what initially attracted me to the show. There is an unmistakable Shakespeare-like quality to its prose which at first was off-putting for some viewers, but once you become acclimated, allows the show to push and pull you through each episode.
Here is one of my favorite of all the Deadwood scenes. It shows Swearengen as a man, despite his outward kill-first-question- later exterior, to be one who does care for those he few he trusts. There is both great intensity and wisdom in what he has to say, and not a word of it is wasted:
And here we see an example of Seth Bullock, a man who finds it increasingly difficult to cage the animal within himself as he seeks to right the many real and perceived wrongs that permeate Deadwood:
And one of the most interesting aspects to the Deadwood series is that the stories are woven among actual history. Here is the show’s replaying of the death of one of the most famous/infamous men of the Wild West era of American history, Wild Bill Hickok, an all too brief role on the show played brilliantly by actor Keith Carradine.
Note how Wild Bill looks up with an awareness of what is likely coming behind him. He has been running for years, has grown tired of living out every day in fear of the next quick gun who wishes to make history by trying to bests him and haunted by the faces of all those who did not. At his end he simply gives himself over to the inevitability of a life he deems no longer worth living.
In that regard, the death of Wild Bill is as much a suicide as it is a murder.
I give Deadwood my highest recommendation.
D.W. Ulsterman is a liberty-loving author and political commentator.
His pro-freedom novels are available at Amazon.com HERE
He is also the author of the Amazon Christian-Western bestseller, “THE IRISH COWBOY”