STOP reading now if your sensibilities are injured by profanity. You have been warned!
(By way of preface, I love this show, at risk of darkening my reputation and maligning my own character!)
Deadwood is an older HBO series, one which sometimes gets overlooked against stalwarts such as “Six Feet Under” or “The Sopranos.” I recently started re-watching the entire series. It is a much better series now that I’m older. There were some themes that I didn’t quite understand through my first viewing many years ago. Now that my wife has been exposed to so many accents and strange modes of speech, she doesn’t find it a chore to decipher the complexity of Deadwood with me. I’m so glad that she’s watching it with me.
Despite its frontier setting, Deadwood is one of those rare shows which owes much of its appeal to the subtle words of wisdom littered throughout the dialogue. Many of the characters are on the show are so apparently ‘gross’ on the surface that we sometimes forget that intelligence and wit don’t always arrive in pretty containers. (They are quite often covered in mud and guarded by a snarling rat.) Many fans of the show don’t know that the creator originally was to use the same themes in a show based in Roman times but due to HBO already sponsoring “Rome,” the creator adapted the ideas to a similarly-themed time and place. The series at its heart is supposed to detail how any group of people move away from chaos toward organization.
Ian McShane had the meatiest part, the one of Al Swearengen. Some might argue that Timothy Olyphant had the best role as Seth Bullock, but I disagree entirely. Al’s character is one of the most authentic roles I’ve ever seen in television. Al was also a real person historically and is reputed to have been brutal. Whatever the real reach of his tendency toward anger, I much prefer the television-inspired version HBO brought to life. Al’s villain in this show is at least consistent to his nature, as well as having an astute understanding of the what drives people (and it usually isn’t what they say it is.)
One reason I linked to my original profanity blog is that Deadwood has one of the highest cursing frequencies in television. The “F-bomb” is used so often that it almost gets ignored. At the time, the creator, David Milch, got a lot of attention for such blatant cursing. Personally, I think it makes the show much more credible. If you watch the show and listen attentively, you’ll note that much of the true message is conveyed by those who tend to speak the most coarsely.
The real word of surprise in Deadwood is the word “cocksucker.” This is not your typical dinner party word. In Deadwood, it is used incessantly. “Cocksucker” was on of my dad’s favorite words. A few of my earliest memories involve my dad convincing me to go approach one of my religiously-inclined elders and utter the word in their presence. While no match in style, my dad would have agreed that he had much in common with Al Swearengen. He certainly had some physical attributes in common.
A Few Quotes from Deadwood…
Al Swearengen: Pain or damage don’t end the world. Or despair or fucking beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man… and give some back.
Al Swearengen: In life you have to do a lot of things you don’t fucking want to do. Many times, that’s what the fuck life is… one vile fucking task after another.
Al Swearengen: Announcin’ your plans is a good way to hear god laugh.
Calamity Jane: Maybe I will have a fuckin’ drink, for sociability’s sake and ’cause I’m a fuckin’ drunk.
Joanie Stubbs: What’s your preference?
Calamity Jane: That it ain’t been previously swallowed.
E.B. Farnum: Some ancient Italian maxim fits our situation, whose particulars escape me.
Francis Wolcott: Is the gist that I’m shit out of luck?
E.B. Farnum: Did they speak that way then?
Hugo Jarry: And you, Mr. Wolcott, I find you the most severe disappointment of all.
Francis Wolcott: Often to myself, as well.
Miles Anderson: God bless you, Mr. Swearengen.
Al Swearengen: Well, not likely. But my prospects have just improved.
Cy Tolliver: Sayin’ questions in that tone and pointin’ your finger at me will get you told to fuck yourself.
Al Swearengen: I wouldn’t trust a man who wouldn’t try to steal a little.
Al Swearengen: What’s your partner so mad about all the time?
Sol Star: He’s not mad.
Al Swearengen: He’s got a mean way of being happy.
A.W. Merrick: Why did you strike me?
Doc Cochran: To secure your attention.