Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek
benpeek

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Deadwood

I just lost my entire weekend to the first season of Deadwood.

To most people, the excellence of the HBO produced series will not come as a surprise. You've seen it, you've made up your mind. But I live in what one Prime Minister called The Arse End of the World and I live on dialup and my hard drive is a touch smaller than my Ipod, which means using a bit torrent is just plain pointless. Plus, I have this thesis to write (among other things). Right now my only real distraction is this blog, but if I had access to TV From Around The World I'd probably never get anything done. All this is my way of saying, "Yes, I know you've seen it. Shut the fuck up."

I'm not quite sure what place the town Deadwood holds in American history, but I've known it as the lawless town that sprung up round the gold rushes, and it's where Wild Bill Hickok was killed. I suspect it holds some significance outside that, but my knowledge on this stuff is pretty minor. Still, the show takes what I know and don't and puts it in a muddy, shit stain of a town and assures you that that life is so cheap that even legendary gunfighters are shot in the back of the head. They're left there to lie on their table and twitch until they die.

The show follows ex-marshal Seth Bullock and his friend Sol Star into Deadwood where they plan to open a hardware store and start anew, but it quickly spreads out into an ensemble cast with the introduction of the Gem Saloon owner Al Swearengen, the rich Garret couple, Doc Cochran, Calamity Jane, the prostitute Trixie, and Cy Tolliver, who opens a rival saloon. There's about half a dozen other characters, but in this mix, the focus points are Swearengen and Bullock, who when in the same scene together, display a healthy animosity for each other. Bullock believes in the law, in being right, even honourable, and Swearengen believes in himself, in the business he has created in Deadwood, in the cost of whores and liquor, and the price it takes to bribe a man or the time spent to kill him. Yet despite these almost two opposites, it is Swearengen who is the more likable and complex character. This is best displayed in his relationship with Trixie, who we first meet having shot a john in the head while he beat on her; and we watch Swearengen in turn beat on her and threaten to break her neck; and later, we watch Trixie climb into bed with him.

The plotting of the twelve episodes is an intricate, slow thing, moving at the pace of a fat novel. The only complaint I have with Deadwood is that it becomes apparent, half way through the twelve episodes, there there will be no end. Certainly, there will be an end, and the series uses Bullock to provide that, but there's no real sense of the series building to a climax. By this, I mean that you know, half way through, that there is no way these conflicts and differences will be resolved, that half the cast will not be finding themselves being taken over to Mr. Wu's pigs, who will consume their flesh and bones without care of what brought them there. It's one of those complaints I have about things in general, in that fiction is unwilling to provide a definite end knowing that there might well be a chance for a sequel, for the story to continue, for money to be made. In Deadwood's case, I believe they are up to season three in the States.

But it's a minor complaint. The series is just brilliant. I want more. More of that dirt stained world, where new starts are offered to everyone, regardless of their past, and those starts are to be defended through any means.

I particularly love the language of the series, with its fucks and cocksucker and cunt strewn through it. It's not that I like seeing this language on TV, but I enjoy how the way these words, in their frequency and usage, are able to characterise. In Swearengen's everyday usage they reveal the working class man, the man who has clawed into his position by doing whatever is necessary, and who, despite his fine suits, knows that he will still need to get his hands dirty. In opposition, Cy Tolliver, who puts on a finer suit, who rightens his top hat and convinces men to play craps and runs a cleaner, though no less morally bankrupt world, the use of the language reveals the vanity that forces him to put on airs of culture. It make his violence, when it happens, all the more crueler and pointless.

I could spend a whole heap of time going through each character, listing their various ticks and allegiances, and if it wouldn't make for a hideously boring post, I would. There's much to admire in each of the characters and their shades of greys and moments of moral uprightness and deceitfulness and vanity and how these factor into their narratives that take them from one conflict to another and the resolutions. But you should just really watch the show and experience it.

I lost a whole weekend and I want season two.
Tags: review
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