Deadwood – a lament
"Puberty may bring you to understand what we take for mother love is really murderous hatred and a desire for revenge." E. B. Farnum
It’s been two weeks now. In that time, friends have been approaching me, asking how I’m taking it. They’ve been greeted with silence. Silence and a reproachful glare, delivered from puffy eyes hidden behind dark glasses. A look that says "it’s too soon". A look that knows sorrow, anger and grief. A look that has been to the mountain-top, seen the promised land then been chased down by a naked lunatic with a gun. If you knew that look, then you would have a lump in your throat.* Bambi’s mom ain’t got shit on me.
"A look that has been to the mountain-top, seen the promised land then been chased down by a naked lunatic with a gun."
It’s been tough. All of you know by now that I embody television so now that I have lost Deadwood it feels like I have lost a limb. Fuck it – it feels like I’ve lost myself. I lived for this show. I loved it more than anything. It spoke to me like the Earth speaks to the pagans, the Old Testament speaks to fundamentalist Christians and The Koran speaks to fools. And now it’s gone.
"It spoke to me like the Earth speaks to the pagans, the Old Testament speaks to fundamentalist Christians and The Koran speaks to fools."
The show went out with a whimper rather than a bang and I can’t help blaming that scenery chewing fat bastard Brian Cox. His ham performance as ham actor John Langrishe could not have been hammier if he’d been cured for nine weeks and hung on a butcher’s hook. I suspect the real reason Deadwood was cancelled was that Cox had gnawed all the scenery down to the stump.
Though he was not helped by the theatre troupe storyline that maimed season three and absolutely baffled every Deadwood fan from here to Albuquerque. And Deadwood fans are no strangers to untangling complex language, interpreting oblique subtext, dissecting lengthy monologues and sometimes just taking their best guess at what was going on. It was one of the most demanding shows on the box, often requiring two, three viewings before the full meaning could be taken on board, often with the help of the Deadwood transcript site who do such a terrific job. And even though season three had its faults, it was still comfortably the best show on the television.
"I suspect the real reason Deadwood was cancelled was that Cox had gnawed all the scenery down to the stump."
I could write a book on my favourite moments (now there’s a thought…). There was the devastating murder of Wild Bill Hickock in season one and the trial of his killer Jack McCall. (featuring Al’s withering "There’s a horse for you outside you want to get on before somebody murders you who gives a fuck about right and wrong. Or I do.")
"’You geek looking fuck. Get away from me before I cut your fucking heart out.’ And good day to you, madam."
Then there was a pre-Veronica Mars Kristin Bell playing a teenage prostitute con artist talking to a John who tries to sweet-talk her: "You geek looking fuck. Get away from me before I cut your fucking heart out.". And good day to you, madam. Then the astounding scene where she and her brother are killed by Cy Tolliver – as merciless an execution as TV has shown. On balance though, I think my favourite single scene in Deadwood is E.B. Farnum’s monologue as he scrubs in vain to get the bloodstain out of the floorboards in episode 5, season one.
"You have been tested, Al Swearengen. And your deepest purposes proved. "There’s gold on the widow’s claim!" You might as well have shouted it from the rooftops. That’s why I’m jumpin’ through hoops to get it back. "Thorough as I fleeced the fool she married, I will fleece his widow, too. Using loyal associates like Eustace Bailey Farnum as my go-betweens and dupes."
"To explain why I want her bought out I’ll make a pretext of my fear of the Pinkertons. I’ll throw Farnum a token fee. Why should I reward E.B., with some small fractional participation in the claim? Or let him even lay by a little security and source of continuing income, for his declining years. What’s he ever done for me? Except let me terrify him every goddamned day of his life ’til the idea of bowel regularity is a forlorn fuckin’ hope. Not to mention orderin’ a man killed in one of E.B.’s rooms.
"So every fuckin’ free moment of his life E.B. has to spend scrubbin’ the bloodstains off the goddamned floor! To keep from havin’ to lower his rates." Goddamn that motherfucker!"
"The deliciously vile E.B. Farnum – walking afterbirth and one of life’s improbable survivors."
And as we’ve come to expect, William Sanderson mullered this one into orbit around one of Jupiter‘s moons. I don’t think anybody from this spectacular cast outshone Sanderson who brought to bear a lifetime of experience playing prairie scum to his portrayal of the deliciously vile Farnum – walking afterbirth and one of life’s improbable survivors.
"David Milch and his team of writers worked on this show like they were performing life-saving surgery."
Deadwood was ultimately about humanity. Good men died and evil men prospered but decency came through. It didn’t win – it just endured, and that was good enough. Every character, every relationship was real. There wasn’t an ounce of false sentiment. David Milch and his team of writers worked on this show like they were performing life-saving surgery. There was an attention to detail, an integrity of purpose and love of language you just don’t find anywhere else.
It showed humanity at its best and at its worst. It showed us as barely sentient savages capable of unbelievable cruelty and yet showed great compassion, fortitude and courage. As a TV show, it exhibited the same frontier spirit of those early settlers it depicted. With so much TV these days being disposable, Deadwood was built to last. And just like the town, the legend of this show will live on.
The best thing about it: It was the best TV show in history
The worst thing about it: Stupid bloody theatre troupe
The verdict on Deadwood: Devastatingly scripted morality fable.
Marks out of 10: 10
*And not for the usual reason that my dilznick’s in your miggity mouth