TV Rewind: Deadwood
By Eric Hughes
May 31, 2012
Swearengen: “Here’s my counter offer to your counter offer…” At that, there’s a moment of pause, and already I’m confident I know where it’s headed.
Yep. Swearengen, again: “Go fuck yourself.”
Watching Deadwood is kinda like watching the car rental scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles on loop. It is absurdly vulgar, so much so that any one scene would seem totally naked without its sprinkling of f-bombs and other four letter words.
“Deep Water,” the show’s second episode, even surprises us with full frontal (male) nudity. But not in the Judd Apatowian way where we quickly cut to an exposed dick so that Judd can go home happy knowing he successfully introduced another penis into one of his films. No, we get a fat, hairy barrel-chested gent, fresh off sexing a ‘tute, storming into a room occupied by Swearengen and another man, all the while gripping his dick - helmet exposed - like it’s about to leap from his body and bragging about the hot nasty he’d just done down the hall. Then he pivots back ‘round for another go.
It isn’t that I’m uncomfortable around nudity; it’s that its sort is so rarely filmed for television. Now female nudity we get all day all night - in fact, both “Deep Water” and Deadwood’s pilot have it. But male nudity, even today, is about as rare as a Leno joke that sticks. It just doesn’t happen, and I’d like to think so because of all the behind-the-scenes people (with deep pockets, and penises) deciding that the best way to make their shows sexier is to have a woman (or several women) take their tops off. Years and years and years of that very imbalance of backroom power might be why a topless woman, a full frontal woman, seems so common and accepted now.
When a birthday suited Trixie hopped into bed with Swearengen, I don’t know that I batted an eyelash. When ol’ barrelchest stood so mightily in the doorframe, with a single hand around his penis like we’d caught him masturbating, I flinched some. Is… is that… a penis? Why yes, it’s a penis. Our setting is a whorehouse and that’s a penis.
How wonderful of Deadwood to mostly be set at the Gem: a bar to some, a brothel to some more. It only makes sense, then, that we see some naked bodies. Because what’s a whorehouse without boobs and penises?
Guts isn’t quite the right word, so I’ll applaud the fortitude, then, of a show like Deadwood to tear at some of the walls we seem to have built around the medium. Of course, much of that censorship has to do with broadcast, and primetime versus non-primetime and stay-at-home parents and children, things HBO needn’t be mindful of - more or less - because one must pay a little extra money to watch its programs. I mean, what kind of backing might you have if you complain about something you also apparently pay for?
I breathed an easy sigh at some point during “Deep Water,” because it was at that moment that I probably knew I’d invested in a television show worth writing about. I had had fun with Deadwood’s pilot, but a pilot’s a pilot. That it was even any good probably says a lot already, as quite a good number of pilots can get executed so poorly. “Deep Water” was like an admittance that, yes, I’ll be sticking with Deadwood through at least the first season.
Wild Bill does this funny thing that I may as well dig into now. In nearly every verbal exchange, with whatever character, really, that
happens to engage him, Wild Bill doesn’t do him or her the courtesy of looking them in the eye. Instead he’s about 90 degrees away from that point of politeness.
In a silly way, it’s comic. It would make a good drinking game somehow. But the lack of courtesy says a lot about his character
without actually saying it. On the flipside, his frenemy Swearengen is the opposite. He can’t help but look at his pursuers. He’s direct. Much of the time, I’d imagine, it’s to catch their expressions before he leans in for a kill. In “Deep Water,” it happened to be a friend of the guy who rode back to camp the evening before, blabbing to the folks of Deadwood that a family of whites got butchered by Indians. Rather than deal with the fallout - or, to deal with the fallout the Swearengen way - Swearengen murders the evidence.
Why this must be is because a young girl not only survived the attack, but might be recuperating in town. It’s one of the ooooldest
storylines in the medium’s book: thing outlasts calamity, and might live to tell about it. The catch is the girl isn’t American, and
therefore might not know English.
I was reminded, actually, of my last TV Rewind show, Twin Peaks, which at one point had a similar thing happening when a parrot - a parrot! - outwits a gunfight and may live long enough to tell what happened. You see, it was a talking parrot - a talking parrot! Gosh what an insane play on a tired story.
The interesting thing in all this is we’re afforded new perspective on Calamity Jane, who ‘til now has largely been a brash, raging drunk. It hasn’t been fully explained yet, but the small girl, resting her wounds in bed - besides being a small girl, resting her wounds in bed - softens Calamity’s heart. Calamity becomes all mama bear all of a sudden. I like it.
By episode’s end, she and Charlie Utter are off the woods - having fled with the young girl far and away from Deadwood to, among other things, sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in peace. A rare sense of empathy, really, after two episodes worth of raunch.