Deadwood: Introduction, Language, & Characters



Yale grad/recovering drug addict/ex-con- David Milch (Hill Street Blues; NYPD Blue)- created, wrote, and served as executive producer of Deadwood- a show about a place with no laws at all.  The story (w/ real historical characters and character composites) starts in 1876, when Deadwood is an illegal community, the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory having been ceded to the Sioux in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. The gold discovered by Custer during an 1874 expedition has drawn thousands to the area (for each 200 men, there is 1 woman).  However, this series has four very strong, yet unique, women in its cast. 

The show asks some big questions: How do people govern themselves, left to their own devices? How do institutions form? How does a social contract develop without any established laws?


If you are easily offended by foul language, this is NOT the show for you (as w/ several other HBO dramas)!  But unlike in the modern world (where lower classes aren’t given many words to vocalize their thoughts, esp. in mainstream media), Milch wanted the opposite for characters in Deadwood.  As a result, you hear a LOT of profanity and vulgarity, BUT w/ an unique almost-Shakespearean formulation.  Characters even have monologues at times!  It does take 2-3 eps to get used to this type of language, though if you LOVE words (like me), then check it out.  Deadwood is the thinking person’s Western- quite different from the classic, straight-forward Westerns of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation.  

Main Characters (Beginning of Season 1)


Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant): A former Montana sheriff (grew up in Ontario, Canada); seeks his fortune by setting up a hardware store w/ his business partner/friend, Sol; a man of few words; doesn’t want to go back to the life of a lawman; works hard to control his hot temper.

Deadwood (Season 1): Timothy Olyphant and John Hawkes at The Gem

Sol Star (John Hawkes):  A first generation American (born in Vienna, Austria and raised in Ohio); Jewish; has a background in business (unlike Seth); laid-back and congenial (also unlike Seth).


Al Swearengen (Ian McShane): The owner of The Gem Saloon (yet so much more); brutal; evil (perhaps?); cunning; has a complicated relationship w/ one of his prostitutes, Trixie; of English heritage (unlike the historical figure, thanks to the actor’s slight accent); considered one of the most compelling/multi-faceted villains in TV history (comparable to Shakespeare’s villains).

eb farnum

E.B. Farnum (William Sanderson): The owner/manager of the town’s hotel; a composite of different historical figures; reminiscent of someone from Dickens (sniveling, conniving behind the scenes, and wearing a moth-eaten suit).


Brom Garret (Timothy Omundson): An upper-class “dude” (newbie to this environment) from NYC who is staying in the hotel w/ his wife, Alma; was curious to find out about the Wild West; bought a gold claim in Deadwood.


Alma Garret (Molly Parker): Brom’s wife; most likely the only respectable woman in the camp; takes laudanum; charming (having lived in high society); smarter than she appears at first glance.


Trixie (Paula Malcomson): One of the pros working for Al (though she is on a higher status than the other girls, having shared Al’s bed and some of his secrets); a mix of vulnerability and strength; she has depth and secrets, too- slowly revealed over time.

DEADWOOD: Brad Dourif photo: Doug Hyun/HBO

Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif): A doctor who was in the Civil Way (Union side, notice his uniform in some scenes); intense; raspy voiced; knows that he is not the “hero” type; one of my fave characters (so far) on the show.


Wild Bill Hickok (Keith Carradine): Based on a real celeb of that time period; very good w/ a gun; forms a friendship w/ Seth; loves to gamble (poker); seems tired and disillusioned w/ life.


Calamity Jane (Robin Wiegert): She travels w/ Wild Bill; can curse and drink (like a man); has had a hard childhood (like many others in this show); her character is slowly revealed as a caring person over time; one of my faves, too.

Deadwood_Rev Smith.jpg

Reverend H. W. Smith (Ray McKinnon): Works as a security guard for Seth and Sol’s hardware tent (when they first come to camp); becomes friends w/ them; carries his Bible  everywhere (having “heard the word of God” several years ago); performs funerals; works two jobs to bring his family from the Midwest.


A.W. Merrick (Jeffrey Jones): Tall, burly, and very verbose (being the only journalist in town); quite proud of his humble paper; likes company and generally being in the know.

…even with such a large ensemble, each character is incredibly layered, and painfully, complexly human: the noblest individuals have moments of selfishness and rage, and the most contemptible figures have instances of vulnerability and grace. There are no stock characters…  -The Unaffiated Critic


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