Deadwood: Episode 2/Deep Water

This second episode of HBO’s new series makes it clear that the writers aren’t going to waste a lot of time setting up conflicts. Tonight the lines were firmly drawn between bad guys and good.

On the bad side is, first and foremost, the saloon owner Al Swearengen, who is so consistently, awfully awful that I have to admire Ian McShane’s ability to add some depth to an otherwise fairly flat character. There’s no low where Al won’t go, including ordering the murder of a little girl who threatens to expose one of his subsidiary ventures — the ambush and slaughter of pioneer families to grab the little bit of money they might have, with the added touch of making sure the whole thing gets blamed on the Sioux. This little girl, the sole survivor of one such attack on a Norwegian family by Al’s henchmen, has thus far survived Al’s attempts to see her murdered. Right now she is the pawn around which the central conflict is being built.

On the other side of Al and his cronies are the doctor, who is neither a drunk or an addict for once, Calamity Jane played here on the fine edge of hysteria by Robin Weigert, the former lawman from Montana Seth Bullock and his partner Sol Star who have come to Deadwood to set up a legitimate business, the fatally flawed Wild Bill Hickok and his friend Charlie Utter.

There are a number of subsidiary plotlines that haven’t been woven into this central bit yet, but that can’t be far off. Tonight we saw the first face to face confrontation between a paranoid Al Swearengen and an edgy Seth Bullock, in a scene so tense and tightly played that it sparked. I have to admire the pacing and complexity of the plot and the performances, although I’m hoping that as one of the few female characters Calamity Jane will break out of the fairly predictable range of emotions they’ve set up for her.

Deadwood – HBO

It looks as though HBO is keeping on track with this newest series. The casting promises great things. Timothy Oliphant –seen here — is the cynical Seth Bullock, an ex-lawman from Montana (look for a romance or two in this story line), and Keith Carradine projects just the right amount of quiet menace as Wild Bill Hickok. The writing is excellent and the pacing perfect. The cast of characters is, of course, predictable; bad guys and good guys and girls gone bad; the stupid rich man from a big city is duly duped right up front, and his wife (addicted to laudanum) is in a fog about the whole thing. I think she may turn out to be the more interesting character.

Two things which bothered me enough to note: first, enough of pigs. Three books and/or films in the last few years have featured bad guys who toss their victims to the pigs: Hannibal, Snatch (which I loved, so I’ll forgive the pigs), and now Deadwood. The second thing is the nature of the cussing. I’m not prudish; no problems here with the way fuck is tossed around on shows like The Wire. Realistic dialog is not always pleasant. But language evolves, and word taboos evolve, and it’s only in the last thirty years that fuck has made its way out of the absolute taboo into the daily use category. That kind of anachronism really bugs me. Next thing you know, somebody will tell Wild Bill that he’s being neurotic.

more dialect in dialog

It’s a delicate business, but it can be done well. Examples from published fiction that you might find of interest below.
I’ve also included a few examples from my own work — including a passage where I commit the very sin I’ve been talking about here.

A lot of the second novel in the Wilderness series takes place in lowland Scotland in 1802. The language spoken by the characters would have been Scots — not English. I’ll spare you the discourse on the difference at the moment, but while I was writing the novel I struggled with representing Scots in writing, and I did end up using spelling, to some degree. Here’s an example:

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