"A Constant Throb"/"The Catbird Seat"/"Tell Him Something Pretty" S3 / E10-12
- A- Community Grade
An ending. That’s the thing that Deadwood is missing in the eyes of most serious TV fans, the thing that might put it on that top tier of TV dramas with The Wire and The Sopranos and assorted others. Because of the unfortunate circumstances of the show’s cancellation, the show goes out, at first glance, with an episode that ends a season-long conflict with a whimper, as two men back away from an inevitable apocalypse at the last moment. Obviously, series mastermind David Milch was hampered by the actual history he purported to follow in not having the camp and everyone in it be reduced to ashes, but after a season that promised bloody conflict, that everything ended with “only” two deaths – one of a character who essentially amounted to a glorified extra – seemed a bit of an anticlimax. When were we going to get Al and Hearst having their ultimate showdown? Who would avenge poor Whitney Ellsworth, the camp’s most unfailingly decent individual and the hardest of Deadwood’s three major deaths to take? And what would become of the numerous plot strands Milch left hanging at the end of the finale?
Well, let me say something a bit radical here: Deadwood is probably better off for having ended at the end of its third season than it would have been had it had the fourth season Milch felt necessary to wrap up all of the series’ storylines (though I would have been very surprised, had the show debuted in, say, 2001 if it didn’t ultimately run five or six seasons). Obviously, we can never know this for certain. The three seasons of Deadwood we have do suggest that the hypothetical season four might have been a towering masterwork of television craft, amply playing off of all of the series’ themes in finally destroying the fledgling civilization that the series had built. We might have finally gotten a heartbreaking payoff to the Bullock-Alma-Martha triangle or a sweetly tempered love story between Joanie and Jane. We might have gotten to see Al mastermind the ultimate undercutting of Hearst, who now owned all of the gold plots around town. Or we might have gotten to see some truly awesome moments between Richardson and Aunt Lou.
But outside of seeing Al get the best of Hearst for once and for all – and more on that later – we already got all of this stuff and then some as season three came to a close. The final scenes between Joanie and Jane are warm and heartfelt. The scenes where Bullock comforts Alma and Sofia in the wake of Ellsworth’s death resonate with the longing they all feel for a life that cannot be but also the resignation that it simply cannot be. And Richardson and Aunt Lou remain one of the most unexpectedly brilliant pairings the show came up with. Season three is the season where Deadwood stops being a lawless camp and finally steps into the United States proper (if nothing else, the guy who quotes the 15th Amendment when Hearst’s goons try to stop the NG from voting shows this). It’s the season when the series becomes thematically complete, no matter how many character threads might have been fascinating to follow in a fourth season.
Would I have loved to spend more time with these characters? Yeah. But the constraints of history (the camp of Deadwood did actually burn down before being rebuilt as the city that exists today) and Milch’s long-standing plan for how to end the series might have conspired to create an ending that would have been perhaps too cynical for a show so imbued with a sense of what it means to be a person living in a larger community and coming to rely on that community for your own strength and to cover your own weaknesses. If Milch burned down his title character, the series would always have this sense that all of his world-building was for naught, I fear, but with the series ending before he could bring in the torches, it’s easy to indulge the sense that one could wander the Black Hills of South Dakota and unexpectedly take a left turn into a bloody, violent town that was also weirdly welcoming and warm, that one could stop off in the Gem for a drink with Dan or kick back with Jane outside the livery or try to stay out of the sheriff’s way when he was looking especially pissed off. Had Deadwood ended with all of Milch’s planned character and plot payoffs, it would have had an ending that felt like an actual ending, sure, but with the series ending the way it did, the camp of Deadwood gets to live, perversely, and that ends up being more resonant with what the series was trying to say. The Wire, a show about how things end and how you can never get ahead, needed a concrete ending to be what it was. But Deadwood, a show about how things begin and how humans can come together to do things greater than themselves, doesn’t need that to be successful. It simply needs to give us the sense that what we are seeing has a sense of permanence, something it does in spades in the final three episodes of its run.
Are these three episodes note perfect? No. The theatre company plotline completely goes off the rails in these episodes, with a long, meandering storyline that’s never adequately explained (and I realize there are multiple theories and some very well argued ones about what’s going on, but the storyline never steps up and suggests its importance in a way that might make me feel like going out). There’s a big, thematic plot point in the finale that doesn’t quite work as well as it should (it’s a 7 or 8 when it really could have been a 10 with a few minor tweaks). And there are false or stray moments throughout that irk just a bit. These three episodes aren’t up to the level of the final three of seasons one or two, but they are remarkable television in spite of that (and saying that three episodes are very good but not quite up to the level of some of the best episodes in television history is more than damning with faint praise) and in spite of their relatively minor flaws. Because, to a degree, these three episodes are also Milch’s magnum opus, as though he knew that the writing was on the wall, even though there was no way he could have known, and just wanted to go out telling a story that expressed everything he wanted to express in as economical a fashion as possible. The straight delineation of episodes by the days they occur on breaks down between these three, as night one stretches into episode two and night two into episode three. In short, they’re telling one, big story in a way that Deadwood rarely indulged in.
It’s for this reason that I’m essentially abandoning the straight plot recaps for the most part. (It also helps that the action is remarkably clear for Deadwood – no one is really engaging in the kinds of political machinations the series could be capable of.) Obviously, I’m also doing this because the series is ending (and this series of reviews with it), but I did think it might be interesting to revisit the three things I said I thought Deadwood did really well back in the first write-up and see if my thoughts (and yours) have changed on them in any way since doing this series. To that end, let’s start with the point I offered the fewest examples for at the start and the point I was least certain I could make the case for when the series ended, my third point: Deadwood uses its microcosm as a symbol for the whole universe better than any other series.
What’s interesting to me upon returning to the series is just how much the third season plays not only like a period piece of the 1880s but also of the mid-2000s, a dark time for liberals like David Milch. Maybe when the series first aired, it was harder to recognize this for all of the plot machinations going on, but in retrospect it’s absolutely obvious: Season three is all about George W. Bush and the failures of the American system. For all of Al’s attempts to undercut Hearst, for all of Bullock’s attempts to stand up to him, Hearst accomplishes pretty much all of his goals by the end of the series without having to destroy the camp and mark himself even more obviously a monster in the eyes of polite society. He’s purchased Alma’s gold claim. He’s managed to install the sheriff he wanted, using his political connections to replace him with Harry Manning (a guy who really just wants to be fire chief) in a sham, rigged election. He kills off the one man in camp who was most opposed to everything he stood for. Hell, he even tells Merrick that he’s going to start his own newspaper to spread his own propaganda (which is both historically accurate, a nice quip about how the more things change, the more they stay the same AND a roughly contemporary riff on the Fox News phenomenon). Hearst gets everything he wants, but he spends much of these episodes moaning about how people don’t like him.
Sometimes, the hardest things to remember are things that happened recently, things that we might prefer to forget until our memories can assign a comforting glaze of the past to them. But for anyone on the left or, hell, for centrists who just couldn’t get on board with the Bush agenda and found themselves being pushed leftward pretty much by default (hi!), the months immediately following the loss of John Kerry in the 2004 election were deeply, deeply dispiriting, a gradual realization that what seemed self-evident to us was decidedly not self-evident to slightly more than half the country. (Knowing as many conservative Republicans as I do, it was equally dispiriting to them that just under half the country didn’t love their guy, but Deadwood wasn’t written by one of these people, so, instead, we get to ruminate on how Hearst is the Bush administration and not a representation of the socialist nightmare or something.) While I’d rather not get too much into politics in this piece, it’s interesting to ponder how the third season of Deadwood was conceived and aired in what might have been the darkest hour for the American left in the last 20 years. Milch is less of a hardcore leftist than, say, Wire creator David Simon (he’s more interested in long-winded philosophizing about how political situations play into long-running, cyclical human conditions), but his dislike of Bush is well-documented, particularly in the run-up to John from Cincinnati, which was a show about nothing less than the United States falling prey to its least stable voices and being so likely to perpetrate genocide that God Himself steps the Hell in. (Also, it was about levitating surfers.)
It’s actually interesting to plot out how Milch’s politics may have informed Deadwood. Clearly, he believes in the saving power of the collective over the ability of the individual to get things done (which is, roughly, the difference between modern liberalism and conservatism), and that very belief would inform the show regardless of who was in charge. But season one, conceived of, written and produced in the immediate aftermath of the second Iraq War, is a season all about deflating cowboy myths, showing the perils of trying to go it alone and extolling the virtues both of government keeping its nose out of your business (a traditionally conservative value that took on a weird, liberal bent in the wake of the PATRIOT Act) and people taking care of each other. Season two, mostly conceived of, written and produced in the build-up to the 2004 election, when it seemed as though Kerry might actually win, pretty much completely embraces the idea that the way to live your life is to not only embrace the collective but also to go out of your way to help others, offers up a good deal of hope in the face of season one’s cynicism and seems at least agnostic about the appeal of government’s role in the American system (compared to season one’s outright irritation at the idea). And then season three, conceived of, written and produced in the wake of Kerry’s loss, is about an unfettered capitalist who doesn’t play by the rules, gets everything he wants, whines about how not everyone likes him and rigs elections. I’m just saying.
And what’s Milch’s response to all of this? What’s this guy’s suggestion for what liberals should do in the wake of a country that seemed to have rejected them once and for all? Be decent and hold on to your big guns until you absolutely know you need them. Granted, there are problems with both halves of this equation. The most decent man in all of Deadwood (in all of television!) – one Whitney Ellsworth – is shot through the head after his sham marriage seems on the edge of becoming something approaching a real one. (Right before being shot, he monologues to a dog, which you’d think people in Deadwood would have learned not to do by now.) And everyone’s pretty much aware that if Al ever needs to bring in his big guns, it will mean the end of the camp and everyone in it. But Milch’s argument is not that you defeat evil and tyranny by learning its tricks or by sinking into the darkness but by being better than evil and tyranny, by showing that it still means something to be a human being. At a time when virtually everyone on his side of the political spectrum wanted to fight back, Milch was indirectly advocating the quiet revolution of being a good person.
Obviously, there are limits to any microcosm-macrocosm comparisons on a show like this. You could very likely enjoy Deadwood without knowing a thing about Milch’s politics (though his portrayal of unrestrained capitalism would likely tip you off) or while outright disagreeing with Milch’s politics. And in a fictional world, at some point, the characters have to become citizens of their world and not an abstract interpretation of our own if the work of fiction is to have any success. But as the series has worn on (and as I have pointed out, hopefully), I’ve been struck by just how much Milch ties his Western frontier town to the world that we know and inhabit at present, to how he uses this tiny little town to stand in for a great, big bustling nation and an even bigger world.
My second point back when I began this series was that Deadwood understands better than any other series both the complexities of the human heart and how people can change. In that regard, watching the series’ first three episodes (which I covered in that piece) and the final three episodes would be remarkably instructive. The thing Hearst never gets about Deadwood is that every move he makes to intimidate the populace only serves to drive them closer together. His goon’s intimidation of the NG as someone who shouldn’t be voting leads to both a random camp resident quoting the Constitution to the man but also Charlie insisting that a black man must be allowed to vote just like everyone else. His feigned attempt on Alma’s life drives her into the relative safety of the Gem. His demand for blood creates a scenario where people uneasy at the thought of killing an innocent whore (like Bullock) are forced to just get it done and not question it. Now think back to how the series began. Charlie was someone who was almost completely removed from everyone else in the camp. Al was killing Alma’s husband and figuring out if he could remove her gold claim from her hands. The town didn’t even have a black presence. And the killing of a bunch of innocents (Sofia’s family) created much of the story that pushed forward from that point as the townspeople reacted to this act of lawlessness by pushing toward the formation of laws.
This ties in to my largest point I’ve been making about Deadwood throughout this series but is also illustrative of my second point: The people of Deadwood began the series as a large group of islands, separated by their own petty interests and concerns, and as the series continued, they merged together through circumstance and common cause to form one body, one continent of Deadwood that could stand up to whatever was thrown at it. Al begins the series as a scheming, backroom manipulator who aims only for his own gain. He ends the series as all of those things, yes, but he’s also realized that his own gain is inextricably tied to the future of the camp he calls home. As the series has progressed, he has been very slowly and rationally changed from an egotist to something approaching an altruist (granted, an altruist who slits throats). And every character on the show has undergone some sort of metamorphosis like this (Al’s is just the most obvious and dramatic). Ellsworth goes from a man who’s simply proud to be working an operational gold claim to the one person most willing to rage against the tyranny befalling his town. Alma goes from a weak society wife to a titan of the camp. Charlie goes from the put-upon sidekick of a frontier hero to a genuine force as camp deputy. Even Bullock has proceeded from frontier lawman to someone learning to put his temper under control to fit into the larger societal template. In this series, everyone is embarking on a voyage they themselves often do not understand, a voyage where the needs of the larger body will slowly mold them into the components the larger body needs. The only people unwilling to embark on these voyages – your Cys and Wolcotts and Hearsts – may get what they want, but they are ultimately marginalized within the camp as a whole, to the point where they often seem to be raging, even as their positions are relatively strong.
My major and first point in that first writeup and the point I’ve been returning to throughout this series was the idea that Deadwood is better than any series I can think of at portraying the formation and purpose of human communities. To an extent, I’m not sure there’s any need to even elaborate this point any farther (especially as it so neatly dovetails with my defense of the second point above). I’ve talked about this and talked about it and talked about it until I’m sure many of you were sick of it. But it’s worth noting that in these final three episodes, the people of Deadwood finally feel less like individual citizens of a camp and a body that acts of one accord to protect its own interests. Notice how quickly a multitude of people who might have no need to work together otherwise spring into action when Alma’s life is threatened. Or see how the immediate way that the news of Ellsworth’s death courses through the camp seems to reach out and grab Trixie in its full fury, animating her to go and make an attempt on Hearst’s life (in one of the most tension-fraught sequences in the show’s run). This is, ever more, a series about the many ways people can come together and what happens when they do. The officious nature of the elections (sham though they may be) is just the most obvious example of how people create civilization out of chaos. We’ve been heading this way for a while.
That said, I do think Milch rather overplays his hand in the series finale. While I like that Milch is always reminding us that civilizations are build on a foundation of blood and gold, I rather wish that the killing of Jen the whore had not been handled so perfunctorily. It absolutely makes sense that Jen would be killed, and it absolutely makes sense that this would be Al’s plan, and it absolutely makes sense that he would carry it out this way, but it strains credulity a bit that Johnny is the only vocal opposition to the plan. Al barely even has to talk the law-loving Bullock into this idea.
I certainly think that Bullock could easily be persuaded to keep his best friend’s lover alive, even as it cut against his own ideals and passions, but the series doesn’t bother to do this. It’s as though Milch thought of the idea of Al avoiding Hearst’s final vengeance (and the sequence leading up to Hearst checking out the corpse is spine-chilling in its implications for what will happen if Hearst realizes the body is not Trixie’s) and then had it in his head for so long that he didn’t quite realize just how his characters might react to it. Trixie’s sobbing at the awful sacrifice made for her seems in character, as does Johnny’s objection to the whole plan. Furthermore, Dan and Al’s seemingly pragmatic acceptance of what must be done is also completely in character, but some of the other characters at the edges of this plot – particularly Bullock and Charlie – either don’t have to be talked into it or don’t seem all that shocked by what Al’s done in a way that doesn’t quite play right. The plot probably doesn’t even have to be fundamentally rethought to accomplish these ends. All you really need is one scene where Al encounters some opposition from Bullock and Charlie (or others) and manages to talk them into it because they realize it’s the only way to proceed, and the whole storyline picks up the tragic weight at the suggestion of all of the awful things we do to keep our lives and homes safe that Milch has been pushing toward us throughout. Johnny’s objection to the plan is terrifically written (particularly his list of sins she hasn’t committed), but it never quite attains the weight it might have held in the mouth of Charlie or Ellsworth (were that possible) or even Jane.
But no matter that. As the series ends, unexpectedly, to the sight of Al scrubbing yet another blood stain out of his floor, lying to Johnny about how Jen’s death happened (because there’s no way to make a throat slitting gentle), a lie both he and Johnny will agree upon, given enough time, it ends not on a note of finality, but on a note of clearing one’s throat, of a slight pause before something else picks up. To some, the idea of not having a satisfying ending is simply unconscionable, but I often think that we get too hung up on the idea of an ending, on the idea that an ending makes up the rest of the work. Sure, a great ending is unlike almost anything else in the world of art, but just because we didn’t get to see the camp burn down doesn’t diminish Deadwood as a series in my eyes. It’s still waiting there for anyone to pick it up and see everything it wanted to show us, a vision of a world that was both more brutal and better than ours. Ending on that pause only enhances all of the themes and concerns that Deadwood laid out during its run, and I’m not sure that anything the series could have said after this moment would have been sufficiently new or intriguing enough to bring the series to a close as thematically satisfying as this closing trilogy.
In his essay collection, The Big Picture, William Goldman has a terrific piece, prompted by the recent passing of Jimmy Stewart, on the idea that the dead Hollywood stars are dead, yes, but also alive and present in memory. “And where will you leave Jimmy Stewart?” he asks, listing a number of the star’s iconic big screen moments. For me, I’ll probably always leave Deadwood at the Ellsworth-Garrett wedding that closes season two, but there are so many moments in these final three episodes that would be perfect resting places for the series as well, so many ways the series weaves its characters into the rich, lifelike tapestry it was so good at creating. How about the Doc, sitting in the hallway with Alma and telling her why, exactly, Sofia must get to see the dead Ellsworth, to touch his beard? Or the look of joy on Ellsworth’s face when Alma speaks of happier times to come? Or Jane wrapping herself in that big, heavy robe of Wild Bill’s, a kind gift from a man she hasn’t always gotten along with, who now wishes her luck in her new relationship? How about Al, pausing, glasses perched on his face as he attempts to read Merrick’s article to let him know how it wafts? Could it be Richardson bringing over a gift from Aunt Lou to console Alma in the wake of her loss or Lou helping him get dressed to go to the polls? What about E.B. finally wiping Hearst’s spittle from his face, a tiny act of defiance from a man who seemed unable to do such a thing? Or Martha politely offering everyone tea as the world seems ready to burn around her? Or Cy stabbing Leon, his fury unleashed yet again as he realizes how ultimately impotent he is (he even stabs the guy in the thigh!)? Or Sol and Trixie collapsing into each other’s arms and weeping? Or … or … or … or …
Maybe you don’t leave Deadwood somewhere in these final three episodes. But anyone who loves this series will leave it somewhere, will find a place where they can slip back into its rhythms when they feel the need. I leave the series on this rewatch strengthened in my conviction that it’s the best TV series of all time, that its collection of moments and scenes and episodes adds up to the thing that most approximates life as I’ve come to know it so far when compared to all other TV series I’ve seen. Is it as formally perfect as other series with a shot at the best series of all time crown? No. But it’s as beautiful and embracing a work of art as I’ve ever seen, a show that argues that there’s nothing more important or miraculous than just living your life, than rolling out the rhythms of a day and seeing where that span, that voyage, leaves you at the end. We live, what, 80 years? And in those years, we change, we grow, we hope. So do the people on Deadwood. Despite all that might not quite work in the series’ run, it’s not hard to feel a kinship with them because they are us, and this series is our world.
- Good God, that’s a long write-up. That next-to-last paragraph is pretty much all of the stray observations I was going to make anyway, so I’ll try and make fewer than usual otherwise.
- First of all, thanks so much for hanging out with me all summer and watching this remarkable show yet again. Somewhere around the latter half of season one, I thought I had set up for myself an impossible task, and about midway through season three, I started to worry I’d completely lost any new observations to make about the show at all, but we made it here. Thanks, especially, go to the regular commentors, who made interacting in the comments section a delight. I’ll be covering series throughout the season for The AV Club, but I’m hoping to do another TV Club Classic series next summer, ideally of another HBO series. What will it be? Tune in in May!
- The biggest question out there about a prospective fourth season of Deadwood: Would Gerald McRaney have come back as George Hearst? I have to assume so, yet he was a series regular on Jericho immediately following this, so it’s possible he wouldn’t have either.
- In the final reckoning, my favorite Deadwood supporting character is definitely, definitely Charlie Utter.
- While watching these final three episodes, I was struck by how much they feel like a series ender almost in spite of themselves. Things that would happen in a planned series ender – like Joanie finally finding a measure of happiness – happen with surprisingly regularity in these episodes. I wonder just how much Milch knew and when he knew it.
- So, yeah, we just completely abandoned any pretense of plot recap in that piece. If any parts of the plot didn’t make sense to you while watching these, ask away in comments, and I’ll try to answer. Except for questions about whatever the hell was going on with the theatre company plotline in “A Constant Throb” and “The Catbird Seat.” I have no idea.
- That said, I forgot how it seemed as though Langrishe would be a trusted camp elder come season four. I would have liked to have seen that. Brian Cox bounced well off of all of the other actors on the show (unsurprisingly).
- The Deadwood cast has been much in demand after the show’s conclusion, with nearly every actor turning up on another series or two. For my money, the weirdest post-Deadwood acting gig is Jim Beaver’s recurring role on Supernatural. Don’t get me wrong. He’s good in the role, and it’s a fun show. It’s just … quite a change.
- Additional discussion point: Was there a character on the show who seemed to fulfill their potential less than Cy Tolliver? Powers Boothe played the character well, and Milch always gave him great things to say, but the character ultimately ended up being a shadow of the antagonist he seemed like he would be, as Milch grew far more interested in Wolcott and Hearst.
- Additional, additional discussion point: Which character suffered the largest loss of screentime from the ever-expanding cast over the years? I say Brad Dourif’s Doc Cochrane, who was a legitimate Best Supporting Actor Emmy nominee for the first season and then ended up barely doing anything in season three.
- Final discussion point: Which abruptly dropped season three plotline was the least interesting: Odell’s Liberian gold claim or the Earp brothers?
A few brief notes on John from Cincinnati:
Since I promised this a few weeks back, I may as well provide it now, though I haven’t seen this series since it first aired. John from Cincinnati is a series I like a lot more when David Milch describes it than I like it in execution. When Milch talks about the idea of God feeling so urgently about stopping the U.S. from wiping every Muslim on Earth off the face of the planet that he sends an emissary to convince us to stop, it sounds fascinating, particularly as it pertains to Milch’s long-standing fascination with religion and how humans tie up the sacred in very, very mundane trappings.
But the series as it exists is mostly frustrating. The first six episodes are all varying degrees of pretty good, building up to the series’ one genuine triumph, that final moment in the sixth episode, when John delivers a brand-new Sermon on the Mount in the parking lot of a hotel (oh, hey, here it is). It’s the slow build here, as John arrives and miraculous events seem to both precede and follow him, that makes the series work, as one gets the sense that Milch is attempting to graft something approaching a genuine mythology onto his overriding concerns.
But after that scene, the series pretty much goes off the rails, as series star Bruce Greenwood leaves to go do other things, the mythology drifts all over the place and HBO cuts the episode order to ten after realizing what it has is almost aggressively non-commercial. There are still some good moments in these final four episodes (particularly in the finale, where Shaun and John surf down from Heaven to Earth to the strains of Bob Dylan), but the overriding sense is of Milch trying desperately to cram everything he wants to say into a handful of episodes against all odds. It never quite holds together, and the ultimate sensation is one of disappointment at what might have been had Milch both made his ideas a bit more concrete and had HBO just trusted him to come up with a compelling story without their interference.
Overall, there’s great stuff in John from Cincinnati, but I would have much rather had a fourth season of Deadwood, even as I think that fourth season would have likely been the least appealing of that series’ seasons. John from Cincinnati was a pretty good way for Milch to keep a lot of the Deadwood cast and crew employed, and for that, I’m obviously grateful, but it usually has the feel of a missed opportunity as opposed to a genuinely sensational television experience. (But the opening credits kick ass.)
For the last time, then, quotes:
- "Just some nonsense among the ordinaries, sir." – Al Swearengen
- "I need to take off my corset." "No one objects to that here." – Alma Ellsworth and Al Swearengen
- "Every step a fucking adventure." – Al Swearengen
- "Before she eats, she somersaults and don't want no one to see." – Al Swearengen
- "Are you proposing some sort of homosexual connection between us?" – George Hearst
- "As you gaze upon me, sir, recall that some unions of convenience may outlast those conceived in passion." – Hugo Jarry
- "Elections cannot inconvenience me. They ratify my will or I neuter them." – George Hearst
- "I gotta go reassure my Jew." – Trixie
- "So you see how goddamn irresponsible it would have been of me to allow you full fucking conscious movement?" – Dan Dority
- “If it ends with one between Hearst’s eyes, let me play to his strategy and welcome.” – Whitney Ellsworth
- "I feel like I broke two or three ribs." "I'm talking about that newspaperman's ribs, you fucking cunt!" – Barnett and Al Swearengen
- "I prayed it would pass, but it's a constant fucking sore spot and throb." – Con Stapleton
- "I beg you, release your man stallion from his he-stable for another gallop round the ring." – Con Stapleton
- "I want to know that I'm going to be fucking heard, that what I fucking say will matter, will have some result." – Barnett
- "Well, let's call you Stupid until we can think of something better." – Cy Tolliver
- "You seem distraught." "I am not! I await an outcome!" – E.B. Farnum and George Hearst
- “I dreamed last night I was clamoring up a fuckin’ creek bank, which is often required of a drunk. It was dark, and I couldn’t tell where I was till I cleared the bank and come face to face with Charlie Utter’s ugly mug. Now Charlie’s, as usual, on the lookout for Bill, that’s as usual too, losing at poker inside the joint we’re outside of. ‘Where are we, Charlie?’ This could be any fucking place the last number of years. And he said: ‘Jane, don’t you know this is the No 10 saloon here in the camp where Bill’s gonna fuckin’ get killed soon?’ ‘Jesus Christ – how do you know, Charlie?” I asked him. He said: ‘Don’t you know,’ he says, ‘some point we know these fucking things? Don’t you know the world says its fuckin’ name to us?’ ‘What the fuck? What the fuck do I have to dream about this for?’ I say to Charlie, ‘Wasn’t I miserable enough?’ ‘Jane,’ fuckin’ Charlie says to me, ‘Don’t you know this is the night you couldn’t look out for that little girl when you was at Cochran’s, and Swearengen come in and scared you and you went down to the creek to weep? That’s where the fuck you’re coming from. And don’t you know,’ he says, ‘this is the night you spirit that child from Cochrans, and to where our stock was outside of camp, and we watched out on that little girl and sung to her, and you, with the presence of mind to continue the fucking round when I was too fucking stupid? And you said you would ‘row, row, row’ and I said ‘row, row, row your boat’ and we had this … now,’ Charlie says to me, ‘don’t you understand what I’m trying to tell you? Any evenings in your life you made mistakes, remember where even evenings you was as most ashamed as you ever thought you could ever be are able to wind up, and don’t fuckin’ only remember the middle of the fuckin’ dream!’ If I wonder why I dreamed that dream, yesterday you sent Mose to find me, and I was nearly dead-drowned drunk, and Mose made me get up, and you and me walked them kids to school, and before I went to sleep … you kissed me.” – Calamity Jane
- "The situation being fluid and not likely to get less so, I went ahead and ordered hames." – Sol Star
- "You know, saying I like you hefty, don't mean you couldn't stand losing a couple of fucking pounds." – Al Swearengen
- "I am going to fuck you up. I'm gonna fuck you up. And I'm the kind of cunt you'll let close." – E.B. Farnum
- “Would my conversating with her or lingering after supper have disrupted the little one’s routine on a day that had been disrupted previous? Yes. Already she’d seen a series of people taking up watch to protect that schoolhouse, and how many questions must have occurred to her, because that is a bright child. ‘What is transpiring that we need guarding from?’ And what memories must that have brought back of her own dear family murdered in a sudden fake Indian depredation by shit-heel fuckin’ road agents. Not solely how would I like to be passing the evening, the like. When I’ve left, have I given the mother more calming down to do before she gets the child asleep? Them’s the sort of things is what you have to consider.” – Whitney Ellsworth
- "Didn't I tell you how well it wafted?" – Al Swearengen
- "Couldn't let him read his fucking paper." – Silas Adams
- "Pinchbeck motherfucker." – Cy Tolliver
- "My goodness! Bare-breasted! My word." – E.B. Farnum
- "I piss hard-stole money away to gussy you fucking cunts up." – Cy Tolliver
- "I'm a dead man." "You ain't gonna be alone." – E.B. Farnum and Al Swearengen
- "Get out with your hovering and fucking clucking. Before hell breaks fucking loose." – Trixie
- "I want to feel his beard so I can pray that he's saying goodbye to me." – Sofia Ellsworth
- “The man I once was, Al, was not formidable, and I am but his shadow now. And yet I’d be put to use. A decoy, perhaps. A weight to drop on villains from above.” – Jack Langrishe
- “See, I suppose rather than Sofia crawling unseen from the carnage, the possibility might exist that the family hid her in the tree trunk and then fled that distance before the murderers fell upon them. For the child to have been found having been savaged by wolves, those hours later by strangers, and then taken away having never seen her family again, living or dead …” – Doc Cochrane
- "I was not born to crush my own kind." – George Hearst
- “Big man. Wu. Big man.” – Mister Wu
- "I'm the guy that the next time you see me, you better take a different fucking tone with." – Charlie Utter
- "Your hair has survived my diatribe." – Alma Ellsworth
- "Every bully I've ever met can't shut his fuckin' mouth except when he's afraid." – Seth Bullock
- "You mistake for fear, Mr. Bullock, what is in fact preoccupation. I'm having a conversation you cannot hear." – George Hearst
- "Did the hats come?" – Harry Manning
- "Phantoms grin out at me, oozing gruesome goo!" – E.B. Farnum
- "If it's Christmas, where's the fucking snow or the fucking harp music or the like." – Cy Tolliver
- “What is this, Jen?” “A wall?” “On the surface, yes, it is. But inside, many creatures go about their lives, such as ants. They got a whole operation going. They got soldier ants and worker ants and whore ants to fuck the soldiers and the workers, right inside that wall … baby ants. Everyone’s got a task to hew to, Jen. You understand me?” – Johnny Burns and Jen
- "She ain’t stole or been quarrelsome or set the bedding afire." – Johnny Burns
- "South had that man's gas to load in their cannons, shoot, wouldn't be no free niggers anywhere." – Aunt Lou Marchbanks
- "How do you make your way, Star, not sometimes buying silence by punching her in the fucking mouth?" – Al Swearengen
- "17 normal size and a short one that's hell with a knife." – Hawkeye
- "Send word you're positioned with the midget." – Al Swearengen
- "Warm." – Calamity Jane
- "What is it, Sol?" "Everything." – Seth Bullock and Sol Star
- "Comprehending such a language can cost a man his own kind's sympathies." – Jack Langrishe
- "Right or wrong, you side with your feelings." – Dan Dority
- "I've stopped reading your paper, Merrick. I'll have my people here start another one, so I can lie the other way." – George Hearst
- "You done fucking good." "I did fucking nothing." "That's often a tough one in aid of a larger purpose." – Charlie Utter and Seth Bullock
- "Wants me to tell him something pretty." – Al Swearengen