Whatever you do, don't piss this man off...
"A Hell of a place to make your fortune."Deadwood
—HBO's summation of the show's setting.
is a historical fiction series which was produced by HBO
. The series takes place during the 1870s gold rush of the South Dakota Black Hills, focusing on the boom town of Deadwood. Creator David Milch originally planned to do a show about the Roman Empire, but upon being informed that HBO was already making a show about that
, he decided the Old West could work just as well to show the formation of a new society.
It deals with many historical events and characters, but also takes considerable Artistic License
. The show featured a large ensemble cast
, all trying to survive on the cut-throat frontier.
Some are interested in establishing a new life, others trying to escape their past, but all have been lured by the promise of new wealth. Soon, larger powers descend on the town, including the American government and a mining concern run by George Hearst. Conflict arises between the original settlers and the newcomers over the fate of the gold (and hence, the town), the dynamic tension created by the small-time players trying to resist the encroaching forces of civilization drives much of the plot.
The show was critically acclaimed and moderately popular. Beyond its viewing audience, it also gained notoriety for its unprecedented use of profane language, most of it anachronistic. This was a purposeful choice by the writers, who wanted the show to be suitably Darker and Edgier
premiered on March 21, 2004 and ended after 36 episodes on August 27, 2006.
Tropes in the series:
- Abhorrent Admirer;
Richardson: I like you. You're purdy.
Alma Garret: ... Thank you, Richardson. And I think that's all either of us need say on that subject.
- Joanie and a random hooplehead for Flora.
- Abusive Parents: Abundant in the character's backstories and mentioned in passing, with the implication that the character's behavior on Deadwood is conditioned by their upbringing.
- Al was beaten regularly as a child (the beating he received because of the death of his epileptic younger brother is related to his sympathy towards Reverend Smith and his aversion to William's funeral) and was sold to an orphanage run by a woman who turned out to be pimping the children in her care. During his adulthood Al hires girls from that same orphanage and pimps them in the Gem, while showing some protectiveness in his own cantankerous way.
- Joanie Stubbs and her sisters were sexually abused by their father before being sold to Cy, which made Joanie extremely protective of women in similar situations. Joanie recognizes a similar pattern of childhood sexual abuse in Wolcott as the reason for his extremely disturbed sexual tendencies.
- It's hinted Jane was abused by her father and that Al is a reminiscent and abhorrent figure to her because of it.
- Word of God is that Bullock's anger against injustice comes from his being regularly beaten by his father. Which is also the reason he ran away from home when he was younger.
- By contrast, Sol mentions having a good relationship with his father and is one of the few relatively well-adjusted guys in town.
- The Alcoholic: Most of the characters are extremely hard drinkers. Jane in particular is a self-admitted drunk and rarely seen sober.
Doc: I take it you've been out on a hoot?
Jane: I've been drunk awhile; correct. What the fuck is that to you?
Doc: The question was well meant. Like if you was a farmer, I'd ask ya how the farming was going.
- Altum Videtur: Merrick writes that a free vaccine will be distributed gratis. Al insists that they clarify "free gratis" before deciding to ditch the Latin altogether. Later, the town meeting agrees that the temporary town positions will be ad hoc. Al rolls his eyes, muttering, "Ad hoc... free gratis..."
- Analogy Backfire:
Are you sayin' you wanna fuck me? Jarry: What. Hearst:
You keep calling yourself Alcibiades to my Socrates, are you suggesting some sort of homosexual connection between us? Jarry:
...I forgot that part of the story
- And That Would Be Wrong: Subverted (in that both men have done far worse) when Swearengen talks to Tolliver about the "hooples."
Swearengen: Sometimes I wish we could hit them over the head, rob them, and throw their bodies in the creek.
Tolliver: (Dryly sarcastic) But that would be wrong...
- Anticlimax: The third and last season of the show, after building up the tension between Hearst and the townspeople throughout the season, including Al recruiting a gang of Mooks to battle Hearst's Mooks, ends with no battle and no confrontation, but the total surrender of the town to Hearst, who gets everything he wanted. Bullock's "I've never met a bully who wasn't afraid" farewell speech to Hearst doesn't really disguise this. Bullock admits as much, saying he feels defeated. This is partially because the show was originally supposed to have a fourth season (and then two feature length movies that never got made, but it got cut short. Even so, history dictates Hearst lived and his mine was profitable.
- Anyone Can Die: Main characters: Ellsworth. Supporting characters: Hostetler, Leon, Reverend Smith, Brom Garret, Wild Bill, Seth Bullock's son William, Francis Wolcott, Maddie, Captain Joe Turner, and a host of lesser characters. Of course, history books will spoil some of these.
- Ascended Extra: Richardson, Farnum's cook, was originally cast as an extra. By season three, he gets a fairly substantial amount of screentime.
- Asian Speekee Engrish:
- Why don't you learn to talk American?!
- WU KNOWS ENGRISHEN!!
- Asshole Victim: Al's infamous third-season torture scene is shocking but remember, the guy he does it to stomped on another guy's foot so hard it had to be amputated, just to be a dick.
- Ax-Crazy: Wolcott, most spectacularly in the episode "Something Very Expensive". He's too crazy even for Hearst—who himself cheerfully takes an actual axe to people who displease him—to continue to employ.
- Bad Ass: Seth Bullock, Wild Bill Hickok, Al Swearengen and Dan Dority.
- Badass Boast: Played straight with a number of characters, but memorably averted with, "Jack McCall runs from no man." Immediately preceding his running right out of the building.
- Badass Moustache: Swearengen,Tolliver and Bullock all qualify for this trope
- Badass Preacher: Andy Cramed is no slouch despite being a late convert, especially after he gut-stabs Tolliver in the second season finale.
"God is not mocked, Cy."
- The Bartender: Swearengen, unless he's busy killin' hooples. Dan and Johnny when Al is busy with more important things.
- Being Good Sucks: Most of the time in the show doing the right thing is either extremely hard or comes with severe consequences. In particular, Bullock ends up getting the short end of the stick many times.
- Berserk Button:
- Nice Guy Ellsworth has a seething and justified hatred for George Hearst and his cronies.
- The otherwise mild-mannered Charlie Utter unleashes a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown after hearing of Wolcott's crimes.
- Mr Wu, a man of questionable scruples who uses pigs to dispose of corpses, is outraged when he discovers the burning of the Chinese prostitutes' corpses by Mr Lee.
- Beta Couple: Sol and Trixie. Ironically, they're the ones who end up semi-happy.
- Big Bad: Hearst once he shows up. Swearengen has shades of it but his raw charisma and grayish moments buries it.
- Bilingual Bonus: When attempting to explain to Mr. Wu (who knows about a dozen words of English, including "white cocksucka!") that he and Hearst are not allies, Swearengen refers to them both as "baak gwai lo," a term he's heard Wu use in anger. It helps explain Wu's confusion—and is also ironically appropriate to the characters—if you know that Swearengen just referred to himself and Hearst as "white devils."
- Bilingual Dialogue: In a teeth-clenched way Al and Wu do manage to understand each other. One time where Al is sick and not available Dority remarks he is not smart enough for those puzzled conversations
- Blatant Lies: Merrick is about to throw his hat into the ring for the temporary mayoralty, but gets cut off. That night, he states to himself that he's not sought a political position because the fourth estate is more important. He then glares at Mayor Farnum with obvious envy.
- Body Horror: The episode "Requiem For A Gleet" is full of this, not to mention the sad, slow and heartbreaking progress of Reverend Smith's brain tumour.
- Brief Accent Imitation:
- Al does an amusing E.B Farnum imitation. Adams struggles not to laugh.
- Bullock once imitates Wu's famous "SWEDGIN!"
- Bully Hunter: Seth Bullock. "I took the badge off myself once; without losing my impulse to beat on certain types." He beats Alma's conniving father, who suggests he wants to do so as retaliation against a bully from his youth; in the final episode, he cuts off a vile comment made by Hearst at Alma, and throws a thinly veiled accusation at Hearst: "Every bully I've ever met can't shut his fuckin' mouth... except when he's afraid."
- Butt Monkey: E.B. Farnum is the camp's resident Butt Monkey. Amusingly, E.B. has his own personal Butt Monkey in the form of his moronic chef, Richardson.
- Call Forward: In Season One, Fire Marshal Charlie Utter cites Tom Nuttall for multiple violations of the fire code in his saloon. In Season Three, Harry Manning runs for sheriff not actually wanting the role but rather wanting to gain support for the formation of a fire department, an endeavor which his boss Tom Nuttall assists by helping him buy materials for the construction of a fire wagon. Also, numerous references are made to Al Swearengen's willingness to start a fire if it advanced his own interests. In 1879, two years after the time frame of Season Three, the whole town of Deadwood burned to the ground.
- Canine Companion: Ellsworth's nameless dog, whose only purpose seems to be to sit patiently listening to His Master's Voice.
- Cartwright Curse: You gotta feel sorry for Alma Garret. First, her husband gets murdered. Then, she and the sheriff start a really hot and heavy affair, but his wife shows up. So, she gets married again, and her new husband is also murdered! And she does nothing to deserve any of it.
- Catchphrase: Al's "cocksucker" is in addition the signature word of the entire show.
- Characterization Marches On: In Richardson's first appearance, he squeezes Silas for a few bribes before giving him some information. Later appearance would establish Richardson as an idiot Man Child without the cunning or inclination for such schemes.
- Chinese Laborer: Chinese residents of Deadwood are frequently called "Celestials" and live in "Celestial Alley", or "Chink's Alley" for the less educated. Wolcott writes to Hearst that they'll start to bring in cheap Chinese labour when it's not so likely to incense the population.
- City Mouse: The Garrets
- Cluster F-Bomb: Director David Milch originally attempted to use period accurate swearing. Swearing used to be more about religion, and old curse terms simply don't carry the right impact. In test screenings the audiences found it laughable — the characters sounded like Yosemite Sam. So Milch made the decision to use modern swear words to reflect the crudity of a frontier mining camp. In the words of Geoffrey Nunberg: "If you have your characters use historically accurate swearwords, they're apt to sound no more offensive than your grandmother in a mild snit." That said, Deadwood contains a lot of swearing. It's got an average of 1.56 uses of "fuck" per minute of footage.
- Country Matters: When the show wants a change of pace from the Cluster F Bombs. At some point, it almost becomes a term of endearment
Al: (eyeing Trixie with compassion and shaking his head) "Loopy-headed cunt."
- Dead Man's Hand: Averted, surprisingly given that Hickok is the Trope Maker. The series depicts his murder but does not show what cards he was holding. Probably because there is little evidence that Hickok was actually holding that hand.
- Death Glare: Bullock spends a good portion of the series barely restraining himself from pistol-whipping whomever he's looking at. It shows.
- Determined Widow: Alma.
- Doctor's Orders: Doc Cochrane enjoys a privileged position in camp as the only doctor. He can get away with saying pretty much whatever he wants because he's too valuable to mistreat. Still, he's a particularly ornery man and will occasionally push the boundaries.
- Doesn't Like Guns: Swearengen, who admits to being a "terrible shot," and prefers big ole knives. In the third season, this becomes a liability, and he curses himself for being too stuck in his ways to actually learn to shoot properly.
- Doomed by Canon: Well, read a history book. But nearly everyone knows the story of Wild Bill Hickok and the "Dead Man's Hand".
- Downer Ending: The last episode of the series ends with Hearst riding off, having successfully bought the town.
- Disabled Character, Disabled Actor: Geri Jewell, who plays Jewel, actually has cerebral palsy.
- Disposable Sex Worker: Most of the girls at Joanie's new whorehouse. Averted with Trixie, but only at the expense of another sex worker. The unfortunate Chinese girls brought in by Lee take this trope to its depressingly logical conclusion.
- Disposing of a Body: Mr. Wu keeps a pen of hungry pigs on standby. In direct contrast to Wu's discretion, his counterpart Lee simply uses hastily constructed and very public pyres. Since he's burning Chinese immigrants, few people seem to care.
- The Dragon: Captain Turner acts as George Hearst's primary bodyguard and chief enforcer. He seems to have a history of killing Hearst's enemies in public streetfights. Though Swearengen can handle himself quite well with a blade, he has his own Dragon, Dan Dority. In one episode, the Dragons have themselves a fight.
- Dramatic Irony: "I'm not leaving camp without my money." — You're right about that, Brom.
- Driven to Suicide: Wolcott and Hostetler. And almost Trixie. And almost Joanie.
- Dr. Jerk: Doc Cochran is an abrasive, alcoholic loner who is clearly haunted by his experience as a medic in the Civil War. His bedside manner is so poor that he must beg Alma to accept his help when her life is in danger.
- Dumbass Has a Point: In the episode "Amateur Hour," the cunning Al Swearengen puzzles over a pictorial message drawn by Wu until resident slack-jaw Johnny Burns steps in and decodes it. Al thanks Johnny by punching him in the face.
- Due to the Dead: Bullock insists on giving a Sioux raider who tried to kill him not just a proper burial, but a proper Sioux open-air burial, despite there being a large bounty for their heads. Also, after shooting Ned;
Reverend Smith: Men like Mr. Seth Bullock there raise the camp up.
Johnny: Yeah, the fella to be put in that box might argue with you, Reverend.
Reverend Smith: Ah, Mr. Bullock did not draw first. And I point to his commissioning me to build the departed a coffin and, and see to his Christian burial.
- Eloquent In My Native Tongue: Mr Wu fits the bill particularly in a scene where he uses a broken combination of Chinese insults and English profanity to try and convey how his drugs were stolen.
Wu: Bak gwai lo... COCKSUCKA!!!
- Enemy Mine: By the end of the first season, the hero Bullock finally allies himself with Al Swearengen, despite the fact that Bullock would see Swearengen thrown in jail if he could, and Swearengen would knife Bullock in the back if his future prosperity depended on it. They choose this loose alliance in order to keep the residents of Deadwood free from exploitation by outside forces.
- Enforced Cold War: The possibility of the federal government coming in and negating land claims forces Al and Cy to pretend like Deadwood is a nice civilized town and not openly try to destroy each other.
- Eye Scream:
- Ned Mason is shot through the eye, either by Wild Bill or Bullock.
- Dan and Captain Turner get into a fistfight in the street. While grappling on the ground, one of the fighters slowly and brutally pries the other man's eyeball out of the socket with his thumb. The camera unflinchingly focuses on it.
- Fake American: Northern Irish Paula Malcolmson as Trixie.
- Fastest Gun in the West: Wild Bill.
- Fed to Pigs: See the first Disposing of a Body example.
- First Name Basis: Even after she's helped her kick the opium habit and been a nanny to her adopted child, it isn't till Trixie agrees to give her an abortion that this is said;
Alma Garret: My name's Alma, by the way.
Trixie: I know your name!
- Flowery Insults: Oh, where to start...
- Foregone Conclusion: Bill's going to draw those Aces and Eights.
- Foreshadowing: Countless examples; a subtle one: Seth notes how there's a "big pull to that - going back to what you know" - and eventually goes back to being sheriff.
- Frontier Doctor: Doc Cochran, with a bit of Dr. Jerk thrown in.
- Full-Frontal Assault: Trixie bares her breasts when she goes to shoot Hearst, having the dual effect of distracting and confusing his guards, and making sure no-one remembers her face.
- Going Cold Turkey: Alma Garret.
- Good Is Not Nice: Doc Cochran is a mean-tempered, irritable sonofabitch at the best of times, but he cares deeply for the health of everyone in the town and for human life in general. It is revealed that his work treating casualties of the Civil War strongly shaped his desire to see people free from pain and death.
- The Good, the Bad, and the Evil: Bullock, Al Swearengen and George Hearst provide a perfect example. Despite civilization slowly beginning to dawn on Deadwood, the ascendancy of Hearst and his cronies steer the conditions of the camp From Bad to Worse.
- Good Shepherd: Reverend Smith. Andy later returns to the camp to take over the role.
- Grave Robbing: Doc Cochrane has seven counts of grave robbing on his record. This and his drinking are presumably what drove him to Deadwood.
- Greedy Jew:
- Swearengen invokes the trope whenever he's around Star, accusing him of being a money-grubbing heathen.
- Hearst makes a crack at nitpicking over small change like Jews. Soon afterwards, he makes a protracted but less-than-sincere apology to Star.
- The Gunslinger: Wild Bill, Seth Bullock, Morgan and Wyatt Earp.
- Hates Everyone Equally: Hearst. So long as you treat him with absolute deference and subordination, he doesn't care what race you are; for that reason he prefers working with black people and Chinese immigrants, believing them to be better at knowing their place.
- Heel-Faith Turn: Played straight with Andy Cramed: healed from a deadly illness, and in turn helps heal the sick with Reverend Smith. He leaves Deadwood to become a minister himself. Subverted by his prison-shanking of Tolliver. Tolliver himself makes a show of becoming born again in a thin-veiled scheme to attract Joanie's pity.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Sol Star and Seth Bullock are partners and have been for some time, in spite of being an Odd Couple. Bullock will throw down with anyone who insults Star's Jewish faith, and the Non-Action Guy Star will charge into the fray armed only with a "purse gun" to defend his friend. Their relationship was Truth in Television, as the real Bullock and Star entered a number of business ventures throughout their lives.
- Hypocritical Humor: Swearengen often accuses Star of being a Greedy Jew when it's clear that Swearengen himself is actually the unscrupulous, money-grubbing businessman. He also frequently refers to Native Americans as "heathens," when it's clear from his disgust for the preacher's sermons that he's not exactly a devout Christian.
- Historical Beauty Update: Inverted with Charlie Utter. The real Charlie Utter had flowing blond locks and dressed in fine clothes and carried a pair of pistols with pearl handles. He even bathed daily which was extremely unusual at the time.
- Historical-Domain Character: Many, although Artistic License was often taken—the real Al Swearengen was American, a young man, and married during the time period the show portrays.
- Historical Villain Downgrade: Al Swearengen's not exactly a nice guy in the show but he was worse in real life. He would lure young women to Deadwood and force them into prostitution through bullying and abuse.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: George Hearst, who is effectively made out to be a murderous sociopath.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Trixie.
- Important Haircut: Wu cuts off his queue to show Swearengen that he is completely committed to America and their partnership.
- Infant Immortality: Played straight and averted. The only survivor of the Norwegian family was the little girl. When Al tries to have her murdered, his Dragon rebels and she survives. However, Bullock's nephew and adopted son gets killed out of the blue by a wild horse.
- Injun Country: Deadwood is still on Indian land when the series begins, and Indian attacks are a lethal threat to travelers passing in and out of the camp.
- Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Jewel.
- Irony: Brom Garret suspects he was cheated because he can't find gold in the concession he just bought and threatens Al Swerengen with an investigation. Swerengen suggests he look in the mountains instead of in the river and orders Brom to be thrown off a cliff in an apparent accident. The place he lands on? An unknown gold vein.
- It's Always Spring: The show Time Skips over winter to avoid taking place in several feet of snow.
- Kevlard: Implied to be the reason Mose survives being shot by Tolliver's men.
- Knife Nut: Swearengen is a skilled knife-fighter who cuts a number of throats throughout the series. He's a self-confessed terrible shot and at one point curses himself for sticking with knives rather than learning to shoot properly. Dan Dority's preferred weapon is also a knife, though he has no aversion to firearms.
- Knight in Sour Armor:
- Bullock does not want to be a lawman anymore, but his nagging conscience and hot temper won't allow him to turn his back on all the cruelty around him.
- The Union General at the end of the first season counts, as he and his officers are disgusted by the slimy nature of Tolliver and E.B and want nothing to do with them. (From the quartermaster dealing with E.B.: "We'd be better off reprovisioning with the fucking Sioux.") At one point, Tolliver offers the general a substantial amount of gold to leave a small detachment behind at the camp to "uphold the law", to which the general advises Tolliver that he would have him hanged if he were Sheriff of the town.
- Lady Drunk: Calamity Jane wears this trope like a badge of honour.
- Large Ham: Stage veteran Jack Langrishe. Swearengen calls him on it, and Langrishe admits it freely.
- Limited Wardrobe: Due to the time period and location, most characters are typically seen wearing the same outfit. A change in outfit typically indicates a major event.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Approximately thirty featured characters, with the majority making regular appearances.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: Swearengen tries this early in the first season, since the victim's family was capable of calling in the Pinkertons, but otherwise he usually doesn't care about hiding his kills.
- Memetic Badass: Wild Bill, in-universe. The mere presence of someone with such a reputation for badassery affects events in the camp.
- Mercy Kill: Swearengen does this for Reverend Smith, smothering him to save him from the lingering and painful death of a brain tumor.
"You can go now, my brother."
- Miss Kitty: Joanie Stubbs tries to be a Miss Kitty, along with her partner Maddie, but they fail.
- Mr. Vice Guy
- Name's the Same: At one point it's revealed that Steve the Drunk's last name is Fields, the same as "the Nigger General's."
- Neutral No Longer: Blazanov eventually throws in with Swearengen after realizing how bad Hearst is.
- Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: Averted. When Bullock and Swearengen decide to have it out with some Good Old Fisticuffs, Bullock puts aside his guns and resident Knife Nut Swearengen says he doesn't need a knife. Once the two have thoroughly beaten the tar out of each other, however, Swearengen pulls his trusty knife and is about to slice Bullock open when the sight of a boy in the arriving stagecoach (Bullock's stepson) causes Swearengen to back off.
Al: "Welcome to fucking Deadwood! It can be combative."
- Nice Guy:
- Ellsworth is a cheerful nice guy, and well-liked by just about every character in the camp. His violent hatred of Hearst is thus a case of OOC Is Serious Business.
- Star, Merrick and Blazanov are also nice guys and never do anything morally questionable, though they're not as well-liked for various reasons.
- Nice to the Waiter: Subverted by Hearst. In an early scene, he's overjoyed that his black maid has arrived and claims to have a child-like affection for her. Only later is it revealed that his affection goes only so far as she continues to please him, and he can get quite cruel if she does not.
- No Ending: Two full-length movies were proposed to close the show, but never came to pass. The show is now officially dead.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Bullock and Al; later on, Charlie Utter and Francis Wolcott.
- Non Sequitur: During the camp meeting to establish a government, Eddie suddenly asks women will have equal opportunity to open brothels. No one understands what this has to do with anything. The viewer knows, however, that Eddie is looking out for Joanie's business interest.
- Nothing Up My Sleeve: Al, fighting Bullock.
Guess I forgot, I had my knife the whole time
- N-Word Privileges: Given the time period, thrown around matter-of-factly by just about everybody.
- Odd Couple: Nebbishy Jewish businessman Sol Star and the two-fisted ex-lawman Seth Bullock. In reality, the two did share a lifetime friendship and business partnership.
- Out, Damned Spot!: EB rants away to himself about having to scrub the blood of a murdered guest out of the floor over and over again. Probably more than usually justified, given it's a bare wooden floor.
- Parrot Exposition: Lampshaded - in Season One, Al snaps at EB to stop doing it, while in Season Three, George Hearst tells Odell Marchbanks not to repeat back to him in other words what he has just said.
- Pet the Dog: Swearengen is a complete bastard, but is increasingly given opportunities to gruffly pet the dog as the series progresses.
- When Trixie sets Alma's giant rock of gold ore on Al's nightstand, he doesn't even look at it and instead snatches her arm to inspect the tract marks from her recent suicide attempt. He then pulls back the covers for her to sleep beside him. In the morning, he awkwardly tells her not to try to off herself again.
- He employs a handicapped cleaning woman, Jewel, constantly belittling and berating her, but Trixie insists that he keeps her around as a "twisted fuckin' way of protecting her."
- He shows grudging sympathy towards Rev. Smith, reveals he once had an epileptic brother, and mercy-kills the pastor when he is suffering from a terminal brain tumor. He also delivers a few tough-love pep-talks to residents of the camp during the later seasons.
- He saves Trixie's life out of loyalty and guilt over abusing her, but in the process must murder another woman who has nothing to do with the affair.
- Phony Veteran: the "Nigger General" Fields, who wears a Civil War uniform. The real Fields was an actual Civil War veteran, but did humorously claim to be a general.
- Pinkerton Detective: Several agents are featured throughout the course of the series. Al Swearengen considers the Pinkerton Agency his arch-nemesis. Later, they're hired en masse as Hired Guns by George Hearst.
- Platonic Life Partners: Trixie and Ellsworth. Trixie goes ballistic after Ellsworth's murder and attempts to avenge him, knowing it will likely lead to her own death as well.
- Playing Gertrude: Clio King, playing "Aunt" Lou, is only about fourteen years older than Omar Gooding, playing Lou's son, Odell. On the other hand, given the historical setting, it's entirely possible that she gave birth at a very young age.
- Politically Incorrect Villain:
- Swearengen, as much as he is a villain, knows the ethnic slurs for just about every group around.
- Hearst makes a sneering anti-Semitic crack and likes being around black people because he thinks that they are naturally deferential.
- Private Military Contractors: At the end of season three, Hearst hires a veritable army of Pinkerton men to keep order as he steals the elections of the mayor and sheriff. (Their use in this capacity is Truth in Television, to the extent that a law was passed specifically to limit the company's ability to function as a private army.)
- Poker: Aces and Eights—the Dead Man's hand.
- Politically Correct History: Zigzagged. Even the sympathetic characters toss about what would be considered ethnic slurs today: Bullock calling Mr. Wu a "Chinaman", Calamity Jane addressing General Fields as "a short nigger", Trixie making frequent anti-Semitic remarks in reference to her Jewish lover Sol, and most characters use slurs like "heathen" when referring to American Indians. Swearengen seems to take particular pleasure in firing off ethnic slurs. On the other hand, only one die-hard racist seems to have much of a problem with Hostetler, the black livery owner.
- Power Trio: Dan, Silas, and Johnny is the most obvious example.
- Prospector: Ellsworth is the most prominent example.
- Quick Draw: Bullock and Wild Bill quick-draw their pistols to kill a murderous highwayman. Bullock establishes his Bad Ass credentials by drawing about as fast as the legendary gunfighter, though he modestly gives the edge to Bill.
- Raging Stiffie: "Damn Chinks keep shrinkin' my pants..."
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: The dialogue uses modern profanity out of the belief that historically correct swearing would have made the characters sound like Yosemite Sam.
- Running Gag:
- Farnum's Parrot Exposition, which irritates Al.
- Merrick sneezing thunderously during funerals.
- Serial Killer: Wolcott.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Farnum has a poetic streak that he's very proud of, but occasionally borders on Delusions of Eloquence. Merrick could give Frasier Crane a run for his money, but subverts this when he challenges a public announcement of Jarry's as hiding a complete lack of meaning in big scary words.
- Settling the Frontier: The show depicts the efforts of the eponymous and illegal town to be incorporated into the United States, the influx of new settlers and the dangers of Injun Country.
- Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: Wolcott has hints of this.
- Shaped Like Itself:
"The vaccine will be distributed gratis." Al:
Free gratis. Merrick:
Free gratis is a redundancy. EB:
Does that mean 'repeats itself
Then leave gratis out. Merrick:
What luck for me Al, that you have such a keen editorial sense. "Free. Distributed Free. Period."
- Shell-Shocked Senior: Doc Cochrane was an army doctor during the Civil War. The horrors he saw there made him an antitheist, a drinker and a serious grouch.
- Siblings in Crime: Flora and Miles, a young brother and sister who arrive in Deadwood pretending to be looking for their father but are actually thieves.
- Slashed Throat: Wolcott and Swearengen's crew deliver a number of these.
- Smug Snake: Tolliver. He thinks he's a Magnificent Bastard, but when he has surrounded himself with nothing but lickspittles and incompetent junkies, and seemingly goes out of his way to earn the enmity of his employees, you know he's doing something wrong. Likewise E.B Farnum thinks he's a mover and shaker in the camp, and has a higher opinion of his cunning than is warranted. You can practically see the trail of slime behind E.B as he skulks around town, engaging one poorly thought-out scheme after another.
- The Sociopath: The only hint of vulnerability we see in George Hearst is his occasional frustration at the fact that despite having tried, he simply can't understand or sympathise with his fellow men, dislikes spending time in civilisation and only feels happy when he's "speaking to the Earth". The only people he feels comfortable with are those who show him unconditional deference, "like dogs".
- Sophisticated as Hell: Deadwood uses this a lot, mixing philosophic descriptions and complex compound sentences with the Cluster F-Bomb.
- Stealth Insult: Disgusted by the innocent verdict of Jack McCall, Merrick raises a toast at the Gem, stating that if it were ever his misfortune to kill a man, he'd want it to happen in Deadwood. This is taken from the real Merrick's actual article on the trial.
- Stepford Smiler:
- Mrs Garret. The laudanum helps, at first.
- Reverend Smith is almost always smiling, even when he's lamenting that his body is breaking down and he no longer feels God's presence.
- Strongly Worded Letter: How the protagonists attempt to deal with the Big Bad. Unsurprisingly ineffective.
- Surprisingly Good English: Mr. Lee, the new Chinese arrival from San Francisco and rival to Wu, speaks fluent English. Al is visibly shocked when Lee reveals this.
- Surrogate Soliloquy: Many of the characters are prone to this. Charlie and Jane use Hickock's grave. Ellsworth uses his dog. EB uses Richardson in later seasons. Cochran rails at God. Swearengen addresses prostitutes giving him a blowjob and increasingly speaks to an Indian head in a box.
- Tar and Feathers: In "Complications", Samuel Fields, the "Nigger General", is tarred at a scalding temperature on the shoulder by a lynch mob leader, before the procedure is interrupted by sheriff Seth Bullock. The tar is then painstakingly but painfully stripped off his shoulder by Calamity Jane.
- Thinking Out Loud: A hallmark of the show is for various characters to deliver monologues about their current thoughts and predicaments, often addressed to subjects that can't respond. Dority begins to worry about Swearengen's sanity after overhearing him talking when no one is around, and Swearengen gives a somewhat embarrassed explanation, saying it's a habit brought on by age.
- Those Two Guys: Leon and Con, the employees of the Bella Union, the incompetent counterparts to Dan and Johnny.
- Toilet Humor: Besides all the vividly scatological cursing, an awful lot of fart jokes make it into the dialogue.
- Too Dumb to Live: Flora and Miles Anderson. Blowing into a camp with only one safe road in and out, and then plotting to rob two of the wealthiest, most ruthless men in that camp? Darwin Award time!
- Translation Convention: The explanation for the modern-day obscenities. What we hear is just as vulgar as what 19th-century people would have heard.
- Upper-Class Twit: Brom Garret. More or less averted with Alma, who's much more canny about people and has the sense to consult experts on things she doesn't know about.
- Victoria's Secret Compartment: Trixie likes to keep her Derringer hidden down her cleavage, in spite of the fact that this doesn't necessarily make it a safe hiding place, considering her profession.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Charlie Utter and Calamity Jane. Hell, Jane and anyone she takes a liking to. Whereas with everyone else she's just vitriolic.
- The Western
- Western Union Man: Blazanov.
- What Could Have Been: Two feature-length finales were planned, but aren't going to happen.
- Who's on First?: This famous exchange
Al: Who stole the fucking dope?
Al: Not Wu, who, you ignorant fuckin' Chink!
- The Wild West: Deadwood is a frontier town in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which is still in Injun Country when the series begins. The legendary western figures "Wild Bill" Hickok and "Calamity" Jane factor into the story. Even Wyatt Earp makes an appearance.
- Wretched Hive
- You Just Told Me: Hearst pulls one on Bullock by subtly implying Bullock is having an affair with Alma. Cue Bullock going ballistic and beating the crap out of Farnum for telling him, only to have Bullock realize, as soon as the red mist fades, that Hearst probably didn't know for sure, but his response just confirmed it.
- You Look Familiar: Garret Dillahunt played the coward Jack McCall on the first season of Deadwood, then came back the next season to play murderous psychopath Francis Wolcott. McCall has a drooping eyelid and Wolcott has a full beard, lessening the facial similarity between the two. Dillahunt has since been predominantly typecast as either slack-jawed yokels like McCall or seething psychopaths like Wolcott.