YMMV / Deadwood

  • Badass Decay: Swearengen and Bullock are built up as ruthless, pragmatic, and proactive men who are willing (albeit sometimes reluctantly on Bullock's part) to Shoot the Dog if necessary. Then Hearst shows up, and their big plan to deal with him? Write a Strongly Worded Letter to the editor about his labor practices and then wait until his boot is on their throats before sending someone to a neighboring town to see about maybe hiring some guns.
    • Somewhat justified, as one of the running themes of the show is the dichotomy between being a stereotypical outlaw "badass" and not getting put in the crosshairs of the US government (something that Al repeatedly expresses displeasure at the prospect of.). If Al and Bullock "took care" of Hearst the way that they wanted (and that he, quite frankly, would have totally deserved), then no doubt the government would come in and arrest them for murder and put the Deadwood camp directly under the thumb of Uncle Sam: get rid of one problem, bring in an even more intractable problem.
  • Complete Monster: Season 3's Big Bad, George Hearst, slaughtered the Cornish workers in his employ for unionizing, cut off Al Swearnegen's finger as a show of power, and attempted to have Captain Turner kill Dan Dority in a public street fight that is long and drawn out, both to emotionally torture Al and demonstrate that Hearst holds all the power in town. He also hires an army of Pinkertons to terrorize the town, sending Odell Marchbanks on a dangerous quest to find gold which ends up getting him killed. He has the head Pinkerton Barret savagely beat Merrick in response to posting a notice about the poor working conditions of Hearst's employ. Hearst then orders the death of heroic prospector Ellsworth to force Ellsworth's wife to sell the land Hearst wants to him. To demonstrate his power, he also forces Al to murder his favorite prostitute for trying to assassinate Hearst. It's implied he may know Al killed a lookalike girl, but simply doesn't care, more than happy he broke Al completely.
  • Creator's Pet: The theatre troupe in general in season 3 and Jack Langrishe in particular.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: Mr. Wu goes to Al's office to demand (in his broken and extremely limited English) that he do something against his rival, Mr. Lee. Al says that he will meet him "to see how much juice [Lee]'s got behind him". Wu is confused and asks "Jews?" while mimicking a bunch of coins in his hands. Al negates. Wu gets up from his seat then, moves to the window, points to Sol Star's shop, pretends to have a big nose, and asks again: "Jews?"
  • Magnificent Bastard: Al Swearengen slowly earns this title over the course of the second season when it becomes clear he's trying to bring order to the horrible frontier town in order to protect his dominance. Sure he orders hits on little girls, kills innocent people and generally does horrible things to everyone, he's practically a populist man of the people compared to Hearst and his cronies.
  • Nightmare Fuel:
    • Doc Cochran helps Al pass several kidney stones by inserting a large metal spike into his urethra — while he's awake. This procedure causes so much pain that Dan has to keep administering smelling salts to prevent Al from passing out.
    • The fight between Dan and Captain Turner. Even besides the famously horrifying conclusion, it's one of the least "glamorized" fights in any medium: just two men using every ounce of strength they have to overcome the other, because anything less means death. It's not surprising that Dan's recovery from it amounts to sitting alone in a room, weeping.
  • Rooting for the Empire: Until Hearst shows up as the Big Bad, the rather wooden goodie sheriff Bullock doesn't hold a candle to the criminally magnificent Swearengean. Not a literal rooting as his early deeds are despicable enough, nevertheless Ian McShane's role is widely considered the most memorable character of the show.
  • Squick: The Gleet. "Mother of God" indeed. Also Doc Cochrane pushing a needle through a headwound in the first episode.
  • Trapped by Mountain Lions: The theater troupe in season 3. Maybe they would have had some kind of payoff if the show had continued, but as it is they just feel like a big waste of time in the final season.
  • What an Idiot: Flora and Miles seem to be building a cunning plan to rip off the Gem and the Bella Union. Then Flora just makes a flimsy pretext to grab a fistful of Joanie's jewels and make a run for it. She fools no one and the plan is a spectacular failure.
  • The Woobie:
    • Reverend Smith. No one takes him seriously from the start, but at least he has God - then it's suggested that his intense feeling of being loved by God is a symptom of the brain tumour that's causing his fits. Then his body starts falling apart and he starts to hallucinate.
    • Alma Garret for her Cartwright Curse.
    • Whitney Ellsworth.
    • Joanie. First Cy makes her shoot a young girl on the face, then her attempt to start her own business far from him is ruined by a Serial Killer.