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Series / Deadwood

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Whatever you do, don't piss this man off...

"A Hell of a place to make your fortune."
HBO's summation of the show's setting.

Deadwood is a historical fiction series created by David Milch and produced by HBO and Paramount Television, with the former owning US rights through Warner Bros. and the latter owning international rights. The series takes place during the 1870s gold rush of the South Dakota Black Hills, focusing on the boom town of Deadwood. 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.

Beyond its viewing audience, the show 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.

Deadwood premiered on March 21, 2004 and ended after 36 episodes on August 27, 2006. The series was later concluded by a long-awaited film (which strangely did not involve CBS Studios, the successor to Paramount Television), set 10 years after the final episode, which premiered on HBO on May 31, 2019.

The show inspired (though is not legally affiliated with) a management simulator game named Deadwater Saloon.

Tropes in the series:

  • Abhorrent Admirer:
    • Richardson for Alma.
    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.
  • Aborted Arc: Several in the film, though some are justified given the Time Skip in-and-out-of universe.
    • The real town of Deadwood almost completely burned down in 1879. This was eventually going to happen on the show if it had lasted past three seasons, with foreshadowing such as Tom Nuttall's violations of the fire code, Harry Manning's support for a fire department and Al's talk about starting a fire if it served his interests. In the concluding film, set years after the fire would have happened, there's no mention or evidence of a fire having occurred. The closest thing we get is a brief shot of a fire wagon driving down the main thoroughfare.
    • The theater troupe introduced in season three of the series was intended to play into future seasons that never happened. The film does not mention them at all.
    • Doc Cochran has seemingly recovered from his tuberculosis in the past 10 years in spite of the fact that the disease was almost always fatal at this point in history.
  • 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.
    • Al Swearengen owns a bar and is rarely far from a large bottle of liquor. In the film, this is a large point of focus for his character and it is suggested that he dies of cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Analogy Backfire:
    Hearst: 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.
    • The movie adds Charlie Utter and Harry Manning to the list of the deceased.
  • Artistic License – History: Random Cornish miners are shown conversing together in Cornish, but the language was considered extinct by this point in history. In fact, it's more widely spoken today due to a 20th century revival movement. The actual language used in the show is Irish.
  • 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 NO ENGRISHEN!! (meaning he doesn't speak English)
  • 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 is a twisted psychopath who ultimately comes unhinged in "Something Very Expensive." He's so crazy that Hearst, who employs countless professional murderers, has to fire him.
  • 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 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:
    • Subverted with Al Swearengen. The first season initially builds him up as the primary antagonistic figure - being the camp's fearsome crime boss - until subsequent events force him into an Enemy Mine alliance with the rest of the camp's prominent residents. As the show progresses, he (mostly) grows out of his violent ways and adopts a more fatherly attitude towards the town, going out of his way to protect it and its people from any potential invaders.
    • The first season as a whole largely averts this trope, relying more on a series of rotating Arc Villains.
    • The following two seasons provide a more solid Big Bad in the form of the Hearst mining company.
      • Season 2 features Francis Wolcott, the psychotic representative of the company.
      • Season 3 gives us George Hearst, who arrives in person to oversee his operation and deal with anyone who dares to stand in his way.
  • 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
  • Blade Enthusiast: 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.
  • 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 hasn't sought a political position because the fourth estate is more important. He then glares at Mayor Farnum with obvious envy.
    • The "Nigger General" Fields claims to be a Civil War general, which no one believes for a second. The real Fields did in fact make this claim, and was treated as a local celebrity much like San Francisco's "Emperor" Norton.
    • When someone uses an exotic word in conversation with Cy, he blusters, "I know what that word means. Prove that you do!"
  • 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.
  • Book Dumb: Al doesn't have a classical education, but he's extremely intelligent and very well spoken, which makes his lapses in knowledge more apparent. He's annoyed when people use Gratuitous Latin and has to be told that "free gratis" is a redundancy.
  • 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-Back: When Farnum asks if town positions will be assigned "ad hoc," Swearengen mutters, "Ad hoc ... free gratis," calling back to a previous conversation about Gratuitous Latin.
  • 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.
  • Cavalry Officer: The episode with an arrogant Cavalry Officer on his way to avenge Custer. Almost everyone in town requests a favor of him, and he is not amused.
  • 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 Manchild 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 are city swells who treat being in Deadwood almost as if they're on safari.
  • 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: The series depicts Hickok's murder but does not show what cards he was holding. A few days afterwards, when reminiscing about the murder, one of the players who had been at the table suddenly remembers that Hickok had been holding aces and eights.
  • Death Glare: Bullock spends a good portion of the series barely restraining himself from pistol-whipping whomever he's looking at. It shows.
  • Distant Finale: The film provides the conclusion of the series, set 10 years after the final episode.
  • Doctor's Orders: Doc Cochran 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.
  • 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.
  • Distant Finale: The film, set 10 years after the final episode of the series.
  • 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 street fights. 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.
  • Drowning Their Sorrows: With all the heavy drinking in the show, a lot of it is caused by sadness. Jane is particularly prone to spending days in drunken stupors.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Dung Ages: A Western variant. There's mud everywhere, practically every character ends up caked in filth at one point or another, and some, like Jane, spend most of the show dirty to one degree or another.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In the first episode, Swearengen wears a dapper waistcoat beneath his suit jacket and has the points of his mustache waxed. In the rest of the series, these costuming details are removed to give him a more rustic look.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Surprisingly, the movie gives almost everyone who's still alive a happy ending. Calamity Jane and Joanie make amends, and the latter finally has her freedom after taking over the Bella Union. Sol and Trixie get married in The Gem surrounded by all their friends, with Al walking Trixie down the aisle. Al spends his (presumably) final moments with Trixie and Jewel by his side. And best of all, Hearst finally gets what's coming to him.
  • 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.
  • Epic Fail: 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.
  • 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.
  • Fastest Gun in the West: Wild Bill.
  • Fed to Pigs: The standard way of Disposing of a Body is to pay Wu to feed it to his pigs.
  • Finale Movie: A film wrapped up the series' story ten years after its cancellation.
  • 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, who is implied to have been pushed to his remote practice by his grave robbing charges and alcoholism.
  • 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 has to do this with her addiction to laudanum.
  • 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 suffering.
  • 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.
  • Gratuitous Iambic Pentameter: The entire series is written in it. Not to the point that everyone speaks in rhyme, but there is certainly a Shakespearean flow to the dialogue for those who can recognize it.
  • Gratuitous Latin: 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..."
  • Grave Robbing: Doc Cochran 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. In one scene, when Star has passed out due to injury, Swearengen sarcastically recommends waving a penny under his nose to rouse him.
    • 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. He does, however, indulge in antisemitic slurs.
  • Heel–Face Turn: A slow journey for Al. He starts the show by beating up Trixie and spends the first season as the primary villain of the series. When the Hearst enterprise begins to tighten its grasp on the camp, Al and the sympathetic cast members are forced into an uneasy alliance. Al gets progressively nicer over the course of the series. It culminates in the film, when he walks Trixie down the aisle during her wedding, and she thanks him for everything he's done for her.
  • Heel–Faith Turn:
    • Andy Cramed. After surviving smallpox, he turns up to help tend the sick with Reverend Smith. He leaves Deadwood to become a minister himself. He hasn't completely reformed, however, as shown by his later knifing of Tolliver.
    • Tolliver himself makes a show of becoming born again in a thinly veiled scheme to attract Joanie's pity.
    • In the film, it turns out that Con Stapleton has become a reverend in the 10 years since the final episode.
  • 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:
    • The historical Calamity Jane was a lot more likely to be mistaken for a man than Robin Weigert's version.
    • 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. On the show, he's a portly, balding man who wears fraying, plain clothing.
  • 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:
    • A bit-zig-zagged with Al Swearengen. In real life, he lured young women to Deadwood and forced them into prostitution through bullying and abuse. In the show, he's an accomplished cutthroat, frontier kingpin and abusive pimp, but it's never implied that he's holding anyone at the Gem against their will.
    • In real life, Jane actually helped Al acquire girls from other territories, herself having formerly worked at the Gem and therefore having knowledge of what the conditions were like. The version in the show would never associate willingly with Al, let alone be a part of his degradations.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: George Hearst, who is effectively made out to be a murderous sociopath.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Trixie has a sharp tongue, but she does care about people.
  • Important Haircut: Wu cuts off his queue to show Swearengen that he is completely committed to America and their partnership.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: 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: Averted by Jewel who is as fully rounded a character as any other recurring character on the show, and she isn't considered particularly saintly or inspirational. She's just an intelligent, hard-working woman who happens to have a disability in a period of time where people were not kind to those with disabilities.
  • Irony: Brom Garret suspects he was cheated because he can't find gold in the concession he just bought and threatens Al Swearengen with an investigation. Swearengen suggests he look in the mountains instead of in the river and orders Brom to be thrown off a cliff in an apparent accident. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. The closest he comes afterwards is prodding the customers at the Gem to say that it was a "fair fight".
  • Mama Bear: Calamity Jane becomes one after Wild Bill is killed.
  • Meaningful Name: The owner of the horse livery is named Hostetler, which seems chosen to evoke the word "hostler," someone who cares for horses.
  • 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, brother."
  • Miss Kitty: Joanie Stubbs tries to be a Miss Kitty, along with her partner Maddie, but they fail.
  • 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 expert 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:
    • The Reverend is the most purely good person in the series. His only goal is to help his fellow man. He's so earnestly nice that some people find him off-putting.
    • 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 O.O.C. 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:
    • The show was canceled after its third season, which provided no conclusion for the town or any of its characters beyond Hearst leaving town.
    • The concluding film, instead of providing a definitive ending, doubles down on the trope. In the end, Hearst is in the Deadwood jail with murder charges pending from Bullock. Hearst's charge of attempted murder brought against Trixie has been delayed by a technicality but is still up in the air. How all of this will pan out is anybody's guess.
  • 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 whether 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.
    Uh, Bullock! I do have a knife. It come to me now!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • During his campaign speech, Farnum makes repeated references to Sol being a Jew in hopes of swaying the crowd to his side by sheer antisemitism. It doesn't work.
  • 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.)
  • 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 badass 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 he 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:
    Merrick: "The vaccine will be distributed gratis."
    Al: Free gratis.
    Merrick: Free gratis is a redundancy.
    EB: Does that mean 'repeats itself'?
    Al: Then leave gratis out.
    Merrick: What luck for me Al, that you have such a keen editorial sense. "Free. Distributed Free. Period."
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Doc Cochran 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, seemingly going out of his way to earn the enmity of his employees, you know he's doing something wrong.
    • 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 Jack McCall's acquittal, 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: In the latter part of season 3, the various town leaders publicly call Hearst out on his actions in a newspaper article. Swearengen remarks on what a toothless gesture it is, but supports it just the same.
  • Surrogate Soliloquy: Many of the characters are prone to this. Charlie and Jane use Hickok'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 slowly and 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 comes from an upper-class background and is clearly out of his element in the cut-throat town of Deadwood. He's easily duped and later murdered.
  • 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.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: In the film, Hearst has become a United States senator, and Deadwood has to host a celebration in his honor.
  • 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: Takes place in the American frontier in the late 19th century.
  • Western Union Man: Blazanov, who is almost pathologically dedicated to the integrity of his profession.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The film does not address the fates of several main cast members from the show: What happened to Silas, Cy, Richardson, and everyone in the theater troupe?
  • Who's on First?: This famous exchange
    Al: Who stole the fucking dope?
    Wu: WU?!?
    Al: 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: Deadwood is a magnet for opportunists and miscreants.
  • 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.