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Ina Rae Hark

Publication Year: 2012

By dramatizing the intersection of self-interested capitalism and foundational violence in a mining camp in 1870s South Dakota, the HBO series Deadwood reinvented the television Western. In this volume, Ina Rae Hark examines the groundbreaking series from a variety of angles: its relationship to past iterations of the genre on the small screen; its production context, both within the HBO paradigm and as part of the oeuvre of its creator and showrunner David Milch; and its thematics. Hark’s comprehensive analysis also takes into account the series’ trademark use of language: both its unrelenting and ferocious obscenity and the brilliant complexity of its dialogue. Hark argues that Deadwood dissolves several traditional binaries of the Western genre. She demonstrates that while the show appears to pit individuality, savagery, lawlessness, social regulation, and civilization against each other, its narrative shows that apparent opposites are often analogues, and these forces can morph into allies very quickly. Indeed, perhaps the show’s biggest paradox and most profound revelation is that self-interest and communitarianism cannot survive without each other. Hark closely analyzes Al Swearengen (as played by Ian McShane), the character who most embodies this paradox. A brutal cutthroat and purveyor of any vice that can turn him a profit, Swearengen nevertheless becomes the figure who forges connections among the camp’s disparate individuals and shepherds their growth into a community. Deadwood is quintessentially, if unflatteringly, American in what it reveals about the dark underpinnings of national success rooted not in some renewed Eden but in a town that is, in the apt words of one of its promotional taglines, “a hell of a place to make your fortune.” Fans of the show and scholars of television history will enjoy Hark’s analysis of Deadwood.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. vi-vi

My family loved Westerns. The aunt who babysat me on week-ends when I was five used to let me stay up past my bedtime to watch the first season of Gunsmoke. My father took me to see . . .

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pp. 1-4

When David Milch, acclaimed writer and producer for the police dramas Hill Street Blues (NBC, 1981–1987) and NYPD Blue (ABC, 1993–2005), pitched to HBO an idea for a . . .

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1. It’s Not a Western . . . It’s an HBO Western

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pp. 5-15

While Deadwood joined a long line of television Western series, its placement with HBO allowed it do things that no television Western had ever done. Variety’s review . . .

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2. David Milch’s Deadwood

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pp. 17-29

Assigning authorship to televisual texts is even more difficult than in cinema. Although the place of the director as first among creative equals tips more toward the writer . . .

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3. Language, Decent and Otherwise

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pp. 31-40

Television has always been more “talky” than the cinema, but in Deadwood the preeminence of dialogue approaches that of the stage. So many of its crucial scenes contain no . . .

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4. The Social Dynamics of Violence and Alliance

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pp. 41-60

Dozens of individuals weave in and out of the complex and layered plotting of Deadwood. Milch’s Deadwood: Stories of the Black Hills lists thirty-five regular and recurring performers . . .

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5. Deadwood’s Political Economic Narrative

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pp. 61-78

For the past 25 years, the narrative structure of each episodic television drama has fallen somewhere on a continuum between having each installment tell a self-contained story, so that . . .

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6. Women and Power

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pp. 79-91

In the season 1 DVD Special Features, Milch points out that in 1876 the Deadwood population was 90 percent male; of that 10 percent who were women, nine out of ten were prostitutes. . . .

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7. Dirt Worshippers and Celestials and Niggers . . . Oh, My!

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pp. 93-107

Perhaps as shocking as hearing the words cocksucker, fuck, and cunt thrown around so casually on Deadwood is hearing the racial epithets chink, coon, and nigger, as well as blatant . . .

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pp. 109-113

A month before Deadwood’s third season premiered on June 11, 2006, media reports confirmed that there would not be a fourth. Milch had developed a new show for

Works Cited

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pp. 115-117


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pp. 119-120

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814336601
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814334492

Page Count: 128
Illustrations: 15
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1