In the "Deep Water" episode, Calamity Jane tells the Doc Cochran that he can trust Seth Bullock (a former marshall turned hardware store owner) to know the welfare of a child—whose family was killed by road agents who made their massacre look like a slaughter by the Sioux—because Bullock was the one who led men out to investigate the matter (and the one to kill one of the men who did the killing). Doc asks her to consider what happens if Bullock circulates the news that the child will be okay—something that will bolster his own (even righteous) claims.
Doc: And supposing it was road agents, and they hear his talk? Where’s the little one stand then?
Jane: You got a dark turn of mind.
Doc: I see as much misery outta them moving to justify theirselves as them that set out to do harm.
I just sampled the first two episodes of HBO’s Deadwood, the Emmy and Golden Globe winning three-season western series based on historical locations, events and people.
And I really resonated with the observation of the doctor above, as even good intentioned actions can result in harm if they aren’t thought through. It gives us reason to pause as to our own actions, even those we believe we undertake for the greater good or on the side of justice.
That said, I'm still trying to decide if the story the series is telling is worth the form in which it comes. When it first aired, the series immediately drew attention for its profuse use of profanity—particularly the “F” word (a reportedly cumulative average of 1.56 utterances of the word per minute). When we watched the above episode, we made sure the children were in bed and the television volume was really low (in fact, we eventually turned the subtitles on so we could catch all the dialogue)—the series use of profanity is seriously that frequent. Interestingly, according to Wikpedia, that was a conscious choice, the creators indicating they wanted the series to reflect the “shockingly crude” language of the era, but such words (like “golddarn”) actually sound “downright comical.” So, instead, the creators decided to use profanity that would have “the same impact on modern audiences as the blasphemous ones did back in the 1870s” and “the frequency of the swearing was to signal to the audience the lawlessness of the camp in much the same way that the original inhabitants used it to show they were very self-aware of the fact they were living outside the bounds of ‘civil society.’” In that line of logic, it definitely succeeds. In addition, the series contains scenes of violence and nudity which may not be pushing the limits of theatrical releases but definitely seems rather shocking to folks like me whose viewing experience is limited to regular cable.
So far, the series is definitely exploring the darker, violent side of the human experience. And that kind of experience is definitely a part of this world and our history, and we need stories that explore that. However, I’m just not sure yet that this story is one I want to journey into. I must admit, I’d probably be more comfortable if I were watching an edited version, perhaps as HBO’s Sopranos is appearing on A&E now.
Note: The series has a TV-MA rating, which means it “may contain extreme graphic violence, strong profanity, overtly sexual dialogue, very coarse language, nudity and/or strong sexual content.”