The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

Deadwood: Built on the backs of women?

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Hello Natalie,

I am so glad you loved Deadwood – I think it is some of the most amazing TV ever made: the complexity of the language, the development of characters, coupled with a page-turner kind of plot, the serialization of the story, the great cussing. I just started re-watching the entire series and am just into the second season for the second time.

First off – Al on his hands and knees. Having already read your comments when I was re-watching season 1, I was struck by how often this motif runs through the series: early in the first season he reprimands Jewel for her improper stain cleaning and then gets down on his hands and knees to show her how to scrub a bloodstain. He does so again in his own office after he kills Persimmon Phil. In the final episode of season 1, Al tells the newly self-elected Sheriff Bullock that he is going to “step over that bloodstain that mysteriously appeared on my floor” – the stain left by the murder of the Yankton official who was trying to squeeze Al on an old murder warrant. Al’s work, quite often, involves scrubbing bloodstains, literally and metaphorically.

I think you are absolutely right that this implicates Al in a kind of feminine labor that I cannot imagine Tolliver doing in a hundred years. Al may be relentlessly self-interested, but he has tied his interests to the collective in a way that requires him often to, if not turn the other cheek, at least suffer temporary incursions on his pride.

I also think you are right that the blood scrubbing, especially in that final scene of the entire series, is laden with the symbolic weight that women bear to make the burgeoning society of Deadwood possible. One of the things I am most struck with this second time round is how parallels between women are developed, even as their relationships are always truncated. All the women are trying to negotiate survival in this very, very male world, where being a woman is reason enough to be expendable. Despite the occasional alliances that form between women – Joanie and Trixie, Alma and Martha, Trixie and Alma, Jane and Alma, Joanie and Jane – these women are barely given opportunity to form real relationships. They come together, sympathize, commiserate, take pity on each other – and then they are separated by the machinations of men. Notice how often men meet together to decide their fates and the fate of the camp. Not once do the women gather, except in brothels – and there we are not given the greatest examples of camaraderie, especially when we see that Maddie is willing to sell one of her girls for a nice retirement.

This fact seems very profound when I think about the show as a visualized narrative of civilization’s creation: built on women’s backs, demanding their blood, the very form of civilization does not allow their congregation, which is a form of recognition by the law.

I want to think a lot more about the law and about models of power: Swearengen vs. Bullock, Swearengen vs. Tolliver, Hearst vs. them all. I am intrigued by the way that law is a force that promises some forms of order and justice, but is so clearly just another power play by men to make way for smoother forms of capitalism. Tell your god to ready for blood, indeed!

I can’t wait to hear what you think of all this or many other things.

More soon, cocksucker (meant affectionately, of course)!

Read the entire Deadwood conversation from start to finish!

Written by themothchase

September 22, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Posted in Deadwood

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