Which Episode of Deadwood for a College History Class?
June 7, 2006 7:01 AM   Subscribe

Which episode of Deadwood should I show my college history class?

I am teaching a compressed 4-week summer course on the history of the American West. We meet every day for three hours, and have really developed a wonderful rapport. This last week we have been exploring issues of myth and reality in the American West--you know, dime novels, films, etc. For our last meeting on Thursday, I want to show an episode of Deadwood. (Yes I warned them about the language, it is fine.)

But which? Only a few have seen the show at all. I love the grittiness of the show but worry about them getting lost in the plot lines. Should I just the very first episode? Or maybe the last from the first season?
posted by LarryC to Education (19 answers total)
It think the second season is much better. And in one of the later episodes, Farnum actually says 'But did they talk like that then?' which might go over well in that context.

Also, the whole story around Francis Walcott and George Hearst really puts Deadwood in its context in terms of the outside world's realization that there really was a ton of gold there.

Or the one with a bicycle ride down the street, that people are actually placing bets on because they've never seen a bicycle work before.
posted by bingo at 7:06 AM on June 7, 2006

It's not really a show to jump in on later episodes. I would start with the first. It was a pretty damn good episode and it really setup a lot of the characters.

Besides, Wild Bill was in the episode.
posted by purephase at 7:07 AM on June 7, 2006

The second season episodes have so much plot that will be lost without understanding character relationships built throughout the show's run. Purephase is right, the pilot is rather excellent. As well, you may have already discussed this work, but Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man may be in line with your discussions of myth in the American West.
posted by rabbitsnake at 7:20 AM on June 7, 2006

You might want to check this site out: Transcripts/Screenplays for First and Second Seasons of Deadwood.

Great resource for all of the shows.

I concur that without seeing the character development, viewing episodes out of order would be less than satisfying.
posted by Corky at 7:31 AM on June 7, 2006

I would just go with the first episode. It acually does a great job of introducing the major currents of the show, which fits well with your exploration.
posted by OmieWise at 7:38 AM on June 7, 2006

I would show the episode where Wild Bill gets shot, probably the most famous (infamous) event that took place in Deadwood.

It is the 4th episode, so you could easily recap what has happened so far. You could also use, if memory serves, the "previously on" feature on the DVDs.
posted by notcostello at 8:16 AM on June 7, 2006

Thirding or fifthing the idea of showing the pilot. It's not a show you can easily jump into midway. And David Milch wrote the pilot, so you'll get a higher degree of the Milchiness that sort of defines the show (although I have the impression he exercises pretty tight control over the scripts even when he's not the credited writer).

Semi-OT recommendation: Pete Dexter's Deadwood is probably the best Western novel I've ever read. I was deeply disappointed to find out the show was not based on the book, even though I love the show.
posted by staggernation at 8:20 AM on June 7, 2006

Because of all of the profanity in the show, I hope you are at a rather forgiving university. Be prepared to get parental complaints. Yes, I know you said college. Believe me, that doesn't change how overprotective people are.

I'm not necessarily suggesting you don't do it .. but I am suggesting you consider there may be consequences (however silly they may be, people are overly PC these days).

Along the lines of the other suggestions, I'd say the pilot makes the most sense. I hope there's no fallout from your endeavor.
posted by twiggy at 8:24 AM on June 7, 2006

I concur with showing one of the earlier episodes before Wild Bill was shot. FWIW, after reading a bit of history about the actual Deadwood, I realized that the show really veers away from recorded history in the second season.

Outstanding show though. Third season starts this Sunday!!!
posted by sublivious at 8:42 AM on June 7, 2006

re: The unreality of Deadwood

In my mind, the series diverges into unhistory when Charlie Utter becomes fire marshal and cites Nutall's place for being a fire hazard. As I recall from some History Channel documentary, that's the place where the large fire that took out most of the seedier parts of the town started. I'm likely wrong, tho!

Episode-wise, Mr. Wu is my favorite, but if you're worried about complaints from the swearing, you should cower in fear in the rampant racism and flee screaming from the classroom.

I hate to say it (the show gets so much better!), but the pilot may be your best bet.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:03 AM on June 7, 2006

I would show the episode where Wild Bill gets shot, probably the most famous (infamous) event that took place in Deadwood.

posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:38 AM on June 7, 2006

Pilot Pilot Pilot. Tended to be enough to get all of us nerds hooked.

A lot of people really have a distaste for how difficult they find the language, so you might be ready for that as well. It's pretty much the litmus: it's what makes people like it or hate it, and everyone knows very quickly which they do.
posted by dogandponyshow at 9:52 AM on June 7, 2006

It's a shame you don't have time to show the pilot (another vote) as well as to show the previously noted Dead Man and discuss both.
posted by safetyfork at 10:45 AM on June 7, 2006

You could just play Seven Minutes in Deadwood, which is just the swears from the "Mr. Wu" episode. (The MP3 the page links to is extremely NSFW.)
posted by kirkaracha at 11:19 AM on June 7, 2006

Response by poster: The pilot it is then. And yes, I have warned them about the swearing and asked if anyone would be uncomfortable, followed with an offer that anyone could email me if they liked and I would find an alternate assignment. It is a small class of undergraduate history majors and a few grad students.
posted by LarryC at 11:56 AM on June 7, 2006

Derail, but, I've always thought that Unforgiven was about one of the most masterful pieces about "myth and reality in the American West--you know, dime novels, films, etc," even if it might be a little stale for the viewers. (Alotted time becomes a problem, too.) Even if you just watched clips, there would be plenty to enjoy.
posted by BleachBypass at 12:11 PM on June 7, 2006

Best answer: You may want to arm yourself with some history that was rewritten by the TV show:

1) The Gem Saloon (Swearengen's place) wasn't built until 1877 -- about a year after the first episode is dated.
2) Seth Bullock didn't have a brother, so he couldn't have married his brother's widow.
3) Hickock was murdered the day after Bullock and Star arrived in Deadwood. There's little chance they even met, let alone hunted down the man who killed the Metz party.
4) Speaking of the Metz party, there was a Metz party that was massacred, but that occurred about 3 months earlier than portrayed in the show. Not only that, the Metz party was all adults -- no children.
5) None of the folks shown running the Bella Union ever existed. It was owned by a man named Tom Miller. Doc Cochran didn't exist, either.
6) Swearengen was not an orphan. He was married at the time depicted in the first season.
7) Bullock and Star did not buy the lot for their store from Swearengen.
8) Bullock did not hunt down Jack McCall after the murder trial.
9) Jack McCall was hanged at Yankton and was not reincarnated as Francis Wolcott the next year. (Someone really likes that actor.)
10) The language in Deadwood was foul, but the words are different than those in the TV show. Words that are commonplace today (shit, damn, bitch) were considered obscene back then. The show replaces those mild words with stronger language to get the point across.
posted by forrest at 12:29 PM on June 7, 2006

We watched quite a few episodes of Deadwood in my Wild West class, to the complaints of no one.
posted by matkline at 12:33 PM on June 7, 2006

Show the pilot and then do a point-by-point compare/contrast with the actual history, as forrest points out above.
posted by frogan at 12:59 PM on June 7, 2006

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