Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Deadwood Ten Years Gone

Both Altman and Milch are not just storytellers. They are dramatic anthropologists. Their working method is to devise a place, a makeshift or potential community, and then scrutinize it.

~ A Lie Agreed Upon

One of my favorite HBO series. In part because of its depiction of humans as community-building social animals. Even criminals generate societies of their own, and on a lawless unincorporated frontier, the border between crime, commerce, and law or peace enforcement can be a fuzzy one one. Especially with the necessities of brute pragmatism to muss things up.

But along with the dark of heart of civilization and its origins, the show gives us its light side. There is the gradual transition from informal laws and agreements and barely constrained violence, to governance and a formalized, more egalitarian consensus. On a more personal level for some of the characters, there is practicality tempered by ideals, and a rough struggle to live up to kinder aspirations, which restrains the vengeful angels of their nature. And in doing so, they mesh with and reinforce the other human beings around them, sometimes for ill, but largely for the better.

The storytelling craft behind that meshing was a major reason I enjoyed the series so much. Fledgling writers often create characters in vacuum. Each fictional persona with their own eccentricities and origin story. Bringing them together is often an exercise in happenstance and stilted team building. Milch's Deadwood produced characters who were not only very clearly the products of other characters whom we never get to meet directly - only through moments of reminiscence and inflicted scars or instilled ideals - but who also compliment or are deliberately antithetical to people they find themselves coexisting with. The shifting emotional matrix of mutual needs and tension that rose out of that, sparking sharp moments conflict and cooperation, made the show great.

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