Scott Ellington's Blog

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Deadwood PD Blue, South

The titles sequence for Deadwood runs over the desultory perambulations of a magnificent, wild, sorrel horse, intersperced with fragmentary moments refined from crude life in a working gold mining camp.  The thematic score and visuals combine to set the tone for deep immersion in a very specific universe of rough pleasures, raw toil, rampant corruption and the fervent search for gold.  The horse will eventually become the agent of destruction of the innocent son of  Seth Bullock, the primary representative of law or order throughout the series.

The pilot episode of Brooklyn South erupts in cataclysmic urban violence with breathtaking suddenness as a sorrel-colored ungentleman (named Hopkins [as in Lightning]) begins his unbridled paroxysm of gunthug murder with a devastating punch to the face of guy who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Late in the third season of NYPD Blue, Andrew Sipowicz, Jr. is murdered while responsibly intervening in the violent celebration of two guys (wildcat capitalists) who are busily rejoicing in making good their escape from the scene of another recent crime scene.  This story of Andy J’s murder is told entirely confessionally, in retrospect by victims and cowardly observers, all of whom chose not to take a stand against the sudden intrusion of dedicated, random violence erupting in their presence.  It’s like, you know, stylistic variations of the same violent incident; transnarrative storytelling with virtuoso flourishes that fanthropologists and graduate students will probably be thinking about until hell freezes over (if anybody gets around to it).

Having a fairly literal mind, I’ve always read the horse metaphor as a beautifully fleshy manifestation of Unbridled Capitalism running amok in its pristine, natural, native environment, into which relatively-civilized Easterners intrude, bringing with them inappropriate attitudes and customs which the horse will summarily reorganize, and, in telling instances, crush, destroy, maim and render barely-recognizable (like William Bullock, as it eventually turned out).  But David Milch, in his commentary, thwarted my literalist read by indicating his consternation at the inclusion of a wild horse cavorting in the countryside…which kept me thinking despite my tendency to figure I’d read the symbolic significance of the horse well enough.  As it turns out, the horse probably didn’t die, but it’s worthwhile beating it, anyway, retrospectively and repeatedly, possibly forever.  And there is no such thing as well enough because 9/11/2001 marks a date of violent action like a pebble striking the surface of a pond, making ripples that flow from the moment of impact AND ripples that led up to it.

In his commentary for the pilot episode of Brooklyn South, David Milch remarks on Bill Clark’s frequent remarks about the manner in which violent behavior erupts, in Clark’s experience; suddenly, unexpectedly and often with breathtakingly disastrous results and unforeseeable consequences…kinda like 9/11.

So, I’m blithely cruising one of my favorite television shows with a couple of guys named Sipowicz and listening quite casually as one of them pointedly tells the other that policing starts and ends with paying attention to, and getting intimately familiar with

  • People,
  • Places,
  • The Things they do, and
  • The Times they do them

…and I’m reminded of the horse, the Hopkins massacre, and the murder of Andy Sipowicz, Jr…as a violent realization overcomes me…that David Milch and Bill Clark have been explaining sudden, cataclysmic outbreaks of fictitious violence based on real events for a couple of decades…and I’ve only paid attention to the action, when the requirement is to read the ongoing interactions of people, places, things and times.

I see the internet as one small step toward telepathy and one giant leap toward global Culture.  While certain sources of information feed my need for information, and other sources don’t, the internet is very like a gold mining camp in the wilderness, or a policeman’s beat in a community, or a medium in which violent action (that draws attention) erupts from persistent inattention to stuff that’s happening all the time.  Likewise, Milch sloughs praise and awards for being The Creator of television shows that grab attention away from real life in which Culture grows a-DavidMilch-per-minute.  I think he’s telling us to police our own areas with greater care, to invest redoubled attention in our lives, and to act with heroic-yet-conscientious decency.  The alternative is to remain fixated on politicians, celebrities, and media heroes — whose successes (which ironically bring celebrity and hero-worship) derive solely from their immersion in policing their respective areas.  I think he’s advising us to invest in our lives and not in our stars.  Dave’s Epistle to the Skells.

Sorry about the anticlimax.

I almost forgot to mention that Yvonne leaves a gaping, ulcerated wound in Brooklyn South.  Her mercenary duplicity and bottomless bitchiness match the trials of Andrew Sipowics, Senior, and she presents an excellent (though rarer) example of Milch-made antiheroine monsters written to spar at par with the demon-ridden guys (who absolutely do get more facetime, Wally).

15 Aug 10 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Excellent post. Preserving humanity in the face of dehumanizing agents (if those agents were paradoxically to have a face) seems to be a recurring theme of Milch’s, and one reason why I like him better than the other two amazing Davids who wrote for HBO.

    Todd Vanderqyff at the Onion AV Club made a great point about the third season of Deadwood, how it was commenting on the Bush re-election, Iraq, etc, but rather than arguing for resistance and revolution, the show seemed to be arguing that you could only fight those horrors with human decency. The scene where Al insists Alma complete her walk to the bank is a beautiful example.

    Comment by Sam W | 15 Aug 10 | Reply

    • I wonder whether I hit REPLY to your comment. It looks as though I didn’t. Practice may improve my aim.
      Lets see how this response appears on the page.

      And HEY!


      Unless I’ve read your blog incorrectly.

      Comment by Scott Ellington | 15 Aug 10 | Reply

  2. Thank you, Sam. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you!

    A lovely point I missed at the Onion article, although I think there’s a sacrifice to be made for the conduct of business-as-usual in presence or wake crisis. What’s lost is the illusion of separateness and the default position of delegating responsiblity for vigilance and community to designated others.
    I think Chase makes the conflict complex, insoluble and perpetual. Simon highlights the ironies and losses. Milch, on the other hand, indicates a way toward something better in the profane and gritty, bitter scrutiny of ourselves and our fellow man — as though despite the obvious differences we’re all one (big, cruel, abominably-dysfunctional) family.

    Comment by Scott Ellington | 15 Aug 10 | Reply

  3. Post VanDerWerff:
    I have another 14 of his articles to read in order to find support for Todd’s belief that David Milch built Hearst on his liberal, ideological loathing of George W. Bush.

    In the course of his conversation with David Thorburn, Milch was asked to characterize the sitting president, a classmate at Yale and someone he knew reasonably well.
    Rather than mincing words or spouting fire and brimstone, Milch described the president as a well-intentioned boob.

    I tend to take the man at his word, and boob is not my read of the character he created for McRaney to inhabit.

    I think the practice of unilaterally villanizing individuals is something David Milch resists as sincerely as he sloughs praise and hero worship.

    Bush, Hearst, Obama, Rove and Milch are names and targets that serve to obscure the intents, choices and actions attributed to them. I think David Milch would thank Todd VanDerWerff for the effort expended in drawing the parallel and then invalidate the liberal label on which Todd’s argument depends. VanDerWerff also second-guesses the hell out of Season 3. I agree with commenter Richelieu Jr, that, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT THE STORY IS ABOUT UNTIL IT IS OVER.” and Deadwood isn’t.

    Comment by Scott Ellington | 15 Aug 10 | Reply

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