Like any good Western, “Deadwood” used the community as a microcosm for America itself (easy comparisons can be made to John Ford’s “My Darling Clementine”). However, most of the sparring between the characters was them firing off words, not bullets. Milch’s poetic and loquacious dialogue created a show that sounded more at home in the Royal Shakespeare Company (albeit with HBO’s trademark pepperings of “f**k” and “c***sucker”). None took better to Milch’s dialogue than McShane, who wrapped his tongue around Swearengen’s profane insults and musings with the ease of breathing.
It was impossible to dislike Swearengen — even when “Deadwood” gave you plenty of reason too. Al is initially set up as the show’s villain (as Korsh notes, he tries to have a little girl killed in season 1) while gun-toting, cowboy-hatted lawman Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) is the hero. Then they come to an understanding at the end of season 1, essentially partnering to keep order in Deadwood and protect it from outside interests. Al’s tongue never loses its sharpness, but his ruthlessness gradually gets pointed towards more and more deserving targets as layers peel back to show a softer (but not plain soft) side, especially with his favored employee Trixie (Paula Malcomson). Tellingly, the follow-up “Deadwood” movie (released in 2019) closes with Al, not Bullock, confirming who the real center of this story was.
Korsh told Nerdist, “I didn’t think that Louis was as evil as Al Swearengen, nor does he maybe become as beloved as Al Swearengen,” (corporate lawyer versus murderous pimp — can either one really cast the first stone?). Still, he feels that Louis earns sympathy due to his humor and vulnerability, much like Swearengen does.
“Suits” is streaming on Netflix and Peacock. “Deadwood” is streaming on Max.