Civic organizers typically have a long-term plan when constructing a community. When it comes to the town of “Deadwood,” David Milch builds it one episode at a time.
Despite the complexity of the show’s language and historically infused plots, it’s hard to imagine there wasn’t an intricate outline for the second season slapped up on a bulletin board in his Santa Monica office.
“I find that if I try to stir things, I usually wind up in some sort of whirlpool. I try to let the characters and situation declare themselves to me,” says Milch.
One of the plot scenarios Milch foresaw last season was that as Deadwood grew, it would become an attractive prospect for annexation by the U.S. and outsiders. The camp’s evolution from a casino and brothel rest stop to a town reached by telegraph spurred a larger dramatic turn for Milch.
In order to enable certain events to play out early in the season, Milch found it necessary to afflict Al Swearengen, the town’s saloon tycoon, with kidney stones. During his illness, George Heart’s rep Francis Wolcott and county commissioner Hugo Jarry attempted to take over the territory and its gold claims.
Milch’s method for hatching riveting plots stems from his belief in delegating creative autonomy to his writers. A show’s scribe will typically present an outline for an episode at a roundtable, where it’s open for discussion.
For those ideas that click, Milch dictates to a typist and then provides the show’s final rewrite, where the original writer is present.
Not everything that comes out of the “Deadwood” writers’ room is etched in stone. The writing staff also draws last-minute inspiration from actors on the set. Izabella Miko, who played prostitute Carrie, wound up with some extra scenes with Wolcott before being murdered by the sociopath.
“Wolcott was so elusive. The only person he felt comfortable with was Carrie, and she made him more accessible to us,” says Milch.
While some might have a hard time believing the characters from “Deadwood” would actually speak in the Shakespearean floridness that Milch gives many of the camp’s residents, he explains it was never intentional to execute an artificial form of speech. Each character discovers his or her own form of locution.
“There’s a natural metric pattern to the way people talk. Rhythm is the way meaning is conveyed,” explains Milch.
“As the town grew, so did the language,” adds producer Elizabeth Sarnoff, pointing out that the characters’ dialogue is reflective of their origins.
HBO execs are familiar with Milch’s last-minute script changes and realize it’s part and parcel of working with one of TV’s most accomplished scribes.
“I walk the production executives through what some of my hopes are for a storyline. Everybody there understands that the show is contingent on its actual execution,” says Milch.
In season three, plot complications will ensue from Deadwood’s alignment with Yankton. Elections in Deadwood are expected to take place as well.
All this talk about annexing land and government figureheads exchanging money with powerful townsfolk conjures up plenty of parallels to today’s world. But it’s not the case.
” ‘Deadwood’ isn’t intended as an allegory, parable or a re-enactment. It’s meant to be itself,” exclaims Milch. “Others are going to make proper analogies, and there’s no objection to that.”