The women of Deadwood operate within an extremely limited set of options. The first couple of shows, I just assumed the women were uninteresting, and cited the NYPD Blue heritage (that show never having much idea of what to do with its female characters). But Deadwood is subtle enough that it manages to show a pretty interesting variety of strategies the women adopt to maneuver their way through those narrow options, even if about all the women are allowed to do is be whores, and all they can aspire to is being a madam. It’s kinda like watching Clint Eastwood act: you know he’s only got a couple of facial expressions, but you never know when he’s going to change from one to the other, and he has a way of drawing your attention to his face, because you don’t want to miss it when the change occurs. He’s playing with a deck of two cards, but he makes those two cards pretty damn interesting.
Two women so far escape these limitations. The widow Garrett escapes because she has money. Her cluelessness about the state of the other women in the camp is frightening … when Trixie, one of those “other women,” called her a “rich cunt,” it spoke volumes, particularly since Trixie has been good to the widow. Class trumps everything in the end, with whatever female bonding that takes place between Mrs. Garrett and Trixie failing to overcome the more crucial class differences between the two.
The other woman who manages to make space for herself outside the narrow confines of acceptable Deadwood behavior is Calamity Jane, who does this by co-opting the male lifestyle. Nothing on Deadwood makes you more of a man than the ability to cuss with distinction … never has the word “cocksucker” been used so freely to such useful purposes. Calamity Jane is the best cusser in the camp, which in some odd way makes her the best man in the camp, as well. If you can imagine Doris Day in Calamity Jane singing “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” from Annie Get Your Gun, then you’ve got a handle on Deadwood‘s Calamity.