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In Deadwood season one, episode 12, "Sold Under Sin", Seth Bullock beats Otis Russell near to death. Afterward, he asks Dan Dority to relay a message to Al Swearengen insinuating that, for Al and Dan's sakes (as well as Alma Garret's), Russell should not be allowed to leave the camp alive. He then visits General Crook and requests military protection for Russell, whom, he warns Crook, men in the camp wish to kill.

Why does Bullock initiate a conspiracy to have Russell killed, only to turn around and seek Russell's protection?

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This was likely not a shrewd political maneuver, rather simply a change of heart.

Bullock doesn't immediately go to Crook after visiting Dan. He first speaks with his partner Sol Star, and the two have the following exchange:

Star: I'm sensing you've done things today you wish you could amend, Seth.

Bullock: What kind of man have I become, Sol?

Star: I don't know, the day ain't fucking over.

It's not stated exactly what things Bullock wishes he could amend, whether it's the beating of Russell, the hit he put out on him, or both. But given that the next scene in which Bullock appears is the one in which he requests General Crook put Russell under his protection, it's not a stretch to assume he now regrets warning Dan and Al and endangering Russell's life.

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  • I answered my own question after having some time to think about it more, but am still open to other opinions, and will accept any subsequent answers that seem more accurate.
    – Mike S
    Mar 8 at 14:33
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    For what it's worth, Emily Vanderwerff agrees with your interpretation: "[T]here’s also a moment when Seth realizes what he’s done, realizes just how far he’s stepped outside of his own bounds, and turns to the visiting Army General Crook (an excellent Peter Coyote) to guard the man he essentially just placed a hit on." Mar 8 at 15:32

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