Sometimes it’s a creative decision, sometimes it’s not, but at least when a TV show knows it’s going to end, the people behind it can come up with a plan. Deadwood wasn’t shown that courtesy. “Tell Him Something Pretty” wasn’t written to be the series finale but, for thirteen years, that’s what it became, and while it holds up, it’s not the series ending creator, David Milch, would’ve chosen.
Since then there’s always been talk of a Deadwood movie, but you never knew whether to give it much merit. The sets were gone. The cast busy, yet Milch wrote one, HBO greenlighted it, and the cast showed up. Powers Boothe, who played saloon owner, Cy Tolliver, and Ralph Richeson, who played E.B.’s hired help, Richardson, passed away in the interim, and there are a few characters missing (most notably Titus Welliver’s Silas Adams) but it’s as close to a full house as you can get (including a cameo I was hoping would happen but didn’t know whether to expect).
That means, unlike Arrested Development, where the fourth season suffered from cast availability, Deadwood still feels like Deadwood. The town is still populated by the same faces and even though some of the characters don’t get as much to do (and it’s a shame, having gotten everyone together, that this couldn’t have been a miniseries), they’re still visible in the background, as they would be in real life.
Set ten years after season three, South Dakota is preparing to celebrate statehood, when George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) shows up. Since leaving Deadwood, he’s become a senator in California. It creates this strange sense of no time having passed because, despite it being a decade later, all of the same feelings are getting stirred up again.
Of course, Hearst isn’t in town for the festivities alone. He’s got this idea in his head that he’s this harbinger of progress and wants to install more telephone poles in Deadwood. Standing in his way is a patch of land owned by Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie).
While, unfortunately, it takes a murder, for the film finds its footing, it does so after a slightly stiff start. Whereas we saw Hearst leave the camp at the end of season three, it’s surprising to learn Jane (Robin Wiegert) must have left soon after, especially since things seemed to be going well with Joannie Stubbs (Kim Dickens). Trixie’s actions are on the perplexing side as well, if not without precedent. It’s a mistake to underestimate her self-loathing, and at least her friends hold her to task.
The biggest change, without a doubt though, is Al Swearengen (Ian McShane). Al has been sick before (his kidney stones in season two), but this time his liver’s failing and, unlike on Shameless, where Frank Gallagher always bounces back, it forces Swearengen to take on a diminished role, where Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) steps up. One of the things that was always fascinating about the original series was that it was Swearengen, not Bullock, who took charge. Now Bullock has to figure out his own way of doing things, while navigating a conscience and a family that’s expanded since we saw him last.
Those worried about watching the series again before the movie should know that, while of course it would be nice to go back, it’s not necessary. As long as you’ve watched the series once, there are flashbacks to jog your memory.
Ultimately, two hours was never going to be enough. It would’ve been nice to get to know Sophia (Lily Keene) as an adult, but at the expense of whose storyline? What Deadwood: The Movie does provide is a moment for each character – E.B. (William Sanderson), Alma (Molly Parker), Wu (Keone Young), Merrick (Jeffrey Jones). Maybe that’s all they get, a moment, but in that moment they shine, and you remember what made you fall in love with this off-color cast in the first place.
Deadwood: The Movie airs Friday, May 31st at 8 PM EST on HBO.