Now that Deadwood is apparently as dead as the title, and now that I've seen all three of what will apparently be the only three seasons ever made of this show, I thought it would be apt to try and tell you how magnificent I think this show is. I might go so far as to say it is the best thing I've ever seen on television. In fact, I would go that far if Season Three didn't have such an unsatisfactory ending. The last few minutes at the end of Season Two were so perfect and complete that I had the same expectations with Season Three. I feel quite sure that David Milch, the man behind the curtain of this wonderful creation, had big ideas for Seasons Four and beyond. Unfortunately, the viewing public seems to have had the same reaction as my wife. In her words, somewhere around the middle of Season Two, she said, "You go ahead and watch it. I'm just not that into it any more." I guess it shouldn't have surprised me that neither she nor enough other viewers would support something this far above the average entertainment option. Nothing I love this deeply seems to be appreciated in its own time, if ever.
When HBO first pulled the plug on this venture, there was a promise of two 2-hour episodes in order to let Mr. Milch tie up the story arc, but even that shallow promise of some sort of redemption seems to be waning as time goes on. I think it's safe to say that when I saw the last episode of Season Three the other day, that was the last new Deadwood show I'll ever see. And the world will be much the sadder for this. One day, when folks are smarter and more aware, they will watch these first three seasons and ask themselves, "Did the writer and director die? That could be the only explanation for the lack of further episodes of this marvelous story." That is, unless the future is the one Mike Judge predicts in Idiocracy (a horrible movie with a very funny beginning and a totally wasted and yet promising premise), in which case no one will ever be watching this show again. Ever. Because it is not for the uneducated or those with short attention spans. It is the closest thing to Shakespeare that I've seen on television since I, Claudius.
Allseeingeye lays out most of the characters for you in the other writeup here. He also summarizes the action of Season One. I can tell you that there are a few more characters who are introduced in the following two seasons, and there are other plot developments, but they are incidental to the acting and, most of all, the writing in this show. When the very language used in a dramatic effort means more to you than the story itself, you know that you're in for something special. At least, I do. If the human race does wind up going the opposite way of Judge's vision, there will be lines from this show quoted for hundreds of years. This show will be studied as a vision of what television could be if it tried hard enough, much as Rod Serling's Twilight Zone is treated today.
When I first started watching this show, I said it was "better than The Sopranos". In fact, it is The Sopranos. It just takes place in a different time and with a different tone. The foul language and the casual violence that drew so many viewers to The Sopranos should have done the same for Deadwood. However, it seems as if New Jersey mobsters reciting dialogue such as the following was much more popular:
Tony (on the phone with Paulie): Listen to me, this guy was a Russian green beret. He was in the ministry of the interior or something. He single-handedly killed 16 Chechen rebels. Be fucking careful.
Paulie: All right.
(Paulie hangs up the phone.)
Christopher: What did he say?
Paulie: He said the guy killed 16 Czechoslovakians, and he was an interior decorator.
Christopher: Interior decorator? His apartment looked like shit.
Don't get me wrong, here. I loved that episode of The Sopranos, as I did most every other episode. I think it is a great show and deserved every accolade it received. I'm just sorely disappointed that Deadwood didn't get the same sort of recognition.
Either Seth Bullock or Al Swearengen make a better "mob boss" than Tony Soprano. Either Trixie or Joanie Stubbs make a better "kept woman" than Carmela. Dan Dority makes a better Number One than Paulie or Christopher. Cy Tolliver (played by Powers FUCKING Boothe, for Chrissakes) makes a better "rival mob boss" than Johnny Sacramoni. Doc Cochran is ten times a more interesting character than Dr. Jennifer Melfi. While Deadwood really doesn't have anyone in the Big Pussy role that is nearly as good, The Sopranos doesn't have a Calamity Jane. That role played by Robin Weigert is so perfect and compelling that it is the one thing I will never get out of my head. Well, her and Al Swearengen, played by that midget with a huge dick, Ian MacShane. Those two, along with William Sanderson's portrayal of E.B. Farnum, seem to get most of the meat on the bone of the writing in this show, but there's plenty of leftovers for almost everyone. I don't know of any one character on this show that I would have removed to make it better. I cannot say that for The Sopranos.
However, compare that previous dialogue from The Sopranos with some of this:
Al: Pain or damage don't end the world. Or despair or fucking beatings. The world ends when you're dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man... and give some back.
Wild Bill: Some goddamn point a man's due to stop arguing with his-self and feeling twice the goddamn fool he knows he is 'cause he can't be something he tries to be every goddamn day without once getting to dinnertime and fucking it up. I don't want to fight it anymore, understand me Charlie? And I don't want you pissing in my ear about it. Can you let me go to hell the way I want to?
Ellsworth: Well'm, I've got myself a working gold claim.
Joanie Stubbs: Well, sir, is that a damn fact?
Ellsworth: A hell of a working gold claim, and if we knew each other better I'd throw "fucking" in there somewhere.
Joanie Stubbs: If you did I'd try to catch it.
Ellsworth: A working fucking gold claim, Joanie, and thank you for allowing me my full range of expression.
E.B.: Some ancient Italian maxim fits our situation, whose particulars escape me.
Wolcott: Is the gist that I'm shit out of luck?
E.B.: Did they speak that way then?
Or, a soliloquy by E.B. while scrubbing the floor:
You have been tested, Al Swearingen. And your deepest purposes proved: "There's gold on the woman's claim." You might as well have shouted it from the rooftops. (Speaking as Al:) That's why I'm jumping through hoops to get it back. Thorough as I fleeced the fool she married, I will fleece his widow, too. Using loyal associates like Eustace Bailey Farnum, as my go-betweens and dukes. To explain why I want her bought out, I'll make a pretext of my fear of the Pinkertons. I'll throw Farnum a token fee. Why should I reward E.B. with some small, fractional participation in the claim? Or let him even lay by a little security or source of continuing income for his declining years? What's he ever done for me? Except let me terrify him every god-damn day of his life 'till the idea of bowel regularity is a forlorn fucking hope? Not to mention ordering a man killed in one of E.B.'s rooms. So every fucking, free moment of his life, E.B. has to spend scrubbing the blood stains off the god-damn floor. ...to keep him from having to lower his rates. (As himself again:) GODDAMN! Motherfucker.
Goddamn the motherfucking cocksuckers who took this show away from me. For me, this was sturdy timber contributing to a solid vessel. I suppose it was only "useless material" for the average Nielsen viewer.