After a 13-year hiatus, Deadwood returned to HBO in the form of a film. The third season ended with some closure in 2006, but the lack of a series finale loomed over an otherwise-fantastic legacy. That reputation is finally complete. One of the best written shows to grace television brought back the vast majority of actors from the original series for a last hurrah. Deadwood: The Movie is a bittersweet conclusion to David Milch’s Western.
The story itself moves at a quick clip. It resumes as South Dakota gains statehood in 1889. The event is big enough to reunite characters in Deadwood. Of the main characters, only Titus Welliver (scheduling conflict) and Powers Boothe (deceased in 2017) do not return. Some, like Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen, never left Deadwood. Others, like Alma Ellsworth and Calamity Jane, come back to camp for the first time in awhile. The occasion is also big enough for arch-villain George Hearst to crawl into town.
George Hearst became a California Senator in the show’s interim. The years have not made Heart kinder or gentler. He is still the meanest lowlife in a town bereft of morality. His return is the crux of two stories. Hearst bids for Charlie Utter’s property and seeks vengeance against Trixie.
The script relies on the nostalgia of seeing so many characters together again. It is not similar to the television show, which was able to create beautiful dialogue and flesh out characters. Deadwood: The Movie throws most characters together in the first half hour. Picture a reboot of The Sopranos in the same diner. Tony and Carmella sit in the same booth a decade later. Nothing major went down in Holston’s. Everyone wanders back for a dinner reservation.
The rushed nature of the script is not the only adjustment to the shorter format. There is a shift in the writing. It is less theatrical in nature with fewer monologues. There is one fabulous exception. William Sanderson’s E.B. Farnum retains his penchant for breaking the Fourth Wall. The titular Mayor of Deadwood even creeps through new walkways of his hotel to peer on his famous guest.
Deadwood: The Movie also contains more gunfights than the entire three seasons of television. The real-life Seth Bullock never killed anyone in his policing of Deadwood. The television series kept to this truth. That rarity set it apart from Westerns that often rely on Mexican standoffs to resolve stories.
The film forgets the show’s aversion to firearms. It is a notable tonal shift in Deadwood that heightens the drama. This is effective within the brief framework of a TV movie. It shows how deadly the stakes are for Hearst and Deadwood. The characters might not be able to agree on much, but they all recognize the Senator’s power and moral corruption.
There are countless television series (both good and forgettable) that never had a chance to end on their own terms. Despite the less thrilling format of a film, Milch accomplishes the main goal of the finale: give a conclusion to this series. After a long hiatus, the fact that there is some finality to characters that Deadwood: The Movie is rewarding. The film’s fantastic acting and tight script entertains beyond nostalgia and justifies the decade-plus production gap.