December 11, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Deadwood: The Movie

Deadwood returns. And maybe ends.

HBO canceled its Western series Deadwood rather unexpectedly.  I covered that series in the Wednesday weekly slot in the past, but these days, I use that slot for the new Voltron.  If I wait for Voltron to end before getting to the Deadwood movie, we’ll be waiting until some time next year.

As it is, I’m covering Deadwood: The Movie now while it’s still new.

Picking up ten years later, Deadwood the town has grown.  South Dakota is now a state, and the camp has clearly grown.  Some characters are better off than they were.  Others are not.  Seth and Martha Bullock seem to be happy and have some more children.  He also owns a nice hotel in the center of town.  Sol and Trixie are still together.  She’s pregnant and will marry him if the baby survives.  Al Swearengen is in worse shape.  He’s dying of a liver disease.  And then we have people like E.B. Farnum who is still a weaselly little man who no one respects.

Then a few people come back to town.  Calamity Jane rides in to reclaim the heart of Joanie Stubbs.  Alma Garret with her now-adult adopted daughter Sofia is here to check on her bank.  And George Hearst, the robber-baron who seemed to get away with murder, is now a Senator there to celebrate the territory’s new statehood.

Deadwood: The Movie is basically about moving on.  Though the movie has numerous flashbacks to episodes of the show, perhaps so anyone who opted to watch the movie without ever seeing the show could follow plot points, what we’re left with is seeing whether or not Seth Bullock can move on.  Al’s dying.  He spends most of the movie lying in bed or commenting on the action from a balcony.  With the twin temptations of Alma and Hearst, Bullock may have to rock his seemingly happy existence to maybe succumb to urges for carnal pleasure or revenge.

It isn’t made any easier when Hearst’s true intentions are made clear.  He’s there for his own personal profit.  The telephone is cropping up, and Hearst wants the last bit of land to make even more money from.  Who owns that land?  Charlie Utter.  And Charlie has no interest in selling.  Hearst, meanwhile, wants revenge on Trixie and Bullock.  If Charlie sells, Hearst might leave without a fuss, but Charlie says no.

When Charlie turns up dead, it isn’t exactly a murder mystery.

Essentially, series creator David Milch, who wrote the script, centers the action around two events:  Charlie’s murder and Sol and Trixie’s wedding.  Hearst is a historic figure, so unless Milch wants to change history, Hearst won’t be dying in this movie.  Of course, the same is true for a number of Deadwood‘s cast.  Fans will be happy to see the return of most of the original series’ cast, and of the few who don’t, many of those actors have a good reason:  they’re dead.

Heck, Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane both acted as executive producers.  These people really wanted to finish this story.

Do they?  I’m not sure.  The movie ends in a way that could go on if HBO or Milch wanted to.

That said, Deadwood prided itself on some level of realism.  We get what passes for a happy or satisfying ending for Deadwood.  Yes, Charlie dies, but he dies in a good frame of mind.   Bullock realizes he believes in justice, not vengeance.  Sol and Trixie marry.  Jane and Joanie hook up.  Heck, Jane finally showed she isn’t all talk.  Hearst gets some comeuppance without breaking history.  He promises to get both Trixie and Bullock.  He does neither.  Part of that is due to Bullock being so good at his job.  The other part is due to the townspeople actually working together towards a common foe.  The big difference is this time around that works.

True, Hearst covers his own ass enough to avoid most punishment, and Bullock stops the people from doing worse, but Hearst doesn’t win.  That’s as close to victory as people like Bullock and Trixie can hope for.  I think fans should be happy with how this ends.  There can be more, but if there isn’t, it’s fine.  Somehow, I doubt there will be more.  Getting a cast this big and impressive back for more would be challenging.  We begin and end this movie with Al Swearengen, Deadwood‘s most colorful character.  He and Bullock may never see eye-to-eye, but Al is capable of great kindness to those who depended on him.  He does good by Trixie and his loyal employees and may even die at peace with himself.  As for Bullock, he is not so inflexible to work with Deadwood’s most disreputable to do the right thing for his town.

In the end, the people of Deadwood, South Dakota stand up for each other.  They really don’t have anyone else.  And that’s fine.  9 out of 10 welcome returns.