We’re Old, You Cocksucker!
Usually when TV shows stage a reunion movie or a comeback season, the scripts feel nostalgic. They celebrate youth. In the new iterations of Veronica Mars, the characters still look pretty fresh, because they were teenagers to start. Even in something like Arrested Development, you have Alia Shawkat and Michael Cera, and it’s not like anyone’s surprised by Jason Bateman’s aging process, since we see him on our screens all the time.
Deadwood, on the other hand, is a different story. The show never really felt that young from the start. Occasionally youthful prostitutes would appear (“an interesting piece of strange,” as the departed Powers Boothe as the departed Cy Tolliver so indelicately put it), but they often ended up dead in the mud somewhere. In the Old West, you either died young, or dried up like rawhide.
The Deadwood movie, streaming now and probably forever on HBO, has a few young characters, children of the protagonists, another prostitute fresh to town, but all our favorites get most of the lines, and they are old. William Sanderson, as Mayor Farnum, looks exactly like the Crypt Keeper. Villainous George Hearst is nothing but phlegm and age spots. Our antihero, Al Swearingen, played by Ian McShane, is not only ancient-looking, but also suffering from some sort of wasting sickness, probably cancer. Doc, played by Brad Dourif, somehow survived consumption in the original series, but he looks very much the worse for wear. If you want to feel like you’re 100, the Deadwood movie is the perfect watch for you.
That said, once you get re-used to the near-Shakespearian patois that marks the franchise, and once you get used the fact that half the characters look like they’d turn to dust if you removed their hats, the Deadwood movie is a deeply-satisfying and tightly-written coda to one of the best TV series ever. It contains several exciting gunfights, a terrible murder, a birth, a wedding, a boob shot, mustaches, lesbian romance, whiskey, and small touches of character comedy.
Compared to HBO shows like The Sopranos, Sex and the City, or Game Of Thrones, Deadwood is kind of a hyper-intellectual boutique property. But it’s still the best depiction of the Old West ever seen on TV. Old-school shows like Gunsmoke and Bonanza were fun but hokey, and newer shows like Hell On Wheels have their moments but try too hard to be Deadwood. Forget Dolores and the Man in Black. Deadwood is the actual Westworld. You can never replicate David Milch’s writing style or dramatic instincts, and no series will ever be able to match the cast.
Timothy Olyphant, as Marshal Seth Bullock, still rides shotgun on the town, keeping integrity and order. Swearingen, despite his failing body, continues to soliloquize beautifully from the balcony. Paula Malcomsen is amazing yet again as Trixie, the ultimate hooker with a heart of gold. Molly Parker and Kim Dickens have less to do, dramatically, in this film, but they fill out some outrageous early Gilded Age outfits. And you’re dead inside if you don’t love Robin Weigert’s heroic, drunken, heartsick Calamity Jane.
Unlike the howls of protest from the Game Of Thrones fan army, I don’t think anyone will complain about how Deadwood ends. Every plot thread ties up adequately, but not necessarily with melodrama. It feels like a proper elegy for a time, a place, an aesthetic, and a show. Just don’t look in the mirror for too long afterward. You might not like what’s looking back at you.