Deadwood Review

Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Brad Dourif, W. Earl Brown, John Hawkes
Summary: A western drama set in Deadwood, South Dakota, in the late 1800’s, where the saloon owner competes for power with the local sheriff.
Genre(s): Western, Drama, Crime, History
Shortly after David Milch’s controversial police drama NYPD Blue finished its television run, Milch went back in time to the American Old West to create Deadwood. The series made waves for its expletive-laced iambic pentameter dialogue and its blunt depiction of violence and corruption in the Old West. It was a critical darling that developed a cult following, mainly due to the high level of acting and the show’s entertaining mix of historical fact and fiction.

In the end, Deadwood may have been a bit ahead of its time. It ran for three seasons on HBO, from 2004 to 2006. You can watch the three seasons on Presto and Stan TV & Movie streaming.

Show Summary

The series is set in the late 1800’s in Deadwood, South Dakota, during the time the town was evolving from a mining camp into a more civilised establishment. In this rough transitional period, when everyone is hunting for gold and financial security, corruption comes easier than justice.

Timothy Olyphant stars as Seth Bullock, a Marshall who’s looking for a fresh start in Deadwood, as a businessman. On the other hand, Al Swearengen, who owns The Gem (which serves as both saloon and brothel) unofficially rules the town.

Several historical figures including Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Wyatt Earp make appearances throughout the show’s three seasons. The storylines involving these real-life characters include both fact and fiction.

Deadwood won the TV Program of the Year award at the AFI Awards in both 2005 and 2006. Ian McShane also won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama in 2005. The series was a hit with a large fanbase despite it’s complex, expletive-filled dialogue. However, low ratings kept HBO from renewing the series for a fourth season.


Timothy Olyphant as Seth Bullock

Ian McShane as Al Swearengen

Molly Parker as Alma Garret

Brad Dourif as Doc Cochran

W. Earl Brown as Dan Dority

John Hawkes as Sol Star

Paula Malcomson as Trixie

Dayton Callie as Charlie Utter

Leon Rippy as Tom Nuttall

William Sanderson as E.B. Farnum

Robin Weigert as Calamity Jane

Keith Carradine as Wild Bill Hickok

Season Recap

As the first season of Deadwood opens, former marshall Seth Bullock and his friend Sol Star are starting a new hardware business in the Deadwood camp. Business is booming as there is a neverending stream of amateur gold miners coming into town.

Points of interest in Deadwood include The Gem, owned by Al Swearengen, which employs both bar staff and prostitutes, the newspaper office, and The Grand Hotel. A gambling establishment, the Bella Union, opens to compete with The Gem for customers.

One of the wealthy residents of The Grand Hotel, Brom Garrett, is swindled by Swearengen in a gold claim con. After Garrett confronts Swearengen, he is killed by one of Swearengen’s men. Shortly before Garrett’s death, the fraudulent gold claim in discovered to in fact be a true gold mine.

Garrett’s widow, who is dealing with an addiction to the narcotic laudanum, seeks help from Bullock about what to do with her new wealth. She also takes in a young girl, Sofia Metz, after the girl’s family is murdered on the road.

After Wild Bill Hickok is killed during a card game, Swearengen convinces a local magistrate to acquit the killer, in order to avoid attention from Deadwood outsiders. A smallpox outbreak segregates the camp, and the community attempts to organize a government as the local leaders eye a possible annexation by the Dakota territories.

As it becomes more and more evident that Swearengen’s corruption is ruling the town, Bullock volunteers to become the new sheriff in Deadwood.

Bullock and Swearengen fight in the streets after Swearengen confronts Bullock about his affair with the widow Alma. Alma and Bullock decide to stop seeing each other. Later, Alma is forced to marry another man to evade a scandal after she realizes she is pregnant with Bullock’s child.

Two Deadwood residents, Joanie and Maddie, open their own brothel, the Chez Ami. Francis Wolcott, who works for the famously wealthy businessman George Hearst, frequents Chez Ami and murders Maddie and two of the prostitutes. These murders are covered up by the owner of the rival brothel the Bella Union, while Joanie sends the rest of the women away to protect them.

Alma considers buying The Grand Hotel with her gold money, but opens a bank in Deadwood instead. Swearengen is sidelined in his hotel for an extended time while trying to pass kidney stones.

Bullock’s young son is trampled by a horse and dies. Swearengen and Mr. Wu join forces against Wolcott, who has caused the death of several Chinese prostitutes. When Wolcott’s boss, George Hearst, arrives in Deadwood, he fires Wolcott for his evil deeds. However, Hearst is blackmailed by Bella Union owner Tolliver, who suggests he can prove that Hearst knew of Wolcott’s murdering ways much earlier.

As season two ends, the town is annexed by the Dakota Territory, after much discussion about its future.

In season 3, Bullock is in a heated race for sheriff and Hearst tries to convince Alma to sell him her gold claim.

Several miners are murdered by Hearst’s men after they attempt to form a union. Swearengen’s attempts to curb Hearst’s powergrab result in Swearengen getting his finger cut off by one of Hearst’s men.

Alma refuses to sell her claim to Hearst and has an abortion after her health declines. Her husband Ellsworth agrees to a separation after he discovers she has gone back to abusing laudanum due to her marital unhappiness.

After Bullock sends Hearst to jail for a night, Hearst continues to create chaos in the town. Ellsworth is killed by one of Hearst’s men. Alma is shot. She survives, but agrees to sell her claim to Hearst to avoid further bloodshed. After the prostitute Trixie unsuccessfully tries to kill Hearst, her employer Swearengen successfully saves her from Hearst’s wrath by convincing him Trixie is dead.

Hearst leaves Deadwood as season 3 ends.

Our Critic Review

Before Timothy Olyphant wore a cowboy hat and a badge in Justified, and before Molly Parker made a splash in House of Cards, both actors were scene stealers in Deadwood. The series was rightfully loved by audiences and critics for its sharp-witted fast-paced dialogue, as well as for its storylines filled with murder, corruption, and despair. While Olyphant remained a central character throughout all three seasons, the revolving ensemble cast kept the series going strong until the very end.

When it comes to westerns, Deadwood surely did it right. It’s rough, shocking, and thoroughly entertaining. Cancelled too soon, the show will surely win you over with its one-of-a-kind expletives, Shakespearean-like dialogue, and amazing characters.

VIDEO: watch the trailer of Deadwood !

Critic Reviews

The dialogue is “Deadwood’s” calling card, with its mixture of gutter and Elizabethan grace. It layers Milch’s broader, working theme — the coming-together of various organisms to create a single, functioning one. Read Full Review

Paul Brownfield, Los Angeles Times

Its scripts – always among the finest on TV – are even stronger this time around.

Adam Nuckman, New-York Post

The language, the acting, the themes – everything in “Deadwood” is good as gold. In TV entertainment terms, maybe even better.

David Hincley, New York Daily News


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