If you heard a collective gasp and then screams of joy over the weekend, it’s because the long-rumored story of a Deadwood movie officially got a status change. To actually fucking happening. If you know a Deadwood fan, then you’ve heard how Deadwood died in HBO’s arms after 3 seasons to make way for another David Milch project: John From Cincinnati. That show lasted less than 6 episodes before its cancellation was announced, so essentially, it was cancelled for nothing. To cool the flames, many Deadwood performers and attached parties, including Milch himself, talked about a movie to tie a bow on the series story. That was back in 2007.[quote_right]”Deadwood stands at the top of a very distant mountaintop of television shows.”[/quote_right]
Now, HBO is officially saying it’s happening, though many of the recognizable stars from the show went on to do big things in other shows (Timothy Olyphant = Justified, Anna Gunn = Breaking Bad, Paula Malcolmson = Hunger Games / Ray Donovan, Kim Dickens = Treme / Fear the Walking Dead, etc). Milch is confident he can pull them together, and frankly, he can pull it off. With the excitement of what this movie could be, three Deadwood Superfans came together to share their favorite moments from the short-lived series and break down the genius it operated on.
Scott Woods‘ Scenes
Deadwood is easily one of the greatest television shows ever. The Wire earns every prop it gets, but there is no show with better written characters or more deliciously rich dialogue than Deadwood. Ten years after its release all of that remains true. It’s one of those shows that if someone says they couldn’t get into it, it’s because they’re culturally deficient.
Part of its colossal achievement lies in mining every opportunity for its contradictions: the good guys do bad things, the bad guys do good things, and every range of human emotion that could be culled from what’s left in the middle is laid bare in the span of three rudely interrupted seasons.
Like most people, I watched mostly for Al Swearengen, and it’s no surprise that of my favored moments in the show, they are almost exclusively moments led by the head villain. I was particularly drawn to the way a storyline achieved something smacking of a moral, but almost always in the most deplorable way. Below are two of my favorite examples of when Al Swearengen – a horrendous human being who would kill you as soon as steal your woman and then kill you – rose above being a mere villain to something more, giving us one of the most compelling characters in all of television, and certainly in the whole of the western as a genre.
Moral 1 – Stand up for yourself.
(Season: 2 / Episode: 7; E.B. Was Left Out)
Deadwood’s local newspaper publisher Merrick has his office trashed when he refuses to put up posts for an encroaching criminal element. Upon learning of the ransacking, Al asks Merrick why he isn’t back up and running. Merrick says he’s traumatized, to which Al asks if he’s ever been beaten. While recounting an incident that’s pretty much a long way of saying “not really,” Al pimp slaps him and gives him the coldest steel-eyed pep talk in the history of tough love. He goes on to support Merrick’s efforts, ensuring that the town receives something resembling fair and public elections.
When Merrick gets beat for real in season 3, Al has the man who did it killed. Al respects Merrick’s principles, and it is a trait that he exhibits in his relationship with other morally resigned characters. He finds it boring in the show’s hero, Seth Bullock (and so did I), but he sees a need for the light in all of the darkness…even when he is casting the shadow.
(click picture for the whole scene)
Moral 2 – Family is important.
(Season: 2 / Episode: 4; Requiem for a Gleet)
Creator David Milch has stated that one of his goals with the show was to express the arc and humanity of civilization rising out of chaos, order coming together around symbols like religion and wealth. And the occasional passing of kidney stones.
In season 2, Al has debilitating kidney stones. Doc Cochran, a hand-shaking shadow of a man doubling as the only thing resembling a doctor for miles, is torn with the stress of performing a surgery on Al that is sure to kill him. At the last minute, Al opts to forego the surgery and pass the stones naturally, but he can’t do it alone. Al is held down in bed by his like-a-son right hand killer Dan, given smelling salts by favored leech Johnny, has his stones milked out of him by bottom prostitute Trixie, and is, er, surgically navigated by Cochran and a very long steel prong. The whole exercise ends with the makeshift family rallying around their father figure, spent yet whole, with Cochran thanking Al for saving his life.
[quote_left]”In Deadwood, the heroes have families, of course, but so do the villains… even if they have to make them up as they go along”[/quote_left]
Symbolically, of course, but then, perhaps not. Examples of this kind of pseudo-family bonding abound, but one of my other favorites is when Al gives Dan the approval nod during a key fight scene in season 3. They’d been on rocky ground up to that point, but Dan literally fought his way back into Al’s good graces, not because it was his job, but because Al’s approval was everything to him. It’s not just Al signing a death warrant; it’s daddy saying, “come home.”
(click picture for the whole scene)
In Deadwood, the heroes have families, of course, but so do the villains… even if they have to make them up as they go along. And isn’t that the kind of value lesson you want to keep in mind around the holidays when you dread spending time with your actual families? That family is what you make it, who stands by you, who milks the kidney stones out of your snake?
A lot of shows get hit with the hyperbole bug in this day of 24-hour hype, but Deadwood stands at the top of a very distant mountaintop of television shows that surpasses their medium. That HBO is dusting it off to do a movie a decade later isn’t a simple cash-grab; it’s what they should have done five years ago.
Joseph Harris’ Scenes
A LoveStory: Al and his Bae
(Season: 2 / Episode: 1; A Lie Agreed Upon: Part I)
We all want love. Some people want the type of love that makes their heart swoon. Some people want the type of love their grandparents have. Some people want the love like Romeo and Juliet, some even aspire for sappy RomCom “you had me at hello” type love. Not me. All I ever wanted in life was for someone to love me the way Al loves Deadwood. I mean that man, loves that camp. All hail the king of chaotic neutral Al Swearengen. Good and evil mean nothing to Al, he will do any act on either spectrum as long as they further the health and well being of the camp. He will murder any man, commit any conspiracy, poke any bear if it helps out bae. Bae of course being Deadwood, that most fickle of mistresses. There are many examples of Al going to great lengths to make bae happy and make sure she’s taken care of but one of my personal favorites is his fight with Sheriff Bullock.
If you’ve seen the series you know how much of as general badass Bullock is. Intentionally pissing off Bullock isn’t the same as smacking around E. B. Farnum around or intimidating the Doc. Because pissing off Bullock is a calculated risk, you never know quite how far he’s going to go to defend his personal code of honor and ethics. Bullock is the Brother Mouzone of Deadwood, you anger him only after considering every angle.
Al,knowing this, has already weighted the odds, done the math and has come to the conclusion that pissing off Bullock, while dangerous is worth having a Bullock alert and able to help him defend the love of his life against interlopers. As Bullock saunters down the thoroughfare with nary a care in the world having just been mid-thrust in other business. Al deliberately taunts him openly about his indiscretions with the Widow Garrett and then offers a very public challenge with one of the best lines in the entire series.
Bullock replies with the equally chilling “Be where I can find you”. See, Al knows to protect bae he needs to shake Bullock out of his infatuation with the Widow Garrett and I think he feels once he gets Bullock’s attention he can reason with him with a variety of insults and facts with a dash of humility. It almost works; Al lays out what’s going on with Yankton and even punctuates it with “there are angles here that I’m missing that you would be able to perceive.” Some of it gets through to Bullock, but Al makes one of his few miscalculations. What he doesn’t realize before he taunts Bullock and what he grows to realize about halfway through the conversation, Bullock isn’t just being a randy bishop, he’s caught feelings.
If you watch the clip you can see the moment Al realizes this fact and a wave of pity and resignation washes over his features. The long drawn out way he says “Bullloooooock”, chiding and incredulous and a touch surprised.
This is Al at his most cunning and calculating but even here we see he’s prone to mistakes and I think its because from time to time he forgets that people care about people the way he cares about Deadwood. It is this miscalculation that almost ruins his entire plan. But love does that; love will blind you to everything, even the love of others. As Bullock and Al fight they aren’t fighting for pride or control they are fighting for love. Bullock fighting to defend the honor of the Widow Garret and Al fighting to help the camp gain one of its defenders back. In Al‘s mind Bullocks indiscretions were horrific not because of the moral implications, but because of the potential harm to Deadwood, his only love.
It is love that cause these men to fight, love that has them both go over the balcony to land in the street, love that has a broken Al pull himself to his feet after having just absorbed a rib crushing blow. And it was ultimately love that stayed his hand when he was fixing to slit Bullock’s throat. Oh, he can say it was the boy in the carriage that “unmanned him”, but we know the truth. In that brief pause he remembered his original purpose. Not to kill, not to control, but rather to re-purpose Bullock to defend his one and only true love. To enlist the aid of the sheriff at all cost to help protect his bae. Welcome to fucking Deadwood.
Two men enter, One man leaves.
(Season: 3 / Episode: 5; A Two-Headed Beast)
One of the laws of physics states that no two things can occupy the same space at the same time. I do believe that when the framers of those laws wrote them, they had Dan Dority and Captain Turner in mind. In having tasked myself to describe these two mastodons engage in epic battle my first problem was trying to accurately portray what I was seeing. Was this two town toughs battling it out for city supremacy? Were these two lions fighting over control of the savanna? Two bulls locking horns? I tried metaphor after metaphor and found to my chagrin that none of them fit quiet as well as I liked. The problem with all of these other comparisons was that they were singular; they lead you to believe that these two combatants were fighting for themselves as opposed to being proxies in a larger colder war.These were not Alpha Males fighting for turf and the right to mate. These were two surrogates fighting on behalf of their respective Shoguns. Dan and the Captain were two chess pieces being moved by larger players.
And nothing about that makes this scene any less brutal or intriguing. Everything about this from the preparation, to the unwritten rules to the emotion afterwards lets us know that while Dan and the Captain were pieces they were willing and active pieces. Each believed in their Shogun, knew that they were pieces on the board but each piece believed he was being wielded by a grand master, and that the moves being made would lead to eventual victory. We see this as each man is preparing, Captain Turner while stretching being told to make this an object lesson, While Dan anxiously awaits permission to engage in battle.
(click picture for the whole scene)
When he finally gets permission and you watch Dan getting prepared for the fight, there is ritualism there. So much so that one almost feels like a peeping tom. The mirror, the grease, the preparation for possible death, here was a man ready to meet his fate. When it is suggested by Johnny that if the fight were “getting to go wrong” ”he should hit the ground to allow Johnny to “blow Captain Turners’s brains out”, we see an as agitated and angry Dan Dority as we have ever seen in the series.[quote_right]”This was fist and tooth, blood and bone. mud and muck”[/quote_right] Dan tells Johnny “Going wrong is not the fucking end of things”. While Dan goes on to say he had recovered and won many fights after they had seemingly “gone wrong”, I think Dan is making a larger point here.
Having rejected both gun and blade, Dan was prepared to die to find out who was the better man hand to hand and he would rather die than live with the fact that he wasn’t. Dan said “Going wrong is not the end of things” but unsaid in parenthesis where only you and I and Dan’s inner monologue could see were the words “but walking around this camp having been defeated and only saved by another would be”.
The fight itself was a thing of beauty, not because it was beautiful but rather because it wasn’t. Most fights on the small or big screen are choreographed to the point where most fight scene are indistinguishable from dance routines. Every move seems perfect and in place, every parry and thrust is where it should be. Polite, neutered fights, that could be comfortable on a movie set or share the stage with the cast of Swan Lake. But this fight, this was not that. This was fist and tooth, blood and bone. mud and muck. And in its naked savagery there was an beautiful honesty. While watching this fight, I felt like I was watching two men battle for the right to breathe.
But even then, when each had the chance to serve the killing blow, they paused, looking to their shogun for approval because chess pieces can’t put each other in check. And in watching Dan narrowly escape death and deal it in turn to his foe we see yet another move being made on the chessboard of Deadwood. Al immediately retreats to his saloon preparing for the countermove to his Knight taking Rook and Dan sits naked in his room thinking about the piece he removed from the board.
William Evans’ Scenes
There Be Demons Among Us
(Season: 1 / Episode: 8; Suffer The Little Children)
As Scott eluded to, the mastery of Deadwood was not in that it blurred the lines between good and bad, but that it threw good and bad into a stew and stirred it for hours over low flame until it was ready to devour. We spend most of season 1 seeing Al Swearengen as the villain. He murders with purpose but without hesitation. He masterfully manipulates every situation for his great gain and most importantly he annoys the shit out of our would be protagonist Sheriff Seth Bullock. But we didn’t even make it a full season to see that there are far worse, far more compromised folks in Deadwood than Al. I’d like you to meet Cy Tolliver.[quote_left]”Just a man that would sell his mother’s teeth for some more coin”[/quote_left]
Flora and Miles are a couple drifters pretending to be siblings looking for their lost pa. They are actually just trying to gain the sympathy and trust of the folks running the town long enough to steal what they can from them and keep moving west. Al? He sees the jig quick and plays along, mostly to humor himself and partially to indulge Dan, who’s sweet on Flora. Cy however, is a much less forgiving god. To this point, Cy has just seemed like a slimy carnival barker. No moral compass or code, just a man that would sell his mother’s teeth for some more coin. We didn’t know he was actually dangerous. We didn’t know he was, this.
Seeing they’ve been caught before they even got started, Flora (played darkly by Kristen Bell post-Veronica Mars protagonist) accelerates their timeline and goes for the easy mark, Joanie Stubbs. Joanie isn’t a mark as much as she is tired of this tyranny under Cy, tired of this particular life and tired of seeing young girls like Flora, that remind her of herself, going down the same path. Flora and Miles try to rob Joanie, but Flora stabs Cy in the leg during the escape attempt. Cy’s folks catch them and beat them within an inch of their lives out in the privy for all to see. If only it had stopped there.
What follows is one of the most disturbing scenes that Deadwood has ever produced, as Cy holds court over Flora and Miles while summoning Joanie to watch the whole thing. In a show filled with gorgeous, vulgar and innovative dialogue, the lines spoken by Cy (and delivered by Powers Boothe) are some of the most chilling the series would ever produce (come sit over here Joanie, on what the Daegos call, my sinister side). The line opens the scene perfectly because this is sort of about getting robbed and sort of about Flora stabbing Cy, but this is mostly about Cy reminding Joanie just how scary he is. Joanie has been wandering of late, making it plain that she hasn’t been on board with many of Cy’s moves. Cy doesn’t know how to bring people back into the tent with kindness, he only knows how to control with fear.
It ultimately ends with both Flora and Miles being shot point blank, but not before Cy toys with them like a snake slowly squeezing the life out of its prey. Right when you think you know the good vs evil scale for this show, this scene completely re-calibrates it.
Quentessential Al Swearengen
(Season: 1 / Episode: 11; Jewel’s Boot was Made for Walking)
Look folks, we’re about to talk about one of the best monologues / told stories in TV history, but we have to wrap our head around how vulgar this shit be so that no one is surprised. A drunk Al starts off this confrontation by saying, “Now I see what the fuck is front of me and I don’t pretend it’s something else. I was fucking her, and now I’m fucking you,” so I think we know exactly what we’re getting into here. But we don’t exactly. There are so many things going on in this scene, my head still hurts putting it altogether sometimes.
Al is going through a lot: he’s unsure about the prospects of the camp. He’s been told he has a murder rap out there from Yankton and is getting blackmailed to make it go away. He’s also taking the increasing debilitating health of the reverend to heart as we later learn reminds him of his past brother. But what Al will never fully admitted is that he’s jealous that his most trusted prostitute Trixie has taken a liking to Sol Star and is probably ashamed that he feels that way. So we end up here, with Al drunk, in denial about a lot of things, but still wanting to top himself off.
(click GIF for the whole scene)
I don’t want to mince words here: one of the best scenes of the show involves an antagonist receiving a blowjob while reminiscing about killing a man right before purchasing the very prostitute that is servicing him. But it’s the Ian McShane show, as he mixes so much levity and honest reflection into the scene. One second, he’s talking about the warrant for his arrest and his philosophy on life (“I don’t fuckin’ look back”) to giving Dolly direction on her fellatio skills (“whoa, whoa, whoa. You gotta a stagecoach to catch or something? Slow the fuck up”). What Al ventures into next isn’t just more waxing poetically about the way of the world, but into a deeply personal story, one that tells how his mother abandoned him to the same woman that Al would by Dolly from 30 years later.
All the hard talk and intimidation is stripped and we see raw, angry and bitter Al Swearengen. Not the bubbling, but calculated explosion with direction and purpose that we see 90% of the time, but the “this is how I came to be” vulnerability. It’s beautiful, and exploratory and raw and you probably forget the fact that Al is getting a blowjob because of the intensity of the performance, well, until Al reaches intensity in another way. After he finishes and Dolly removes herself from the frame, Al simply reaches for the bottle, takes another sip and after a few hard breaths, ushers the last words of the episode.
And like that, Al is back to his guarded and impenetrable self as the screen goes black. Just, masterful.
We didn’t get to cover all of the amazing scenes from this show, so let us know your favorite scenes from Deadwood in the comments!