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Your Guide to 'Deadwood'

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What It’s About
To quote Al Swearengen, the killer kingpin of a certain Dakota Territory gold-rush town: ”Welcome to f—ing Deadwood!” The spectacularly profane HBO cult fave spanned three seasons of muddy drama set in the 1870s (and loosely based on historical record) but was cut short by network hoopleheads in 2006. For the uninitiated: Imagine crossing the grubby criminality of Sons of Anarchy with the gymnastic obscenities of Spartacus, overseen by an alternate-universe version of Justified‘s Raylan Givens. Pour those whiskey shots, and let’s join the Deadwood fandom by bingeing on all 36 episodes, featuring creator David Milch’s gorgeously constructed (if sometimes completely inscrutable) dialogue, top-shelf acting, and merciless outlaw action.

Key Players
Al Swearengen, Ian McShane
The town’s unofficial boss man. Runs the Gem saloon/brothel while terrorizing his enemies (and mesmerizing viewers).

Cy Tolliver, Powers Boothe
The growling, psychotic owner of the Bella Union saloon, who makes Swearengen seem like a reasonable man.

Seth Bullock, Timothy Olyphant
The perfectly postured, ferociously angry ex-sheriff moves to Deadwood to open a hardware store, yet can’t resist the pull of his former profession.

Wild Bill Hickok, Keith Carradine
The weary gunslinger just wants to drink and play poker, but is haunted by his unwanted fame and past deeds.

Alma Garret, Molly Parker
The laudanum-sipping widow of a wealthy prospector finds herself the owner of a gold claim that’s equal parts dangerous and profitable.

E.B. Farnum, William Sanderson
Swearengen’s much-despised servile gofer, and owner of the Grand Central hotel.

Notable Alumni
Anna Gunn The Breaking Bad actress recurs as Bullock’s long-suffering wife.
Garret Dillahunt The Raising Hope actor plays two different murderous characters.
Sarah Paulson The American Horror Story queen reigns as an icy teacher.
Nick Offerman Four words: Ron Swanson full frontal.

The Seasons
Season Summary: Season 1 Swearengen and Bullock vie over Garret’s lucrative gold claim.
Best Episode: ”Sold Under Sin” The finale has Bullock embracing his professional and romantic destiny, and Swearengen becoming an angel of mercy.
Skippable Episode: ”No Other Sons or Daughters” One of the slower-moving hours.

Season Summary: Season 2 Civic leaders jockey for influence as Deadwood seeks annexation so all those gold claims can be declared legal.
Best Episode: ”A Lie Agreed Upon, Part I” The deftly directed premiere brims with energy and wit, climaxing with the Swearengen/Bullock fight we’ve been waiting for.
Skippable Episode: ”Requiem for a Gleet” Unless you really want to see the grotesque outcome of Swearengen’s kidney-stone blockage.

Season Summary: Season 3 Sinister mine mogul George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) employs vicious methods to bring the town’s rival factions under his control.
Best Episode: ”The Catbird Seat” A heart breaking death rallies the town against Hearst, and some measure of revenge is exacted.
Skippable Episode: ”True Colors” A dull hour is punctured by a Deadwood walking tour with the show’s most tiresome character (Brian Cox’s windbag theater promoter).

When You’re Done
Yup, that’s it. No, the ending is not satisfying. Deadwood‘s story concludes as abruptly as the lives of so many of its residents: The third season builds to an open war between the town’s leaders that never materializes. HBO axed the modestly rated series, then agreed to produce a pair of two-hour movies that never happened. Appropriately enough, the show’s final line is Swearengen musing about a character’s grief when there are no words that can truly console: ”He wants me to tell him something pretty.”

Total run time: 1,911 Minutes

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