Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Powers Boothe, Brad Dourif, John Hawkes, Paula Malcomson, William Sanderson, W. Earl Brown, Dayton Callie, Jim Beaver, Jeffrey Jones, Titus Welliver
Mood: If you’re like “Shakespeare, but make it Western”.
“We’re joining America, and it’s full of lying, thieving, cocksuckers that you can’t trust at all – governors, commissioners and whatnot.”Dan Dority (W. Earl Brown)
I was anxious about watching Deadwood’s second season. The bar was set SO F*CKING HIGH, which meant anything less than perfection would be a devastating disappointment. What if they ruined my favourite characters with shitty storylines? Or worse… what if they toned it down to make it more accessible to a wider audience?
With season 1, Deadwood created a dark, rich, and often disturbing universe that I would give almost anything to have been able to experience. As an extra on the show, sure, but more so in real life. Why would I have a Western review website if I wasn’t OBSESSED with the Old West? Someone had better build the real Westworld in my lifetime.
Anyway. Now I’ve seen season 2, and I still think Deadwood is the best thing to ever happen to television.
The year is 1877. Deadwood (the place) is now more town than camp. Sheriff Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) and loveably murderous leader Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) are begrudgingly united against certain people, forces, and ideas. Most of those centre around any man who is trying to seize control of Deadwood.
Bullock is merrily boinking the widowed Alma Garret (Molly Parker), until his wife and son suddenly arrive in town. Swearengen needs the sheriff he hand-picked to be thinking with his other head, so they can maintain control of the town, but Swearengen gets struck down with a crippling case of kidney stones. A new man named Lee has come to Deadwood’s Chinatown, threatening the business of Mr. Wu (Keone Young).
Meanwhile, Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens) has opened her own brothel. A representative of Senator George Hearst named Francis Wolcott (Garret Dillahunt) has arrived with extremely violent sexual baggage that negatively impacts Joanie – but Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe) thinks he can use Wolcott’s secret to his advantage.
Deadwood’s second season starts out a little slow, because a lot of time is spent on Bullock and Mrs. Garret – and Swearengen is incapacitated. It made me hella nervous, because four or five episodes in I still felt like there was no obvious plot. No meaty story that had me eagerly switching discs to keep watching.
The challenge lies partly in the dialogue. Deadwood is pure f*cking poetry, and season 2 elevates that unique mix of raw, blue language and rapid-fire Victorian English of the well read. There were several scenes in the first few episodes that left me puzzled and required a second viewing.
But that’s the thing about Deadwood; it’s a complex delight that challenges your brain, and gives you awesome payoffs with each realization and discovery. It definitely requires multiple viewings. Every time I rewatched a scene or an episode, having seen the way the whole story played out, I understood it better and found new things to appreciate.
Season 2 for me was all about Al F*cking Swearengen. When he wasn’t in a scene, I was wondering what he was doing. And when he was… holy forking shirtballs. Ian McShane is a master at his craft. Swearengen’s monologues have epic peaks and valleys that rival Shakespeare’s finest.
The Swearengen of season 2 further confirms that he’s a brilliant strategist, always able to see the bigger picture and control his actions and reactions for the greater good (of himself). And he’s always at least three steps ahead of everyone else.
McShane continues to deliver a man who has a relatable, crude appeal to the general population of Deadwood, yet is thinking light years ahead of even his most refined and educated enemies.
Now that I’ve released all of my gushing over Al Swearengen – season 2 REALLY lets you get into the secondary characters, and it’s f*cking great.
- Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie) continues to be one of the only truly good guys in his new roles as Deputy Sheriff and postmaster, constantly looking out for his friends including Bullock and Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert)
- Ellsworth (Jim Beaver) becomes indispensable to Mrs. Garret, and totally melts your heart with his loyalty and sweetness
- Wu refuses to let a thug like Lee, who casually burns the bodies of expired women in the street, take over his domain in Chinatown; Wu shows himself to be both stronger and more compassionate than we saw in season 1
- Garret Dillahunt, who played the coward Jack McCall in season 1, returns as the genteel and deeply f*cked up Wolcott; although I think it was pretty lazy casting to use the same actor twice and in such close succession, Dillahunt gives a thoroughly fascinating performance as you slowly get through the layers of Wolcott’s twisted psyche
- Dan (W. Earl Brown), Johnny (Sean Bridgers), and Silas (Titus Welliver) develop more of a bond as Al’s boys; Dan and Johnny seem to to be getting smarter, while Silas shows his value as a man who has walked among government and lawmakers
- Trixie (Paula Malcomson) gets some solid character growth as she spends most of the season at the hardware store, learning bookkeeping from the charming Sol Star (John Hawkes), and you get to see their relationship develop as well
- The poor cook Richardson (Ralph Richeson), who was silent for season 1 and spends most of his time being berated and kicked by E.B., gets to have these hilarious moments with Mrs. Garret, while practicing his own bizarre and endearing kind of spiritualism
I still don’t like Bullock, but I will say that his character finally showed some much-needed range. It’s almost like he’s terrible on purpose, so that you HAVE to appreciate the tactical brilliance and inexplicable draw of Swearengen.
The only disappointment is Cy Tolliver’s character. I’m such a huge Powers Boothe fan, so it’s difficult to watch him be so ineffective. It’s not that he doesn’t deliver on the part – his cold, dead-eyed smiles are perfect; but through two seasons Cy still doesn’t feel like a real threat to Al. Like, he tries, but you never really believe he’ll succeed.
Season 2 of Deadwood is another stunning visual achievement, with gorgeous sets and costumes and some of the most striking cinematography I’ve ever seen. I’m so ready for season 3 and the Deadwood movie.
And I’m going to feel like an empty f*cking husk of a human when it’s all over and I have to accept that Deadwood was cancelled and there will never again be a fresh monologue, delivered mid-blowjob, by the notorious Al Swearengen.