It's been over two years since HBO aired the final episode of Deadwood, laying to rest one of its greatest original series in startlingly abrupt fashion. David Milch's gritty - at times, downright greezy - western epic earned a cadre of deeply devoted fans and as much acclaim as either The Sopranos or Six Feet Under, yet for a number of reasons (among them, apparently, the steep cost of the show including renewing the contracts of its sprawling cast) Deadwood was not renewed for a fourth season. As the behind the scenes maneuvering wound to a close the storytelling reached a satisfactory season-ending climax, but not the series finale that anyone - least of all Milch, as he discusses in a brand-new bonus featurette on the complete series DVD box set out this week - would have hoped for. A couple of two-hour installments to provide closure was floated as a possibility yet at this point seem increasingly unlikely. (This despite the fact that John From Cincinnati, the show Milch was in production on for the network when Deadwood ended, died an unspectacular death in its first season; that amazingly detailed and period-perfect set on which Deadwood was filmed was ultimately struck. Tragic.)
Here, then, as much to celebrate what we miss so dearly about that lawless, anarchic gold encampment as to hold out hope for a miracle that would solve some dangling plot threads, are the ten biggest reasons we'll never stop longing for more Deadwood. If you haven't seen the show in its entirety, you really ought to stop reading and rectify that immediately, but this is your requisite spoiler warning - some plot points will be revealed below!
1. Those gorgeous opening titles: Tony Soprano's drive back to Joisey probably remains the most iconic title sequence of the decade, while Showtime's Dexter likely pips everyone for sheer cleverness. But coupled with the haunting main theme, the lushly filmed Deadwood opening credits were a joy to watch each and every week and captured the essence of what it was all about: the wilderness, the muck, the flesh, the blood, the hooch and all that sweet, sweet bonanza gold. (Also, it's worth including to get in mentions of most of that incredible cast, not all of whom we'll get a chance to name.)
2. The deceptive badassery of Mr. Wu - On first sight, the character of the Chinese meat merchant, part-time drug smuggler and erstwhile "cleaner" (any time anyone wants to get rid of a body in Deadwood, it gets fed to his pigs - gnarly) played by Keone Young did seem like a token Asian stereotype. It was only over the course of the series, despite the rat-tail and the barely-existent English, that his real alpha-male status became apparent; outside of rival saloon owners Al Swearengen and Cy Tolliver, Mr. Wu was probably the most powerful man in town. Lord help you if you weren't heng-dai with him.
3. Garret Dillahunt: part chameleon - In a show bursting with talented cast members both regular and recurring, few gave as stunning a performance as Dillahunt - in fact, he gave two. In season one, he was Jack McCall, the twitchy creep who legendarily shot down Wild Bill Hicock; the following year, he played the unnervingly smooth yet deranged geologist Francis Wolcott, so unrecognizable that many didn't realize it was the same actor. He didn't turn up again, but more Deadwood could easily be justified solely for the opportunity to give him the chance to wow us with a three-peat.
4. Those brilliantly eclectic closing credits songs - At the end of every episode, Deadwood would cut to credits over a different track from a remarkable mix of artists - from Bob Dylan to June Carter Cash, Pete Seeger to Bukka White, Keb' Mo to Springsteen himself in the final episode. And every single time, the selections proved perfectly designed to stir emotions invoked by the last shot; we still shiver thinking of how they sucker-punched us with Vera Ward Hall's gentle "Mama's Gonna Buy" after Sherriff Bullock's stepson got trampled by a horse.
5. Jane and Joanie, sittin' in a tree - One of the most unexpected and poignant developments in season three turned out to be a romance between Robin Weigert's endearingly filthy Calamity Jane and Kim Dickens' enterprising, woe-begotten prostitute Joanie Stubbs. Amid all the other plot threads, their relationship never really got the chance to flourish, yet it certainly deserved to; most of the love stories in the show remained appropriately messy, but these two had the best fighting chance at happiness.
6. "The Doc's a lunger!" - Of all the characters kicking up dust around the camp, one of the most reliable and engaging anchors was the great Brad Dourif's Doc Cochran, usually pissing everyone off with his short temper and judgmental attitude but always with his heart in the right place. Halfway through season three, after the persistent hacking cough started to precede his every appearance, it seemed as though the Doc was about to succumb to consumption imminently... and then the show ended. We're still holding out hope that he might pull through.
7. The fate of the Bullock/Garrett spawn - The romantic heart of the series lay with laconic Sherriff Bullock (Timothy Olyphant - best cowboy limp ever!) and prim yet steely twice-widowed Alma Garrett (marvelous Molly Parker), whose simmering passion in season one resulted in an affair that was scuppered right quick once the sherriff's family came to town. Alma discovered she was pregnant, and despite knowing it was a risk for her carry a baby to term, she decided to keep it. Would the nipper live? Would she live? Would a birth drive the Bullock marriage apart? We'll never know... the bun remained in the oven at series end.
8. The mellifluous Milch language - It's fair to say that Milch's skill as a writer had been well documented, from the early day of Hill Street Blues up through his exec honcho term at NYPD Blue. Still, beyond the terrific level of storytelling in Deadwood, it was a delight to discover how intricately crafted and singular a sense of dialogue he created for this series. It took some getting used to - for viewers as well as the cast, who frequently compared its rigors to performing Shakespeare - but once you got the hang of it, sheer poetry. And sometimes...
9. The mellifluous dirty language - (Potty-mouthed poetry at that.) Perhaps no other series in history made such gleeful use of the lack of constraints afforded them on premium cable to incorporate swearing into its vernacular; to be honest, for all the non-cussin' that otherwise made the language great, it wouldn't have been the same without it. A veritable cornucopia of expletives - according to Wikipedia, "a cumulative FPM of 1.56" (That'd be "fucks per minute") through the whole series. Of course, the inestimable "cocksucker" ran a close second, and never were either as much of a pleasure to hear as when they were delivered in the velvet growl of Ian McShane. Ladies and gents, we give you Al Swearengen's greatest hits:
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10. Deadwood Lovers, Unite! - Like all the best series before and since, part of what made Deadwood so much fun was the sense of community shared by those who were glued to the tube each and every week like one of the camp's multiple dope fiends, itching for their next score. Perhaps if we had converted a few more, the ratings could have vaulted so high as to make HBO plunk down for more no matter what the cost, but that's neither here nor there now. We'll always have the memories, and in some cases, the brilliant fan tributes. (Thank you, Justin Schlegel!):
Deadwood: The Complete Series is now out on DVD, retails for $104.99, and makes a great Christmas gift for that special cocksucker in your life.