The characters are indelible. Doc Cochrane, a materialist who prays for an ailing preacher to be released from his misery with a fervor that the preacher himself cannot muster anymore. Trixie, a whore whose heart is not golden, rather fierce and ill-disposed to let her station define her even as it confines her. Joanie Stubbs, Calamity Jane and Alma Garrett who are depressed, but to quote Sufjan Stevens, for good reasons. Seth Bullock whose anger initially seems righteous but burns at a constant temperature regardless of circumstance. EB Farnum and Richardson who play the Shakespearean fools to perfection. And Al Swearengen, who begins the show as its antagonist and becomes its heart in his brutality, his unflinching understanding of his own nature, his grasping at power, his tactical brilliance, his knowledge of his limits, his unexpected occasional softness and his delivery of the most filthy iambic pentameter you’re likely to hear.
There are lines from the show I think of on a near weekly basis. From Swearengen, "Kid yourself about your behavior and you'll never learn a f***ing thing." or “Pain or damage don’t end the world. Or despair or f***ing beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man… and give some back.” Or EB Farnum, "I begrudge that pervert his capacity for happiness.” Or Cy Tolliver, “Will we next be shocked by rivers runnin' or trees castin' f***in' shade?” Or Francis Wolcott, “I am a sinner who does not expect forgiveness, but I am not a government official.” Or George Hearst, “When I say, ‘Go f*** yourself, Sheriff,' will you put that down to drunkenness or a high estimate of your athleticism?”
The previous paragraph alone should indicate why I never recommend this without the heaviest of content warnings. But if the poetry of profanity exists, Deadwood is its primer. It was cancelled too soon. The ending of season three was widely seen as disappointing as the show didn’t end on its own terms. But with further thought and multiple viewings I came to love it. In the final episode all the main characters were complicit in a truly heinous act. Swearengen’s delivery of the last line, about a character who was distraught over that act was a perfect summation of the show: “He wants me to show him something pretty.”
All that is to say I went into the decade-late movie capstone with high hopes and a fear they wouldn’t get it right. I needn’t have worried. While a fourth season would have in all probability been more satisfying, I can’t imagine a better two hour wrap-up.
The main arc of season two is the gradual approach of George Hearst, unbridled capitalism incarnate. Circumstances force uneasy alliances between characters who hate each other but who must join forces to fight for their livelihoods. Hearst appears in the final episode of that season. The third and final season was largely taken up with the townspeople trying and failing to oppose him. It culminated in an act of murder to save the life of a beloved character. All of the ostensible good guys were complicit. The thing I most wondered about the season that never happened was how the various characters would deal with that complicity.
The movie picks up on both the fight against Hearst and that complicity, though necessarily in less detail than a season would have provided. Likewise, there was less time spent with each character. The time they did get was well spent. They looked believably 10 years older and their actions were consistent with their past. There were “blink and you miss them” cameos from Garrett Dillahunt and Jim Beavers, whose characters had died previously. The dialog is worthy of the show, even if it's not quite as good. My favorite line is from Doc Cochrane; “All bleeding stops eventually.” All in all it was a worthy sendoff.
The show is definitely in my canon. As a continuation, the movie is in as well, though I’ll need more time before I decide whether merits inclusion in its own right. I suspect it does. I’ve already seen it three times.