Saturday 18 April 2009

Deadwood - complete episode guide part one

Is Deadwood the best TV western ever?

To my mind, yes. Each and every episode demands multiple viewing if you are to pick up on all the nuances creator David Milch has worked into the intelligent scripts. It never underestimates its viewers intelligence and present one of the most authentic looking Old West towns ever committed to celluloid, tape, hard disc or whatever it is they use these days.

Much has been said about the amount of swearing in the show and people seem to think that all that cussing didn't really belong in the Old West. Well the jury is out on that one but please don't let all the colourful language put you off - Deadwood is an epic frontier tale that is part Shakespearean tragedy and part Sopranos goes West.

The Archive now present a full episode guide, taken from the official HBO episode guide, to all three seasons - the first three episodes are covered here. After each episode synopsis The Archive has left brief comments.

Episode 1 - Deadwood

Written by David Milch
Directed by Walter Hill

July, 1876

Seth Bullock abandons his position as Marshall in the Montana Territory to begin a career as a hardware merchant in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, a burgeoning, lawless gold-rush town set in the heart of Native land. Joining Bullock in the endeavor is his friend Sol Star. Before setting off from Montana, Bullock brings final justice to a horse thief, holding off dangerous mob to give him a legal hanging from a makeshift gallows in front of the sheriff's office.

Also drawn to Deadwood is Wild Bill Hickok, the famed gunfighter and lawman. He travels with his old friend Charlie Utter and the foul-mouthed Calamity Jane. Hickok's reasons for moving to the Black Hills aren't immediately clear, but it's obvious that his very presence in the town sends excitement through its residents.

Upon arriving at Deadwood, Bullock and Star rent a lot on which to open their hardware tent. Their landlord is Al Swearengen, proprietor of the Gem Saloon. Swearengen runs the whisky, women and faro games in Deadwood, and his cold efficiency is demonstrated when he beats Trixie, one of his whores, after she kills a trick in self-defense.

As Bullock and Star's hardware business gets off to a brisk start, Hickok's presence in Deadwood continues to capture the attention of those in the town. Newspaperman A.W. Merrick of the Deadwood Pioneer tries to get some information out of him, but the gunslinger ignores him. Also taking notice is Jack McCall, a man given to sitting in the dark corners of Tom Nuttall's No.10 Saloon. McCall claims not to be impressed by Hickok, and swears to "gut that son of a bitch at poker" whenever he gets a chance. Wild Bill does get into a poker game and winds up on a terrible losing streak. He has recently married, and is trying to earn up enough money to buy a stake with which to support his wife.

Meanwhile Swearengen enlists E.B. Farnum (proprietor of the Grand Central Hotel), along with Tim Driscoll and Dan Dority in a conspiracy to dupe East Coast dude Brom Garrett into buying a pinched-out gold claim. Brom gushes about his purchase to his wife Alma, who is supportive, but dealing with the difficulties of her situation with steady doses of laudanum. The conspiracy deepens as Swearengen has Doherty kill Driscoll to ensure his silence.

News of a massacre arrives in Deadwood: the entire Metz family, a man says, has been killed by Indians. When pressed, the man says he saw two dead children, but townspeople say the Metz family had three children. Hickok puts together a party, including Bullock, to look for the missing child. Fearing a major disruption of business, Swearengen offers up free alcohol and discounted sex to those that stay behind with him.

The party finds the third Metz girl, but she's unconscious and hovering near death. They take her back to Deadwood, dropping her off with Doctor Cochran. Hickok and Bullock then confront the man who originally brought the news of the massacre, accusing him of staging the raid in order to line his own pockets. The man draws his gun, but is shot dead. As the violence outside comes to a conclusion, Swearengen goes to bed with a bruised Trixie - unsettled by what he's seen in the streets.

(This first episode starts off like many a traditional western but when Seth Bullock hangs the horse thief it is truly shocking and viewers are left with the knowledge that this is going to be like no western they have ever seen before. An excellent start.)

Episode 2 - Deep Water

Directed by: Davis Guggenheim
Written by: Malcolm MacRury


A new day begins in Deadwood, everybody is edgy after the violent events of the early morning. Going through the effects of the man that Bullock and Hickok killed, Reverend H.W. Smith determines that his name was Ned Mason.

The little girl who survived the Metz massacre has become the focus of attention of several inhabitants of Deadwood, including Bullock and Swearengen. Calamity Jane takes a special interest in ensuring the safety of the still unconscious girl, while Doc Cochran does his best to hide her from Swearengen, realizing that if the attack were indeed committed by criminal "road agents"-and not Indians, as Ned Mason had claimed--anything she said about the incident would all but sign her death warrant.

Back in the Grand Central, Hickok and Bullock cross paths again. Utter asks Bullock to set Hickok up with some prospecting equipment, but the gunslinger isn't happy that his friend has so loudly announced his intentions. Later, Utter tries to convince Hickok to take "appearance" money to gamble in one of the local joints, but Hickok rejects this, as he doesn't want to be a shill. Eventually, Utter does manage to broker a deal of this sort, to ensure that Wild Bill has a source of income.

The city dude Garret tries to work his claim with the assistance of Dan Dority, but finds no gold anywhere on his land. Another prospector, Ellsworth, happens upon the pair, and winds up raising Garret's suspicions when he mentions that if the claim was good, they would have probably found some flakes of gold already.

Johnny Burns tells Swearengen that he's learned that Ned Mason was behind the Metz attack and was likely working with his brother Tom and another man named Persimmon Phil. Meanwhile, Bullock and Star approach Swearengen to negotiate the purchase of their lot, but the landlord expresses his concern that the duo may have ulterior motives or unnamed partners in their endeavor. As the two leave without a deal, Tom and Phil arrive at The Gem, and are quickly ushered upstairs by Swearengen.

There, Swearengen angrily confronts Phil. He's furious that the attack on the "Squareheads" was done without his approval and that loose ends were left to be dealt with. Although Swearengen didn't authorize this attack, it's clear that he's hired these agents in the past. Swearengen tells Phil about Ned's actions the previous night, then throws the bandit to the floor, demanding that he help straighten out the entire mess.

Back at Cochran's office, the Doc entrusts Jane with the task of protecting the Metz child. Cochran then has to leave to attend to the women of the Gem, and while he's gone, Swearengen goes to see the girl. Jane tries to stand up to him, but his presence causes her to break down instead. He leaves without incident, but not before he pinches the child on the arm, causing her to open her eyes for the first time since the attack. Swearengen and the Doc then cross paths in the street, and Cochran's fears that Swearengen has ill intent towards the child are confirmed.

When Brom Garret returns to the Grand Central after a fruitless day of prospecting, he feigns a hurt back and tries to sell the property to Farnum, who had feigned interest to drive up the price Garret had paid. Farnum claims that drunkenness caused him to bid on the claim in the first place. Later, Garret's wife Alma wonders if he'll be able to recruit Hickok in a plan to reclaim the $20,000 investment.

Swearengen enlists Tom Mason to kill Hickok, inciting the road agent to do the deed under the guise of revenge for his fallen brother. Mason makes the attempt while wildly drunk, tipping off Wild Bill. As would be expected, Mason is gunned down before he even manages to draw iron. Having anticipated the attack, Hickok had asked Bullock, also at the saloon, to watch his back. This pairing once again draws the notice of Swearengen, who becomes even more convinced that the men are working together. The assumed collusion makes it even more difficult for Bullock and Star to buy their lot.

Dority goes to kill the Metz girl at Swearengen's behest, but Doc Cochran stands him down. Dority agrees to leave the girl for the time being, but he takes the Doctor with him to explain to Swearengen. While they're out, Utter and Jane grab the child and head for the hills in an attempt to protect her. As the long night ends, Swearengen decides that there is another way to tie up the loose ends from the Metz massacre-by stabbing Persimmon Phil himself.

(This episode is dominated, as so many were, by Ian Mcshane's Al Swearengen and the focus shifts from Seth Bullock. The town is so real that the viewer can almost taste the mud and grime.)

Episode 3 - Reconnoitering The Rim

Directed by: Davis Guggenheim
Written by: Jody Worth


The sudden opening of the Bella Union, a new saloon that manages to sneak into town, challenges Swearengen's grasp on the vice of Deadwood. The establishment is run by Cy Tolliver, assisted by his right-hand man Eddie Sawyer and his Madame, Joanie Stubbs. The Bella Union is a stark contrast to The Gem, with cleaner women and a higher level of sophistication. Swearengen tries to quietly intimidate Tolliver and his crew, but they don't seem impressed.

Wild Bill finally manages to win a hand of poker, taking a large pot from the lout McCall, and the game gets heated. Before the situation can escalate further, McCall is thrown out of the game, but not before spewing a stream of profanity.

Meanwhile, the Metz girl begins to run a fever, so Utter moves into Hickok's room, surrendering his quarters to Jane and the child. The arrangement rankles Farnum, but he doesn't have the constitution to stand up to Wild Bill. Jane continues to watch over the little girl as she recovers, but Utter has to leave for Cheyenne for business reasons.

Brom Garret tries to enlist Hickok in recovering the money that he was swindled out of on the gold claim. Wild Bill isn't interested in the proposal, so Garret decides to confront Swearengen himself. Swearengen starts paying attention when Garret threatens to bring the Pinkerton agency into the dispute. He then tells Garret that he should try prospecting one more time, upriver this time, and if that doesn't work out, he'll give Garret back his stake. As Garret leaves The Gem, Swearengen tells Dority to kill the city dude and to make it look like an accident.

Livid at the arrival of the interlopers of the Bella Union, Swearengen briefly considers the possibility that Bullock and Star acted as advance agents for Tolliver. This theory falls apart when Swearengen sees Farnum heading into the competing saloon, leading him to conclude that that the hotelier is his "Judas Goat." Later, Swearengen confronts Farnum, who cracks under pressure. Swearengen lets the traitor live, but it's made clear that Farnum's continued survival depends on working as an informant.

After much negotiation, Bullock and Star strike a deal for their store's lot--$1000, along with an agreement to no gambling, whoring or whiskey on the premises, and a right of first refusal for Swearengen. Construction on the hardware store begins immediately, with extra elbow grease provided by Utter and Hickok.

Up on the claim, Dority follows his orders and pitches Brom off of a cliff, not realizing that the deed was witnessed by the neighboring prospector Ellsworth. Hiking down the hill to make sure the dude is dead, Dority makes a startling discovery-a thick vein of gold lines the cliff not far from the body. Realizing he's in over his head, Dority passes the information along to Swearengen.

(If we thought Al Swearengen was a monster than Cy Tolliver is ten times worse. The language is particularly earthy in this episode but much of it is used with good humour. It would be a mistake to discount the show because of it's language. The writing, directing and acting are universally superb.)


David Cranmer said...

Yeah, I'm with you on this. Superb storytelling.

Paul D Brazill said...

I saw season one about two years ago and loved it. Great TV!

mybillcrider said...

A great series, all right. And while we're talking about Deadwood, I'd recommend the 4-book series TALES FROM DEADWOOD by Mike Jameson. The 4th book, THE TROOPERS, just came out from Berkley, and I'll be reviewing it on my blog on Monday.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Bill - look forward to the review. I've got three of those books and will be getting the new one.

Jeff Smith said...

I loved DEADWOOD! Yes, the cussing was a little much but my two decades of research on underworld king-pin Soapy Smith has uncovered the simple fact that these type men uttered filthy words.

I have a personal tie with DEADWOOD. The Huckster character ("soap with a prize inside") was Soapy Smith.

I have had the pleasure of visiting the Melody Ranch movie lot where the town stands. It's all there.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Jeff - there are rumours that there may one day be a TV movie to tie things up - but that's looking unlikely

Jeff Smith said...

There were to be two extended shows (movies) soon after the last season but I fear too much time has passed. What a shame.

Anonymous said...

I have had a personal project under way for some time now to view the entire series on DVD. I'm up to the Complete Third Season, disc #2 of 4. Not far to go!
I agree re the excellence of sets and costuming, which convey a sense of history and reality. But I still get the feeling the scripts' most favored cuss-words reflect present-day coarse language better than the nineteenth century. What do the linguistic historians say?

Travis Erwin said...

Loved the series, but hated the way they have left it hanging for so long. I agree it may be the best western series ever, but another HBO series holds my top honer as best series ever.

Rome only had two seasons but they wrapped it up masterfully and very true to character to the very end.

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