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Your Deadwood Catch-Up Guide

Here's everything you need to know ahead of HBO's return to the thoroughfare.
  • Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane in Deadwood (HBO)
    Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane in Deadwood (HBO)

    Regard this scary truth: the third (and final) season of Deadwood ended THIRTEEN YEARS AGO. Oh my God, remember 2006?! George W. Bush?! He was so dumb and embarrassing HA HA HA. The innocence! We thought we were so badass watching Deadwood, caught up in the romance of America at its roughest, wallowing in what we thought was its most disgusting, most lumbering, most base form. We fancied ourselves Swearengens, tough enough to take it and shape it when, actually, we were just Richardsons all along -- a bunch of innocent ding-dongs, unaware we'd be shot out the other end of the decade like turds upon the flotsam. And here we fuckin' are.

    Yes, I haven't even seen Deadwood: The Movie yet — HBO premieres it on Friday night — but already it has moved me to wax fond at a level of verbosity I thought I had long ago stored on that same high shelf where I jealously guard my last nerves, my good goddamns, and that one can of peaches I'm saving for just the right occasion.

    Even having only seen the trailer, I can tell: Ian McShane is as good as he ever has been, which is to say, incredible. The suit! The hair! Al Swearengen is back, and I'm thrilled. Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), his temples gray and his dad vibes at high volume, remains a snack. Deadwood, as gold-rich as it was with a beautifully nuanced parade of characters, has always been about these two guys and how they are, in so many ways, the same guy. Uniting against George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), their common enemy in Season 3, was as good as TV got, before or since, and I say that even though true comprehension of some of their conflict was beyond my feeble mind.

    That's not to say the other seasons were easy to digest. My God, no – think of Yankton! It's just that the final 12 episodes, with all the Hearst blarney, was heavy lifting. Betwixt and between all the main machinations around Hearst wanting to buy Alma Ellsworth's claim and his willingness to destroy everything and everyone to get it, other important stuff happened.

    So in the interest of making sure everybody's as caught up as they need to be in time for the movie, here's a quick catch-up:

    E.B. made his choice. Once he got a sniff of the possibilities in Alma's (Molly Parker) claim, Hearst decided to stay on in town and, well, try to run it. He bought the Grand Central and took up residence, tormenting E.B. Farnum (William Sanderson) night and day. You couldn't say E.B. didn't have it coming, especially as, in the beginning, he couldn't decide whose team to play on. After a beating by Bullock, it looked like E.B. was turning to Hearst, but then Hearst, in a tizzy because he couldn't get his way, SPIT IN E.B.' FACE just to have someone to spit on. That sealed it: Team Al.

    Al's camp buddy arrived. In a subplot designed, I assume, to relieve the near-constant tension, Al's old pal Jack Langrishe (Brian Cox) arrived in town with his traveling theatrical troupe. It's a tragedy we never got to see quite where this was going, but the combo of Cox and McShane was enough to make even the most hardened heart swell. Contrast this with Hearst's camp buddy, his personal cook, Aunt Lou (Cleo King), who also caused a stir with her arrival in town. Hearst had her son, Odell (Omar Gooding), murdered for daring to try to do business with him.

    Cy received his just reward: nothing. If Season 3 had one failing, it was that it ran out of things to do with Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe). He represented, in his pathetic state, the worst of the deadly sins: that soul-withering compulsion to do anything but keep your eyes on your own paper. He wanted Al's cunning, Joanie's hopeful ambition, Hearst's power, Bullock's courage, and he had absolutely none of any of that. What he had, instead, was a steamer trunk full of Maybelline, the smoothest baritone in the West, and a bunch of throwback side-goons that couldn't even cut it at Nuttall's. His continually frustrated efforts to elevate his station, all easily thwarted by Hearst's utter disdain for him, made him Deadwood's most relatable Old West thirst trap – a real basic bitch. The sad loss of Powers Boothe in 2017 means we won't see Cy again, but Hearst had left him in such a lowered state, dashing his business hopes and making him nothing more than a stoolie, it's hard to imagine he ever regained his footing.

    Hearst CUT OFF Al'S FINGER. Because Al wouldn't play along with his schemes to get Alma's claim – schemes so complex that Al couldn't even fathom them -- Hearst lured him into a trap and cut off one of his fingers. There's nothing else to say. If you're asking if I'm over it, these thirteen years later, the answer is no. Which leads to:

    Dan WENT for the EYES. Hearst's biggest problem was that he never knew when to shut up. You couldn't say no one ever told him, either, as Bullock helpfully pointed it out to him several times. For reasons that basically came down to dick measuring, he sent his muscle, Captain Turner (Alla Graf), to fight Dan Dority (W. Earl Brown) in the thoroughfare. Now, the Captain was big, and he was tough, and yes, it looked for a minute like he had Dan down... but. Not today. In what has to be the greatest televised fight, Dan triumphed by GOUGING OUT THE CAPTAIN'S EYE. It was pretty great, but it only served to further enrage stupid Hearst.

    Love, inexplicably, blossomed. Though Bullock was, of course, heartbroken for all of Alma's losses (their baby, Ellsworth, her pride against stupid Hearst), something very real began to grow between him and his wife, Martha (Anna Gunn). And that is to say nothing of Sol (John Hawkes) and Trixie (Paula Malcolmsen), and Joanie (Kim Dickens) and Jane (Robin Weigert). Love will find a fucking way.

    Hearst MURDERED ELLSWORTH. If you've let it go too late and only have time to watch one hour of Deadwood to whet your appetite before jumping back in, I strongly encourage returning to the penultimate episode, "The Catbird Seat." The frenzy of it all will blow your mind. Having done everything else he could think of to scare Alma into selling her claim, including threatening her, having her shot at, hooking up with the Pinkerton agents hired by her first husband's family to menace her, and goading her former lover into endless confrontations, Hearst took it to the limit and had Ellsworth (Jim Beaver) — the best the camp had to offer, the kindest, dearest soul in Deadwood — murdered. Right in front of his dog.

    TRIXIE SHOT HEARST. Driven beyond reason by the loss of the innocent Ellsworth, Trixie did what had to be done. Using her own nakedness as a decoy, she marched up to Hearst's door and shot him. Unfortch… it wasn't fatal. Siiiiigh. As if they didn' have enough problems, there Hearst was, alive and demanding justice. Al, to the agony of Johnny and every other Gem employee, killed a spare blonde prostitute in Trixie's stead. And as usual, Al was left to scrub out the blood stain.

    See you back real soon, Deadwood!

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    TOPICS: Deadwood, HBO, Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant