It’s been 13 years since Deadwood ended. The iconic Emmy-winning Western series, created by David Milch (NYPD Blue), aired just three seasons from 2004 to 2006. And while that’s a short run for a program to be considered iconic, with the character-defining performances of the show’s ensemble cast — including Ian McShane as brothel owner/crime boss Al Swearengen and Timothy Olyphant as reluctant lawman with a violent streak Seth Bullock— the premium cable network brought a program to TV unlike anything the small screen had seen up until that point.
The original series explored the lives and politics of the rag-tag group of citizens, and outlaws, living in 19th century Deadwood — an illegal 1870s mining camp situated in the Dakota territories. A variety of real-life historical figures (including Bullock, Swearengen, Wild Bill Hickok, and “Calamity” Jane) and Shakespeare-like dialogue intertwined for a thick, layered story about the uncivilized beginnings of a civilized America.
After a long run of rumors surrounding a potential sequel film, Deadwood: The Movie is finally making its way to HBO on May 31. What exactly can we expect from the network’s highly anticipated return to the Old West? To further whet your outlaw appetites, here’s a look at the details that have already been revealed, along with a series refresher to shed light on where the movie may go.
It’s now 1889 and the town of Deadwood is finally on the verge of legitimacy as it is set to join the state of South Dakota. It’s a pivotal event that brings the town’s original inhabitants back to the former outlaw camp to partake in the celebration. As you’d expect, time doesn’t especially work to heal old wounds, and when old friends and enemies reunite, some unresolved demons come to light.
Look, it’s been a long time since Deadwood went off the air and viewers may need a refresher on the storylines that were left wide open when season 3 came to a close. That said, consider this a spoiler warning as we’re about to dig into the most important plot point the movie is sure to cover.
In the program’s penultimate episode, titled “The Catbird Seat,” Trixie (Paula Malcolmson), The Gem Saloon’s former star prostitute — and Al Swearengen’s continued love interest — attempted to kill mining tycoon George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) for vengeance over the unfortunate murder of prospector Whitney Ellsworth (Jim Beaver). While it was an up-close-and-personal confrontation, Hearst didn’t end up getting a good look at Trixie’s face since she distracted him with other body parts before shooting him in the chest. He survived, however, and came to Swearengen seeking his own retribution. But since he didn’t get a good look at her face, Al decided to murder Jen (Jennifer Lutheran), another of his sex workers, who happened to share some resemblance with his failed assassin and presented her dead body to Hearst as proof of the vigilante justice he requested.
McRaney is returning to reprise his villainous role in the film, leaving this unresolved conflict ripe for new exploration. Not only would this story device stir things up in town, it would allow Trixie — who found romance with Sheriff Bullock’s business partner Sol Star (John Hawkes) — to gain closure over the wrongful murders of Ellsworth and Jen. And if you recall, the one thing that put Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen on the same side was the unwelcome arrival and insidious business dealings of the infamous George Hearst.
One other piece of drama that will get a fresh set of eyes is the budding relationship between brothel madame Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens) and Wild Bill Hickok’s (Keith Carradine) close friend, “Calamity” Jane Canary (Robin Weigert). Audiences didn’t get a lot from their romance as it was just beginning when the series came to a close, but given their connection to the town, to each other, and to their participation in Alma’s mission to create a separate schoolhouse for the children of the town — moving the kids from a brothel setting to a more suitable learning environment — it’s positioned as the perfect B-story for the movie to peruse.
It wouldn’t be a Deadwood movie without the return of McShane and Olyphant and, thankfully, they are back to reprise their respective roles here while also taking on executive producer credits. Joining them are most of the show’s ensemble cast, including Molly Parker (Lost in Space) as Alma Ellsworth, Malcomson (Ray Donovan) as Trixie, Hawkes (Eastbound and Down) as Sol Star, Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) as Sheriff Bullock’s wife, Martha Bullock, Dayton Callie (Sons of Anarchy) as Charlie Utter, Brad Dourif (Cult of Chucky) as Doc Cochran, Weigert (Big Little Lies) as “Calamity” Jane Canary, William Sanderson (True Blood) as E.B. Farnum, Dickens (Fear the Walking Dead) as brothel madame Joanie Stubbs — who, if you’ll recall, ended up opening her own establishment after Cy Tolliver granted her permission to leave the Bella Union Saloon, where she was the establishment’s madame — W. Earl Brown (Preacher) as Swearengen’s right-hand-man Dan Dority, and, of course, McRaney (This is Us) as George Hearst.
Back when the original series hit the screen, the person pulling all the strings was the show’s creator and writer David Milch. Stories from the series’ set revealed that he was a micromanager of the highest regard, known to scrap scenes as the actors were set to roll. He’d write brand new pages, handing them off to the talent still hot from the printer, creating a chaotic environment where the performers never really knew what to expect.
His brilliant vision, both on the page and behind the camera, is what made Deadwood, and NYPD Blue before it, unlike anything else on television. That said, due to his current struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, Milch ended up taking a backseat during the production process for Deadwood: The Movie. Instead, Vulture reports that he relied heavily on director Daniel Minahan (Game of Thrones) and co-executive producer Regina Corrado, who began her working relationship with Milch as a writer on the original series back in 2005.
The original three-season run of Deadwood consisted of 36 episodes. The series premiered right when HBO was making a name for itself with cutting-edge original programming like The Sopranos and Oz. And while we’d highly recommend watching the series to anyone, re-watching the series before the movie hits the network isn’t exactly a prerequisite.
Milch and company know that 13 years is a long time, and they took that fact into account in how the movie’s story plays out. While a whole bunch of familiar faces appear, the film’s most important plot points are accompanied by quick series flashbacks to add just enough context to the current story being told.
All that said, if you find have some extra time on your hands, it may behoove you to revisit Deadwood. Not only has there yet to be anything like it on TV since the series went off the air, but the strength of the performances and Milch’s signature dialog are also, without a doubt, a magnificent sight to behold.
The wait is nearly over. Deadwood: The Movie will premiere Friday, May 31 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.