'Deadwood': 5 Key Takeaways From the Long-Awaited HBO Movie

The film provides grace notes to a number of its characters while avoiding some pitfalls of the current spate of series revivals.
Warrick Page/HBO
Timothy Olyphant (left) and Ian McShane on 'Deadwood'

[This story contains spoilers for Deadwood: The Movie on HBO.]

Deadwood existed pre-Peak TV, and the long-awaited movie that serves as a coda to the HBO series arrives almost exactly six years after Arrested Development's fourth season on Netflix kick-started the current era of countless TV revivals.

It's with relief and appreciation that seeing Deadwood: The Movie reveals it largely doesn't fall prey to the excesses of either the Peak TV era — dragging out a story that can be told economically — or the revival boom that sometimes prizes fan service above all else.

The movie does neither of those things, or at least not to excess. Several moments seem designed to incite feelings of nostalgia, but they also don't come at the expense of the characters involved or the larger story.

Nearly 13 years after the last episode aired, Deadwood: The Movie plays like an episode (or two, given its 110-minute running time) of Deadwood, and it's immensely satisfying to see that the cast, creator David Milch (who wrote the movie's script) and director Daniel Minahan (who helmed four episodes of the series) were able to re-create the feel of the series.

Here are five key takeaways.

Bullock Has Matured

The first scene of Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) in the movie is him sitting down to breakfast with wife Martha (Anna Gunn) and their three children, and it's telling. He still has a violent temper — illustrated later when he beats one of Charlie Utter's (Dayton Callie) killers half to death — but has learned better to control it, even if he's still no diplomat.

Midway through the film, after a tense confrontation with George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) asks, "You ever think, Bullock, of not going straight at a thing?" Bullock's terse reply: "No."

Bullock is still prone to frontier justice, burning the lumber Hearst has brought to Utter's land in preparation for putting up telephone poles. But where the younger Bullock might have let a mob that attacks Hearst have its way with the man, he (eventually) pulls Hearst out of the fray.

Similarly, he doesn't act on any lingering feelings he may have for Alma Garrett (Molly Parker), who's returned for Deadwood's statehood celebration. Longing looks and memories are all that pass between them. The last shot of Bullock mirrors the first: He walks back to Martha, says "I'm home" and embraces her.

Trixie Will Not Be Cowed

Sol Star (John Hawkes) initially asks a very pregnant Trixie (Paula Malcomson) to stay indoors during Hearst's time in town, as the 10-year-old secret that she was killed for shooting him has held. She won't, however, let the man swan through her town unchallenged, and unleashes a tirade at him that can only be done justice by watching.

Embarrassed and enraged by the spectacle, Hearst sets out to reassert himself, only to be rebuffed by Utter — after which Hearst orders his murder — and then by Bullock and Alma at an auction for Utter's property. Hearst makes one more attempt to regain the upper hand, bringing in some out-of-town lawmen to arrest her, but Bullock (and, had it come to that, the town as a whole) rallies to her and arrests Hearst for Utter's murder. Hearst remains a senator and a very wealthy man, but this small victory echoes the one from the show's final season, without an innocent woman having to pay the price for it.

Al Is Dying

"You don't drink like Al does without some cost," McShane told The Hollywood Reporter, which turns out to be a huge understatement. His liver is failing, and he knows that the end for him is nigh. It's a tremendous physical performance from McShane, who sells both Al's deteriorating condition and his efforts to project an image of himself as still healthy when the situation calls for it.

Still, if his physical presence is diminished, Al's way with words is as strong as ever. The facility with which he (and the rest of the cast, it should be said) takes up the extremely specific rhythm of Milch's dialogue is a wonder.

Al's counsel to Bullock is helpful, and he's able to walk Trixie down the aisle prior to her marriage to Sol. Recognizing he's not long for the world, he offers to leave the Gem to the newlyweds.

Jane Regains Her Purpose

The opening of the movie has Jane (Robin Weigert) riding back into town, echoing a scene from the series opener when she came to Deadwood along with Bill Hickok. She's back to try to win back Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens), having to overcome a decade's worth of estrangement.

Jane was occasionally able to pull herself together during the run of the series, in no small part when Joanie began returning her affection. The movie compresses that arc, with Jane initially reliving old tragedies — her mournful speech in Tom Nuttall's (Leon Rippy) bar is a highlight — but Joanie once again refocuses her, to the point where she's able to rediscover her skill with a gun in time to save Bullock from his double-crossing deputy. She wonders at what she's done, thinking Bill's spirit must have guided her. Joanie then delivers one of the best lines of the film: "No, Jane. It was you."

It's the Ending, but Not the End

Deadwood: The Movie provides a number grace notes for its characters, but "closure" isn't really something Milch had in mind. Swearengen is still alive as the movie closes, although his days are likely numbered. Hearst will go back to the Senate and his home in California.

It's a fitting way to close: Deadwood, after all, is a real place, and Al Swearengen, Seth Bullock and George Hearst were real people. Milch was never terribly interested in following the real history of Deadwood too closely, but for an entire series that was about building a society out of lawlessness, a life-goes-on ending is appropriate. It's extremely unlikely that HBO will make more Deadwood after this, but forcing a wrap-up on the story wouldn't have worked. This was the right way to go.