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Deadwood, Season Three.

It took me a while to watch the third, and final season, of Deadwood. Mostly, because I knew it was the last season, and so I had no rush.

Sometimes, a show can end on a good note, and sometimes a bad note. Without having seen the third season of Deadwood, I suspected that it was going to be much the same as the first two, and that its end would be one I'd lament, but I must say, how surprised and disappointed I was to find that the third and final season of Deadwood turned out to be badly written, put together with no style and, in the end, bordering a line in which it would spiral into making no sense whatsoever, if it hadn't already.

It's hard to know where to begin in approaching Deadwood in season three, since it feels wrong from the start. As a basic setup goes, George Hearst, the business man and prospector, has arrived in the community to see to his holdings, and to take in those owned by Alma Garrett who, at the end of season two, married the prospector Ellsworth in a marriage designed to hide the truth of her child, conceived by the sheriff, Seth Bullock. Why exactly anyone in the camp, outside Bullock's wife, would care is beyond me--and I was always baffled by Trixie, an ex whore, and her interest in it. Such tangled little lives, I guess. Unfortunately, it is with the arrival of Hearst that everything about the show is streamlined, for Hearst, with his money and presence, is viewed by those in the camp as untouchable threat, for reasons that seem thin at best, and are unwilling to take him on directly. Thus, as Hearst bullies and murders his way to get what he wants, the conflicts in the characters from the previous two seasons are forced to be put aside, and there are many scenes in which the main male characters sit around and discuss what it is that should be done, as if, y'know, killing him didn't solve it. Which is, of course, the most frustrating aspect of the show, because, so hitched to history is it that they cannot kill Hearst that weaker and weaker excuses must be found to justify his presence. It is particularly damning when this aspect of history ends up turning the show's anti-hero, Al Swearengen, into a basic hero, and turns his rival Bullock, into nothing more than a lapdog who relies, with everyone else, upon Swearengen's advice in how to deal with the powerful Hearst.

With that hanging over the major characters of the show, however, secondary plots and humour are provided by, well, secondary characters who step up to fill a lot of narrative time in the show. Unfortunately, this is the other flaw in the season. Say what you will about the actor who played Steve, the drunken, racist man who becomes the owner of the livery, and while I think he has a perfectly fine performance, Steve isn't interesting, isn't fascinating, and scene after scene of him verbally attacking the black livery owner, Hostetler, or crying out against him for his blackness when he isnt there, just gets fucking tedious. Yeah, he's racist, yeah he's a moron, yeah, he's going to be kicked in the head and looked after by the Nigger General--yes, I get the whole thing, but it's simply not as interesting as anyone in the show thinks it is (I assume they must think it's fascinating, since this subplot gets a lot of time). In addition to this, new characters are introduced with their subplots to fill up the show: Brian Cox, an actor I quite like, shows as Jack Langrishe, a character whose purpose seems to be to open a theatre, and whose sub plot takes up a lot of time in the show, but ultimately, goes nowhere. While not as annoying as the Steve/Hostetler/Nigger General subplot, it does feel completely unnecessary to the show, as does the arrival of Wyatt Earp and his brother, though this second one is quite brief. Removing all three characters, however, would have streamlined the plots, and allowed for such plots as Alma Garrett's addiction to opium, her marriage breakup, Doc Cochran's illness, and Cy Tolliver's self destructive behaviour to be developed and explored, rather than noted as passing elements in the show--and since all three of those characters have more relevance and are of more interest, the question I was left with was why this was not done?

I got no answer for that.

It is not, however, all bad.

There are good moments in the series, such as Dan's fight with Captain Turner, the relationship between Calamity Jane and Joanie Stubbs, and the final few episodes build tension nicely. Unfortunately, it is that final episode, with the demand that a whore must die, that the show ends not on a climatic note, but on an anti-climatic note, in which the flaws of the characterisation in the series are showed, for why, after all, would Hearst write to Swearengen for his demand, why would Swearengen do this, and why would Bullock, Star, and others in the camp simply agree to it, if they so despise Hearst? And why, before that, do they agree that Alma Garrett should sign her lease over? And on and on these questions, in the end, rise, to the point where one--well, myself, I guess--is forced to note that either a) the show jumped the shark with the inclusion of a figure that couldn't be killed, or b) that season three was simply not to my taste, and caused me to sit and poke holes in it. Which is a shame, really, because I honestly liked those first two seasons, and wanted the show to run it's full five, but such, I guess, is life.

Still, Deadwood does leave two excellent seasons, and the clip below is from the first season, when it was at its best, and Swearengen was an anti-hero, one who did not jump railings and run to a woman's rescue.

Obviously.

Comments

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ataxi
Dec. 17th, 2007 09:22 am (UTC)
Swearengen was the show's main character ... I'm thinking his quasi-redemption -- humanisation at least -- was meant to be its main trajectory (cf the gallstone scenes where he reaches a zenith of personal vulnerability).

I found the petering out of the Bullock/Garrett romance really weak.

Unfortunately a humanised, softened and generally Swearengen-lite Swearengen kinda fucked up the third season.

Man, the Dan/Turner fight, though. That was some sick shit (yum, eyeball!) but great TV.
benpeek
Dec. 17th, 2007 09:28 am (UTC)
yeah, you might be right, but like you say, it didn't make him any kind of fun in the third season.

the fight was the best thing, though, that. i wasn't quite sure who'd win it, really.
(Anonymous)
Dec. 17th, 2007 12:23 pm (UTC)
Ben, you've been nominated for an Aurealis Award. Given your criticism of the awards in recent years do you have any comment on your nomination, and will you be doing your usual ascerbic review of the AAs this year.
benpeek
Dec. 17th, 2007 02:35 pm (UTC)
and who are you, anonymous person?
mondyboy
Dec. 17th, 2007 01:05 pm (UTC)
I'm trying not to read your post - for fear of spoilers - but from what I could see you're not keen on Season 3. I personally found Season 2 to be a bit poor. 4 episodes into Season 3, though, and I'm loving it.
benpeek
Dec. 17th, 2007 02:36 pm (UTC)
yeah, season three didn't rock me, i guess. but i liked season two overall, so maybe it's a bit of taste. anyhow, let me know what you think when you're finished.
nick_kaufmann
Dec. 17th, 2007 03:19 pm (UTC)
The Hearst plotline is so anticlimactic. I wish they could have done more with it, but I guess they wanted to stay true to Hearst's history and not have him die there.

Also, Starr is barely in season 3, and Swearengen is a castrated version of himself.
benpeek
Dec. 17th, 2007 11:22 pm (UTC)
yeah, pretty much.
paulhaines
Dec. 18th, 2007 02:52 am (UTC)
I think they were threading in a whole lot of stuff for Season 4 before they had the pin pulled. Makes sense that wya, particularly with the Earp brothers, and to a large degree the build up of Langrishe. The man has influence but doesn't get to really use it.
mondyboy
Jan. 26th, 2008 02:43 am (UTC)
The last episode is anti-climactic, but only because it was never meant to be the last episode. I agree that the killing the whore plot just didn't seem right.

Still, I did like Season 3 more than 2. I actually thought that Hearst gave it more focus. I also like the fact that we were too scared to kill him, thinking that if someone as important as Heart died in Deadwood, they'd have the whole county - Yankton and all - down on their heads and Deadwood would be no more.

Still, you raise plenty of good points - especially the stuff about Steve which went no-where.
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