How 'Deadwood' Updates Traditional Western TV Series

How David Milch's hit 'Deadwood' updated Westerns Its several endings give us several answers.

Unlike most shows from the golden age of television, Deadwood was canceled prematurely. This lends a lot of unexpected authority to the closing moments of its surprise final episode. More than a decade later, the story is being picked up again as the cast reunite for Deadwood: The Movie. But the storyline continued the other way, too, in a special feature in the DVD box set titled "Deadwood: The Meaning of the Ending," which was recorded with iconoclastic showrunner David Milch immediately after the cancellation. Conversation, where he talks about how things might go on if the show goes ahead. As a consolation to disappointed fans, he also cites some wisdom from philosopher William James: "The idea of ​​the end of things as having ultimate meaning is a lie . . . that we use to organize our lives."

So, when We had a lot of endings to choose from as we tried to decide what Deadwood meant to us and how it related to previous Westerns. Best of all, Milch gives us the option to ignore all of this.

Deadwood: A Show About Progress?

The final moments of the Deadwood original were Powerful punctuation that strongly forces you to see the show in a certain way, in a certain form. The show's first three seasons have followed a unique trajectory, one of growing up. In the pilot project, the town of Deadwood is just getting started. People began to flock to the town on ancestral lands occupied by the Sioux, Cherokee and Iroquois, attracted by the recent discovery of gold in the Black Hills.

Deadwood thrives during the show. It will form an interim government and the newcomers will form a community. Meanwhile, increasingly powerful and entrenched forces from within America will attempt to raid and usurp what Deadwood's founders have built. The conflict culminates in the arrival of ruthless mining tycoon George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), who arrives in Deadwood in Season 3 to oversee the consolidation of much of the gold-bearing land under his control. . Hearst discovered that Deadwood was a community strong enough to change, if not completely resist, his will so that he could not remain in the city himself. this is The culmination of two seasons in which Deadwood's characters learn to care for each other out of affection and need, becoming resilient in the process.

The most notable significant relationship is between the show's two main characters, Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) and Al Swellengan (Ian McShane) Relationship. They start out as enemies—Brock as a law enforcement officer, and Swellungan as a murderous saloonkeeper and pimp—but learn that they must depend on each other, and thus form a symbiotic relationship. Bullock would become the voice of Legit Deadwood while turning a blind eye to Swearengen's crimes. Swearengen will do all the kills that need to be done, but always serve the greater needs of the town.

We see Swearengen kill a lot of people, always after a period of moral calculation. But the murder at the end is the worst. Series regular Trixie (Paula Malcolmson) tried and failed to assassinate dastardly George Hearst, who called for her execution. Instead, Swearengen murdered Jen (Jennifer Lutheran), another trafficked woman under his control. She's totally innocent, but less familiar to him than Trixie, and unlikely for Hearst Be able to tell the difference between their dead bodies. After the trick works, one of Swellengan's lieutenants, Johnny Burns (Sean Bridgers), who has a crush on the murdered girl, asks her if she's suffering. Swearengen told him gruffly that he had made her death as painless as possible. Then, alone, he utters the iconic line "want me to tell him something beautiful," while scrubbing blood.

A Few Takes on Deadwood's Ambiguous Ending

Swearengen's lines are seen as the message of Deadwood's existence. In fact, in the video above, even as Milch urges viewers to resist the urge to let the show's ending define it, he quotes it. This moment is overwhelming because while it acknowledges the horrors of America's frontier and shows contempt for anyone who doesn't, it also means that those horrors can be faced and adapted. It echoes another famous Swearengen quote: "When you die, the world ends. Until then, you'll have more punishment. Endure like a man...and give something back."

However, context is important. What is the ultimate purpose of inflicting this pain, both enduring it and imposing it on others? if you look at deadwood After it aired, the pattern you saw was a town growing in size and power with enemies getting stronger but being able to draw with them. In this case, the losses suffered by the people of Deadwood are casualties in a larger ideological struggle against the utterly depraved power of American capital, which would gladly accept hundreds of times more than the cost of doing business casualties. If the Town of Deadwood comes out stronger this season, perhaps seasons 4 and 5 are where the town can finally triumph over its enemies. The premature cancellation allows for those dreams, even as its final moments encourage stubborn realism.

This illusion can only be dispelled by listening to Milch explain what would happen if the show continued. What does Milch foresee for the town? destroyed by fire. Deadwood could get burned multiple times throughout the show, and it happened in reality. But while the town will rebuild, Milch believes the impact of Al Swearengen will be lost forever. Whatever you think of Deadwood without Al, it's not going to continue The power of capital agglomeration. This could lead to an ending in which it all seems to have been for naught.

The Deadwood Movie Changes the Series' Ending While Best Summarizing Its Message

Of course, none of this story was made into a film. Not only that, but when Deadwood: The Big Movie returns in 2019, none of those events seem to have happened in the digital age. When we see Deadwood again, most of the characters are right where we left them, seemingly having spent their entire intervening years in a comfortable family life (Cancel treats them better than we do). The film exhibits a sentimentality that 2006's Al Swearengen might not have liked. Literally, in fact; the movie provides "beautiful" deaths for several of its characters, and even symbolically resurrects Jen.

But amidst all this sentimentality, I do think you've found the best summary of what Deadwood really is. Milch's great gift as a writer is his ability to empathize with all of his characters, regardless of their status, and his willingness to deliver eloquent and sensible words to all. He likes people, or seems to be a writer, and His feelings are not the values ​​they represent, but only proximity and familiarity.

Deadwood's pain and damage were not calculated losses in a battle between two competing ideologies, either of which could have won. (Though, for the first time in the movie, Milch allows for the possibility that George Hearst might not "have a... future.") This pain is only in exchange for the fleeting happiness of those who happen to live in Deadwood, even if this The town is eventually absorbed seamlessly back into America, and that happiness vanishes without a trace. And, even if those original townspeople were just lucky enough to buy what they bought, other unlucky people had to die for them. In Deadwood, any amount of human happiness and freedom is precious and worth the price. It's certainly not a morally indestructible spirit, but it feels like something you believe in when you're watching the show.

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