Marvel as Judge Neal Masri uses the word c**ks*cker 29 times in this review.
Our reviews of Deadwood: The Complete First Season (published April 6th, 2005), Deadwood: The Complete Third Season (published November 7th, 2007), and Deadwood: The Complete Series (published December 8th, 2008) are also available.
Fortune comes with a price.
"Bad news or tries against our interests is our sole communications from strangers, so let's by all means plant poles across the land and festoon the c**ks**kers with wires to hurry the sorry word and blinker our judgments of motive."—Al Swearengen
Facts of the Case
Change is coming to Deadwood. The lawless, nationless town is facing the prospect of being annexed into the United States. Chaos breeds opportunity, and there is no shortage of opportunists in Deadwood looking to cash in on the impending change of sovereignty.
Old rivals Swearengen and Tolliver are back continuing the power grabs they began in Season One. However, a new and powerful force has come to town, an agent of none other than George Hearst. The widow Garrets's claim continues to pay off big and the affair she began with newly anointed sheriff Seth Bullock becomes much more complex. As Deadwood feels the growing pains of becoming an American city, the divergent interests of a large cast of characters intersect as they all try to claim a piece of an expanding nation.
This six DVD set contains the twelve-episode run of Season 2. Episode titles and original airdates are listed below:
• "A Lie Agreed Upon, Part 1" (3/6/05)
One of the first shots in Season Two is of telegraph poles being planted to the horizon. The outside world is encroaching and Deadwood will not be a lawless frontier camp for much longer. A stagecoach rolls into town carrying Seth Bullock's wife and his adopted son. They arrive right into the center of an eventful morning in Deadwood and Season Two begins with a bang.
Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant, Dreamcatcher) has settled into the role of sheriff and is still a seething volcano of repression, just waiting to erupt. His life is significantly complicated by the arrival of his wife in camp. He is also torn between his duties as sheriff and the realpolitik nature of his relationship with Al Swearengen.
Al Swearengen (Ian McShane, Sexy Beast) still steals every scene in which he appears. During several episodes, however, he is stricken with an infirmity that leaves him unable to speak. One of the great pleasures of Deadwood is waiting to see what will come out of McShane's mouth next. Having him virtually mute for three hours of the twelve-hour run of Season Two is a definite liability.
Al's chief rival for power in Deadwood is still Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe, Sin City). Tolliver continues to let his heart rule his decisions rather than his head. His more passionate approach is proving to be less effective than Al's significantly more Machiavellian style.
In the time since the end of Season One, Alma Garret (Molly Parker, Nine Lives) has become the grand dame of Deadwood. Her claim has struck big and she is making money hand over fist. Her affair with Bullock has become more passionate and more secretive now that Bullock's wife is a Deadwood resident.
A few minor characters from Season One step up to more meaty roles in Season Two. Joanie (Kim Dickerson Thank You for Smoking) has spread her wings and left Tolliver's Bella Union Brothel to start her own. Trixie (Paula Malcomson, June & Orlando) continues her complex and conflicted relationship with Sol Starr (John Hawkes, The Perfect Storm). Trixie's divided loyalties and questionable motives make her character one to watch closely.
Several new characters are also added to the mix this season. Maddie (Alice Krige, Silent Hill) is a new madame in town who starts up a high-priced bordello along with Joanie. Anna Gunn (Enemy of the State) proves to be stoic yet determined as Bullock's wife Martha. Frances Walcott (Garret Dillahunt, The Book of Daniel), however, is the standout among the new characters. Walcott is George Hearts's representative, but he has a dark secret that could endanger Mr. Hearts's interests. Sharp-eyed viewers will note that, in a confusing bit of casting, the actor playing Walcott is the same actor who played Wild Bill's killer in Season One.
Believe it or not, there are additional significant characters (both new and returning) that I still haven't mentioned. The cast is just too big to cover every player. I can say that there is not a bad performance in the bunch. Creator/Producer David Milch (NYPD Blue) has assembled a fantastic cast.
All of these characters gel as Deadwood becomes a real city. Their divergent interests are all served by cooperating in a common cause—the admittance of Deadwood to the United States. More than anything else, Season Two is the story of a society being built by the blood and sweat of those tough enough to live there. In their mistrust of outsiders, they come together to become a living, breathing, interdependent community.
The characteristic use of the faux-Shakespearian language has increased in Season Two versus Season One. This style of dialogue with its absence of contractions and flowery adjectives does take a bit of getting used to. The mixing of high-toned language with incredible amounts of profanity makes the use of said profanity more jarring than normal. This discussion of language compels me to address the use of a particular pejorative that, more than any other, is associated with Deadwood. That word is, of course, c**ks**ker. By my count, the episode titled "Mr. Wu" from Season One used the word 29 times. Season Two doesn't break that informal record, but you still hear it a lot. Did people really speak in the old west as they do in Deadwood? No. However, I don't think cowboys rode the range in fancy silk shirts like Roy Rogers either. One reason westerns continue to be popular is that they touch the earliest pioneer longings in the American soul while adapting to the era in which they're made to make the story compelling and relevant to changing audiences.
There are nine commentaries on this set. There is a great deal more participation from the actors for Season Two commentaries than there was for Season One. Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane sit together for a commentary on the first episode. Their commentary, like the one they did for the Season One finale, is a lively affair. The two constantly crack each other up and are quite amusing. They don't offer much in the way of insight, but it sounds like they had a great time recording the track. I found their contributions funny, but not insightful. Molly Parker and Anna Gunn also sit together for the best of the actor commentaries. Their repartee is more focused on the show itself as they discuss the increased role of women in this season of the show. Other actors participating in commentaries include Kim Dickens, William Sanderson, Dalton Callie, Powers Boothe, Garret Dillahunt, John Hawkes and Paula Malcomson in various combinations. The actor participants offer relevant information, with the notable exception of McShane and Olyphant. One point that came across- the actors on all six of the actor commentaries said they loved the credit sequence. One interesting tidbit I picked up from one of the commentaries—W. Earl Brown who plays Dan Dority is the same actor who played the mentally challenged brother in There's Something About Mary. Now that guy has range.
The remaining two commentaries are from producer David Milch on Episode Three "New Money" and Producer/Director Gregg Fienberg on Episode Five "Complications (Formerly 'Difficulties')." Milch's commentary has a few more silent gaps than I'd like. His observations tend to be of a behind-the-scenes nature. Milch also tends to do a bit too much of simply explaining what's on the screen. For someone whose writing is so colorful, Milch's commentary is a pretty dry affair. After spending too much time discussing the credits yet again, Fienberg spends a good bit of his commentary deconstructing the show and Milch's working process. Unfortunately, this discussion of the credits is indicative of the commentaries. Many of the same observations are made during different commentaries.
The sixth disc of this set is devoted to special features. Disc Six kicks off with a featurette entitled The Real Deadwood 1877. This is a Discovery Channel style documentary consisting of interviews with historians coupled with historical and scenic images. There is a fair amount of good information here comparing the show with historical fact. A three-part feature chronicling the making of the Season Two finale is also included. It covers all aspects of production by examining the writing process, the character arc of Mr. Wu and the staging of the wedding celebration scene. Finally, we have a still gallery with portraits of the main characters and vintage photos of historical Deadwood. The extras on Disc Six, while not overwhelming, are of good quality.
HBO continues to offer top-notch presentations of their original programming on DVD. Video is quite sharp and the slightly stylized earthen color palette is represented well. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is immersive in the appropriate portions, but dialogue-focused the majority of the time. I don't usually mention menus, but they are particularly classy and well done for this set. The packaging has the look of a vintage book and is also quite handsome. Deadwood: The Complete Second Season is a classy presentation on all fronts.
The western was literally born at the same time as modern cinema (The Great Train Robbery was the first narrative film ever made). Along with jazz, the western movie has been called one of the only truly American invented art forms. Audiences have been enthralled by the genre ever since George Barnes pointed his gun directly at the camera and opened fire (Goodfellas enthusiasts, look for an homage to this shot from The Great Train Robbery in the very last image of that film).
Almost as long as there have been westerns, there has been the notion of the revisionist western. Who upon viewing the earliest westerns could have conceived of the moral ambiguity that would be introduced to the genre by films like The Wild Bunch or Unforgiven? The western continues to be relevant more than a century after the first one was produced. By way of example, the most talked about film in recent memory, Brokeback Mountain, was yet another deconstruction of classic western archetypes.
Deadwood takes this uniquely American genre and, once again, proves its durability. Not being a feature film, Deadwood is not top of mind in a discussion of the great western movies. It should be. Any given episode is as good as or better than most mainstream feature films you will see.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Suggested retail price on this set is $99, though you will be able to find it cheaper than that. Still, the price is pretty steep for twelve episodes. The extras, while good, do not justify the price alone. Consequently, I would not recommend Deadwood: The Complete Second Season as a blind buy. This kind of investment needs some repeat viewing to be worth it. Make sure you're a fan before taking the plunge.
The western is alive and well and Deadwood proves it. Both poetic and profane, Deadwood is one of the most consistently satisfying series on television today. Writing, acting, and production values are all top notch and this DVD set shows off the material quite well. To quote Al Swearengen, "Welcome to f**king Deadwood! It can be combative."
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Scales of Justice
• Nine Cast and Crew Commentaries on Six Episodes
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