What’s the Story?
It’s the wild west. Specifically, a town that’s just cropped up on what is supposed to be Indian land. Thus, no laws, no government. The whole place is run by Al Swearengen from his saloon.
What’s the Problem?
Deadwood is good. Very good. If you like series’ with diverse and conflicting characters, where no one is the Good Guy and no issue is black and white. The shades of grey are where this series exists and thrives.
There is none. Unlike pretty much every other TV series (specifically shorter-season or plot-driven ones like True Blood, Burn Notice, Dollhouse), Deadwood isn’t going anywhere in particular. Since there’s no big baddie, there’s nothing for the season to build toward at the end.
Partway through, you think perhaps the rival saloon that just opened up will be the highpoint of tension, but it isn’t. Soon Swearengen learns to get along with them for the most part. Then you think it might be the brewing war with the Chinese in the camp, but this, again, simmers down to nothing. Perhaps it will be the romance between Bullock and Garret? Maybe something to do with her father and her gold claim? Or…
Well, you get the point. There are a lot of stories here that could have been fashioned into a strong, dramatic season-ender. Instead they’re all dealt with individually. Even the challenge to the camp’s very existence is dealt with and left behind quickly.
Two characters, a brother and sister, are introduced in about episode eight. Turns out their thieves who are on a con. They’re both killed the next episode.
Sorry. Were you expecting these new characters we just introduced toward the end of the season to have some bearing on… anything at all? You’re looking in the wrong show, friend.
For a show set in the wild west, people rarely get shot. For a town with no formal law or government, it’s a fairly tidy place.
That said, Swearengen runs a tight ship of the place so there isn’t much room for Mexican standoffs or quick-draw fights (and putting them in would have looked as awkward and cliche as a bar fight), but it’s still a surprise to have a show where everyone wears a gun and (to my recollection) four shots are fired on-screen and one off-screen across the twelve episodes. That leaves a lot of time for talking.
Swearengen certainly lives up to his name. This is no kid’s show. And while it gives the show an air of authenticity, after a while you sort of wish the show could go five minutes without calling someone a cocksucker.
Balance that against the quality of the writing, though, and it’s a good deal. Every character has their own motivations and drives and weaknesses, but they’re all thinking all the time. You don’t see characters getting away with bullshitting one another; everyone knows tha this is a dog-eat-dog town and they’re onguard for being manipulated or lied-to and quickly see through it. That sometimes ruins what might have become bigger story arcs, but it’s worth it to see a show that isn’t populated by utter morons.
No One Kills Swearengen
Not that I want him to die. Far from it; he’s interesting. But pretty much everyone has reason to at one point or another, but no one tries to kill him. Most of the time, Swearengen has them killed. So if they have nothing to lose, why does no one even attempt to shoot Swearengen? That’s a question the series never answers, and it leaves me with the feeling that the reason was “You can’t kill him because he’s one of the main characters”. But if you have all these people that should want him dead and none of them try, you’re betraying your characters right there.
Set on Earth
Perhaps a minor point, but this isn’t Firefly. Old West + Space > Old West alone. Just sayin’.
If you’re into the old west, or dramas, yeah.
Just be aware that the story doesn’t really “go” anywhere. You need to be able to enjoy it for the ride and the characters, not for the Big Story. Still, it’s interesting and different and very well made so that ain’t hard.