The first thing you need to know about Deadwood: The Movie is that Timothy Olyphant's giant, bushy mustache is the real deal. The second thing you need to know about Deadwood: The Movie is that it is an emotionally satisfying follow-up that provides a sense of closure for most of the significant relationships that came to define Deadwood over its run, yet it also invites you to stick around to find out what happens next. And the third thing you need to know about Deadwood: The Movie is that you don't need to have seen the series, which ran on HBO from 2004 to 2006, to enjoy it.
The film, which makes use of flashbacks to pivotal moments in the series with varying degrees of success, picks up 10 years after the events of the Season 3 finale. South Dakota has recently achieved statehood, and the show wastes no time (re)introducing us to the men and women who populate the mining town, including Olyphant's angry U.S. Marshal Seth Bullock, Ian McShane's foul-mouthed saloon owner Al Swearengen, Robin Weigert's scene-stealing Calamity Jane, and Dayton Callie's loyal Charlie Utter. From the very first line of dialogue, spoken by Jane as she returns to the camp, you're transported back to the muddied streets of Deadwood, which has prospered and evolved in the years since we last saw it — there are telephone poles! Bullock and his partner, Sol Star (John Hawkes), own a hotel now! — but if you close your eyes, it's incredibly easy to imagine that no time has passed at all too.
George Hearst's (Gerald McRaney) return to Deadwood for the statehood celebration reignites long-simmering tensions, both with an aging Al and with Bullock, who is more settled and content now — he and Martha (Anna Gunn) have three children — but still vibrates with thinly concealed rage. Without saying too much, Hearst's arrival sets off a series of events that brings out the best and the worst in everyone, including the recently returned Alma (Molly Parker), as he attempts to force further progress on the reluctant people of Deadwood.
But it's not all threatening conversations between enemies. Sol and Trixie (Paula Malcomson) are still together, Jane is hoping to rekindle her relationship with Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens), and Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif) is still the best at being the best. Deadwood is still Deadwood in all the ways that matter, basically, and that's because creator David Milch's writing is as strong and vibrant and captivating as ever. It remains the blood that pulses through the veins of the show, bringing everything to vivid life, and knowing that Milch has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's makes all of this a little bittersweet. Because there is no Deadwood without Milch. This movie, which had been the subject of rumors almost since the show was canceled in 2006, could not have happened without him. And I don't think anyone who loved Deadwood would have wanted it to happen without him.
A show like Deadwood is something of a rarity today, where television is often created with binge-watching in mind. So many writers are concerned with keeping viewers invested that the art of storytelling gets lost. Pacing can turn frantic or nonsensical and major plot developments will often occur in every episode so viewers are blinded by the spectacle, not realizing there's little of actual substance. Writers do this so viewers hit the button for the next episode immediately after the credits start to roll. But Deadwood was never like that, because Deadwood was never really about the plot. And the movie isn't really either.
Milch has effortlessly packed many deeply moving character moments into just a short amount of time — every character shines in the hour-and-50-minute film — and as I watched the movie, I was reminded of why Deadwood is one of the greatest shows in TV history. A violent exploration of the law coming to a lawless town, the Western was at its best when the frequently tense relationships, alliances, and feuds that existed between the people of the camp were being prodded and examined through this lens. It was a fairly dense series, and not remotely made for bingeing. It is a show that demands your full attention, which can't be said about a lot of TV these days, and that's because Milch's writing is a kind of poetry. It is meant to be sipped and savored. The show begs viewers to put down their phones for a while and just engage with what's happening on-screen. And the film operates exactly the same way. It's so good and so satisfying that it's worth diving back into this brutal, expletive-laden world headfirst and without distraction. Just trust me when I say that you won't want to miss a single moment of the rare gift we've been given, because like the show, Deadwood: The Movie will also be gone too soon.
Deadwood: The Movie premieres Friday, May 31 at 8/7c on HBO.