Suspense (Not)

by wjw on October 17, 2007

As I mentioned over here, I’ve been watching Season Three of Deadwood. Which I have now completed, so consider this a great big

spoiler warning!

. . . tick

. . . tick

. . . tick

What an unfortunate season! The episodes were filled with wonderful writing, terrific production values, and first-rate actors, but Milch neglected to equip his series with more than three or four episodes’ worth of plot. Most of the episodes consisted of filler, in which very fine actors were given ample scope for excellent performances, but which amounted to little more than a long, long stall till the final episode.

As I mentioned in my earlier screed, the series was building to a bloody confrontation between the evil George Hearst (and his army of well-armed lackeys) and the (taken as a whole) somewhat less evil forces of Al Swearengen, Seth Bullock, &Co. And as I also remarked, there was no way that Milch could deliver on the promised confrontation, for the simple reason that just about everyone in the cast is a historical character, and history shows us that none of them died in a spectacular shoot-out in the streets of Deadwood in the 1870s.

So I experienced considerable suspense wondering how Milch and his cohorts were going to provide a satisfactory ending for the season, given that the confrontation he promised was going to fizzle.

The fizzle was about all there was.

In short: Hearst wins. Not that this isn’t a valid, if depressing, finale. Hearst did purchase the Homestake Mine and live happily ever after. But in Milch’s fictional Deadwood this ending was achieved only by having several of the regular cast betray their well-established characters.

Bear in mind that Hearst was clumping around Deadwood for the entire season, frequently watching the goings-on in the street from his balcony opposite Swearengen’s Gem Saloon. Bear in mind that he is portrayed as a dispicable character, a cowardly sociopath who commits his murders by proxy. (Even his own hirelings loathe him.) Bear in mind that even if law-abiding characters like Bullock and Charlie Utter might have shied away from assassinating a bad guy, folks like Swearengen and his cohorts would not. In fact assassination is more or less in a day’s work for them.

One shot and all the evil that Hearst was perpetrating would end, at least until the next tycoon came to town. Yet no one fired a shot. Swearengen kept restraining his troops till the end, for no damn reason that I could see— and this after Hearst hacked off Swearengen’s finger, just for the pleasure of it. And Alma seemed for the entire season to forget that she was extremely wealthy and could hire her very own army— at least until the last episode, when she had to explain that if she hired her own army she’d have to leave Deadwood to do so, and she wanted to stay in town, where she and her daughter were helpless against the wickedness that Hearst was perpetrating.

(Technically speaking, this is the informal fallacy of the false dilemma, a dilemma created by the show’s writers for artificial reasons totally connected with the way they wanted the season to end, and disregarding all sense and reality.)

In fact, in order to produce the series ending, the characters not only had to betray their own characters, but their own intelligence. Practically everyone in the series took a stupid pill before stepping before the camera.

After this mess of a season, HBO was probably right to cancel the series. The great season of Deadwood was the first, and the second coasted along on the strength of the first. The third was a shambles.

Sad. I had such hopes for something clever.

What should I be watching to make myself feel better?

Elio October 17, 2007 at 7:56 am

I thought the reason assassinating Hearst was rejected was that the storm it’d bring down on Deadwood was worse than finding some other, less dramatic means of foiling him. The possible arrival of Pinkertons to investigate the death of Alma’s husband was something that was already shown as a major concern of Swearengen’s, and the reaction to Hearst’s murder would have been much, much worse. Hearst had the Army in his pocket, for one thing.

I do agree that Alma’s reasons for acting as she did was a little dodgy, but then she just had the trauma of Ellsworth’s death to distract her.

Anonymous October 17, 2007 at 11:00 am

Also, if they assassinated him, as he lay dying on the bloody muddy streets of Deadwood, he would gasp through the bubbles of blood coming from his mouth, and then in the next season they would all have to go on a quest to find out what the hell the c— meant when he said, “Rosebud”.

Joseph T Major

mazianni October 17, 2007 at 12:42 pm

I seem to recall reading somewhere that Milch wasn’t really into the third season because he was already working on something else for HBO.

There was fan outcry at the way the show ended and HBO promised two movies to wrap things up. I remember reading at the time that Milch wasn’t really onboard but HBO convinced him to do it.

A few weeks ago I saw an excerpt of an interview with Ian McShane saying that he’d been told by a friend that the movies were dead and the sets had been packed.

As for what to watch now, I’d have to recommend shows that aren’t on the air anymore. HBO’s Carnivale or Showtime’s Odyssey 5. Oh, hey! Heroes new season started…

xardoz October 17, 2007 at 5:15 pm

It could have been such a great series. I, too, was disappointed.

As what to watch now, try Firefly.

Yes, I’m a Browncoat. What? I can’t be a Browncoat and a WJW fan?

S.M. Stirling October 17, 2007 at 5:42 pm

“As what to watch now, try Firefly.’

The neo-Confederate nostalgia in “Firefly” was a bit much for me. They were the BAD GUYS.

Kelly October 17, 2007 at 5:59 pm

The whole Hearst subplot just never worked for me. I never bought it.

There’s some recent costume drama miniseries you might enjoy — Daniel Deronda and The Forsyte Saga. And you’ve probably long been all over the Sharpe TV movies, haven’t you?

dubjay October 17, 2007 at 7:11 pm

I’ve seen Firefly. Liked it well enough, but it wasn’t Buffy.

And I saw the recent Forsythe saga, and Damian Lewis’ performance as Soames did not contrast well with Eric Porter’s in the earlier version, and I lost interest. Lewis’ Soames was just such an unpleasant person to follow around that I stopped following him. (I liked Lewis in Band of Brothers, though.)

I still can’t see the downside to assassinating Hearst. He may own the army, but he can’t pay them from the afterlife. Likewise, the Pinkertons only work for live people. I suppose Hearst’s syndicate could send some evil bastard in to look after their interests, but it’s hard to picture that guy being any worse than Hearst.

dubjay October 17, 2007 at 7:30 pm

Another problem with Deadwood was that the series had far too many characters for the story to service. No one had anything for Joanie Stubbs to do except try to turn Martha Jane Cannary lesbian, a rather silly idea (well, okay, she =was= a cross-dresser).

John Langrishe showed up with his entire theater company, but never got to really do anything, a waste of Brian Cox. The series also wasted Powers Booth in the third season. Martha Bullock never got to do anything other than be soft-spoken and repressed.

Plus, some of the real-life characters were ill-served by the series in general. Colorado Charlie Utter was, in reality, a fairly interesting guy. He was a sharp, extravagant dresser who insisted on taking a bath every day— which was such an unusual thing to do in that place and time that people crowded around to watch. And he hunted down Jack McCall after Hickok’s death, and saw him hanged. You could get some good television out of this guy.

I’ve started watching “Entourage.” It’s about stupid young guys behaving badly, which can be wearing, but since it’s about stupid young =Hollywood= guys, I can spend my time feeling superior.

halojones-fan October 18, 2007 at 1:24 am

You should watch:
Black Lagoon
Cowboy Bebop
Armored Trooper VOTOMS
Azumanga Daioh

Mathew October 18, 2007 at 2:18 pm

was about to recommend “Entourage”….but your alaready there.
My favorite activity with Entorage is trying to match up the fictional characters with their real-life Hollywood counterparts, based on the portrayed erratic behavior 😉

Kelly October 18, 2007 at 5:16 pm

Damian Lewis is doing a terrific job in his new copTV series Life. I think you might like it.

Foxessa October 18, 2007 at 10:46 pm

I could tell early on that there weren’t enough episodes left to tie up anything properly.

There were supposed to be 2, 3-hour, HBO Deadwood ‘movies to make up for the cancellation of season 4. But I’m hearing that isn’t going to happen either, because Milch isn’t interested anymore and neither is HBO. However, as I am not a Hollywood insider, I can’t vouch for such a rumor. And then there’s the writers’ strike — though they say that won’t affect cable networks much or not at all.

I am thinking of dropping netflix.

Now that I’ve seen second set of Robin of Sherwood and Netflix want me to wait for ever for the first disc in the Dance to the Music of Time series*, I’m all caught up with television for a while, until a new backlog of terrific stuff builds up.*

*I can get Dance from the library faster.

Love, C.

Bruce October 19, 2007 at 4:21 am

I’ve been enjoying the Canadian series SLINGS & ARROWS, set in a modern-day Shakespearean acting company.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post:

Contact Us | Terms of User | Trademarks | Privacy Statement

Copyright © 2010 WJW. All Rights Reserved.