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Deadwood: The Complete Series

HBO // Unrated // December 9, 2008
List Price: $179.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jeffrey Robinson | posted December 14, 2008 | E-mail the Author

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Packaging
3. Season 1 Mini-Review
4. Season 2 Mini-Review
5. Season 3 Mini-Review
6. Complete Series Bonus Features DVD
7. Video/Audio
8. Final Thoughts


Home Box Office's (HBO) Deadwood is a television drama about a lawless camp of Deadwood turning into a bona fide township. Its initial run took place from 2004 to 2006, completing three seasons and thirty-six episodes (twelve per season). It was created by David Milch, who is best known for his work on NYPD Blue as co-creator, co-executive producer, and writer. Deadwood, like many other HBO series, was well received by viewers. However, not quite to the same degree as The Wire, The Soporanos, or Six Feet Under. Nevertheless, Deadwood is a strong drama with excellent acting performances, superb writing, enticing storylines, and drama at every corner.

As earlier mentioned, Deadwood is about the lawless camp of Deadwood. It was formed because many gold prospectors were striking it rich in the local area. Deadwood offered prospectors a place to relax and spend their money on booze, women, and gambling. The show takes place from 1876 to 1877. In the series' first season, Deadwood is a place with no law or rules. It is not recognized by the United States. Men and women flock to Deadwood with one thought in mind, to strike it rich. In Deadwood, there is gold prospecting, prostitution, drugs, gambling, and violence at every turn. As the first season progresses, politics play a critical role as Deadwood is annexed into the United States and becomes part of the Dakota territories, which slightly changes the way people do business. Nevertheless, as seasons two and three continue, the problems faced by the Deadwood citizens are consistent with violence and drama.

What really works for Deadwood is its entirety. At face value, it is a violent and vulgar show. People are frequently killed in grotesque fashions, engaged in sexual activities, and some characters use strong profanity almost every other word. The fact is that these aspects detail the roughness of the times and the individuals -- when prostitution was legal and men with power would do anything to appease their greed. Underneath the violence and vulgar language, Deadwood has solid writing and acting performance. As different aspects of the community work together and against each other to suit their own needs, complex storylines are interwoven that develops individual characters, their relationships, and key plotlines in a compelling manner. It is simply done very well.

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Deadwood: The Complete Series consists of the series' three seasons and an exclusive bonus DVD (total of nineteen DVDs) in a compact custom package. The package is slightly larger than three standard DVD cases (three DVD cases fit into the outer shell perfectly). The package has an outer shell and it houses a cardboard booklet. Each page in the booklet has a cardboard sleeve that holds a DVD. The pages have various pictures and quotes and list the contents of the DVD. Like many DVD complete series releases that use cardboard sleeves to store DVDs, there will be some scratching when taking the DVDs in and out. I noticed minor scratches on a few disks after having removed the discs a couple times.

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Season One
click here for the full season review

The Mini Review

Deadwood's first season focuses on Deadwood's early days that slowly lead to its annexation into the United States. Along the way, there are several developments with new faces in the camp. Prior to season one, Al Swearengen (Ian Mcshane) was the unofficial leader of Deadwood. He runs the Gem Saloon, which caters to locals in booze, gambling, and women. He is an ambitious man with no remorse and would kill in an instant if he thought it would benefit him. (In fact, he does just that on several occasions.) Swearengen's position starts to change when a few new faces come into town.

Seth Bullock (Tim Olyphant) and Sol Star (John Hawkes) arrive in Deadwood to open a hardware store. Their arrival is looked upon with disdain, as Bullock is a former marshal. Deadwood is a lawless place; so, Swearengen and other locals are skeptical about his intentions. Bullock's development as a character is critical throughout the series, as he becomes deeply involved in the Deadwood community, leading the charge for "good" in the lawless, ruthless camp. His development really shines when meeting Wild Bill Hickock (Keith Carradine), a renowned gunslinger, and his friends Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie) and Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert). Hickock and Bullock strike an unconventional friendship, which is an interesting development. They save a young girl named Sophia, whose family was slaughtered by road agents posing as "savage" locals and help New York socialite Alma Garrett (Molly Parker) handle her late husband's gold claim.

As for the rest of the season, there are a number of other developments. Some of the highlights include the arrival of Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe) who opens a competing business to Swearengen, the local community forming an ad-hoc government in preparation of annexation into the United States, Swearengen manipulating corrupt politicians, Reverend Smith (Ray McKinnon) trying to bring God into lives of the corrupt, as well as losing his mind, local doctor Amos Cochran (Brad Dourif) and the local community dealing with an outbreak of small poxes, Swearengen trying to balance his relationship between Chinese drug dealer Mr. Wu (Keone Young) and the "white" community after a murder occurs, and Bullock's path towards becoming the Deadwood Sheriff.

Overall, Deadwood's first season is a very successful endeavor. There are a lot of strong qualities that include a superb cast, excellent writing, engaging and complex storylines, and solid character development. The only problem is that sometimes it can get a little too complex. The ensemble cast is very large with new developments and key moments at every turn. Despite, the series still does a pretty good job handling all of the different threads and ties them together as necessary. In the end, Deadwood's first season is a must.

Bonus Features

  • Audio Commentaries: are included for episodes "Deadwood" with David Milch, "Here Was A Man" with Molly Parker and Keith Carradine, "The Trial of Jack McCall" with Brad Dourif and Robin Weigert, and "Sold Under Sin" with Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant.
  • Making Deadwood: The Show Behind The Show (13:31): is a behind the scenes featurette with cast and crew about the creation of Deadwood's first season. It opens with an overview of Deadwood and follows with a discussion about the show's premise, characters, and storylines. After about nine minutes into the featurette, the discussion changes to looking at behind the scenes aspects (production, filming, directing, etc.) The featurette stars cast and crew members David Milch, Gregg Feinberg, Davis Guggenheim, Scott Stephens, Maria Caso, Katherine Jane Bryant, John Rizzo, James Glennon, Tim Olyphant, John Hawkes, Ian McShane, Paula Malcomson, Keith Carradine, Robin Weigert, Molly Parker, Brad Dourif, Powers Boothe, Leon Rippy, and William Sanderson.
  • The Real Deadwood (25:26): is a historical short about the real Deadwood. It includes experts on the subject such as Elizabeth Cook-Lynn (Eastern Washington University), David Wolff (Black Hills State University), Jerry L. Bryant (Adams Museum & House), and Mary A. Kopco (Adams Museum & House). David Milch, Keith Carradine, John Hawkes, Tim Olyphant, Ian McShane, Paula Malcomson, and Robin Weigert also make appearances.
  • The New Language Of The Old West (29:47): is a conversation with David Milch and Keith Carradine about the essence of language in Deadwood. Powers Boothe, Paula Malcomson, Gregg Fienberg, Davis Guggenheim, and Scott Stevens also make appearances.
  • An Imaginative Reality (27:48): is a discussion with David Milch and Keith Carradine about the melding of historical and fictional characters. John Hawkes, Tim Olyphant, Paula Malcomson, Molly Parker, Powers Boothe, Ian McShane, and Keith Carradine also make brief appearances in the opening.

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Season Two
click here for the full season review

The Mini Review

Thanks to Swearengen's manipulation of local politics, the community is on track to enter the United States. To that end, Swearengen continues to work with his newly bought agent Silas Adams (Titus Welliver) to understand the affects of Deadwood's annexation to his business interests. Adams brings him news that his interests are in jeopardy, as Yankton politicians consider what territorial control Deadwood will fall under. Throughout the season, this issue is of great concern, but one of many storylines addressed.

At the beginning of season two, Bullock's wife Martha (Anna Gunn) and son William arrive at the camp. Bullock's marriage was not for love. Her first husband was Bullock's brother, who passed away. Bullock married her out of duty to his late brother. Since his arrival in Deadwood, he developed an intimate relationship with Alma Garrett. They contemplate running away together, but decide it is best to try to keep it professional. This storyline includes a pretty exciting fight between Bullock and Swearengen, which almost ends with a showdown. Also early in the season, Francis Wolcott (Garret Dillahunt) appears in Deadwood. He works on behalf of George Hearst. Wolcott's primary job is to assess the value of gold claims and determine if his employer should take control. He uses dirty tactics to bully others out of their claims. He works with Tolliver and County Commissioner Jarry to do just that. He is a twisted individual and has dark desires, which involve violent sex, greed, and the occasional murder.

As the season continues, the events continue with more greed and violence. Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens) opens the Chez Amis, an upscale brothel, and tries to maintain her distance from former employer Tolliver, who is reluctant to let go, Charlie Utter starts a mail and freight business, Alice Isringhausen (Sarah Paulson) is hired by Alma to tutor Sophia, but she has other intentions, Alma accepts a marriage proposal from her gold claim supervisor Ellsworth (Jim Beaver) despite her feelings for Bullock, Star teaches Trixie about accounting and has an awkward relationship with her, Bullock, Star, and Alma open a bank, and George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) arrives in Deadwood.

Overall, Deadwood's second season continues to be a thrilling escapade with a few new faces and lots of new drama for the entire community to deal with. The series' strengths (writing, acting, storylines, character development, etc.) continue to be well-done and well-executed. Fans of the series will definitively want to see how the season two events unfold, as the murders, the cheating, the lying, and the scheming continue in Deadwood.

Bonus Features

  • Audio Commentaries: are included for episodes "A Lie Agreed Upon, Part 1" with Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane, "A Lie Agreed Upon, Part 1" with Molly Parker and Anna Gunn, "New Money" with David Milch, "Complications" with Gregg Feinberg, "E.B. Was Left Out" with Kim Dickens, William Sanderson, and Dayton Callie, "E.B. Was Left Out" with Powers Boothe and Garret Dillahunt, "Advances, None Miraculous" with John Hawkes and Paula Malcomson, "The Whores Can Come" with Tim Olyphant and Anna Gunn, and "The Whores Can Come" with Ian McShane and Paula Malcomson.
  • The Real Deadwood: 1877 - Historical Featurette (21:25): is another historical short about the real Deadwood. It includes the same experts from the season one featurette Elizabeth Cook-Lynn (Eastern Washington University), David Wolff (Black Hills State University), Jerry L. Bryant (Adams Museum & House), and Mary A. Kopco (Adams Museum & House). Two new experts make appearances; they are Rose Estep Fosha (South Dakota State Historical Society) and Anne M. Butler (Utah State University). Cast and crew members Keone Young and David Milch also make brief appearances.
  • Making of Episode 12 "Boy The Earth Talks To": is a three part featurette about different aspects of putting together the second season finale. They include "Trusting The Process with David Milch" (27:19), "Mr. Wu Proves Out" (21:47), and "The Wedding Celebration" (21:31).
  • Deadwood Daguerreotypes: is a photo gallery of historic Deadwood shots and character shots.

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Season Three
click here for the full season review

The Mini Review

Season three is Deadwood's final season. It has several new happenings in the camp, as well as major shifts in political dynamics. George Hearst, who arrived at the end of season two, manipulates the key players in the camp. Hearst, like his henchman Wolcott, is not a good guy. He is more powerful than Swearengen and Tolliver combined and enacts a few nasty plans to keep his newfound interests in Deadwood. As season two unfolds, he has control of all the valuable gold claims in the area -- except for Alma's. He continues to press her to get control of it, which eventually turns violent. In addition, he does some devious things to miners in his claims when they try to form a union. This story arc proves to be very interesting, especially when Bullock and Swearengen team up.

In the early part of the season, Deadwood prepares for their first real election. E.B. Farnum (William Sanderson) and Sol Star run against each other for the office of mayor. Meanwhile, Bullock and Harry Manning compete for the post of Sheriff. However, the elections are postponed when the local politics of greed get in the way. The election is an interesting piece; especially how it shows Deadwood's growth (or perhaps lack of) from lawless to "lawful".

As for other developments, Alma's pregnancy undergoes complications, Tolliver recovers from being stabbed, Trixie rubs Hearst the wrong way and he forces Swearengen to take her life or face his wraith, Wu enlists Swearengen's help to take over the Chinese underground element from Hearst's man Lee, Joanie comteplates what is important in life and strikes a friendship with Jane, John Langrishe arrives in Deadwood to start a theater, Farnum sells his hotel to Hearst and is put out in the cold by Swearengen, Hearst brings the Pinkertons into Deadwood to stir things up, Wyatt and Morgan Earp have a short stay in Deadwood, and more.

Overall, Deadwood's third and final season is another compelling sequence of events, which focus on the continued corruption of the recently formed township of Deadwood into the United States. At every corner, Hearst has his hand in everything. There are some great plots involving Swearengen, Bullock, Tolliver, and the rest of the community as Hearst attempts to manipulate everyone and everything for his own purposes. As it unfolds, it is apparent that Deadwood is still Deadwood. Fans of the series will appreciate this final season, albeit they may want more when it ends. It continues to have stellar qualities like its first two seasons.

Bonus Features

  • Audio Commentaries: are included for episodes "Tell Your God To Ready For Blood" with Gregg Feinberg and Mark Tinker, "A Two-Headed Beast" with Jim Beaver, Sean Bridgers, and W. Earl Brown, "Amateur Night" with Robin Weigert, and "Tell Him Something Pretty" with David Milch.
  • Deadwood Matures (20:21): is another historical featurette about Deadwood. It focuses on the camp as it matured into a township. The topics included are about elections/campaigning, the school, the theater, and related aspects of the topics. Similar experts from seasons one and two appear.
  • The Education of Swearengen and Bullock (20:21): is an interview featurette with cast and crew discussing the relationship between the show's two most important characters.
  • Deadwood Daguerrotypes: is a photo gallery of historic Deadwood shots.

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Complete Series Bonus Features DVD

Deadwood: The Complete Series comes with an exclusive bonus DVD of new special features not found in the individual releases. There is approximately two hours of new content. However, the only must see extra is "The Meaning of Endings: David Milch on the Conclusion of Deadwood", where creator/executive producer David Milch talks about what could have been if Deadwood continued.

  • The Meaning of Endings: David Milch on the Conclusion of Deadwood (22:46): Deadwood was not renewed after its third season and there were discussions between creator/executive producer David Milch and HBO to do a couple movies. As timed passed, there were no indications the movies would go forward, which Milch admits to in the featurette's opening. So, he discusses possible future storylines and developments for Deadwood if it had been allowed to continue on. By far, this featurette is the most interesting for fans of the show.
  • The Real Deadwood: Out of the Ashes (29:16): is another historical-oriented featurette with three individuals who appeared on the individual season DVD releases: David Wolff (Black Hills State University), Jerry L. Bryant (Adams Museum & House), and Mary A. Kopco (Adams Museum & House). They talk about some of the historical aspects of Deadwood and how it came formed from nothing. There is also discussion of modern Deadwood and how its past is celebrated.
  • Q&A With Cast and Creative Team (1:03:26): is an hour long featurette of select cast and crew participating in a question and answer about the show at the William S. Paley Television Festival at the Paley Center For Media on March 16, 2005. The lineup includes John Hawkes (Sol Star), Powers Boothe (Cy Tolliver), Garret Dillahunt (Jack McCall/Francis Wolcott), Gregg Fienberg (co-executive producer), Paula Malcomson (Trixie), Anna Gunn (Martha Bullock), Ian McShane (Al Swearengen), David Milch (creator/executive producer), Timothy Olyphant (Seth Bullock), Molly Parker (Alma Garret), Carolyn Strauss (president, HBO Entertainment), and Robin Weigert (Calamity Jane).
  • Deadwood 360 Tour (7:34): is a short behind the scenes featurette about the Deadwood set with Tim Olyphant, Robin Weingert, Paula Malcomson, John Hawkes, Powers Boothe, Ian McShane, David Milch, Emily Frasier, Mark Tinker, Maris Caso, Gregg Feinberg, Sean Bridges, Brian Dourif, Karen Holley, and Kim Dickens.
  • Al Swearengen Audition Reel (10:11): is Titus Welliver (who played Silas Adams) and David Milch performing (poorly I might add) as Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Robert Duvall, and Robert De Niro talking about the character Al Swearengen.

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The video in this release is given in anamorphic 1.78:1 ratio widescreen color. The picture quality is generally good with detail looking sharp and no problems with colors. However it does have a slight grain, which is more noticeable during darker scenes and on larger television screens.

The audio track in this release is in English 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound. There are also tracks in English 2.0 surround sound and dubbed Spanish & French 2.0 stereo sound. The sound quality is topnotch and delivers a strong an audible experience by taking advantage of the 5.1 setup. The dialogue is easy to hear over background music and sounds effects. Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.

Note that season three does not include the English 2.0 surround sound audio track.

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Final Thoughts:
Deadwood is a compelling television drama about a ruthless, lawless camp turning into a bona fide township, which is known in the history books as Deadwood. During this transition period of 1876 to 1877, the self-proclaimed leaders of Deadwood murder, cheat, lie, steal, scheme, and whatever else they need to keep their interests. While the show has a rough context, complete with vulgar dialogue, it is rich in all aspects. Deadwood offers compelling acting performances with a large ensemble cast. The characters' individual developments and relationships make them feel like real characters that are easy to connect with and understand what drives them to do what they do. Overall, Deadwood tells an exciting and exhilarating tale about the camp's transitions and the ruthlessness of those in power, as well as a few good guys who against their best interests make the right decisions. It is a solid drama.

As for the Deadwood: The Complete Series collection, if you do not own all of the season sets, then this set is a great way to pick up all the seasons. Also, the compact packaging is nice, as it will save a lot of space on the shelf. However, if you already own the season sets, then there is not a big reason to double dip. The compact packaging is nice and the exclusive bonus DVD has some decent extras. However, the only must-see extra is "The Meaning of Endings", which has David Milch talking about what he had intended for the show's future. While good, it is not worth double-dipping.

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