Television review

A poignant return and farewell to ‘Deadwood’

Timothy Olyphant (second from left), John Hawkes (right) in “Deadwood: The Movie.”
Timothy Olyphant (second from left), John Hawkes (right) in “Deadwood: The Movie.”Warrick Page/HBO/HBO

Every series deserves an ending, especially a brilliantly written series that’s filled with indelible characters and that serves as a sepia-toned allegory of America. In the case of “Deadwood,” it took 13 long years for creator David Milch and HBO to get down to business, but at last the end has arrived; the other bookend has been put into place. “Deadwood: The Movie” is here on Friday at 8 p.m., and it’s stocked up with expletives, booze, mud, blood, and hungry hogs, just as you might hope.

The movie serves as a lovely farewell to Milch’s show, which found Shakespearean grandeur in the rough South Dakota terrain of the 1870s, among a population dominated by rough characters. It jumps ahead a decade, to the celebration in Deadwood of South Dakota’s entrance into the Union. Many members of the original cast have returned to give us a sense of wind-down, most notably Ian McShane as saloon owner and smooth talker Al Swearengen, now looking like a man resigned to entering his final chapter. We learn early on that Al’s sickly appearance is not just another bout of kidney stones. “You went somewhat wrong with your liver, Al,” Brad Dourif’s Doc Cochran tells him.


Timothy Olyphant is also back as Seth Bullock, a bit more settled down now but no less drawn to justice — as well as to Molly Parker’s Alma Garret. The former lovers exchange some heavy eye contact, despite the presence of Seth’s wife, Anna Gunn’s Martha. Robin Weigert returns as Calamity Jane, as drunken and emotional as ever, still in love with Kim Dickens’s Joanie. Paula Malcomson is here as the prostitute Trixie, Al’s favorite, who is supposed to be dead if Gerald McRaney’s George Hearst asks. Also back: Dayton Callie as Charlie Utter, William Sanderson as E.B. Farnum, and John Hawkes as Sol Star.

The story line of “Deadwood: The Movie” is nothing much, really; it comes off like an arc you might have found in a pair of regular episodes. There is a funeral, and there is a wedding. But the steadily bittersweet tone of the movie — and, to some extent, the lack of plot complexity — make it work. You can feel Milch, along with director Daniel Minahan, cloaking everything in a sense of closure, providing us with telling final glimpses of all the characters. It’s not sentimental so much as poignant. By the way, you can certainly follow along if you haven’t watched the series; it’s all self-explanatory, and in a few places Minahan inserts flashbacks for clarity. But the movie works best as the cap on an unforgettable piece of work.


The language of the movie, too, is rewarding. Milch is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (which adds pathos to everything) but his writing style is intact here. We get a full dose of Milch’s chunky sentences that shouldn’t work on screen but do. They’re funny, cruel, simultaneously broad and specific, and, in a way that is becoming increasingly rare, completely original.


Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Robin Weigert, Kim Dickens, Molly Parker, John Hawkes, Brad Dourif, William Sanderson, Anna Gunn, Paula Malcomson, Gerald McRaney

On: HBO, Friday at 8 p.m.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.