In fighting off waves of melancholy over Deadwood’s premature demise (HBO and creator David Milch will wrap things up with a couple of TV movies), it’s helpful to reflect on the improbability of the show’s existence. Poised to enter its third season as a modest hit, and riding a wave of critical admiration, the series has flourished amidst inhospitable conditions. A densely plotted serial belonging to the least popular of genres, the western, Deadwood owes as large a debt to high school civics class as it does to the shoot-out at the OK Corral. With its pug-face character actors, horseshit-speckled costumes, convoluted dialogue and the foulest disposition you’re likely to find outside of the local drunk tank, the show is what you’d charitably call “an acquired taste.”
What’s so remarkable about the show is not just way it’s forced an audience accustomed to spoon-feeding to surmount its own prejudices, but the fact that it continues to do so in astoundingly break-neck, Byzantine ways. While network mates (both deceased and soon to be) Carnivàle and The Sopranos leisurely genuflect over the comings and goings which shape the world around them, Deadwood lays down track scarcely before it rolls over it, leaving the flat footed choking on its dust. Like the mayfly, a season of Deadwood has a very short lifespan—typically a matter of weeks. But oh, the things it accomplishes in that time.