Why'd they [spoiler] in the last episode of Deadwood?
April 18, 2007 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Did I miss something in the last episode of Deadwood? (spoilers galore)

I recently re-watched the third-season finale of Deadwood, and once again I found it one of the most frustrating episodes of a show I've ever watched. This isn't a sucks, amirite question, though. I really want to know if I missed something, or is this really what happened:

1. Trixie shoots Hearst
2. Hearst wants revenge
3. Al, Bullock and Star are afraid of Hearst, so out of cowardice they murder an innocent woman to play body double for Trixie, who they like.
4. Hearst buys it, so Al, Bullock and Star get to live another day without fighting -- hey, thanks woman they butchered!

Again, up until the third season Deadwood was one of my favorite shows, so this isn't a plea for you guys to agree with me -- I'd like someone to redeem the show for me. (I have a lot of other complaints about the season, but that's another story). I just really want to know if other people drew different interpretations of the event than I did. (I realize that there's moral ambiguity in the show, and that Al is very much an anti-hero, but I was just shocked that Bullock and Star went along with a plan that involved slitting the throat of an innocent woman. Even under high duress, it seemed very out of character).
posted by Bookhouse to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I think the big problem is that they built it up to the brink of war between hearst and the camp, but then two things happened:

1) The show got cancelled, so they needed to tie things up nice and quick.

2) The show tries not to stray too far from history, and a war never happened.

I haven't talked to anybody that wasn't disappointed with the last episode. It's obvious they just stopped caring.
posted by AaRdVarK at 1:14 PM on April 18, 2007

The choice was find a scapegoat for Hearst or find their town razed to the ground. They were preparing for a war that would likely leave Deadwood in ashes.
posted by mzurer at 1:25 PM on April 18, 2007

I think you interpreted it correctly.

I was disappointed that the show was cancelled, but I didn't feel like the quality declined at all. Al mopping the blood off his floor was a fine parting shot.
posted by zebra3 at 1:27 PM on April 18, 2007

I think Bullock went along with it, because towards the end of the season he began to believe that the town was bigger than himself, and that a war with Hearst would certainly destroy those he is duty-bound to protect, including his wife. He felt that the sacrifice of his own seemingly immutable moral code — as well as sacrificing an innocent — was necessary for the greater good.

At first sight, I agreed with you. But on reflection of what the show is about over three seasons — namely, how an ordered society evolves out of the violence and muck of a collection of raw, free, animal, purely Rousseauian archetypes — the ending seems indeed quite fitting.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:49 PM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

According to a tv.com interview (via wikipedia), they may be making two feature-length shows to wrap up some stuff, so you could have a second and third opportunity to be disappointed by the finale.
posted by one_bean at 1:49 PM on April 18, 2007

Television Without Pity recap. Swearengen killed Jen, who was Johnny's favorite girl at the Gem. (He told Johnny to kill her, but Johnny wasn't able to.)
And thus we've come to the final scene. Al's working out his demons on the bloodstains when Johnny comes in, long in the face. "Did she suffer?" he asks his suffering boss. Al stops scrubbing. "I was gentle as I was able, and that's the last we'll fuckin' speak of it, Johnny," he says, and then, when Johnny walks away, mutters in amazement to himself: "Wants me to tell him something pretty," and goes again to try and scrub out the stain.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:52 PM on April 18, 2007

bullock, more than anything else in my opinion, knew that whatever happened unless hearst was gone alma was going to be killed. if there were a town war, alma would be killed. if it weren't a war but some pissing match between him and hearst and swearengen, alma would be killed. i think this is what forced his hand more than anything else.
posted by shmegegge at 2:25 PM on April 18, 2007

I guess where I stop following these arguments is that Trixie is still in town. If they had chosen to murder Trixie, who was the guilty party, or if Trixie had fled town, then perhaps that would have some kind of resonance for me: oh, the acts men must do to maintain the peace. But since they chose to murder this totally innocent, powerless girl just because, well, ain't Trixie swell, it totally destroys any sympathy I have for any of the main characters. After all, at least even Hearst only murders people who are threats to him.

It's possible that David Milch and I have different ideas about satisfying drama, but I just sort of felt that none of the writers ever really thought to themselves, whoa, this is a truly evil act we have these guys committing.
posted by Bookhouse at 2:47 PM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, we know that Al has no problem murdering innocents (see: Garret, Brom). Over seasons 2 & 3 his malevolent, evil side got less play - I thought Milch was bringing us back around to the fact that Al is, and always will be, a murderous bastard. Meanwhile, Star is in love with Trixie - he's not going to demand she die, nor will Bullock do that to his friend.

I shared the general disappointment with season 3, but after a second spin I came to believe that Milch crafted an ending that was true to the story since episode one - Deadwood's an evil, desperate place where good people die and comeuppance is rarely found.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 2:57 PM on April 18, 2007

I was disappointed at first, then realized this was (as I had felt all along) as close to High Art as teevee gets; at that point, I didn't see it as a sloppy ending, but a morally ambiguous one, one that disheartens and angers, as High Art--in this context--should do.

Then again, it could just be me trying to justify the hundreds of hours of my life I'd dedicated to the show up until that point....
posted by Token Meme at 3:47 PM on April 18, 2007

I don't think it was a morally ambiguous act. Al is an overtly evil man who commits an overtly evil murder of an expendable underling. Star and Bullock have finally been fully corrupted by the devil they've been dealing with this whole time. A tragic but I thought fitting ending to the series.

It will make it hard for the characters to be at all likeable in the feature length episodes should they get released.
posted by subtle_squid at 4:28 PM on April 18, 2007

Al's actions, taken as a whole, cannot be summarily dismissed as overtly evil. Yes, he engages in overtly evil acts. Does this make him incorrigible? There is much evidence from previous episodes that suggests otherwise (for example, euthanizing the Preacher in the first season's finale ... admittedly, he was working out some of his own childhood demons, yet it was not a purely selfish act by any stretch of the imagination). It may have been "evil," but something that appears as evil without context, certainly can be considered morally ambiguous. In this case, just to be clear, the ambiguity arises out of the fact that in killing this innocent woman, Swearengen has saved many other innocent lives. Furthermore, the expression (and, damn, what a subtly emotive cocksucker that Ian McShane is!) on Al's face in the final shot is not one of an overtly evil person, but of someone who has finally come to the hard, exhausted realization that his entire world-view is untenable, at best, and "overtly evil," at worst.
posted by Token Meme at 4:50 PM on April 18, 2007

Swearengen's rationale: "I ain't fuckin' killing her that sat nights with me sick and taking slaps to her mug that were some less than fucking fair."
posted by kirkaracha at 5:18 PM on April 18, 2007

I think some people are hitting it on the head. David Milch wanted Bullock to be a flawed character, but he was just too likable. He's angry all the time and yells at anyone who looks at him? We still like him. He teams up with murderous Al (who killed innocent people for gold mines, so why wouldn't he kill people to save his friends?), and we still think it's ok because Al did those things two whole seasons ago.

So how do you show that Bullock is compromising his values? You have him outright go along with one of Al's evil deeds. So Milch ends up, in some sense, ruining our opinion of Bullock. But that was the only way he could show just how much Bullock was compromising his values in order to save the town and/or Alma.

(other good writers also like morally upright characters... so I wouldn't take bingo's comments too personally)
posted by Gary at 5:49 PM on April 18, 2007

Bookhouse, you may be insulted by the Bruckheimer/Shakespeare dichotomy, but given your question and the subject matter, it's valid. The "sell his soul" issue that you're talking about was earned according to a type of character development and dramatic exploration of moral issues that is as old as the hills. The clean type of character arc and definition you're looking for is much more typical of contemporary mainstream Hollywood.

Your question was "Did I miss something?" and the answer is yes, you did, and it's not really a matter of opinion. As for my dorm-room pretensions, I normally wouldn't play this card, but dramatic structure is something I went to graduate school for. It doesn't make me right all the time, and it doesn't make me cool, but neither am I exactly making this completely true answer up out of thin air. Sorry if you don't like it.
posted by bingo at 7:12 PM on April 18, 2007

But since they chose to murder this totally innocent, powerless girl just because, well, ain't Trixie swell, it totally destroys any sympathy I have for any of the main characters.

Trixie is not just "swell". She was Al's ex-lover, she's Star's current lover, she was instrumental throughout much of four seasons including helping Alma, Doc, Star, and many others throughout--she's the reason Al survived his Kidney stones. With the exception of Alma, she is THE major female character on the show--in fact, I'd say her actions have propelled just about as much plot as Alma's (and Alma's lack of action in some cases).

Further, Trixie had the goodness to ATTEMPT to kill Hearst who everyone else wishes was dead.

Also, your assesment of Hearst is off. Who did he kill that threatened him? He crippled Al, almost had Dan killed by the Captain (but later we find out set the Captain up to be killed), killed the foreigners and then set up his own men (who killed the foreigners) to be killed, had Merrick beat to a pulp, had Ellsworth killed, possibly killed his cook's kid, and only fired Wolcott after finding out he'd killed those whores. Hearst is the most evil character on Deadwood, which is saying something.

Deadwood, imo, is the greatest television show ever made. I've seen each season 3 times and it's wonderfully compelling stuff. You say that the characters aren't sympathetic. They're not supposed to be. Sympathetic characters are a sad state of affairs in Hollywood and, even moreso, on television. I don't think Milch and Worth and Co. want you to feel sympathy. They do want you to feel empathy. If you don't then yes, I'd say you missed something.

Stellar article/interview with Milch here.
posted by dobbs at 8:18 PM on April 18, 2007

Bingo, I'm sorry if I reacted harshly. I still disagree with you, and don't feel its ignorant on my part to do so. This thread did give me the thing that I was looking for: namely, the points of view for people who didn't see the last part of the third season as a misstep. Clearly, Deadwood is high art for producing so many well-reasoned yet contradictory opinions here. I'll be sure to give the whole third season another spin with these comments in mind. Thanks, everybody.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:42 PM on April 18, 2007

Trixie's also based on a real person Tricksie of the Gem, and they seem to be keeping to the actual history of the life and death of the real peoples.

And yes, there will be two movies to tie stuff up, they offered a short season but since each episode of the series is one full day in Deadwood, they decided to go with a couple of movies instead so that they could get away from that constraint.

I am waiting none too patiently :)

posted by legotech at 11:25 PM on April 18, 2007

legotech, there may really have been a Tricksie in Deadwood but Trixie isn't based on her. She's a fictionalized character. She was supposed to be killed in the first season. Milch and others thought Paula Malcomson played it so well they couldn't bring themselves to kill her off. They went the other way with the character, making her integral to the plot throughout.

And Milch didn't decide to go with movies to get away from the Day constraint. They are breaking the day constraint because they're switching the format. The show was originally supposed to be four full seasons. Milch wanted to quit after 3 as he has another show he wants to do and Deadwood is very expensive for HBO to produce. After outrcries from fans, HBO and Deadwood agreed to condense the fourth season to four hours in 2 parts.
posted by dobbs at 6:04 AM on April 19, 2007

HBO and Deadwood

Errr... hbo and Milch.
posted by dobbs at 9:01 AM on April 19, 2007

Sorry for the derail. Legotech is correct about the movies / format according to this article. The day constraint didn't work with a shortened season (HBO didn't want to pay for the full season), so they negotiated and signed a deal for movies so that they could use the new format instead.
posted by Gary at 11:36 AM on April 19, 2007

Milch wanted to quit after 3 as he has another show he wants to do and Deadwood is very expensive for HBO to produce. After outrcries from fans, HBO and Deadwood agreed to condense the fourth season to four hours in 2 parts.

I'm sure no one's reading this anymore but it bothers me that I wrote the above and information has now come to light that Milch wanted to continue doing the show and HBO killed it due to some snafu with Paramount. It's now been mentioned in many places online and in December, in this video, Milch says, "It was cancelled."
posted by dobbs at 6:46 AM on March 22, 2008

« Older legality of sampling of "Annie" with special needs...   |   Not so Simpliciter Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.