“You cannot f**k the future, sir. The future f**ks you.” Ten years after its premiere and seven years after the hoopleheads of HBO wrought its untimely demise, Matt Zoller Seitz pays homage to Deadwood, the original bookend to The Wire: Whereas The Wire dramatizes the interminable decay of a city’s municipal institutions, Deadwood showed why they were needed in the first place, especially when a Great Man of means and no small ambition, like George Randolph Hearst, comes a-knockin’.
Of course, Deadwood also remains one of the most highly quotable television hour-longs around. The one I tend to use most these days: “And you, Mr. Wolcott, I find you the most severe disappointment of all.” “Often to myself as well.”
“Pain or damage don’t end the world. Or despair or f***ing beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man…and give some back.” Alas, the misbegotten hoopleheads at HBO have contrived to dole us out more disappointment: According to Ian McShane, the two promised Deadwood wrap-up movies are not going to happen. “I just got a call on Friday from…a dear friend of mine, who told me that they’re packing up the ranch. They’re dismantling the ranch and taking the stuff out. That ship is gonna sail. Bonsoir, Deadwood.”
On the outskirts of Bisbee, in the years after the Civil War, an honest life is hard, as attested by the sad fate of one Dan Evans (Bale). Having lost his leg in the service of Abe Lincoln, Evans transplanted his wife (Gretchen Mol, dusty yet luminous) and two sons to the Arizona plains in search of renewal, only to find himself deeply in debt and on the verge of starvation. Dan’s boys, particularly his older son William (Logan Lerman), are humiliated by his failure and seeming weakness…and the rains just ain’t comin’. Meanwhile, the regal, courtly Ben Wade (Crowe), a part-time illustrator and full-time desperado, is living high on the hog, along with his gang of thieves, murderers, and bad, bad men — most notably his adoring #2 Charlie Prince (a.k.a. Ben Foster of Six Feet Under and Freaks & Geeks, strangely eerie and excellent here.) But, after a stagecoach job near Evans’ land, this Jack of Hearts lingers too long back in Bisbee, and is summarily captured by a mishmash of local law enforcement, bounty hunters on the Pinkerton payroll (i.e. a solid Peter Fonda, looking haggard and reminiscent of his dad), and Evans himself, in town to settle a debt one way or another. And, when the local railroad suit (Dallas Roberts) offers a $200 fee that might turn around his struggling fortunes, Evans enlists in the company assembled to take Ben Wade to Yuma Prison, by way of the 3:10 train in Contention. But — and it’s a big but — Wade’s gang is still at large, the forces of Law & Order are amateurish at best (note Firefly‘s Alan Tudyk as a well-meaning veterinarian conscripted into the group) and easily corruptible at worst, and Wade himself is no slouch in the survivability department. By means fair or foul, whether by quoting Scripture with a serpent’s tongue, bashing in a sleeping man’s head with a rock, or tempting Evans (and his son) with all the lucre and pleasurable squalor the ignoble life affords. Ben Wade will do what he must to restore his freedom…
…Or will he? My biggest problem with 3:10 to Yuma, and perhaps it’s also an issue in the Glenn Ford version of 1957 (I haven’t seen it), is that Ben Wade’s motivations grow increasingly confused as the film progresses. Given how easily he subdues certain people at certain times, one begins to wonder what’s keeping Crowe along for this ride, other than a general sense of bemusement about the whole proceedings. By the third act, which devolves into a town-wide shootout at the railroad crossing of Contention, it’s hard to figure exactly why Wade is behaving as he does (or, for that matter, why Evans’ missing leg isn’t a problem as he engages in the cowtown equivalent of Ninja Warrior.) Crowe is given a few lines at various points, and the final shot in the movie, to help explain his reasoning…and I guess it makes a certain amount of sense, from a dramatic perspective. But I’m not sure if I bought it, given all that’s come before.
Still, 3:10 to Yuma is another solid and welcome entrant in the burgeoning ranks of the revisionist western. (Indeed, the film reflects more of the New Western History than it does John Wayne country — For example, there’s a sequence involving evil Luke Wilson overseeing a Chinese railroad camp which is really kinda unnecessary, but I for one just liked seeing a Chinese railroad camp included in the proceedings.) And, as with The Wild Bunch, Unforgiven, and several other superlative entries in the genre, 3:10 frontlines the question of what code should — and actually does — govern a man’s actions when he is unconstrained by larger society.
Indeed, if you’ll permit me a digression, that was the beauty of Deadwood, a classic show still unsullied by Milch’s later, more confused attempt to fashion a Gospel of Surfing: Watching the varied, colorful residents of the town attempt to create a tentative order out of anarchic disorder: What rules must we live by if we are to live together? What should we do when the plague breaks out? How and when should the municipal government gather, who should attend, and what roles should it take on (and, for that matter, should there be canned peaches or cinnamon served at the meetings?) And, for the coup de grace, Milch offered a wry commentary on the iron fist within the velvet glove of the existing Gilded Age social order (and the ugly commercial realities that drove much of westward expansion.) When the fledgling entity of Deadwood finally ran up against the established authorities, it was not the government of these United States it faced, but rather the ruthless and mighty arm of unchecked Capital. By the end of Season 3, everyone — even the wily, formidable, and take-no-prisoners saloon proprietor Al Swearingen — was eventually forced to bow and succumb before the whims of the Great (and Monied) Man, George Hearst. (As Al put it, “Leviathan f**king smiles.”)
3:10 to Yuma doesn’t cover exactly the same ground as Deadwood, of course (and it has much less time to ruminate in any case.) But, at its heart, in the churning psychological tension between Crowe’s Wade and Bale’s Evans — as well as the omnipresent lure and power afforded by the almighty dollar therein — 3:10 ponders similar western verities. In the absence of external fetters, what drives a man to do the right thing, even to the point of ignoring his own self-preservation? In a world of complicated loyalties and compromising shades of grey, where the law is irrevocably bound up with the interests of the railroads and a struggling farmer and a smirking murderer can draw disparate conclusions from the same Bible, what, even, is the “right” thing in the first place? As today, different men come to different answers amid the open country of the Wild West. What probably matters most, 3:10 seems to suggest by the end, is that a man has some answer he’s ready to live — and die — by. As the cowboy troubador Alias once put it, “to live outside the law, you must be honest.” So you’d better do or find something to make your short time in Contention count…’cause no matter how you live your life, that slow train is coming up around the bend, and it ultimately waits for no one.
Bret? Present. Jemaine? Present. Murray? Present. Good…Everyone’s present and accounted for as HBO renews Flight of the Conchords for a second season (along with more Entourage.) Due to Deadwood, I tried valiantly, but I could never grok David Milch’s puzzling and pretentious John from Cincinnati all that much. And, so far, the much-praised Mad Men and Damages are just filling up DVR space — I haven’t broken into them yet. But, I do love me some Flight of the Conchords these days, and am glad to see Bret and Jemaine getting more run. It’s Business Time.
“The Wire, which has just begun its fourth season on HBO, is surely the best TV show ever broadcast in America…no other program has ever done anything remotely like what this one does, namely to portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature.” Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg joins the swelling ranks of Wire aficionados. (Season 4 is currently pulling a lowly 98 over at Metafilter.) “This year, The Wire‘s political science is as brilliant as its sociology. It leaves The West Wing, and everything else television has tried to do on this subject, in the dust.” And, in very happy news that partially atones for Deadwood‘s early demise (although that [expletive deleted] still rankles), HBO re-ups for The Wire Season 5, which will focus on the mass media. I’ll drink a spot of Jamesons to that.
“The closing shot of last night’s ‘Deadwood’ episode was never meant as a series-ender. But that’s what it was, and for a number of reasons, it was both appropriate and troubling: Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen kneeling on the floor of his office, cleaning up a bloodstain.” Notwithstanding two stopgap two-hour movies (bleah), Deadwood rides off into the sunset, joining Arrested Development, Twin Peaks, Freaks & Geeks, Farscape, and countless others in that graveyard on the hill for shows done in before their time. (I actually haven’t caught the last episode yet, being here in Hawaii, but chose not to avoid the spoilers nonetheless.) “From the odd quirks of its language to the vivid scrappiness of its setting to the undeniable soul at its core, there will never be another place quite like Deadwood.” Happy trails, [expletive deleted].
Grim [expletive deleted] tidings…With last night’s episode (and this season’s marvelously malevolent Big Bad, George Hearst [Gerald McRaney], on the verge of running riot), we’re already halfway through our last full helping of Deadwood. (You can keep up on its historicity here.) The silver lining? That puts us ever closer to Season 4 of The Wire (this year’s target: the school system), which HBO has only just begun to tease.
“Gratuitous, hurtful, unnecessary! Lamentable, injurious, downright unthinkable! Shame the f**k on you!” As Season 3 begins, the NY Times examines the recent machinations surrounding the cloudy future of Deadwood, while Salon‘s Heather Havrilesky vents her frustration in the town’s distinctive argot. [Save Deadwood!]
After careful consideration I have come to the conclusion that it is my duty as a believer in the progressive principles it was my privilege to fight for under the leadership of Theodore Roosevelt, as well as my duty as a citizen, to support the democratic national ticket in this campaign. I have prepared a statement giving some of my reasons for reaching this decision, a copy of which statement I enclose. If you are sufficiently interested to read this and write me, how you, personally, react in the present situation I will be obliged to you.
Ah, the archives are great fun.