Fans of HBO’s Shakespeare-with-Tourette’s Western have reason to rejoice, or at least to mourn a little less: Deadwood will not be fed to the pigs after the season 3, which starts Sunday. Not exactly. After weeks of confusion, in which the network seemed ready to let one of its highest-rated and most-praised remaining dramas die a season earlier than planned, HBO and creator David Milch struck a compromise: after season 3, the show will wrap in two two-hour movies, Variety reports.
It’s still a loss for fans who expected a full four seasons â€”one, as Milch had planned, for each year the mining camp existed in real life—but it’s better than the sudden death expected after HBO chose not to re-sign the cast several weeks ago. The various factors behind the shutdownâ€”or as Al Swearengen would say, the "f___ing imponderables"—were theorized as follows: Milch was developing a new series for the network, John from Cincinnati, based on the surf-noir novels of Kem Nunn, and wouldn’t have time to devote to both shows without a lengthy delay for season 4. Also, some suspected, it didn’t help that Deadwood was very expensive to make and comes from an outside producer, making the financial bite even worse for HBO.
It still seems like too soon, but four full seasons would have, too. It’s for the best, thoughâ€”since, given the series’ timeline, to have Deadwood last more than four years Milch would have to have made the mining camp exist longer than it did in real life, departing from frontier reality. I don’t think any of us would have wanted to see that. (Coming up in season 8: Can Sheriff Bullock keep his job when an eccentric inventor promises to replace him with a steam-powered robot?)
Four hours should be plenty of time for Milch to plan and provide closure, as the lawless mining town is gradually taken over by ruthless, iron-fisted capitalists. That endgame is already playing out in the fantastic five episodes of season 3 HBO sent to critics, in which misanthropic mining mogul George Hearst (Gerald Raneyâ€”yes, I do mean Major Dad) rolls into town and proves to be even scarier than Swearengen. The episodes are poetic and searing–there is a violent scene in episode 5 that still gives me the heebie-jeebies, two weeks after watching it–and stay true to the show’s theme that "civilization" can be as heartless and brutal as the lawlessness it replaces.
It’s only fitting, in a way, that Deadwood the show, like Deadwood the camp, should have its life cut short by business-side intrigue. Whether you’re mining gold or making TV, business can be a real c_________.