Original Air Date : – March 21st 2004
The year is 1876, and Montana marshal Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) begins this entire television series with a grisly execution too end his acts of justice. Relocating to the prospector camp of Deadwood with his partner, the ex-enforcer hopes to set up a profitable business. However, he is not the only new person in town with the fastest gunslinger ‘Wild Bill’ Hickock (Keith Carradine) also arriving with a different incentive. The increase of people unsettles the town’s Saloon owner Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) – who tries to control his business exploits while also contending with a bungled robbery that has turned into a mass murder; a crime that could possibly incite a mob conflict that would engulf the whole camp. When news of a family that has been murdered by a pack of savage native Americans reaches the communities ears, the new residents ride out to hunt down those responsible.
‘Deadwood’, as a series, begins with a pilot episode full of composition and character introduction. Not necessarily worried about begin the seasons main story-arc, the show introduces its major players early on. This establishes a strong foundation upon which the program can develop. With the amount of characters introduced however, ‘Deadwood’ does become somewhat heavy in its content and this causes, in places, confusion on who is who and what their motive actually is. Through introducing the vast roster of characters, and setting their individual stories into motion the first episode struggles to progress its plot – resulting in something that seems rather slow.
One thing that this episode does well above everything else, is introduce the style and theme that the rest of the season will follow. Dark, gritty, violent and very realistic the show very much begins how it means to go on, and does so to an extremely high standard – something that is very usual in a Home Box Office (HBO) production
Ian McShane seems the perfect match for his character, delivering a performance that is intriguing to watch, captivating and mysterious to understand. With the main development in this episode centred on his character, the program places a great amount of unknown into the motive and personality of his saloon swindler. Bullock is the shows main character and as such serves as the eyes of the audience as he enters the camp. Perhaps the only truly moral resident, his ex marshal serves at delivering the conscience of which all other actions – in this episode and further in the series – are compared. To do this effectively, Olyphant delivers his character in a very much cut and dry style. With so many characters to introduce, the show does struggle to really give much emphasis on anything substantial in many of the smaller parts of this episode. However, great promise is given to the sheer variety on show – with the majority no doubt given their development in further episodes.
Costume design and production standards are two factors of this episode that are done to an extremely high level. The look and feel of the characters, and the location itself are presented in a gritty, realistic and believable manner. Whether it be the muddy exterior or the cramped interior, the sets themselves have character and add layers to the episodes setting. With the usual HBO quality found throughout, the show really does position the audience as if part of the action. Cinematography and crafted edits really compliment this quality production, moving the narrative along in a manner which delivers everything that is needed and gives filmic standard to the program – far removed from standard television dramas.
Although the quality of this episode was extremely high, ‘Deadwood’ does seem to need multiple viewings to fully take in everything it delivers. Bogged down in too much composition, the show struggles to build momentum or rectify its moments of confusion. Certain characters get lost in the shadow of the more obvious main roles, and become forgettable. Through not moving the narrative on a great deal, the program seemingly struggles to build tension in what is to come. The final ten minutes work well enough to begin a story-arc, however more could have been achieved through fully developing the plot throughout the entire hour duration.