Deadwood: The Best Episodes, Ranked


This article contains spoilers for DeadwoodThe American Western television series Deadwood (2004-2006) was directed by David Milch and narrates how the camp of Deadwood in South Dakota developed into a town. The series spanned three seasons for a total of 36 episodes and was headlined by Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane, who played real-life residents Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen, respectively. The show was critically-acclaimed, earning nominations and awards from various bodies, like the Area of Excellence prize from the prestigious Peabody Awards. Likewise, the ensemble cast was praised for its performance.

The show is included in Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time,” landing in the 27th spot. Pete Cashmore of The Guardian said it was “the best drama HBO has ever made” and that “it must be revived.” Luckily, a continuation movie was made. Cashmore said it was “an error” canceling the drama loaded with history and fictional elements. Time magazine also praised the show, adding it to their “Top 10 TV Shows of the 2000s” list. Likewise, The Ringer said Deadwood “is a top-10 TV show of all time” because it “is not only TV’s great unfinished masterpiece but its greatest improvised masterpiece.”

Deadwood is anything but dead, as it’s filled with life on how a civilization blossomed.


8/8 Tell Him Something Pretty (Season 3, Episode 12)

Deadwood ended with “Tell Him Something Pretty”, and it seemed abrupt because it was not meant to be the series’ conclusion. Trixie (Paula Malcomson) shoots George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) to avenge the death of Whitney Ellsworth (Jim Beaver). When Hearst asked Swearengen to deliver Trixie’s body to him, he instead killed one of his sex workers (Jennifer Lutheran), who looked like Trixie. This devastated John “Johnny” Burns (Sean Bridgers) as he was fond of the girl Swearengen shot. After all this, Hearst decided to leave Deadwood. Slant Magazine’s Matt Zoller Seitz said that “Tell Him Something Pretty” “was about the horrendous compromises we make in the name of survival, and how those compromises are often driven not by shining moral principles, but by personal needs.”

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7/8 I Am Not the Fine Man You Take Me For (Season 3, Episode 2)

“I Am Not the Fine Man You Take Me For” saw the arrival of Hearst and the violence that came with him. After asking for someone to be killed, a note reached Swearengen about another violence that he contained before it could happen. Irked, the mining magnate chopped off one of Al’s fingers to retaliate and assert his dominance. Writer Alan Sepinwall had a few laughs because of “Al’s goons trying to figure out what the note means and why Hearst would send it.” Seitz praised how the characters “survive misery and misfortune — by looking ahead, then mustering the strength to either change their circumstances or escape them.”

6/8 Requiem for a Gleet (Season 2, Episode 4)

“Requiem for a Gleet” focused on Al, now bedridden because of kidney stones. He’s being taken care of by Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif) as they ponder about surgery or letting the stones pass. They decided on the latter, and viewers suffer as much as Swearengen experiences extreme pain due to the stones. It’s painful to watch, indeed. Meanwhile, Commissioner Hugo Jarry (Stephen Tobolowsky) caused the town to be abuzz when he announced that gold claims may be invalid. Sepinwall said the episode gave “some of the best acting moments yet from the likes of W. Earl Brown [who played Dan Dority] and Doc Cochran.”

5/8 Here Was a Man (Season 1, Episode 4)

James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok (Keith Carradine) ends his saga in the episode “Here Was a Man” after Jack McCall (Garret Dillahunt) shoots him – in the back of the head, at that. His death cast dark clouds upon his companion Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie) and devotee Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert), who spent the rest of the series devastated due to the loss of Wild Bill. Sepinwall said that the episode was a great “showcase for Keith Carradine,” saying he “makes such a meal out of Wild Bill’s final day on earth, at showing how he could be so full of self-loathing and yet still possessed of so much dignity and nobility.”

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4/8 The Catbird Seat (Season 3, Episode 11)

Whitney Ellsworth’s (Jim Beaver) efforts to seize his wife’s (Molly Parker) gold claim led to his death. His death was “so brutally matter-of- fact — banal, even, like the death of certain Sopranos characters — somehow made it more hurtful, because he was on his way toward being not just a good person, but a great and significant one, an example of how to behave toward one’s fellow human beings,” Seitz said. Alma Ellsworth took refuge in the Gem saloon following her husband’s death, with Trixie taking matters into her own hands, which triggered a chain of events with tragic consequences. Seitz added that Ellsworth’s death “fundamentally alters the dynamic between Bullock, Alma, Sofia [Bree Seanna Wall], and Martha [Anna Gunn].”

3/8 A Two-Headed Beast (Season 3, Episode 5)

This episode is action-packed as it saw the battle between Dan and Captain Joe Turner (Allan Graf), the right-hand men of Swearengen and Hearst, respectively. The scene was brutal, but what made the moment chilling was Dan’s reaction after Turner’s death, even though he’s not new to killing. Seitz recapped “A Two-Headed Beast” as an episode where “savage men who disagree beat each other’s brains in. ‘Civilized’ men who disagree send proxies to beat each other’s brains in.” Sepinwall, meanwhile, believes that this episode “is on the short list of the very best” Deadwood ever produced, with the battle “one of the very best fight scenes ever put on film.”

2/8 Sold Under Sin (Season 1, Episode 12)

“Sold Under Sin” is a harsh episode. First, Bullock gives in to his violent side when he beats Otis Russell (William Russ), the father of Alma, who threatens her if she doesn’t give him a cut on her gold claim. Meanwhile, Swearengen used his capacity for violence when he relieved the brain-tumor-stricken Reverend H.W. Smith (Ray McKinnon) from his suffering. Sepinwall praised this season finale because “not only are the performances by McShane, Ray McKinnon and Brad Dourif fantastic, but Milch and company have laid all the groundwork expertly.” He adds the show is “about how civilizations come together out of chaos,” so viewers need to take in all the drama in this episode.

1/8 A Lie Agreed Upon (Part I) (Season 2, Episode 1)

The second season opener introduced fans to the intense rivalry between Bullock and Swearengen. The conflict started when the former taunts the latter over his relationship with Alma. The pimp almost killed the sheriff, but Bullock’s family (Gunn and Josh Eriksson) arrived just in the nick of time. “Bullock and Swearengen’s psychological-poetic connection forms the core of Deadwood,” Seitz said, so their fight can be considered a defining moment. The critic continues that the show “is the greatest dramatic series in the history of American television,” something evident in how it presented the dynamic and thrilling two-part “A Lie Agreed Upon.”

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