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Deadwood: The Complete Second Season (DVD)
Deadwood: The Complete Second Season continues the Shakespearean brilliance of the landmark first season, created by NYPD Blue head writer David Milch. Milch either wrote or supervised the writing of each of the 12 episodes in this stunning follow-up, which contains more than a few surprises for anyone who thought they knew the myriad characters in the late 19th century town of Deadwood--a mucky, ungoverned, exceptionally violent development in South Dakota. As with the first season, Deadwood continues to be about many things--survival, loyalty, alliances, duty--but all of them are happening against a titanic battle between several parties to consolidate power and real wealth in the territory. Despite his cutthroat ethics, astonishing profanity, and bursts of cruelty, it's hard not to side in this bid for a piece of America's future with saloon owner Al Swearengen (a magnificent performance by Ian McShane), a visionary monster who is nevertheless more recognizably human than his rivals.
Entering an uneasy partnership with Al is Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant). Seth begins the second season by teaching Al a few lessons in chivalry, and their brief but bloody feud commences physical ailments for Al that become increasingly shocking to behold. Yet Al's difficulties have the practical effect of sidelining him for a couple of episodes while the story sets up more complex power struggles. Al takes on Deadwood's other saloon-brothel owner, the unstable Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe), as well as an off-screen millionaire who is intent on owning all the gold-mining interests by buying out weary prospectors' claims. Meanwhile, Seth's wife and son (actually, his late brother's widow and child) arrive, an unsettling development for Seth's lover, the widow Alma Garret (Molly Parker), who soon reveals herself to be a more complicated person than in the first season. The prostitute Trixie (Paula Malcomson) begins thinking about her future and asserts independence from Al by having sex with Seth's friend, Sol Star (John Hawkes). Best of all, Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) is back and more endearingly uncivilized than ever. Special features include actor commentaries on select episodes, the best of which finds Olyphant and McShane cracking each other up while watching the season premiere. --Tom Keogh