And yet, through a mix of Milch's dogged resilience and HBO's hunger for content, the show comes roaring back to life for one night only. Set in 1889, during South Dakota's statehood celebration, the movie opens with the mechanical chug of a train and the more human ramblings of Robin Weigert's hard-drinking Calamity Jane, trotting into the town on horseback for the festivities and in the hopes of reuniting with her former lover, the ever-resilient Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens). That metaphorically potent choo-choo also carries wealthy aristocrat Alma Ellsworth (Molly Parker) back to the town, along with her child Sofia. In short time, Bullock and Swearengen also get their own introductory moments, along with familiar faces like Doc Cochran (Brad Douriff), Trixie (Paula Malcomson), Sol Star (John Hawkes), and Dan Dority (W. Earl Brown). It's difficult not to get choked up seeing them together.
Initially, there's an uncanny quality to the movie's bright look and the outdoor vistas. Partially because of budget restrictions, the original episodes of Deadwood were often shot in dimly lit interiors and had little use for the flashy visual extravagance associated with a modern HBO blockbuster like Westworld. The most important scenes often occurred in cramped rooms; the show's pyrotechnics were mostly limited to the language. If you remember Deadwood as a talky, quasi-theatrical viewing experience, the sunnier aesthetic of the movie might take some getting used to. The telephones lines bringing outside communication to the town aren't the only innovation on display.
Similarly, if you don't have a decent recall of the show's final season, which focused on the town's deadly battle with the tormenting capitalist Hearst and ended with Swearengen scrubbing blood off his office floor, you might be a bit confused about the specifics of the plot. A decade later, most characters have similar roles in town, but Milch's script immediately puts them at odds with Hearst again, picking up right where the show left off. With some expository dialogue and a handful of unobtrusive flashbacks, Milch and director Daniel Minahan do their best to bring you up to speed. (I'd still recommend watching the third season's finale, "Tell Him Something Pretty," as a refresher.) If you only caught a couple episodes in the show's initial run and tune into the movie to see what all the fuss is about, it won't exactly stand on its own.