Deadwood was a series that ran on HBO from 2004 to 2006. With only three seasons under its belt, it still garnered enough of a fanbase to warrant a movie that recently came out. And why wouldn’t you want more Deadwood content? You have Timothy Olyphant playing the real-life Seth Bullock and the legendary Ian McShane as the swarthy Al Swearengen. Deadwood featured characters from history and gave us an inside look at the territory in South Dakota that survived on its own, without being a part of the United States; for a small period of time.
While everyone did an amazing job in their respective roles, I’m here to speak about one character in particular. This is probably an article that absolutely no one asked for, but I’m going to bring it up anyway. Longtime actor Keith Carradine portrayed real-life gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok in the first four episodes of season one. I don’t count episode five since he essentially was just playing a corpse.
Historical Accuracy vs Inaccuracy
In real life, Wild Bill was really shot in the back of the head by the “coward Jack McCall” while playing poker one day. While this event has historical accuracy on its side, it’s not like Deadwood remained completely faithful to authenticity. Al Swearengen was really from Iowa, a descendant of Dutch parents. The HBO series made Swearengen from England, his saloon the Gem was opened a year prior to its real-life opening, and died from liver failure in 1889 as opposed to being murdered in real-life in 1904.
I’m giving you this small tidbit of history just to make my point that the show did not need to kill of Wild Bill as early as they did. Carradine’s Wild Bill character’s spirit could be felt throughout the series, even after his death. He is frequently mentioned and his influence can be seen in such characters as Calamity Jane, Charlie Utter, and even Bullock himself.
The Argument For Carradine’s Performance
For his portrayal of the famous American figure, Carradine was nominated for a Satellite Award for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film. Historical lore and the TV series presented Wild Bill as the fastest gunslinger in the land. We also see him as tired and run down by his life; succumbing to his addiction to playing poker. You can say he is a man of simple needs, but those needs are weighing on his friend Charlie, who tries desperately to put Bill on the right track. He attempts to get Bill to work and even make friends with Bullock and Sol Star. Anything to make sure Bill doesn’t continue on his self-destructive journey into oblivion.
Characters like Jane and Bullock simply seem drawn to Bill. Perhaps it is his quiet stature that makes most of those who come in contact with him smitten by him. The widow Alma Garret seeks council with him after the death of her husband. Even the scene with him and McShane’s Al was well-done and we deserved to see more. There was so much story to him.
Wild Bill’s Death and Legacy In The Show
Jack McCall played poker with Wild Bill. Like a few other characters we see in the series, he finds it entertaining of sorts to try to poke and prod a man like Bill Hickok. There are clearly tensions between the two, but there’s even one point where Bill gives Jack money to go get something to eat. To try to sober up. For whatever reason, McCall waltzed into a poker game and decided to shoot Bill in the back of the head. Killing him.
Part of me wonders if Bill thought if it was his time to go. He’s seen having his back always against a wall, but this time his back is facing the door. Leaving him completely vulnerable. Bill also writes to his wife, who is never explored. We could have done with more time with Jane and Bill’s friendship, as well as a better last scene between Charlie and Bill than what we got.
While I know keeping him in the show longer or altering his fate would be historically inaccurate, so were a lot of things about Deadwood. About any show or movie based on real-life events. Considering how much Al’s character was changed to fit the show, I believe they could have done the same for one of the most compelling characters that the series had. To get rid of such a strong actor and a character with a huge backstory/current story to him within the first four episodes of the series is mindboggling.
As I stated before, this article is probably top at the list of “who asked for this?” but as someone who recently watched Deadwood, I found myself missing Wild Bill the entire time. What did you think of Carradine’s performance and should he have been killed off so early?
A girl with too many fandoms to count.