The town of Deadwood, South Dakota in the weeks following the Custer massacre is a lawless sinkhole of crime and corruption. Into this uncivilized outpost ride a disillusioned and bitter ex-lawman, Wild Bill Hickok, and Seth Bullock, a man hoping to find a new start for himself.
Both men find themselves quickly on opposite sides of the legal and moral fence from Al Swearengen, saloon owner, hotel operator, and incipient boss of Deadwood. The lives of these three intertwine with many others, the high-minded and the low-lifes who populate Deadwood in 1876.
Deadwood was created by NYPD Blue head writer David Milch, who either wrote or supervised the writing of each of the 12 episodes in the penultimate season.
The late 19th century town of Deadwood is a mucky, ungoverned and 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 these are contested 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 visionary monster who is nevertheless more recognisably human than his rivals.
Entering an uneasy partnership with Al is Seth Bullock, who begins the second season by teaching Al a few lessons in chivalry. 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, 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, who soon reveals herself to be a more complicated person than in the first season.
The prostitute Trixie begins thinking about her future, and asserts independence from Al by having sex with Seth's friend, Sol Star. Best of all, Calamity Jane is back and more endearingly uncivilised than ever.