The second season of HBO's gritty western drama delivers on the promise of the first season. This season follows on with the double-dealing, scheming folk of Deadwood encountered in the previous season and adds in some new characters and threats into the mix. With Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) and Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie) undertaking Sheriff duties, Al Swearengen (the fantastic Ian McShane) has found himself an uneasy ally of the duo. And as Cy Tolliver's (Powers Boothe) new partnership with the powerful Hearst organisation upon the arrival of the creepy Francis Wolcott (Garrett Dillahunt) as his representative bring new threats to the camp. For Bullock, the arrival of his wife Martha (Anna Gunn) and his son bring about an awkward and ultimately tragic subplot that exhibits some of the series most tender moments to date.
This second season successfully builds on a powerful first season with a 12-episode run that contains all of the intriguing plot points that made the first season so enthralling. The set design continues to be fantasic, the writing remains top notch and the addition of new cast members only serve to expand on an alreadly impressively well-thought out and fully realised world. The political tension within the camp remains the shows most fascinating central aspect, with Tolliver and Swearengen constantly at odds. Al's scheming ways are put on ice early on this season as gall stone trouble leaves him on the verge of death. The scenes of 'surgery' are some of the series most cringe-inducing, but are some of the most humourous scenes of the series to date as are Al's later conversations with the Indian. Far less humourous is the Seth's storyline this season. The arrival of his wife have forced him to distance himself from Alma (Molly Parker) and her pregnancy complicates issues further. The finest moment of the season is a fantastically composed scene that is easily one of the most tragically beautiful and superbly edited sequences ever seen on screen where the town's amusement with a penny-farthing (remember it's 1877), a horse breaking loose and Bullock's young son all collide in a shockingly raw scene that defines the magnificence and artistic craft of this show. This seasons stand out character is Garrett Dillahunt's Wolcott whose monstrous ways are chillingly displayed early on in the season, but his tortured and complex personality are one of the seasons crowning achievements and anger turns to sympathy for a very flawed and character who cannot be saved.
To go into every plot in detail would take an age and it only serves as a testament to the strength of Deadwood's writing. There is so much going on in each episode and no character is simply a stereotypical one dimensional character. Even characters like Jane (Robin Weigert), Doc (Brad Dourif) and Trixie (Paula Malcomson), who get generally little to do this season, yet remain pivotal characters in the broader context of the series as bridging characters. Deadwood's second season is as good as its first, wonderfully well made, engrossing but not for the faint of heart.