Soap with a Prize Inside! (Some Afterthoughts about “Deadwood”) #1: “The Fucking Pinkertons”

Swearengen swore all along that the Pinkerton National Detective Agency was nothing but bad news, but until they actually appeared on the scene we had to rely on our historical memory of the Pinkertons’ most notorious deeds—the dead-of-night firebombing that killed Jesse James’ little brother, the violent, depraved union-busting that lasted well into the ’30s—to accept them as a legitimate threat. The first agent arrived only at the beginning of Season 2, and even then her true identity went unpublished for several episodes. Alice Isringhausen turned out to be small-fry, easily dispensed with, but the night that George Hearst’s “bricks” thundered into camp in a cavalcade of hoofbeats and satanic shadowplay represented, as Cy Tolliver put it, the advent of professionals. By light of day they congregated in intimidating knots along the thoroughfare, managing to stand out in a town already festooned with memorable faces.

Where did Milch find them all? He’d been using real cowboys to give the place tone all along, and the Pinkertons must’ve come from their ranks: they certainly carry the whiff of such stuntmen-turned-actors as Ben Johnson, Richard Farnsworth, and Allan Graf. Their unshaven and pockmarked faces looked sculpted by alkali dust blasted out of a wind machine, and they needled the miners with gibes—“Wipe your ass, Hiram! It feels strange at first but the shit protects against blisters!”—which they delivered in coarsely musical American cadences. Each man of them sported like an odor his own brand of unnerving self-confidence: even the old buzzard who breaches protocol by drinking Hearst’s liquor is fit enough to murder Ellsworth by merely raising his hand. Like a biker gang crashing a family reunion they settled in and all but destroyed the camp’s serenity; the incredible tension that turns even Swearengen and Bullock into dithering Hamlets, and which lasts until a tidal wave of mourning sweeps everything away in the show’s closing minutes—that’s all the Pinkertons’ doing.

One Response to “Soap with a Prize Inside! (Some Afterthoughts about “Deadwood”) #1: “The Fucking Pinkertons””

  1. Lulu Says:

    Beautifully written, thanks. Four years past its demise and I still find myself searching out what others write about Deadwood.

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