How many times in the last three decades have I read that the Western is dead. as if the person writing the words has it as epitaph engraved onto a stone tombstone.
The Western has not died in cinema (and I am including here, radically, movies and television). The Western was around when film started and I suspect, in one form or another, the Western will still be around until cinema itself dies as a medium and artform.
The Western does not need self-proclaimed reinvention. Or rebooting. Or any damn thing! The genre’s emotional ground is as textured as the varied landscapes its stories take place in.
Those who admit to creating Westerns as if apologizing for being a part of a sub-standard genre imply that they have eschewed the traditional Western formula, lacking an understanding that genre covers a vast range in human spirit and individuality.
Cowboys still exist, and they still excite audiences.
Westerns don’t have to be placed into the time frame of the era between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the twentieth century in order to be relevant.
The TV series Justified, based on Elmore Leonard’s novel Fire in the Hole, acts with assurance and ease that some people are just going to love.
The show stars Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens and I’ve said, “Raylan’s the guy you wanna be.” That doesn’t mean I want Raylan’s life. His life’s a goddamn mess. But if your life is on the line, even if his screwed up life is on the line, that is when he touches the brim of his Stetson and acts his best. Life or death decisions don’t stress him. Maybe they narrow his eyes, just a little bit.
The series Longmire, released a couple of months ago on Blu-ray by Warner Archives stars Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire, a sheriff who patrols areas of woodland and desert, ofice-swept mountains and sun-dried stretches of sand, across Wyoming highways of wide sky and little traffic.
Warner Archive’s Blu-ray collection of Seasons One and Two of the series looks superb. The evocative location photography is actually filmed in places such as Santa Fe and Eagle Nest. But I would not have known that if I hadn’t researched the production. Maybe people who live in Wyoming may notice, but the show employs a consistent ambiance of place, whether in the sweltering sun with little shade in sight, or the wooded mountain slopes covered with snow and freezing icy streams.
The images on the Blu-ray are sharp, and beautiful when Walt and the people who work for or against him hike on out of the town limits.
You’re as likely to run into a bison staring you down on the long stretch of highway as you are to run into a semi-trailer truck hurtling goods to some town or city faraway.
Walt is a cowboy in the midst of a depression, deep and despairing, emotionally crippled by the death of his wife; his job as sheriff threatened in upcoming elections by one of his deputies; the strife between Native American Reservation Police and the Absaroka town police and populace showcasing that racial divide is as potentially volatile and haunting, as ever.
Even though he has to traverse vast empty areas of desert or mountains, Walt is steadfastly reluctant to own a cell phone, even if he at times has to resort to using someone else’s.
He’s likely to drive a SUV over terrain that will hurtle a vehicle like a tiny mobile caught in the soft sand and twisting arroyos, and toss it into twisted metal onto its side, and like a metallic turtle lie helpless on its side.
He can still sit a saddle, and do it better, perhaps, than he can drive a vehicle.
Like Raylan Givens, he is a present day cowboy, but a cowboy nonetheless, and whether he lives in Kentucky or Absaroka County, Wyoming, there is no doubt, when all is said and done, and the various people come up against the lone figure, and answers have to be found, and decision made, these stories are Westerns.
Noir Westerns, to be sure.
The series is based murder mystery novels created by Craig Johnson.
I have never read the books, so I can’t comment on them, but one of the elements of Longmire that surprised me is that each episode of this series are self-contained murder mysteries within their 43 minute running time.
Most recent mystery novels run 300 or more pages but seldom match the emotional depth that this show does in its tight running time.
One of the hardest parts of writing murder mysteries, even by writers who love the genre, is meeting the demands of information that are required to be given to the audience, and when, to play fair, and have the final revelations of who did what and why make sense.
The show does so exceedingly well, often very touching in the motivations that move people to extreme solutions of life and death.
It is commonplace in many current television series today to have a complete story last a full season. Longmire chooses a hard task: to create new mysteries, each episode, each exploring a different aspect of modern Western life, while enriching their main characters lives. The show has continuity: the events within single episodes have severe impact on the principals involved.
A&E is in the news recently, because they cancelled Longmire after the third season. The cancelation wasn’t because of ratings. According to almost all news reports, Longmire was A&E’s strongest performing dramatically scripted show.
Even good ratings apparently won’t save you from the corporate suit gunslingers.
A&E claims the series skews to too old a viewership.
If you’re over 50, you don’t count, at least if the decision is made to axe a show that is actually rising in ratings.
But like a villain in a Western or in the entertainment business, that probably isn’t the only motivation. What seems to really be going on here is that Warners owns Longmire, and A&E only airs it. So the network will keep shows on that are not pulling in the numbers, because what they really want is to own all of the show, especially for residuals down the line, when the show goes into syndication.
That sounds a lot like the comics medium in the middle of the twentieth century. The people in the suits, the people who cannot tell the stories, who could not create a character or a plot or a theme if they had to do it to save their lives, wanted to own it all. There are people who still claim writers had an option about signing work For hire contracts when copyright laws changed in the late 1970s. But what option was there for writers and artists who wanted to write and make a living in comics? You signed the damn thing, made a deal with the Devil, or you didn’t get to work. Period.
With Longmire, what is being declared is Arts & Entertainment, despite what the stations letters stand for, be damned. The herd is moving in this direction, and in the entertainment biz, you get on the right path, trample over anything in the way, and always keep sight for the next “way things are done” so you can adjust accordingly.
The fan groups have come out in force, ready for a High Noon showdown, on the Internet taking A&E to task, especially since the third season ended on a cliffhanger.
Warners isn’t exactly a “little” guy. There is talk they are shopping the title to one of the TV stations that they own.
If the series is done, the real losers are the cast and crew of the show, the people who make their living from Longmire may be now out of a job, but that’s their lookout. Because all those A&E reality shows with racist and homophobic boobs will stay around.
The locale economy where the show is filmed will take a serious hit, without a doubt. Sometimes, the show doesn’t go on.
Back to the show itself.
The individual episodes may be self-contained, but there is continuity in each main characters’ life, and shows how the job and the place that they live in shapes them.
Sheriff Walt Longmire has served as sheriff for the township of Absaroka for some time. The deputies surrounding him in patrolling the vast domain are Victoria “Vic” Moretti (Katee Sackhoff), who transferred from the Philadelphia Homicide Squad. She’s a newcomer to the unique law enforcement complications between the local police office and the Native American Reservation Tribal Police, all a delicate, but profound minefield of jurisdictional power and consequence, racial suspicion and prejudice.
Fans of the Sci Fi Channel’s version of Battlestar Galactica will remember Katee as the tough, competent fighter pilot Starbuck, her emotions locked down and fixed with a gunner’s purposeful eye.
Vic can still handle her own, though she is allowed to show more reaction to the violence human beings can commit on each other, whether in the streets of the town, in the homes surrounding the town, or in the beautiful countryside. She knows how to manipulate men to get the information she wants, including mimicking a pole dance in the local saloon to get information that the patrons who had been reluctant to give it up.
She can act outrageously in her job, and thereby take charge over threatening folks. “Are you really ready to take me on, Buster? Eye to eye! My power against yours?”
Her private life is much more vulnerable. Like Walt, Vic’s past stalks her and never relents. And like Walt, she seldom talks about the things that drive a stake into her mind, and that only occasionally shows in her eyes. Sometimes her life becomes so complex, Vic feels finds sleeping in one of the office jail cells better. Now that’s a sad note to live with.
Branch Connally (Bailey Chase) has roots in the community. Branch is one of Walt’s deputies, but he’s a young turk who is running against Walt in the upcoming election for the sheriff position.
Branch’s father, Barlow Connally, is one of the older white power players in the area, and having his son as sherrif would fit in nicely with his real estate developer plans — some of which may ruthlessly run roughshod of areas of Native American land and have ecological impact.
Branch can do his job, even if he and Walt are at odds. Complicating everything is that Branch is having sex with Walt’s daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman).
You can bet the farm this will not go over calmly with dad.
Lou Diamond Phillips as Henry Standing Bear owns the best looking saloon and restaurant around, with its pink neon horses, and dark wood furniture. Phillips brings a lot of bright light to Longmire as the Cheyenne proprietor of the Red Pony Café, a tavern and restaurant that caters to clientele of all persuasions. Sometimes that open door policy has substantial fallout.
In a way, I wish Henry wasn’t often on the edge of events, since the people who work in the office get to be center stage when violence or death occur. Still, his friendship with Walt brings a lot of heart — in this case heart meaning warmth — to a show that is shrouded in gray thoughts and events.
Henry and Walt share a friendship of a lifetime, and he is Walt’s intimate link to the Native American community that is suspicious of white law enforcement. Walt has a deep, abiding respect for Henry and the Cheyenne culture. This becomes a powerful force of sacrifice and tribal redemption in one of the later episodes of the series.
Even Adam Bartley, as a deputy called “The Ferg”, who sometimes seems like he can’t get any respect, sometimes has showcase moments of fierce emotion and illuminating depth. He becomes more than comic foil, and his devotion and humanity hit with startling clarity.
The main cast all have introductory sequences as Walt meets with each of them, starting with a call from Vic, who draws the melancholic sheriff out into the icy wilderness with a call about a corpse.
Vic doesn’t tell him the corpse is a slaughtered sheep. When Walt remains quiet as the trek to vast snow swept hills and woodland, Vic asks what he is doing. Walt replies, “Thinking.” And then adds, “I do that sometimes before I talk.”
Walt doesn’t tell her that the circling crows show that there is another corpse, this one human, with blood smearing the white surroundings.
By the time Walt confers with Henry Standing Bear, the case has turned to missing girls, travelling prostitution rings, and Walt having to relive his own wife’s death when he has to inform a woman of her husband’s brutal murder.
Episode 2: “The Dark Road”
A young woman’s body discarded in the countryside, with dollar bills on her and glitter adorning her corpse – a clue that leads to strippers in the rural countryside.
As the series begins to explore the principal players’ pasts, and we discover that everyone has at least one major secret, the investigation leads to the Mennonite community, where strict laws of behavior are still the rule of the day.
Along with secrets are harsh realities that slash the heart when exposed. There’s a moment of confession and self-recrimination at the motivation of the murder that is heartrending for me.
The episode also showcases Longmire’s outrageous side as Vic shows Walt how to get information from a bunch of men at a local bar, by doing her own pole dancing routine in uniform before it takes a dark turn at its conclusion.
Episode 3. “A Damn Shame”
A stable bursts into flame against the nighttime skies. Burning horseflesh permeates the air. And then a corpse is found burnt to ash in the smoldering cinders.
There are elements of this case that only Walt is aware, as he keeps hidden the dark pain of domestic violence.
Who says Longmire only caters to older skewing audiences? The devastating effects of domestic violence are as huge in numbers and as wide-reaching as they were when I wrote about their prevalence in Detectives Inc.: A Terror of Dying Dreams during the 1980s.
This episode also explores a topic that is little visited in American television: the problem of Mob violence in small town America.
Episode 4. “The Cancer”
This episode, the first woman director goes behind the camera for Longmire.
You can never tell what you might catch when fishing around Absoroka. A man catches not one, but two dead bodies, bound together in death. Walt learns that one of the bodies is that of a Cheyenne youth while the other is a member of the Mexican drug cartel.
The case involves the Native American Res police and Walt’s group, but it is only Henry that can help bring to the two legal forces together. Much as different military groups have their own agendas, sometimes they must come together and fight together, though the same friction of division of authority, who gets to do what where, and when, exists.
The episode further reveals that Walt’s wife dealt with someone who sold her marijuana to help with the pain of her cancer. The scars on Walt’s back strongly suggest there is more than one kind of cancer at play when the case is solved. The problems of life are not solved in one short episode, and the mysteries deepen.
Episode 5. “Dog Soldiers”
Continuing its focus on saddening statistics that many do not realize exist in our world today, this episode is based on true incidents. Young Native American kids are taken off the reservation by social service institutions. Often this happens under wrongful accusations of abuse that separate sons and daughters from their bereft parents. The kids are taken into supposedly safe havens, where the children are put into group foster homes run by white people. The intent is less than altruistic for some, who bring in a number of foster children simply to earn some cash. As can happen too often when different institutions and cultures are concerned, the nightmarishly crippling ordeal can be shatteringly abusive. It then turns into a political issue at the expense of kids’ lives.
In this episode, when a child disappears from a group home, the manager is battered to death. His broken teeth are taken away by the batterer. Other children flee to Henry’s restaurant, the pink neon horse glowing like a beacon. One of the kids witnessed the violence committed by what he terms the “dog soldier.”
Jacob Nighthorse, played by A. Martinez, comes to release a Cheyenne named Hector who is accused of the crime that he’s been accused of because of his size and his rage at what is going on. The backlash has a cost for all, adults and kids, Native Americans and whites.
As if the volatile current events aren’t enough, Walt receives a letter from the Denver, Colorado police, and flashbacks reveal him driving through rain-swept, lonely roads. He is armed with a pistol. There are questions left to be answered about the night of his wife’s death.
Episode 6. “The Worst Kind of Hunter”
Peter Weller (the original Robocop) was the sheriff before Walt. He is also the uncle of Branch Connally, who of course is running against Walt in the upcoming elections for the sheriff position. As befitting the Robocop personality. Uncle Lucian fires a weapon in the retirement home where he resides. It’s what he does best.
Peter Weller also directs the episode.
Country music lovers discover a grisly sight that takes all the love out of the day. It jolts the Ferg. Lucian ends up between Walt and Branch helping solve a case where a bear has supposedly attacked and savaged a human being and left the mangled corpse to rot.
Vic is only about a half a year away from policing in Philadelphia. Even with a rifle on her hip, she has never run across anything like this. However, she handles this better than the secret she has been hiding since she came to Wyoming though the secret tears her apart inside.
Everyone goes bear hunting, but the real killers, with all kinds of reasons for killing, hold their secrets.
We get more of a flashback to the night that Walt’s wife died, revealing Walt as a hunter approaching a meth house.
Saloons. Meth houses. In some ways they’re the same thing. I told you: The Western hasn’t died.
Episode 7. “8 Seconds”
Longmire is a Western, so in at least one episode there has to be a rodeo. It’s a Noir Western, so that means someone has to have their brains nearly bashed out at the rodeo, amidst the bronc busters.
In this episode, Vic is called out of bed in the midst of having sex with her husband. Henry tells her she needs to come to the Pink Horse and get Walt out of there, because he is getting seriously drunk. While Vic drives Walt toward his home, they get a call about a vicious beating at the rodeo, and thus end up at a crime scene, with Walt smelling of booze, and election day looming closer for both Walt and Branch. At the rodeo, they meet the flirtatious Lizzie, who must be the scandal of the town, mock-scolding Walt for calling her to hook up with her, and then hanging up before talking.
Did he forget about caller ID? Being drunk, apparently Walt did.
Branch’s father, Barlow Connally (played by Gerald McRaney) doesn’t care that he is questioned in the case because he was having sex with the beaten man’s wife, because the sexual complexities of the case have no intrigue for him. The fact that Walt is intoxicated at a crime scene is interesting. He discusses that fact with his son as they ride together – though they don’t ride off into the sunset.
Walt and Lizzie meet up at Henry Standing Bear’s Pink Horse.
Episode 8. “An Incredibly Beautiful Thing”
An incident with a frightened woman at a roadside convenience gas station and grocery store end with the owner murdered, the woman gone, and milk as the key to why things turned gruesome.
When the sheriff’s department releases a photo of the woman taken from the store’s security cameras, her parents come to Walt’s office, revealing that she disappeared two years ago. The bereaved father mourns his daughter’s disappearance. Such inexplicable loss without any answers often takes a toll on marriages.
The world of cults seek secluded places to operate, where there aren’t many prying eyes. Tracking down this crime brings Walt racing across desolate countryside toward train tracks where young women are offered in sacrificial ceremony.
And time is running out!
The religious mural shows the way to enlightenment that is rigid in its principle. And anyone who doesn’t believe is unimportant.
One of the most appalling visuals in the series is Walt racing across desert sand, alone, and realizing the monstrous proportions that he sees before him.
The show plays skillfully here with human tragedy, sustained suspense, and its history offers no balm that all with turn out all right. How many victims can be saved from the light?
Episode 9. “Dogs, Horses and Native Americans”
The murdered body of a Tribal Council president is found as furor raises over whether a casino will be built in Absaroka. The list of suspects leads Walt to a tattoo parlor where fists leave as many marks as needles.
Blood anger flares, fears ignite, and one of the suspects takes off on a motorcycle as Vic and Walt give chase.
For Longmire though, the throbbing of pounded flesh is easier to endure than having to confront Cady, his daughter, after learning of her affair with Branch. Cassidy Freeman delivers a nuanced performance of pain and love and anger and confusion as Walt does what he never does: expressing some of his own hurt while still keeping secrets from Cady about her mom’s death, secrets that seem best kept secret unless they become revealed, and emotional blood spurts from shattering knowledge.
Episode 10. “Unfinished Business”
The second season concludes with many of the secrets revealed, but also new secrets appearing. The consequences of all these hidden emotions and actions lead to a cliffhanger. Longmire does not need cliffhangers! Better the season ends, like the end of novel in a series. A resolution of purpose throughout the individual episodes coalescing into a finale that gives it a rich, complete texture, but that also makes you want to know what happens in the characters’ lives next.
David Simon does this to incredible affect with The Wire and Treme. The Walking Dead manages such a compelling emotional commitment to the characters that the Fourth Season is the first time the series does a cliffhanger. Longmire, like those shows, doesn’t need to close on an ending that may never have an ending if the show isn’t renewed.
Lizzie Ambrose (Katherine LaNasa) brings Walt a wrapped gift which she leaves with Vic, who promptly dumps it into a desk drawer, leaving many watching with a “what’s up with that?” question in their heads, or answering it for themselves on the internet.
Walt and Branch have a pre-election debate, witnessed only be sweeping skies in an isolated area where only they know the fierce intensity of their conflict with each other.
There is a lot of unfinished business coming to the fore in the season finale. Detective Fales (Charles S. Dutton) travels up from Denver, Colorado to Absaroka to meet with Walt and Henry. Fales who has questions for both of them about the night of Walt’s wife’s death. None of the questions have to do with cancer or with medicinal marijuana.
A murder investigation is underway, and Walt and Henry both are suspects. The crime has to be investigated further as it intensifies the unfinished business. The unfinished business is more complex than just one person’s emotional reactions to death and loss.
For a man who doesn’t like to talk or reveal his emotions, Walt has many confrontations on this day. The one that leaves the darkest wounds are with his daughter, and the bond between the two may be irreparably broken.
To be continued.
Episode 1. “Unquiet Mind”
All the unsettled questions have to swirl in an unquiet mind, full of self-recrimination, when Walt and Vic are summoned to the scene of a prisoner escape. The escaped prisoner is a serial killer of Native Americans, who sells their body parts for cash.
Walt’s hunt for Wayne Durell (Dan Hildebrand) takes on physical as well as psychological and metaphysical proportions, caught in a frigid landscape of beauty and threatening icy death. Mystical manifestations crowd with portentous imagery in Walt’s mind.
Much of this location at Red River, New Mexico, substituting for the Absaroka, Wyoming mountains, is captured beautifully on film.
Walt may not be able to conquer his own demons, but he is determined that this man capable of such atrocities not find the freedom to victimize more human beings.
Henry knows how much tribal beliefs and rituals influence Walt, and rides through the snow-laden limbs of pine to try to find Walt before death finds him — whether from the human killer or the frigidity of nature. Branch takes up the chase alongside Henry, both galloping for reasons of their own. No one’s mind is quiet on this trek and hunt.
A frozen portrait, of body and spirit. Are warmth and soul still contained within?
Episode 2. “Carcasses”
A corpse found in a compost heap leads to prostitutes in the parking lot outside a unique truck stop burger stand.
Hookers and johns make up facing line-ups for Walt, Vic and Branch. It’s a gauntlet of taunts and sophomoric sex humor until the hard questions are asked, and the realities of sex for money have to be dealt with honestly.
The Ferg shows the prostitutes a photo of the corpse, and Walt makes a deduction from facial reactions that will finally reveal some answers.
Henry has company in his vehicle later on, another hooker, Delila (Angie MacDonald) who believes he wants a threesome with Walt. She has no problem with that. It’s a financial deal, nothing more. What ends up happening isn’t the kind of threesome Delila anticipates.
Episode 3. “Death Came In Like Thunder”
A biker suffers a broken leg when he runs over what he believes is a rock. Instead, Walt and Vic discover a Basque sheepherder’s body, dead. Walt realizes the man’s dog is missing, as well, and discovers the dog’s corpse nearby.
Poison! Poison that may be in the drinking water!
Meanwhile, Branch is busy with his political campaign, letting the local talent win the axe chopping contest, to show he’s a strong guy but a good loser.
Xander Berkeley (Jeremiah Rains) deals in mail order brides from Spain. They’re marriages made in brokerage heaven. Under the straw cowboy hat, if you look hard, you’ll realize that Rains was in the early seasons of 24, one of those bureaucrats that Jack Bauer had to fight against to keep the U.S.A. safe. He came to a classic end in 24 after a couple of seasons.
He was more rat than good guy on that show. Here, it’s hard to know which way he is going to go, good or bad — or as with many of us, a mixture of both. Berkeley blithely explains his philosophy of love and getting people together. He slights American women with the same nonchalant quick manner. He may really care for the woman for whom he arranged the marriage. He might actually be concerned that she is hiding out, afraid that with her Basque but American husband gone that she will be deported. You just can’t tell.
Vic pursues an immigrant widow, who may have murdered to keep the American dream alive for herself.
During the investigation of the murder, the writers offer a lot of interesting Basque history, including how Hitler was allowed to use the domain between Spain and France for bombing practice, the Basques’ lives forfeit. The Basques remain in many ways isolated, living on the land. Their history, as one of the surviving brothers shows is carved into the trees that grow on their property, telling who did what where and when.
The solution lies in the mist-covered trees, and in a murder mystery staple, poisonous hemlock that may have been placed in a well.
Episode 4. “The Road to Hell”
The road to Hell in Wyoming is paved with cattle rustlers.
A trucker who was hauling cattle to market disappears. Only the cab of his truck remains. Walt deduces that, and other facts, in true Western Sherlock Holmes fashion, and the deductions actually make sense.
Some of this leads to the rancher whose cattle have been stolen.
I have been to a cattle auction. My sincere recommendation is that you not be tempted to sit in the front rows. You ain’t ready for what happens when that beef starts hurtling around the arena! The cowboys aren’t going to warn you! Bet on it.
It’s also cleverly presented how the case also includes the issue of fracking and its vocal activists and street protestors. Cattle show up wearing cardboard signs like: MY FARTS CAUSED HURRICANE SANDY.
Skew old, my ass! I’m surprised Longmire keeps tackling provocative issues that affect our lives on a daily basis.
The truck driver returns, having been released by the rustlers, found with bound arms and a severe battering. Vic calls to tell the wife her husband is safe. That night, they find the husband, lynched in the back of a truck container.
It all ends in a collision of vehicles and ideologies and conflicting ways of life smashing bloodily up against each other.
Episode 5. “Party’s Over”
Here’s the major contrast of events.
Lizzie makes a 911 call to Walt, and is waiting in lingerie.
It took me weeks to find a photo of that sequence to include with this piece, but I knew you’d need to see the most memorable moments in each episode.
Somehow, no matter what A&E says, I don’t think garters and nylons skew old. I’m not sure lingerie ever truly goes out of style. Here in the States. Or globally. Well, there’s places where it probably never happens, but if so, only because you can’t buy it in some remote locale, or they have some really rigid non-fun rules to take joy out of life.
Vic, however, is not in lingerie. She is in a women’s boxing ring, getting her ass kicked and losing her cookies. Why someone would want to watch women beat each other bloody rather than dress in lingerie for them, and lit in candlelight is way beyond me. But here, for old and young, you get to see both.
Twin Peaks‘s Madchen Amick makes her first appearance at the women’s boxing event, with Henry Standing Bear as her date. Walt clearly has a dislike for Deena, who comments, “The party’s over.”
Witnessing the female combatants, Walt comments, “They really pack them in to see girls beat each other up.” Vic replies, “It’s every man’s second fantasy.” Speak for yourself, Vic.
Lizzie, meanwhile, meets Cady for the first time. Both women learn that Walt has never mentioned that he has been seeing Lizzie. Truly, Walt must be really depressed.
Neither woman is thrilled by this news, and the meeting is awkward for both of them.
The death of one of the women fighter’s sisters brings the illegal sale of prescription drugs into play, and a raid on the local punks (who dress the way they see punks dressing on television programs) who sell what they euphemistically refer to as “subscriptions to magazines” turns ugly fast.
The title is from an Emily Dickinson poem.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise;
As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.
A Heyoka (a contrary warrior) rides past Walt’s house one morning while he sips coffee. The Heyoka is riding the horse, sitting backwards, face masked. For Walt, the meaning is clear: this is a foretelling of death. Not long after, a practicing Cheyenne psychic, Cassandra, is found lying face down on the table where she reads the future and sometimes summons the dead. Strangled. Open eyes sightless.
The election debate for sheriff between Walt and Branch commences, as voting day draws nearer. During the debate, Walt displays by accident how apps can sometimes interfere with pursuing the law or communicating.
The next display, however, is more disruptive. Cassandra’s brother invades the speaking hall, weapons in hand, shouting, that the participants are murderers.
Two big events are underway in Absaroka, Wyoming that will change the way people live, and they are divisive projects among the constituents. Branch’s father is building a big golf course, but the psychic may have discovered the land is sacred Cheyenne burial area. Jacob Nighthorse hired the psychic to make sure the land he is building his casino on is clear of ancient tribal burials as he contributes to Branch’s political campaign.
The economic realities play havoc with any simple solution. Money is a strong motivator even when it comes to parents seeking solace from the beyond, praying for some kind of solace, some kind of answer.
Longmire isn’t just playing for the older audiences; such complexities and human pain affect us all on the journey of life.
Episode 7. “Sound and Fury”
This episode is visually lit as Western noir. On the Blu-ray it is an extended episode.
I love the episodes in this set that allow for character moments that were obliterated in the original broadcasts. And I love it that Warner Archives have left it so you can view the film the way it aired: not done as “deleted scenes”, but put into the context of the story.
In true noir fashion, Henry hears two men in his place perhaps discussing a murder for hire, the one man desiring a hit man to take his wife out of his life. The Pink Pony’s sign reflects into dark puddles that splinter when a boot shatters it. Henry offers himself as the paid assassin.
Deena is still in town, suggesting in a sultry way — when she talks with Henry on the phone and he informs her Walt and Ferg are listening — “Of course, they are, because what I want you to do to me is against the law.” Ah. She is a true film noir femme fatale. Yeah, they even exist in real life, and most of the time they are just enjoying themselves and aren’t out for their own agenda.
By the time guns gain solidity, thrust from the shadows, the noir questions are being asked. Who’s lying? The husband? Wife? Lover?
Who dies among the shadows?
Episode 8. “The Great Spirit”
Walt gets his horse.
An illegal rodeo is playing like a floating crap game. Sharpshooters are firing a six-gun at some fool dumb enough to let him shoot a cigar out of his damn mouth. The bullet misses tobacco, and rips flesh holes in both of the man’s cheeks.
In the daytime, in the heat of the desert sun, a beautiful black horse runs with superb grace, dragging a corpse behind him. If you’re the sheriff, it’s your job to rope the horse, stop it, and untie the dead body to take it to the morgue.
With Election Day at hand, Branch has no desire to foreclose on an old friend’s trailer house when he is behind on payments. When Walt forces the issue, guns come into play, and it is a tense stand-off, with Vic steady as she aims her glock, ready to pull the trigger in a dispossession case that has turned volatile.
Episode 9. “Tuscan Red”
Longmire certainly isn’t mining for just for older audiences; it takes on events that cause great debate and anger in the present day, west or east. For the whole damn planet, in the long run. Racism between Native Americans and blacks combined with fracking and Native American domestic terrorists as defined by the FBI.
My son, Rob, is in his thirties. This episode speaks loudly to him. Methane gases causing flame to erupt from faucets. Is it from shattering the earth with deep drilling?
A Native American corpse, a victim of fracking, or something else, yet painted in tuscan red, as if a condemnation that the victim was not “red” enough.
Rallies of protestors form where Rob lives in Rockaway, New York where platforms stand in the ocean, rising in dark metal against the sky, just off the shoreline where Hurricane Sandy devastated the area, leaving homes in scattered rubble. Images that were bold and dreadful in the weeks to follow the disaster. Now, many have forgotten the wreckage, the misery, the cost of lives, and the metal structures rise in the aftermath, and some fear the consequences to an already fragile landscape surrounded by water. Oh, and with a beautiful view of a distant Manhattan, so far removed.
Vic has to help Walt arrest her own husband, whose company is defending and using the debatable practice of fracking. That has to be hell on a marriage, especially one where there is already unrest.
And then there’s a stalker whose ultimate agenda is still unclear.
Cady and Branch get drunk and hose each other down outside with a garden hose that does not spurt flame, but doesn’t quell their heat for each other.
Episode 10. “Election Day”
Voting day finally arrives.
The day of decision is at hand.
The series shifts into emotional high gear for the main characters.
A tragic accident on the highway shifts attention from the election, as personal tragedy often does.
Adhering to its Western routes, modern and past, Longmire puts himself through a tortuous tribal ceremony. I don’t much agree with the first reasons gives Henry for doing this, but his end determination to undergo a night of pain and blood loss and sacrifice because someone must pay the cost of what happened on the night Walt’s wife died rings truer.
As you can see below, the scenes are evocatively filmed, with intense mood. The winner of the election is announced, and it is irrelevant to those who were at its center. The point is clearly made. Life goes in directions one cannot pre-determine. And it can change in a heartbeat, with one act, with one devastating declaration.
Episode 11. “Natural Order”
Daylight finds Walt still enduring the umbilical connection to Mother Earth.
The shards of wood connecting him must go through flesh to atone for acts of anger that leave scars in the psyche.
Vic has no idea what Walt has been through as they investigate the slaughter of elk out of hunting season.
Vic fins preserved body organs as they begin to squeamishly uncover that there is money to be made in herbal medicines. Antler velvet and the pancreas from the animal can be harvested and sold for big bucks as possible remedies for cancer victims or as steroids to help performance for athletes.
These are current-day methods of people finding ways to prey on people’s need for cures for certain death sentences due to health, or to achieve the goals they desire. That theme is a constant in the Western; only the ways of committing acts of greed and living off the misery and hopes of others remains unchanged.
Jim Beard, who played the memorably marshal of a small town memorably on Justified, appears as a taxidermist in this episode. Just a note for his fans.
While Vic and Walt are occupied with handling body parts, Branch examines the car involved in the accident during Election Day and comes to some questions that disturb him profoundly.
Episode 12. “A Good Death Is Hard to Find”
“The cowboy has always been a dying breed…”
Peter Weller returns as his character former Sheriff Lucian Connally, performing a song, about the death of cowboys, and finding a proper death — a death that reflects the life led.
As Walt struggles with a case that begins with a severed finger being sent to him, and dinosaur bones (a Triceratops skeleton) somehow connected to the case, and duplicitous behavior even by Lucian, Vic finds that her nemesis from the past, Ed Gorski (Lee Tergesen), a retired cop from Philadelphia, is stalking her.
Sometimes on this show the personal stories take a back seat for many episodes, so a viewer wonders what Ed Gorski was doing all that time, but the end of the season is coming, and now he’s in Vic’s face, with quiet threats and smiles.
Tergesen has come a long way from the naïve prison inmate victim he played on Tom Fontana’s trail blazing HBO series OZ to the actor who would go on to play J. Jonah Jameson.
In the war of nerves, Vic loses her cool, even in public, much the way Ed had hoped. He couldn’t be more pleased.
Vic finds even the shower an unsafe place. Teeth marks shows where her soap has been bitten off in chunks.
Vic decides jailing herself is a better option than staying at home, isolated.
She tells Walt her darkest secret. He brings her to his home until they can figure out what can be done to resolve what is happening to her. Lizzie shows up at Walt’s house while he is showering and Vic answers the door. I wish they had not gone there.
It was refreshing to have a TV series where a man and woman actually seemed to enjoy being with each other without sex getting into the middle of it all. There is so little of it in dramatic television. The thought often is that a threat has to be made to separate them to add conflict.
I fought this idea throughout Sabre. I wanted a man and woman who loved each other and who were willing to fight for each other and their family.
Episode 13. “Bad Medicine”
The Second Season finale is all about the undercurrents threading through episodes since the first episode of Season One. Walt does something that compounds the complexity of Vic’s situation, and we’re not just talking about Lizzie.
Charles S. Dutton is back as Detective Fales from Denver, finally moving on the death of Walt’s wife.
Henry heads Walt off at the pass. Okay, not quite the pass, but on the highway out of Dodge. I mean, town.
Branch confronts A Martinez as Jacob Nighthorse on his theories about what happened on the day of election, and Jacob takes him to a sacred grave where charred remains may turn any answers to cinders and ash.
Walt makes an arrest of a man who may be complicit in events surrounding how Walt’s wife died, while Detective Fales is ready to make some arrests of his own.
The situation is out of control. Walt realizes he can’t protect anyone, and that if anything he has put them right into the midst of the storm. His calm finally explodes as he is left alone in his office, his badge no longer an entitlement, his life in shambles.
And then, with all that unresolved, a final cliffhanger.
This Blu-ray series from Warners is beautifully done. The image clarity is a thing of beauty.
I really love the fact that they did extended episodes, rather than just deleted scenes, putting back in material they had to cut for time. Warners was also very hip in giving the audience the option of watching the episode as it originally aired. Who the hell can bitch about that? Well, on the Internet, someone, some troll with nothing else to do in their lives, probably could find a way.
I hope Warner’s will put Season 3 on Blu-ray soon.
And I hope they find a new home for Longmire. If Longmire does find a new home on the range to play with the snakes and buffalos, here is the one thing they need to do away with: the damn cliffhangers. Let a season resolve itself. The show doesn’t need it.
Let it ride off into an unending sunset, promising a new tomorrow.