Post-Mortem: Longmire, Season 1

I started watching A&E’s Longmire just a bit on the late side, starting with the third episode. Fortunately, being a crime drama type of show, it’s episodic in nature and doesn’t have much in the way of an overarching plot line between episodes. Normally, that would mean that I wouldn’t bother with a Post-Mortem on the season finale, but I decided to with Longmire for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the first season, so that along makes it worth my while to state what I think of the show. Second, as a show, it gives me some interesting things to write about. And third, it’s just plain good.

Robert Taylor plays Walt Longmire, Sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. (Absaroka is a fictional county, incidentally, but the name Absaroka is another name for the Crow, and is used for a few real-life geographical features.) Widowed the year before, he shows some obvious signs of depression but mostly puts on a stoic face and shows a lot of wry wit on the job. Taylor brings all of this to life in the character with his mannerisms and delivery; while some shows might have the character’s emotions and motivations stated outright, here it’s a more subtle performance, and a stronger one for it. Absaroka is a small county, and the Absaroka County Sheriff’s Department is similarly small; this doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of crime, though, and murders happen regularly, in addition to other major crimes. And so Taylor’s role as Longmire has plenty of opportunities to reflect off of different situations and the other characters.

Bailey Chase plays Branch Connally, one of Walt’s deputies… and also his opponent in the upcoming election for Sheriff. This leads to recurring conflict between the two, and on Branch’s part the tension is a bit higher as he’s pressured into running by his father (Gerald McRaney in a good minor role) and also — though Walt doesn’t know it — Branch is in a relationship with Walt’s adult daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman). Katee Sackhoff, formerly of Battlestar Galactica and the last season of 24, plays Deputy Victoria “Vic” Moretti. She’s from the big city (I think it was New York, though I could be misremembering), and she’s not completely used to rural life yet. However, she’s a sharp character and an experienced law officer, so her lack of experience with the idiosyncrasies of the area don’t come up often nor particularly hold her back. Longmire seems to rely on her more often than the other deputies, and with good reason, as she’s a strong intelligent character. The third deputy, known primarily as “The Ferg” (this is even how the character is credited on IMDb), is a bit of a different story. Played by Adam Bartley, the Ferg isn’t exactly incompetent, but he’s definitely more slow-witted than the others, and a bit goofy. However, he still is a capable back-up and occasionally shows hidden depths in particular areas of knowledge.

The interactions between the characters are all believable and feel natural. While it’s not really a character drama — the focus of each episode is on the cases they work — it keeps the characters human instead of being replaceable drones to fill set crime-solving roles. And as for the cases, while they are often murder mysteries, this isn’t a CSI clone by any stretch. Absaroka County doesn’t have a team of forensic scientists to dissect every last little clue and tell Walt that the blue speck is a paint chip from a brand that was only manufactured between three and five years ago. The crimes are mostly solved by figuring out the people, more like what used to be the standard crime drama before the crime lab shows started dominating the format.

The other thing that impresses me about the show is its treatment of Indians. Just the fact that it actually remembers Indians exist sets it apart from most TV shows (I think you’d have to go back to Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, in the 1990s to find another drama that regularly involved Indians.) But what’s praiseworthy is that it’s a fairly realistic depiction of modern day Indians. Absaroka County includes a Cheyenne reservation, and reservation life is shown reasonably accurately, with the difficulties of living there combined with the cultural pride, the abject poverty that is common to reservations and the individuals who try to rise above it. The show depicts real concerns with modern reservations, such as the pros and cons of bringing in casinos, debates over quantity of blood determining who does and does not count as a tribal member, and jurisdictional concerns between the reservation police and the county sheriff’s department. It shows the people on the reservation both trying to interact with the people in the county, while at the same time many of them want to remain insular, and many people in the county are uncomfortable with the Indians. There’s a mutual wariness between the two cultures about the other group’s “justice” when a case crosses the border line.

Above all, it does something few shows I can think of has done: It treats the Indians as actual people rather than mindless barbarians or mystic spirit guides. Officer Matthias (Zahn McClarnon) is arrogant, more than a bit of a jerk, and very territorial — but is willing to work with Longmire when necessary, or when politically convenient. Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) tends bar at the Red Pony, and is an old friend of Walt Longmire’s, and the chemistry between Phillips and Taylor works well here. It’s easy to believe that they have been friends for several years, as they cooperate with each other and come to each other with problems, but are shown to be the kind of friends who can and frequently do call each other on their bullshit. And the fact that Henry is an Indian only comes into play in the episodes which specifically deal with tribal concerns; the rest of the time, he’s just Henry, treated like any other character would be. He happens to be an Indian, just as numerous characters on other shows happen to be black or Hispanic, and just as on those other shows, it is for the most part not a defining characteristic. It’s also worth noting that, as far as I can tell, all the Indians are actually played by people who are Indians (at least partly). Since this is something that television shows and movies seldom bother to do, it’s nice to see here.

I’m probably not going to do post-mortem reviews on future seasons of Longmire. It hasn’t had a season-long plotline, really, and I kind of hope it doesn’t. Those usually feel shoe-horned in with crime dramas; they don’t really work for the genre. But whether I do reviews or not, I will be watching. So far, it’s proven to be a very good show.

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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2 Responses to Post-Mortem: Longmire, Season 1

  1. ray brayne says:

    Longmire is a good show. I first tuned in to see Katee Sackhoff but her part has been the biggest disappointment of the series. If they had used Robert Taylor for promos the viewership would be way smaller. The part that the Cheyennes play in this sets the show apart from all else and makes it worth while. I disagree that Henry is only thought of as an Indian when it’s suits the plot. He is full time member of the community and full time Indian. They need to develop plots without so many murders. I hope season 2 can expand it’s personal range. The best part of this series is it’s filmed almost entirely outdoors with the great Western scenery integral to it. Alot to like here, hope it keeps improving. Are you watching Hell on Wheels, TV’s current token Western? I just saw Copper. Not really a western as it’s set in 1870’s New York, but has a wild west feel to it. Are you aware IMDB has this post in it’s External Reviews of Longmire? Nice job by the way. Glad you’re doing TV as well as flix.

    • Thanks, Ray. I may have phrased things poorly when talking about Henry. What I meant was that although he’s an Indian, he’s given character and personality beyond that. The writers are remembering that there’s more to a personality than just their race.

      Since I came into the series a bit late, I didn’t even know Sackhoff was in it until I started watching. I take it the marketing made her look more promising or something?

      Haven’t seen Hell on Wheels; my father was watching it, but AMC and Dish are having some brou-ha-ha so we don’t get the channel right now. Copper sounds interesting, I might have to check that out. I loved Gangs of New York, so the setting sounds good to me.

      And yeah, I know IMDb has the link. I spent some time the other day adding links to all my reviews there. Probably won’t send too many people my way, but every little bit helps, right? 😀

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