Sunday, June 14, 2015

TV REVIEW: Longmire (2012-present)

 I've mentioned before on the blog that I have a soft spot for westerns (which quite frankly doesn't entirely make sense to me... but that's for another post).  My taste usually runs to stories set in the "wild" west during America's frontier era but I do enjoy a good crime thriller and that was enough for me to adjust my stringent era requirements to watch Longmire.  Boy, am I glad I did because this show is my newest obsession.  And honestly there are so many elements of this show that seem to purposefully reflect it's wild west legacy;  cattle rustling, duals with pistols, firearms everywhere and complicated, mostly negative relations between whites and Indians; so it doesn't stray too far from my preferences anyway.

The one sentence show synopsis from Netflix is:
This contemporary crime thriller focuses on a Wyoming sheriff who's rebuilding his life and career after the death of his wife.
 That's a pretty good short description and in fact the show begins on or about the one year anniversary of Walt Longmire's wife's murder.  It becomes apparent in the first episode that he is barely keeping it together - his house is in a state of disrepair and he's not been truly engaged with his job as Sheriff for a while.  His three deputies have been holding it together:
- Branch Connally is competent, arrogant and cocky and has just thrown his name in the hat to run against Walt for sheriff.  He obviously respects Walt and is a decent guy at heart but he's ambitious as is his powerful father.
- The Ferg is awkward, and incompetent but his heart's in the right place. As the show progresses, Ferg's skills and confidence improve. 
- Vic Moretti has only been on the job for six months after leaving her job as a cop in Philadelphia.  She's feisty, aggressive and taking a while to adjust to the different kind of law enforcement in Absaroka County, Wyoming.

The cast of main characters is filled out by Henry Standing Bear, Walt's best friend and owner of the Red Pony Bar and Cady Longmire, Walt's Daughter.  There's also a handful of other tertiary recurring characters like Mathias, the Cheyenne Reservation Police Chief who doesn't much care for Walt and my favorite, Lucian Connally, Branch's uncle and the former Sheriff.

Season 1 is ten episodes long and follows a pretty standard police procedural format with each episode presenting a unique mystery storyline.  There is an overarching story, which continues throughout all three current seasons, of Walt's wife's murder and the repercussions and continued mystery surrounding it, but it remains mostly in the background in this season.  Standout episodes for me in season one are:
- Dog Soldier (episode 1.5) which is about the kidnapping of Cheyenne children and has an ending that really helps define the character of Walt and gave me chills (in a good way).  Here's the incredible ending scene but don't watch if you don't want to be spoiled!
- The Worst Kind of Hunter (episode 1.6) about a body found mauled to death by a bear but it isn't entirely what it seems.
- Unfinished Business (episode 1.10) deals with the murders of some local teenage boys that were wrongfully acquitted of raping a mentally handicapped Cheyenne girl.  One of the things that I most love about this show is how well it creates these very raw emotional moments and this has one of the best.

In Season 2 the through story lines become a little more prominent.  The election between Branch and Walt heats up, a detective from Denver where Walt's wife was killed steps up his investigations, and Cady disappears for a few episodes after learning that her mother was murdered rather than dying of cancer as she was told.  Some new story lines emerge as well with Vic's past coming back to haunt her and a little frisson of something between Walt and Vic begins to be explored.  Also this season is really strong on an episode level with my favorites being:
- Unquiet Mind (episode 2.1) where Walt tracks a serial killer and hostages into the wilderness during a blizzard.  It illustrates just how fearless and badass Walt is and how seriously he takes his duty as Sheriff.
- Carcasses (episode 2.2) has one of those scenes that for me just completely blew me away  - really terrific acting from the guest stars in this one and a powerful and heartbreaking story.  It is perhaps the best scene in the whole series (Again don't watch if you don't want to be spoiled).
- Election Day (episode 2.10) starts out very lighthearted but quickly gets complicated when Cady is badly injured by a hit and run driver.  It's a turning point for Walt as a character and Ferg reveals himself a little but more.  Really it's a nice character piece for everyone.
- Natural Order (episode 2.11) is about poaching and the death of a game warden so I'm disposed to find it interesting.  I was also disposed to like it because it guest stars Jim Beaver who I unreservedly adore (he played major roles in two of my other favorite shows Deadwood and Supernatural). This one also has a really powerfully emotional scene that is well acted and done.

Season 3 is bonkers. Everything explodes in flames.  Henry is arrested and goes on trial for a murder related to Walt's wife's death; Branch, who was shot in the last episode of season 2, goes completely loco; Vic and her husband are kidnapped by a group of anti-government extremists and Walt and Vic's feelings for one another become more difficult to keep repressed. This season is a testament to Walt's ability to multi-task:0). By the end of the season quite a few of the ongoing story lines, which dominate this season, are mostly wrapped up though there are still a number of loose ends.  Thank all that is holy that Netflix has picked the show up for a 4th season after A&E dropped the show.   The season ended on a huge cliffhanger.  Anyway, some favorite episodes from this season:
- The White Warrior (episode 3.1) is a non-stop crazy rodeo with Walt running all over trying to pin down who shot Branch while also trying to mitigate Henry's arrest for murder.  The cat is finally out of the bag to everyone, that his wife was murdered.
- Of Children and Travelers (episode 3.2) has Vic and Walt trying to track down what happened to a Russian teenager brought to the U.S. through adoption. Vic and Walt make a great duo in this one!
- Population 25 (episode 3.7) Vic and her husband get in a car accident at just the wrong place and are kidnapped by ant-government extremists.  Vic's storyline involving repercussions from her past is most likely resolved in this episode.
- Ashes to Ashes (episode 3.10) Branch is finally vindicated and Henry's troubles are also resolved after some clever detective work.

So let's get down to the nitty gritty.  What's so special about this show?  There are several elements that have helped it very quickly become one of my favorites. 

Walt -

Walt Longmire is an amazing character.  He's a man of few words who generally expresses his feelings and beliefs through action. And speaking of emotion he's the type who feels them very intensely but who usually keeps them screwed down very tight.  When they do overwhelm him, it's a sight to behold.  He's a man in his 50's with all the experience that age brings and he is physically and mentally tough, has a strong sense of duty and isn't afraid to bend some rules in service to fairness and justice.  Despite his rough exterior he is in fact incredibly compassionate which especially shows itself in his caring for animals, and his relationship with his daughter.  He is incredibly protective of those he loves.  He's also sometime wrong which makes sure he stays in the realm of reality.  I adore him.  Seriously. 

Cast -

The show is very well cast from Bailey Chase (Branch) who is the epitome of the young cocky cowboy to Lou Diamond Phillips who radiates wisdom and caring as Walt's best friend.  Katee Sackhoff is perfect as Vic Moretti who is very similar to Katee's other famous role, Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica.  The guest stars are also routinely excellent which leads to the....

Raw Emotional Moments - 

This show does such an amazing job creating these incredibly moving, emotional scenes and moments.  The type of intense situations that create a visceral response from the viewer (well at least this viewer).  The show and it's cast deliver these type of scenes exceptionally well.

Interesting Storylines and Setting -

This is a crime procedural show that actually feels very original which is a rare thing!  The setting in a rural Wyoming County with it's western flavor and the added complicated relationship between the white and Indian nation provides unique ground for really interesting stories.  I also love the slow build of the through storylines - the convoluted circumstances surrounding Walt's wife's death, Vic's complicated past. 

Walt and Vic - 

For some watchers, the slow development of feelings between Walt and Vic will be a turn off but it is like glorious catnip to me.  My love for this 'ship had me questioning whether I now have a thing for May-December romances because one of my other all time favorite 'ships falls in this category (Sam and Jack from Stargate SG1).  Then it occurred to me that actually the two 'ships have more in common than just that - they are very similar.  It's very slowly developed and is between a very passionate but emotionally repressed and honorable older man and his strong, feisty second in command.  It's the type of 'ship where every look  and word may hold significance...or not.  It's like my 'ship kryptonite.  I can't wait to see where it goes in season 4.

I don't feel like I've really done the show justice but I felt compelled to put some praises out there for this fantastic show.  As usual I'm getting on the band wagon three years late but I feel very fortunate that the show has been picked up for a fourth season.  It's definitely still got some life left in it!

One final note is that this show is based on a series of mysteries by Craig Johnson.  They are very highly rated and I just broke down and bought the first four books on Kindle.  I felt like I was going to need something to tide me over until season 4 starts up in the fall.

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