Although A&E’s Longmire, thus far, hasn’t broken much new ground in the contemporary western genre, individual episodes continue to be engaging and entertaining. This past week, Walt was called upon to investigate a barn burning. In addition to dead and wounded horses, he discovers a badly burned human body—assumed to be the body of owner of the horses and the ranch. Things aren’t quite what they seem, of course, and continuing on with a discussion of the episode will require a few spoilers, so read no further if you haven’t seen the episode.
Vic Moretti also has an opportunity to say the F-word, a word that she employs frequently and with great creativity in the Craig Johnson novel series that Longmire is based on. Although, in this case, she quite literally says the F-word, as in, “What the F?” rather than “What the fuck?” as would have been her choice of words in one of the novels. I really wish A&E could find a way to make her language more lively. “What the F?” just doesn’t do it. Good cursing is an art form, and Vic is an artful and accomplished practitioner of the form in the novel, and I really miss that element of her character in the series.
Two things about this most recent episode, “A Damn Shame,” that I liked were ways that it went against some of the expectations of a television series. The dead ranch owner is not really dead, but hiding out from the mob, and his fake death is both an insurance scam and an attempt to throw a hired killer off the scent. When the hired killer breaks into his house and takes his wife and child hostage, Walt, in trying to get inside the house, finds the owner hiding in the basement. He handcuffs him in place and starts making his way into the house. As things turn out, the killer figures it out that the man is in the basement and starts shooting into the floor. Unable to escape the bullets because he is handcuffed in place, the man is killed. Granted, Walt saves the rest of the family, but, in this case, the western hero fails to save someone—and, in part, is responsible for the man’s death (having handcuffed him to a pipe in the first place). I like this darker element of the episode. Everything doesn’t turn out exactly perfect in the end.
On a similar note, one of the horses survives the fire, although it is badly burned. Walt insists on trying to save it, even offering to pay the vet bills. In the end, the show resists the pat TV ending of the miraculous recovery, and we are told that the horse will succumb to its injuries. Of course, this also enables Longmire to illustrate one of the genre western’s longstanding requirements–that the hero show more emotion over the death of a horse than anything related to his human relationships. Walt Longmire in the novel series is a more emotionally expressive character (he frequently hugs and even kisses his friends and neighbors) than he is the TV series thus far, and I hope that particular departure from western cliché (the silent stoic emotionless hero) works its way into the TV series as it develops.