The first season of A&E’s Longmire concluded by returning to the first book in Craig Johnson’s novel series, The Cold Dish. Several of the episodes in the television series have drawn bits and pieces from various novels along the way, but this is the first episode to provide an adaptation of a particular novel. As in The Cold Dish, the back story is the rape of Ayasha, a developmentally disabled Cheyenne teenager, by four white teenage boys from wealthy families. Although Walt arrested the four boys, they were found not guilty at the trial. There’s seems to be little doubt in the community or on the Reservation that the boys indeed committed the crime, and the resentment at this lack of justice seems to point toward various suspects out for revenge (the dish best served cold) when the boys start turning up dead—murdered, in the novel, by a long-range Sharps Rifle, and, in the television series, by a bow and arrow.
If you’ve enjoyed the television series, you should definitely check out the novels. Even in the case of “Unfinished Business,” which adheres fairly closely to the plot of the novel, there is enough difference between the episode and The Cold Dish to make the book a worthwhile read, and, in some ways an entirely different experience. And don’t think you’ve been “spoiled” because you know how the story comes out after having watched the episode—the solution to the mystery is completely different in The Cold Dish.
“Unfinished Business” is interesting as well for the way it directly addresses racial tensions between the town and the reservation. Walt ends up being caught between the two. Some of the Cheyenne blame him for the failure to convict at the trial. White citizens are angry at him when he hesitates to arrest Ayasha’s brother Veo for the murder of the boy. Certainly, Veo has motive, and that’s enough for Branch—despite the lack of anything other than circumstantial evidence against him. Q’orianka Kilcher plays Ayasha, and it’s a brief role, but, for fans of The Killing, where she played a friend of Rosie’s, it’s good to see her on-screen again.
There’s a nice fist-fight between Branch and Walt, broken up by an exasperated Vic.
There’s also some resolution to other unfinished business in the episode—why the Denver police have been trying to track down Walt for a chat. And this is convoluted, and, I must admit, I’m not exactly buying this particular plot twist, although it does explain the otherwise inexplicable change from the novel in the date of Walt’s wife’s death—from four years in the book, to one year in the television series. Although Walt has told his daughter Cady that her mother died of cancer (and, I guess, has told the same story to everyone but Henry), that is not the case. The visiting police officer reveals that she was, instead, murdered, and he wants to talk to Walt because the murderer has been discovered—in a shallow grave with a broken neck, where he has been since, roughly, about the time Walt stopped pestering the Denver PD about solving the crime. The police officer suggests that that change of behavior is slightly suspicious.
The cancer story, in addition to serving as a convenient way to keep this information from the viewing audience until it can be revealed as a surprising revelation, is supposedly to conceal the truth of the murder from Cady, who Walt feels should be protected (and, he says, at the insistence of her mother) from the feelings of revenge that a murder would cause. This didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me for multiple reasons, not the least of which is how exactly a slow death by cancer (even if the disease moved quickly, it’s still much slower than being stabbed to death) could have been substituted as a cause of death. Cady wouldn’t have at some point visited her mother dying of cancer in the hospital? Cady, the intelligent, sharp, and up-and-coming lawyer couldn’t have discovered the truth about her mother’s death by, say, googling her name and seeing what popped up in the Denver newspapers?
I’m not sure why the series could not have gone forward with the knowledge of the murder having taken place from the beginning. The surprise of the discovery of the dead body of the murderer could still have been accomplished—and without the fairly incredible idea that Walt could have fooled almost everyone he knows including his smart daughter with a made up story about cancer.
Well, anyway, it was nonetheless an interesting first season of Longmire, and I’m looking forward to season two. In the meantime, I’m still reading my way through the novel series, and, for fans of the television show, shame on you if you don’t pick up one of the novels to read between now and the next season of Longmire.