Longmire (2012) – Episodes 1-3: “Pilot,” “The Dark Road,” “A Damn Shame” – Starring Robert Taylor, Bailey Chase, Katee Sackhoff, Adam Bartley, Cassidy Freeman, and Lou Diamond Phillips.
I refuse to pay for cable so I only get to try out new shows like LONGMIRE if they drop onto my radar through Hulu. When I noticed Hulu was having a “catch up with LONGMIRE” event this weekend, making the first three episodes available for a real limited time, I figured I’d give it a whirl, even though I was a bit worried it would be of derivative of Justified because literally all I knew about it was that it was a show about a cop who wore a cowboy hat and that Katee Sackhoff and Lou Diamond Phillips were in it. I didn’t have much hope but when stuff is free, though, there’s no harm in checking it out.
I’m glad I did.
LONGMIRE doesn’t have much in common with Justified, at all, and instead works as an American cousin to the BBC’s excellent Wallander series. The protagonist here is Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor), a late middle-aged sheriff in small county Wyoming. We pick him up at a point in his life when he’s trying to get back on the saddle. A year earlier, his wife died and he’s been enough of a mess this past year that one of his cops, Branch Connolly (Bailey Chase), has decided to run against him. The police station is also inhabited by recent hire from Philly, tough cop Vic Moretti (Sackhoff) and dopey deputy the Ferg.
Like any cop show, of course, there are cases to solve in LONGMIRE, and the show does an excellent job infusing their cases with sadness and longing. All three opening cases are about disconnected families: a father looking for the lost daughter from a previous relationship, a Mennonite brother out on rumspringa trying to bring his sister back into the fold, and an ex-Mafia member trying to care for his family by faking his own suicide. By making the cases Walt takes on mirror his own disconnected family life (wife gone, daughter present and trying to get him back on track – another similarity with Wallander), the show is able to weave in plenty of character work without forcing it onto the narrative. All the sadness, all the loss, all the tragedy is both about the participants in the case, but also about Walt, too.
Taylor is excellent as the sheriff trying to putting the past year in the rear view, and the rest of the cast all does the limited things they’re asked to do well. The real star of the supporting cast, though, is Katee Sackhoff. I was generally less-than-thrilled with the character of Starbuck on the BSG relaunch program, but here she displays a real enjoyable fire in her performance. She’s the new deputy in town and is fiercely loyal to Walt, yet not to the point where she won’t give him crap or call him on something he does that she disagrees with.
LONGMIRE doesn’t work because the cases are spectacular or the acting is phenomenal (though both the cases and acting are solid) but because of that tragic, disconnected vibe – the people in the cases have failed to recover from their disconnectedness, while Walt is fighting back. When one case involves C. Thomas Howell faking his own death to protect his family from his old mob connections, he burns his three horses in the process. One of them barely survives and Walt tells the vet to do whatever it takes to save him. It’s an easy parallel that Walt’s drawing between himself and the horse, of course, but it’s still effectively rendered. At the end of the episode, when Walt perhaps realizes he’s been selfish in keeping this burned and pained horse alive instead of putting her out of her misery, Walt gives “permission” to the horse to pass on, and the horse “decides” to live. It’s to LONGMIRE’s credit that the overall tone of the show meant that whether the horse chose life or death, it would ring true.
I have no idea if A&E and Hulu are gonna let me keep watching LONGMIRE, but if they do, I’ll keep watching. If they don’t, however, than LONGMIRE just gets shuffled into the always growing group of shows that I’ll watch some day in the distant future.
Like when it’s streaming on Netflix.