It’s another beautiful day at the Red Pony Bar and continual soiree. Welcome to my Longmire review. Grab a Rainier. This isn’t going to be short. Let’s jump on in.
Lady Castleton and I split up our shows four ways:
Hers: (Shows she watches without me, for example)
Mad Men (I can’t deal with Pete Campbell)
Mine: (Shows I watch without her, for example)
You’re the Worst
Ours: (Shows we watch together and specifically wait to watch together, for example)
Game of Thrones
And then there is a fourth, more murky category which behaves like they’re our shows, but they’re really her shows that she just kind of likes for me to be around and watch with her. They’re basically shows I wouldn’t miss if they were gone, but she really loves them, like:
The Good Wife
I know every little thing about Longmire. I quote the show regularly. I know what “counting coup” is (which is the worst phrase ever uttered on television). One time I yelled HECTOR LIVES when we found a toy the kids had lost. Lady Castleton eats that shit up like cheesecake. I bought her this t-shirt and she wears it and she loves it.
Walt does something to her deep down in the control room where her core values and ethics are stored and she connects to him somehow. Or maybe it’s deep down in other places. I don’t pry. A girl’s gotta have her secrets. They seem to share a certain old-world sensibility and perhaps a similar stubbornness that comes with being often in the right.
Am I jealous? Hell no! Because I’m way way way funnier than Walt Longmire. For example, one time, when a barista asked me for a name to put on a cup, I said “Jacob Nighthorse.” It’s like she’s living with Bob Hope.
That’s why I’m the perfect person to write the 100 percent unbiased review of Longmire: Season Four on Netflix. Because Lady Castleton is my Leslie Knope and Longmire is our Lil’ Sebastian. I have made her joy my joy, even though I wasn’t born with a natural affection for it.
First, a quick synopsis of my feelings of seasons 1-3, so you know where I’m coming from. If you haven’t seen seasons 1-3 but intend to, this is probably a good place to stop reading, lest my opinions cloud your judgments. There are spoilers for seasons 1-3 ahead.
I like it. I think it’s a better than average show that sometimes flirts with being truly excellent only to just allow subplots to be unresolved or to pick the wrong direction or to take too long to get to the point.
In general I really like Walt, and I recently visited Montana, so I’m probably considered a sheriff of sorts. I could ride down David Ridges faster than you could say Absaroka County.
Henry, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, in general, feels like kind of a shoulder shrug to me. Lou Diamond Phillips isn’t a generally good enough actor to make us forget we’re watching Lou Diamond Phillips pretending to not be Lou Diamond Phillips. That said, I liked his and Walt’s early relationship a lot. It felt like it meandered too much in seasons 2-3, but there’s a loyalty there I enjoyed.
Jacob Nighthorse is maybe the worst drawn, joyless bad guy in TV history. He’s so one note it’s crazy. Plus I became tangentially aware of General Hospital through high school girlfriends or something and that’s where A Martinez cut his teeth, so I unfairly ding him for it. And Jacob Nighthorse is the worst bad guy Native American name ever. What, “Gabriel Blackviper” was taken? Couldn’t pass clearances on “William Murderbear?” Ugh. Awful.
And Mathias’ character isn’t much better. Mathias must get sexually aroused by being a professional obstacle to Walt because he does it every time. You’d think someone with kick ass Vidal Sassoon hair like that wouldn’t be such a weener all the time. Come on, Mathias! The white cops are trying to get something done! Don’t be such a pill! Sheesh.
Often anything on “The Res” feels like a stupid cop-out instead of being something that layers complexity to stroke stakes into a scene. The character of “The Res” is used as a deus ex machina when the writers can’t figure out another way to do something. In general, the caucasian characters feel relatively well drawn and complex and the Native American characters feel like cardboard-y, undeveloped plot robots. They’re so needlessly rigid that HENRY CAN’T SAY CONTRACTIONS. You could follow Henry for forty years and type down everything he says and you’d never hit the apostrophe button on your keyboard unless you were designating possession. That’s some gimmicky shit right there.
I really like Vic, but for basically all the wrong reasons. She’s a disaster, but something about her really keeps the show afloat. As the tidal winds have seemed to blow the plotlines of Longmire to and fro, Katie Sackhoff’s Vic has been rock solid, even when getting stalked and whacked on the helmet with a bat and generally put in some shitty situations. Vic is erratic and kind of a child at times, but her acting and ability to convey emotions with eye rolls and sighs and eyebrow raises is Colin Farrell adjacent. She’s great.
I like Ferg, but I like to yell at the TV about Ferg and make fun of him more. Ferg in an Iroc is as amazing as a cold beer on a summer day. Ruby is like some crazy aunt they cast because they lost a bet. Whenever she says more than one line I feel like I’m watching Hot in Cleveland. She’s from another show, somewhere, futilely looking for a way to get back, like a lost character from a Luigi Pirandello play.
I really enjoyed Branch when there was a genuine connection and rivalry between he and Walt, but I thought the choices they made with him basically ruined the show. Crazy Branch was just stupid.
And the Cady character suuuuuuuuucks.
This photo basically summarizes the Henry and Cady characters in seasons 1-3. Henry waiting around for Walt to need him as a Cheyenne interpreter, but trying to look tough and Cady with nothing of importance to offer if Branch isn’t in frame.
So, when it’s good, it’s borderline great and you can fall in love with it because Walt has this quality of command that’s captivating. And people are so goddamn wishy washy in today’s world that it’s intoxicating to follow a person with a code, even if that code sometimes is self-destructive or feels arbitrary to others. When Walt is at the top of his game he can bear a certain resemblance to Mal Reynolds in that he’s someone of rare leadership capacity that you can effortlessly get behind, and the type of principled character (even situationally) that can be difficult to find on television.
That’s also why the median viewer age of Longmire when it was cancelled was like 72. Old people love principles. But that old people demo wasn’t sassy enough to keep A&E from canceling it. The 3.5-ish million loyal fans are what made Netflix grab it and give it another chance. Will Longmire loyalists from that demo who haven’t been paying for Netflix decide that the service is worth it? That remains to be seen, and somewhere in that calculation, almost more than the actual quality of season four, lies the fate of a potential season five.
Now then. Season Four.
This part is going to be a general review. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to watch season four, I’m going to give you a brief overview with no spoilers. This next part is safe.
What basically happened when Netflix took over the show is that they very clearly and accurately identified the problems. It’s so impressive how they did that, and it’s usually one person behind the scenes making the decisions. For season four, Netflix decided to tie up all of the dangling plot lines. They basically sent in the Alec Baldwin character from Glengarry Glen Ross and he was like:
“You know how we spent three seasons wondering who was behind the killing of Walt’s wife? You know how we needed to have closure to the Branch situation and the Barlow situation and the David Ridges and the Malachi and the Hector and the Jacob Nighthorse situations? You know how Walt has been under investigation by Detective Fales for like, forever? Yeah, we’re gonna wrap all of those loose ends up and we’re going to do it in three episodes. Anyone who has a problem with that can grab a bran muffin and get the fuck out. This is how it’s gonna be. You’ve beat a horse to death for three seasons. By the end of season four episode three, we’re putting that horse down. Questions.”
And that’s basically what season four is. It’s two seasons, really, and the concept is very clever. Because when they’re offering an early look to the media, they typically give you three episodes. And these three basically tie up almost all of the Longmire loose ends, so they feel very satisfying.
And then we’re on to the real meat of season four.
This is a really good time for those of you who have not yet watched season four to stop reading. I’m going to talk from here on out like you’ve seen everything, and that you’ve come back to work on Monday morning after binge watching season four.
Okay. So. Season four was very good. But it sort of drew a line in the sand. I liked it more than Lady Castleton because she wanted it to be like it used to be and I wanted it to change. Somebody, the new guy or gal at Netflix, (who I would like to have as a drinking buddy), basically knocked it out of the park with regard to the shortcomings of the show: specifically the one-note Native American characters. Can you imagine the first time Jacob Nighthorse and Mathias got their first sides and were like: “Hold on! We’re not dicks for no reason anymore?”
No, guys. You’re not dicks anymore. Instead of mustache-twisting wife-murderer, Jacob Nighthorse is now a borderline altruistic casino owner who is poised to align himself with Walt to carve Malachi out of the loan sharking bidness. Okay then! He hires Cady to represent people on the res, which sets next season up to be a contest of wills between Walt and his daughter. I mean, okay. Fine. They had no idea what to do with Cady when she wasn’t hooking up with Branch, so I guess this at least builds some semblance of tension. I really enjoyed the beat where Cady lied to Walt’s face about seeing Henry, so maybe there’s more of that coming down the pipe. There’s also a rather nice parallel about the child of one major character going to work for the character’s rival, the way Barlow’s son went to work for Walt.
One note about the Cady n’ Vic house party. I didn’t like it one damn bit because it was fun on the surface but it didn’t serve any purpose. It felt shoehorned in and it always seemed like a half baked idea. If it was meant to be the beginning of an unholy alliance or a place where the gals could dish some character-explaining exposition, it never panned out in either way. I was hoping it would turn into the basis of some enmity between the two, but that didn’t happen either. Ultimately, nothing actually came of the decision, and that’s why it ended up feeling half-baked in retrospect.
I’ll say that I really enjoyed the reframing of Mathias as kind of the Res’s Walt. A guy who is actually not just a stone cold dick, but someone who understands the limitations of his position on a molecular level and yet always intends to do the right thing. Giving him some depth and reason was a huge step forward this season, and really sets up a cool working relationship, if not a quasi-partnership of sorts with Walt.
And, in the wake of the misguided Walt campaign against Jacob Nighthorse, the biggest “bad guys” of season four end up being caucasian oil workers and their unscrupulous boss. Yeah, Walker Browning ends up being the white Jacob Nighthorse in that he’s a perplexingly evil motherfucker who has set up a - and correct me if I’m wrong - complicated arrangement with Malachi to reward his boys for loyalty on the job by providing them with win-rigging at the casino, followed by all-you-can-rape chauffeured van parties on the res? That’s what it was, right? Doesn’t that seem a bit, I don’t know, excessively moving-parted? I remember when he met the guys personally outside the casino, handed them bottles of alcohol and put them in the van and I thought “what the hell is he doing out there? How long has he been out there? Is this what his weekends look like, and if so…why?”
And then Henry drives up like a horses ass and is like “LOOK AT MY FACE FOR NO REASON. I’LL PUT MYSELF ON YOUR MAP NOW BEFORE I KILL YOUR DUDES.”
So in that way, Longmire is the same as it ever was. Moments of pretty kick ass procedural stuff and great character beats and some tender moments, permeated by some junior varsity level fumbling of subplots and motivations.
I will say that it was nice to see Henry evolve into something other than just Walt’s hardscrabble Native-American-motivation explanation tool when he took on the Hector role, but man it was super tough to watch him this season. Moreso than ever for me. That fucking walk of pain when he was taking Gab up to the badass diet-coke drinking Medicine woman (who may have been the coolest character this season) was misery to watch. Yes, I know he had to tooth-pliers a .30 slug out of his leg and then swim and walk like fifty miles but can we get a little British WWI stoicism up in this mamma jamma? Maybe I’m just not a Lou Diamond Phillips guy. I just see La Bamba. That’s my problem and I’ll own it.
And maybe I’m just a bit too muggle, but are we meant to believe that Gab is now a red tailed hawk? Because I used to skip transfiguration like every day and drink Butterbeer with Crabbe and Goyle and while it may have been an attempt at a poetic liberation, I got the sense that they were like: Yeah. There she is. The bird. Gab is now a bird. Deal with it.
And you know what was really cool? Setting us up to like Zach and then shitcanning him. Thanks for that, writers. Let me just reach into my satchel of believability to measure how much I buy that Monte subplot aaaaaaaand yeah. Zero. It reads zero. I didn’t buy it at all. I’m just amazed that there wasn’t a reveal that Monte was another Philly cop that Vic banged and fucked over who was hell bent on revenge!
What I really wanted was a Zach-Vic-Eamonn love triangle.
I really enjoyed the actor that played Zach, but he’s gotta tone it the fuck down with his gestures. If you love Patrick Stewart — and we all love Patrick Stewart — he has said many times that one of the most difficult things to do as an actor is to stand still. Think of Picard’s arms hanging at his side. He’s not blinking, cocking his head a la Dr. Doug, scratching his eye, sniffing and shrugging between lines. Maybe they were trying to play it as a character quirk, but it was over the top. That said, I really enjoyed that character, tics and all, and I’m hoping there’s a re-entry point down the line.
I can’t believe we’ve come this far without talkin’ bout Walt. Who’s running this ship of fools? Walt was solid. Walt is always always solid. Robert Taylor is an Aussie actor but it’s kind of eerie how well he captures the essence of the archetypal American Western Lawman. Is there more of a Gary Cooper anywhere on the small screen these days? He seemed to find his rudder again and it was refreshing to see him put his wife’s death storyline in the rear view mirror.
The writers are still setting up some mistakes by introducting things like the Barlow lawsuit from the grave. I get it. They want a Detective Fales-y non procedural through line to keep the stakes high, but that felt kind of dumb. Before I go any further, let’s just request more Lucian Connally. Goddamn he’s great.
As for the love interest with Ally Walker? Goddamn it’s refreshing to see an age-appropriate relationship.
SIDE STORY: I was at Sundance one year and they were doing this promo photo shoot with Ally Walker and William H. Macy for Happy Texas on the sidewalk like five feet from me. The guy I was with had never seen a “celebrity” before. He was this wonderful guy from New Hampshire who was a giant The Profiler fan and was high as a kite and almost lost his shit when he saw ‘Sam Waters’ in front of him. On the show, Ally Walker would look at a crime scene, then kind of screw up her face and you’d get a look at what actually happened as she was piecing it all together. I had to push my friend away from the shoot and back through an alley because he started to try to ask her how they got the camera in her brain. “How can we see your thoughts on TV?” He started to yell. “How can they videotape your mind, Sam Waters?”
Anyway, I’m not sure I’m 100% on board with the chemistry between Dr. Donna Sue and Walt, but I like to see the good sheriff a little boyish and vulnerable. That said, if we connect that actual dots of the “courtship” we find that after he is politely and reasonable rebuffed by the good Dr. Donna Sue he refuses to ride off into the sunset and admit defeat. Awww. That’s adorable. Real puppy love stuff. What’s the next move on the Walt Longmire chessboard of love?
Obviously, it’s sit out by mile marker 184 and have Ruby call in an official capacity and commandeer Dr. Donna Sue from her regular schedule for what the police dispatcher labels an emergency.
Does it work? Of course it works! Because nothing makes a tough-as-hell modern woman with a PHD reverse her well reasoned position on romance faster than being lied to. Mmmmmm mmmmmm mmmmm. That’s like hitting the triplefecta of smart-girl wooing. Man, Odysseus is lucky there was no Walt Longmire on Ithaca when he was in Troy or he would have come home to Penelope and Telemachus in spurs.
Now settle down folks. Just settle down. I understand that by questioning Walt Longmire I’m putting myself on the FBI’s most wanted list. Or some obscure AARP hit list. (I’m going to have to do a think piece about who’s on the AARP hit list). I know that when I mentioned that impropriety and abuse of power to Lady Castleton I saw something dark wash over her eyes and she almost came at me like World War Z.
Walt is not perfect. Walt is a man. Did he not even have the goddamn decency to give Mathias a how’s your father when he was breaking up the rape-party on the Res? Okay fine, yes. And did he then have the bastardly white guy audacity to discharge a fucking weapon on the Res? Yes, but only once.
Walt is imperfect as hell, and we give him a pass because he’s Walt. I think the secret sauce that makes this whole thing tick is that for the 3.5-ish million Longmire diehards out there, we’re attracted to the sheriff archetype, and Robert Taylor plays that violin like Yo Yo Ma. It’s true that he’s a broken, often misguided, usually distant, indecipherable, power drunk, judge-and-jury style tough guy with a god complex and a chip on his shoulder and an alcoholic tilt who gets it wrong as much as he gets it right. But damnit, he’s handsome and manly in a world where that feels like a dirty word and he’s got a square jaw and big fists and his chest hair alone could conquer Hong Kong.
But in his inner turbulence and outward calm there’s a lot of truth, and a character that feels real. He’s more Tony Soprano than James Bond, but that’s why we love him, and why we root for him. He’s the masculine manifestation of the inherent love of justice in all of us, and that’s why we can forgive him when he circumvents the odd “law” now and then. He’s trying like we’re all trying. Trying to get better. Trying to get over the past. Trying to get it right. Walt Longmire is the best and worst in all of us, and that’s what pulls us all back to Absaroka county for more.
That and the fact that he can basically turn people into birds.