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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Longmire: “Dogs, Horses, And Indians”

Illustration for article titled Longmire: “Dogs, Horses, And Indians”
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Back when I reviewed Longmire’s pilot, I expressed some concerns that the show would try and iron out its protagonist’s rough spots over time. Back then, in the halcyon days of early June, Walt’s weaknesses seemed like legitimate starting points for compelling drama. Now, though, I’m leaning the other way. I still dig Robert Taylor and the rest of the cast, and the setting has been getting more interesting over time, but Walt’s rage over his discovery about Branch and Cady and the occasional flashbacks to just whatever the hell it was he did in Denver just don’t seem appropriate anymore. The actors do their best to sell the material (in some cases, oversell it), and the scripts keep moving step by step through through all the familiar routines, but it doesn’t play. As we move into the season finale, presumably some of this will come to a head, but instead of looking forward to Walt’s breakdown or redemption, I’m wishing the show would just shrug its shoulders and move on. There’s a decent-to-good series here about a wily man trying to balance a variety of political and cultural needs. It just needs to let go of all the under-motivated angst.

This is the prime example: I don’t get why Walt is so outraged over Branch and Cady. The series has been building toward this reveal ever since the pilot, but instead of feeling like a long deferred explosion, Walt’s behavior in “Dogs, Horses, And Indians” doesn’t make a lot of sense, at least when it comes to his daughter and her former lover. Sure, I get that he’d be hurt that she wouldn’t tell him about the relationship, but there’s a difference between “hurt” and “so angry that he gets into a shouting match and then has to go pick a fight with some bikers.” Apart from Branch running against Walt for sheriff, what issues could Longmire have with him? Branch is trustworthy, does his job well, and honestly seems to appreciate how his boss handles his job. If there’s some secret from Walt’s past that will clarify the hissy fit that overcomes the sheriff for most of the hour, it would’ve been nice to know about it before he started throwing things.

That’s the problem with trying to withhold information for dramatic purposes. Unless it’s skillfully done, it forces the audience to justify reactions that should be justified by character. And to be honest, I doubt Branch has anything to do with Walt’s Great Secret. Which means the scene where Walt flips out at Cady is just free-floating shrillness. Obviously, all of this has something to do with the death of Walt’s wife, and what he did after her death, but the way the writers continue to parcel out information about this, it’s hard to care.

Thankfully, the case of the week part of the episode helped pick up the slack. This is probably my favorite mystery we’ve seen on the show so far, because of the way it uses reservation politics and details to drive the plot. A man makes a panicky call to the reservation radio station; he’s being chased, and someone is shooting at him. The call cuts off, and Walt heads out to the station to offer his help. Turns out the station handles 911 calls with the tribal police, and its switchboard is overloaded. This call just happened to go out on the air because an intern flipped the wrong switch. That’s a cool tidbit, something to make the story stand out, and the episode is full of that sort of thing. Turns out the victim, Malcom Eaglestar, was on the tribal council, and had recently pushed through a piece of legislation that would raise the blood-quantum level requirements for membership in the tribe. This would mean roughly 60 people would get kicked out of the tribe, losing tribal benefits like a cut of the profits from the upcoming casino. Understandably, these people are very upset, and one of them decided to take some revenge.

Most of the hour, when we don’t have to deal with Walt struggling against his demons and trying to ignore his problems, is spent on the sheriff figuring all of this out and then nabbing the killer, Mika Dullknife. The final chase scene is fun, as is the way Mika is trapped by Mathias’ decision to move Malcolm’s body off reservation land in order to make it Walt’s problem. (Apparently, on-res murders aren’t prosecuted with the same intensity as off-res ones.) But the real kicker comes at the end, when Walt confronts Jacob. Walt believes that Jacob orchestrated the whole thing in order to get himself a seat on the council, and get a cut of that casino money. While the plot is a little convoluted (if Jacob can’t be on the council because of Malcolm’s blood-quantum resolution, how can Malcolm’s death get him a place on the council where he can repeal the resolution?), it’s fun to see Walt squaring off against a recurring villain. It was also satisfying to see Longmire dealing more directly with the reservation officials, and coming to some working arrangement with Mathias. That’s where the drama is: in people with a reason to be suspicious of each other trying to find ways to work through their concerns. Walt freaking out because his daughter used to shack up with one of his deputies is just silly, and the sooner he lets it go, the better the show will be.

Stray observations:

  • Just wanted to remind everyone that Katee Sackhoff is awesome, and deserves more screentime. All the screentime, really.
  • Is this the first time we have a killer who isn’t introduced in the first 15 minutes? Although I guess Jacob is the real bad guy, and he shows up before the end.
  • I understand the desire to make Walt look smart, but Vic really should’ve recognized that body had been moved.