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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Longmire: “The Cancer”

Illustration for article titled Longmire: “The Cancer”
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Well, we’re four episodes in now, and I think we can safely call it: Longmire is a serious show. Not serious in the artistic sense—it’s ambitions are familiar, and, apart from the setting, there’s nothing much to set it apart from other cop dramas of this type—but serious in the way it treats every new crime. Last week, we had a horse dying from severe burns; week before that, it was a brother who inadvertently murdered his sister. This week? Drugs, and the horrible price they cost the young people of a community. Everyone’s mournful or bitter, and Walt keeps talking about how much worse the world is now, how the town has become more dangerous than it ever was, and how lousy it all is. This sort of generalized doomsaying certainly has precedent, and in and of itself, it’s not a bad direction for the series to take, especially with Walt’s bid for re-election. Maybe get him inspired to revitalize his campaign, or use the crime rate to remind us how much the place needs Longmire around, pulling bodies out of rivers and throwing out snippets of backwoods lore. But in the specific, it’s kind of a drag. The more routine sadness becomes, the less impact it has.

It doesn’t help that most every case we’ve seen Walt track down so far has been, in the details, kind of insane. First there were the wacked out Amish kids; then there was the guy who tried to fake his death (killing all kinds of ponies in the process) to get away from the Mafia; and now, we’ve got the Mexican drug cartel growing pot on the reservation, and a ranger who came home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan with a hankering to grow a special kind of pot. By the end, Ranger Eli is going to jail and the scary Mexican man who tried to kill our heroes is dead, but the threat of the cartel is left in the air. It seems an odd direction for the series to take; this is Breaking Bad territory, and Longmire appeared at first to be going for the rhythms of a more laidback crime show. There’s nothing wrong in them heading in a different direction (and it’s not like I’m the world’s greatest television prognosticator), but from what we’ve seen, nothing has suggested the show is capable of pulling off something with the sort of scope it appears to be aiming for.

My biggest concern is that none of the stories we’ve seen so far have done much to expand our understanding of this show’s world. We’ve seen Longmire in his office, we’ve seen the Red Pony, and we’ve seen the woods. But I have no sense of how these are connected, nor do I have a solid understanding of where the reservation (which is fairly important in the plot of “The Cancer”) is, or what it really looks like. I can understand wanting to hold off on some details in order to build suspense, but one of strongest elements in the pilot was a sense of place, and that’s largely gone now. Each different sub-culture Walt dips into is disparate enough that it’s hard to imagine them happening in the same state, let alone close enough for Walt to get involved in all of them. At times, I find myself wondering if the sheriff’s office isn’t secretly a space-ship, and we’re just traveling from planet to planet, seeking out new civilizations for the purpose of slowing shaking our heads at them.

In “The Cancer,” Walt learns that a cartel had been growing pot on the reservation until the reservation police (including the ever surly Mathias whom we met back in the pilot) kicked them out. Later, he finds out that someone is currently growing plot in the woods nearby, and this just depresses the hell out of him. He starts talking about the “cancer” that has invaded his town, and it’s a corny speech but not painfully so. It works okay as a mission statement. But we have no sense of the town he’s so concerned about; we haven’t seen enough of it to know if he’s right, or if he’s just an older man scared of change, or what. If Longmire wants to be about its hero protecting the land he cares about from some scourge of darkness, it needs to find some way to make us care about that land as well. So far, I’m sold on the geography, but I’m having a hard time working up much interest in the populace.

There’s still enough I like about the series to keep me from writing it off completely. Katee Sackhoff remains delightful; there’s something inherently subversive about just having her in a scene, like she’s taking everything seriously and still can’t help thinking it’s all kind of hilarious bullshit. Walt’s new potential love interest, Lizzie, tries too hard to be daffy (the fainting bit didn’t fit this show at all—I was half convinced she’d end up being the bad guy in the end, just because she was trying so hard to be charming), but she and Walt have decent chemistry. I also dug how Walt’s comment to Ferg last week about stepping up and showing what he can do paid off this week; Ferg was Google searching like a pro. The best part of the episode may have been the discovery that Walt is friends with a local pot dealer (and pizza delivery guy) named Jamie. Jamie also serves as Walt’s informant, and, if you read between the lines, helped out Walt’s wife when she was sick. I hope we see him again, because the character brings out a different side of Walt. (He also helps to slightly mitigate the way everyone else acts like "growing pot" is the end of the world, or something.)

These are decent characters, and Walt remains a solid leading man. But right now, the show doesn’t seem to know quite what it’s best at, and so we get a lot of reaching for big threats when we should be shoring up the home base. If they want to go pulpy and bad-ass, that’s fine; the assassin who appears here briefly made an impression, at least. If it wants to go somber and reflective, what the hell, why not. And maybe even pulp and bad-ass and somber and reflective could all work at once (Sackhoff would probably be familiar with the tone), but to make any of this stick, there needs to be better fundamentals than what I’ve seen so far. Give us a world, and then we’ll worry about threats. It doesn’t work the other way around.


Stray observations:

  • Big thanks to Myles for covering for me last week.
  • The “female friend who thinks her male buddy should totally tap that” set-up is an old one, but I was nonplussed when Vic told Walt to ask Liz out. The character seemed literally deranged.