Long Live Longmire, Best Modern Western on The Net

Longmire, the unlikely hit television series that found new life streaming on Neftlix after being canceled by A&E in 2014, is back for its sixth and final season after nearly a two-year absence. I’ve watched the final 10 episodes, and this is my mostly no-spoilers take on the season and the series.

Australian actor Robert Taylor was, pardon the pun, tailor-made to play the role of Walt Longmire, the sheriff of fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming. He slipped into the role like an old favorite pair of ropers in 2012, pretty much eclipsing his previous most visible role (in the U.S.) as Mr. Jones in The Matrix.

Tall, handsome and still physically imposing despite being in his 50s, he is perfectly suited to play the middle-aged, open-minded, recently widowed county sheriff from Craig Johnson’s bestselling mystery novels, on which the TV/streaming series is based.

Johnson, a former cop who relocated to Wyoming and turned rancher/mystery author, essentially writes character-driven police procedurals: a crime is committed, clues are presented, Walt and company doggedly pursue the clues until justice prevails.

What makes Longmire unique is its location, specifically Wyoming, more generally the rural western United States, where despite the panoramic landscape (Longmire is filmed mostly in New Mexico) economic conditions remain bleak and white deplorables fight it out with Native Americans (Cheyenne, Sioux and Crow in this case) over scarce resources.

I grew up in southern Idaho and eastern Washington, so I’m familiar with the territory. Indian reservations are far more visible in those states than California. The Native kids were bused into grade school, junior high and high school from the reservation. It was obvious even to my young eyes that conditions on the reservations were squalid. While the introduction of a literal “casino economy” has improved the plight of many Native American tribes during the past several decades, for many, conditions remain unchanged or even worse.

Through six seasons, Longmire has been one of the few popular dramatic programs to regularly shine a light on Native American issues, putting Native American actors to work in the process. Often, that light is focused directly on Indian Country’s emerging casino economy, which happens to be one of the major burrs in Sheriff Walt Longmire’s saddle.

Walt’s opposition to the Cheyenne tribe building a casino in Absaroka County is never precisely delineated, but we know from the very start of the series that it’s heartfelt, since opposing the casino was his deceased wife’s pet political project. You get the feeling it’s more because Walt is anti-development than anti-gambling.

Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) and Jacop Nighthorse (A Martinez) don’t exactly get along. Ever.

Heading into season six, Walt remains convinced that casino owner Jacob Nighthorse, played with a perpetual scowl by A Martinez, has something to do with his wife’s murder, even though Nighthorse was supposedly exonerated of the crime last season. I can’t get enough of A Martinez. I hope he finds a new gig soon.

While Walt’s anger at Nighthorse seems downright irrational at times, we know he’s not a racist because his longtime best friend is an Indian, Henry Standing Bear, played with unflappable dignity by Lou Diamond Phillips, who begins season six strung out on the high plains in the sun by the genuinely evil Indian Malachi Strand (Graham Greene).

We know Malachi is genuinely evil because Henry and Nighthorse banished him from the Cheyenne reservation for among other things peddling heroin at the casino and murdering people from time to time, for which Malachi is understandably upset for almost the entirety of season six.

We learn of Henry’s dilemma after Walt’s daughter, Cady Longmire (Cassidy Freeman), has a vision while meditating in the Cheyenne reservation’s sweat lodge. Such spiritual interventions, often enhanced by various indigenous psycho-active substances, are a Longmire staple and, at least in Absaroka County, a proven crime-solving technique.

Cady, like many of the younger white characters in the series, is an uneasy resident of the rural west. After leaving home to earn a law degree only to return upon her mother’s death, she’s struggled to find meaning in both her career and a relationship. She thought she’d found the former representing the Cheyenne reservation on Nighthorse’s dime, and the latter in Henry’s arms, at the end of season five. Happiness proves to be more elusive than that, but not non-existent.

Life was, is and always will be hard out here in the rural west, a point hammered home hard in the second episode, when Lucian Connally, Walt’s law enforcement mentor now too old to ply his trade, invents a new way to commit suicide by cop. It’s a fantastic final performance in the series by the great Peter Weller.

Another narrative thread holding season six together is the budding relationship between Walt and former city cop, deputy Victoria “Vic” Moretti (Katee Sackoff). With Vic, Sackoff has created a character as memorable as her turn as Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, and she’s given full range to emote in the final season when Vic is forced to be the aggressor in a May-October workplace romance Walt is simply too decent to openly entertain. Given the recent furor over proper behavior in the workplace, the tension between Walt and Vic is almost unbearable, until it isn’t.

That’s been part of the charm of Longmire all along, the importation of current events, however unlikely, into the rural western landscape. In reality, sometimes it’s not so clear if the modern, tech-driven world is compatible with rural life, but by its very nature, it’s forcing its way in. For six seasons, Walt Longmire has been fighting the future, fighting the casino economy, fighting even getting a cell phone.

Is this the season he finally gives up? You’ll have to stream it to find out.

R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas.
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17 Responses

  1. cheyenne says:

    Apparently Netflix canceled Longmire, like some other series, because they did not draw in the younger viewers, mostly older viewers. I loved Longmire but then I live in Wyoming, despite it being filmed in New Mexico. I see a lot of the issues brought up in Longmire first hand, the Wind River reservation, despite the casino, is poor and has long been targeted by the Denver drug gangs. Fracking issues have been prominent in some episodes and show the results of fracking pretty honestly. The tribes fight state and federal governments for their right to live from harvesting eagle feathers to bison ranching.
    Buffalo, the town Craig Smith is from and where this is supposed to be happening, is a well preserved western town that holds “Longmire Days” celebration every year where most of the cast show up and freely mingle with the crowds. I do hope some network picks this up.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      Well, I figured you liked the show, Cheyenne. I thought they did present some pretty good episodes dealing with the fracking business, as well as the drug gangs. I can tell you this: They left the ending open enough so someone else could pick it up, so maybe they’ll hear us.

    • torrid says:

      I don’t think cancelled so much as run its course. A&E pulled the plug on it after three years, which was too soon. Fortunately Netflix picked them up after that.

      They’ve told the story they want to tell. Best to end the show properly before it get stale. I think five or six years is a good run for a serialized basic cable series like this.

      I would imagine the cast and crew are anxious to move on to other projects. And having been cancelled and picked up by another network before, I doubt that would happen again.

  2. trek says:

    My favorite series.

  3. Ann Kelley says:

    Mr. Scheide,

    Cady was only in Henry’s arms in her capacity of his Goddaughter…..big mis-lead there!

    Otherwise….great review, without spoilers.

    Agree completely with your comment about A. Martinez; great actor that I hope to see more of, also.

    And thanks for finally naming for me, the actor who has been so delightfully playing Lucian Connaly, who stole every single scene in which he appeared.

    Ann Kelley

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      Well, I’m not sure about that Ann. In season 5, Cady and Henry sure were giving each other the eye. Yeah, I know. Ewww her godfather! Thankfully they didn’t got that way. Or else I did get it totally wrong.

  4. name says:

    I read one of the books – it was decent. Had no idea they made a TV series…

  5. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    I haven’t seen Longmire, even though it’s in my wheelhouse. Sounds reminiscent of “Justified,” which I loved in spite of its flaws. Sooner or later, I may have to have to spring for a Netflix subscription. I’ve resisted because I absolutely can’t keep up with several other shows that have already hooked me.

    I do remember A Martinez from “L.A. Law.” I looked at his IMDB bio and was surprised to see that his resume goes way, way back before that seminal lawyer show. Turns out he’s 68, and still busy.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      I have to say, after being a Netflix doubter, I’m a believer now. Of course, I’m sharing someone else’s account, so I don’t have to pay for it.

      Justified is a reasonable comparison. It was better written than Longmire, IMO, but it was also way over the top with weird criminals and ultra-violence. Longmire plays it a little more close to reality, so you notice it when they try to break out of reality, which thankfully isn’t that often. I think you’d probably appreciate Walt’s thought process. It’s not plaid up in the series as much but in the books, he’s a Stanford grad and former football player, so he’s more edumacated than your usual county sheriff.

    • name says:

      Justified was great, but it was bothersome that they shot a lot of it in Southern CA. I saw orange trees, and sagebrush, which does not exist in KY…

      • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

        I’m a biologist. Some of the most jarring scenes were shot on the Angeles National Forest—dry, open Sierran yellow pine forests standing in for Kentucky’s mesic, closed, Appalachian mixed deciduous forests. People in Kentucky must have thought, “What the hell?”

  6. Deb says:

    Thank you for this! We found it on Amazon tonight, and started watching Season 1 on your recommendation. My husband loves Westerns. We’ve been watching ‘Suits’ which gets a bit urban and shiny, and Longmire is a good alternative to that.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      Oh good you’re precisely the reader I was trying to reach. Enjoy!

      • S.F Murray says:

        Longmire is one of our favorites of all time. Just started watching Justified and like it so far. The cinematography of Longmire is a cut above and one of the reasons we love it. Wish Longmire would continue for many years!

  7. Alice Bell says:

    My husband and I binge watched season six. It was fantastic. Now, what can we watch that’s of the same caliber?

  8. Beverly Stafford says:

    We were Justified fans, and I’ve read six or so Longmire books but never watched the television series. Since we have both Netflix and Amazon, I’ll give it a look. Each time I saw the word Absoroka, I was reminded that my Cody brother-in-law said that the locals frequently pronounce it Absorka. Another Wyoming author, C. J. Box, is a real favorite, and I’m surprised his books haven’t been made into either movies or television shows.

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