Year Releassed: 2012-2016
Starring: Robert Taylor, Lou Diamond Phillips, Katee Sackhoff
(NR, 42-69 min. per episode)
Genre: Crime Drama, Modern Western
“Sometimes a man gets a second chance. But it’s not that you come back; it’s how you come back that matters.” Walt Longmire
Big sky country. Snow peaked mountains. Clear streams cutting through vast grasslands. And yes, a few pesky corpses cluttering up the landscape. It’s a good thing Sheriff Walt Longmire is there to clean things up.
Law and Order, western style. Of course old fans are ecstatic that the Sheriff is back in town in Wyoming’s fictitious Absaroka County. After 3 seasons A & E dropped the popular series, but Netflix has come to the rescue with season 4, and now season 5 available in streaming. Which is perfect timing because early fall usually offers thin gruel at the theaters.
And it’s a nice change of pace from the crowd of urban cop dramas where squealing tires and bullets assault our ears. Things are a little slower here.
Perhaps a little too slow at first, as Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor), still grieving over his wife’s death a year ago, seems to be going through the motions at his job. Which is why his pretty deputy Vic (Katee Sackhoff) has to coax him out to crime scenes. And perhaps also why another deputy, Branch (Bailey Chase), thinks the job is ripe for the picking, and decides to run against his boss in the coming election. Seeing Branch’s smiling face on a campaign poster seems to bring some life back into the sheriff, though.
The setting is contemporary. The Indians ride pickups instead of horses, but there is a Gary Cooper kind of quiet about Walt that reminds us of those classic Westerns of yesteryear. The way he squints at the sun, his economy with words, his loner tendencies – all evoke the silent man of action who follows his own moral code.
But Walt Longmire has his secrets, too, as we slowly find out in flashbacks. He has a mysterious scar on his back, and we get glimpses of some dirty business in Colorado. Walt taking off his badge and tucking a gun into the back of his jeans as he leaves a hotel. A letter from the Denver police which he reads and then burns.
Lou Diamond Phillips plays Henry Standing Bear, the owner of the local bar, The Red Pony, and Walt’s best friend. Henry helps Walt negotiate the tense territory of the local reservation where the sheriff has no official standing. Like Walt, Henry is a man of few words, and like Mr. Spock, he does not use contractions. He is a piquant combination of humor, unabashed truth, as well as some unexpected verbal flourishes, as in the way he answers the phone at his bar:
It is another beautiful day at the Red Pony Saloon and continual soiree.
Not only does he spout French, but Henry also throws in the occasional innovative acronym:
I would like to propose an OIT. (Pause) An old Indian Trick.
He also has a wry way of telling Walt that he has broken up with his off and on girlfriend when Walt asks Henry to get some information from her:
That bridge has already been incinerated.
The infusion of Native American beliefs gives the series an exotic appeal. We have the sighting of a white buffalo, pale as death Dog Soldiers, crow feathers dipped in peyote, some adolescents shot with arrows, and a “contrary warrior” who rides his horse backwards past Longmire’s cabin to spook the sheriff, to name a few. Walt is even chosen to help judge a Miss Cheyenne Nation contest where the girls demonstrate their skills at skinning game as part of the event.
And when things really get bad, when Walt finds himself wallowing in guilt, he nearly kills himself in an arduous Sun Dance ceremony which includes an exquisitely painful chest piercing ritual.
Other episodes deal with more sobering social issues, such as past sterilization of Cheyenne girls, or social services taking Cheyenne children from their parents without sufficient cause.
But the small Wyoming town also has other exotic crimes as well, such as Russian child trafficking, a bizarre religious cult, run ins with the Mexican drug cartel and local survivalists, as well as some modern day cattle rustling by animal rights activists.
And while the causes of death are not quite as creative as those on the British series Midsomer Murders where
Victims have met their bizarre ends via a candlestick, an arrow, a slide projector, a doped horse, poisonous frog, a Celtic spear, liquid nicotine, toxic fungi, hemlock, vintage claret and King Neptune’s trident.
we do have a Basque shepherd poisoned by Hemlock, and a dead body found in a compost pile.
What sets this series apart from some other crime dramas is that each episode is a story in itself, even if parts of the story arc continue throughout. Kind of like NCIS or Castle, two of my favorites. Personally, it is too frustrating to start a series where it takes 12 episodes to find out the killer. But we have resolution here in each episode with the long term plot details acting as an interesting counterpoint.
So, if you have never ventured into Longmire’s Absaroka County, now is the time for a tour. And if you are an old fan, celebrate all six seasons now available on Netflix.
Part of the intrigue in Longmire is the infusion of Native American issues, which are handled in a pretty balanced way. These Native Americans run the gamut from corrupt hustlers like Jacob Nighthorse to the hard working even-tempered businessman Henry Standing Bear, with everything else in between.
Though many of them are of the Cheyenne tribe, other tribes are represented as well. So I will take a little poetic license to sneak in one of my own recipes from Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook. This one is from a chapter on one of Tony Hillerman’s mysteries.
It is called Navajo Kneel Down Bread, so named because the cook had to kneel down to tend this pit-baked bread. Our version saves the kneecaps and uses the oven.
Navajo Kneel Down Bread
5 ears fresh corn
1 12-ounce can corned beef
1/2 cup chopped fresh green chilies, peeled and seeded, or 1 4-ounce can
1 egg, lightly beaten
Corn husks, soaked in water
Scrape corn from cob into a mixing bowl. Add corned beef, chilies, and egg. Mix well. Pat husks dry and lay out, with overlapping edges, to form a 7 x 12-inch rectangle. Place corn mixture in the middle of the rectangle and form into a loaf. Fold husks over loaf and tie with string or wrap in aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 60 to 75 minutes, until loaf is cooked and set. Unwrap, slice and serve.