August 27, 2013



In its second season, A&E’s neo-western LONGMIRE has become a superior procedural-plus, effectively knitting together both its frontier and cop genres and its crime-of-the-week and serialized storylines with an increased sense of character and some understated humor.  Tonight’s season finale, written by series creators Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny (based on a series of mystery novels by Craig Johnson) and directed by Michael Offer, effectively moved the major storylines forward in cliffhangery fashion.

Although naturally Longmire will always be built around Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) himself, the phlegmatic and supremely competent sheriff of Wyoming’s Absaroka County, one of the accomplishments of Season 2 was to build the depth of the ensemble around him.  While last season, only Walt’s friend and confidant Henry (Lou Diamond Phillips) had really been developed, this year there finally seemed to be a reason for a talent like Katee Sackhoff to be playing Walt’s deputy Vic Moretti, as the story of what she was doing far from her Philadelphia home in Wyoming started to be told (and the show occasionally hinted at an attraction between her and Walt, which would be infinitely complicated given her job, his principles and the fact that she’s married).  Another deputy, Branch Connally (Bailey Chase), who’d seemed initially to to be a straw-man inferior antagonist for Walt as he ran for the sheriff’s job, turned out to have some ambiguities as we learned more about his uneasy relationship with his wealthy family (the always invaluable Gerald McRaney guest starred as his father) and he got into bed with the menacing head of the local reservation (A Martinez, another solid piece of guest star casting) to further his political career–all for naught, as it turned out.  Walt’s daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman) was given some plot of her own beyond being Walt’s daughter and Branch’s sometime girlfriend, and even the other deputy, Ferguson (Adam Bartley), usually a source of pudgy comedy relief, turned out to have some deep if slightly embarrassing feelings for Cady.

The season’s major storyline was the continuing exploration of the death of Walt’s wife, which became increasingly complex once it was clear that she’d been murdered and hadn’t died of cancer.  Although it’s seemingly clear that she was killed by a Denver meth dealer, he was then slain himself, and suspicion for that crime has been pointed at Walt and Henry at various times, with the season finale setting up next season by suggesting that he was killed by someone out to frame Walt.  This story has been somewhat on-and-off, but it gave Cady a chance to do some investigating, and allowed for the recurring presence of Charles S. Dutton as the dogged Denver detective on Walt’s trail.  A more interesting tack was taken with the sheriff’s election, which at various times was used for dry humor and to develop more depth about the power politics of the county, with its ambitious Indian casino underway (one of the year’s more interesting episodes had competing realtors use a “psychic” to discover tribal remains in certain locations because doing so would stop all building there).  While most series would have built to the election itself as a season climax, Longmire took a left turn and made it all but beside the point when Cady was injured in an accident (that turned out to be not-so-accidental) that day.

The show’s murder plots have been a bit more complex and surprising than the procedural norm.  Sometimes the killers manage not to be who you’d expect and sometimes the settings are unusually distinctive, as with an episode set among Basque foresters, or one with an illicit rodeo that seemed at first to be exploiting its performers and turned out to be helping them.  The series is also notably visually effective for its genre, making great use of its locations.

Longmire can still get too full of itself (Walt’s refusal to own a cell phone is a somewhat tiresome affectation, and I could have done without his going full Man Called Horse as a repentance after Cady’s injury), and sometimes the killer is exactly who you think it’s going to be 15 minutes into the episode, but for the most part it’s a quality piece of work, well paced and skilled at balancing its tones.  Taylor provides the keynote for the series, as comfortable in the role of Walt as if he’d been playing it for a decade, and this season able to add some frailty and uncertainties to the character as well.  The show is a big hit with older viewers–not surprising considering the age of its hero–with over 4M total viewers per week, although it’s only a moderate success among 18-49s (in the 0.7-0.8 neighborhood).  That certainly isn’t in a league with A&E’s gigantic Duck Dynasty, but it’s fairly close to TNT’s successful Major Crimes (a million extra viewers, but only a tenth or two better in 18-49s), certainly good enough for an extended stay in Absaroka County.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."