The Wild West is long gone. No longer do Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok ride tall in the saddle, trading hot lead with cattle rustlers and card sharks. The prairie's been tamed, the mountains have been mapped. The days of dime-store cowboys and frontier justice are over.
Except, perhaps, in Absaroka County, Wyoming.
It's not as if the county is a place that time forgot. If you want to build a barn, chances are you still need a building permit. But in this rural backwater, a hint of frontier remains. Only a handful of law officers are on hand to patrol an area that seems as big and sprawling as the skies above, and Wyoming's wide open scrubland offers plenty of space to conduct illegal activities or bury the occasional body. And just like in the old days, the lawmen themselves have their own skeletons to hide.
In A&E's drama Longmire (based on a series of mysteries written by Craig Johnson), Walt Longmire is the sheriff in the aforementioned Absaroka County—Wyoming through and through. He looks the part, as if he was raised on sagebrush and whiskey. He's a pragmatic man, knowing instinctively what petty issues to let slide for the community's greater good. And even though he's on friendly terms with most in the area, he won't hesitate to take someone down if they get in his (or the law's) way.
His three deputies are Victoria "Vic" Moretti, a one-time cop from Philly; The Ferg, well-meaning but sometimes inept; and Branch Connolly, second in command and sometime rival. Longmire also gets some off-the-books help from Henry Standing Bear, a local barkeep and Longmire's best friend.
But even as Longmire and Co. do what they can to take the bad guys down, they're not above stretching the law to catch the folks who outright break it. And, as noted, they're not all so squeaky clean themselves.
One example: Longmire's cancer-assailed wife was murdered not too long ago, and he's determined to bring the culprit to justice. Both he and Henry, in trying to untangle the complicated web around the plot, have run afoul of the law and, in Henry's case, even been accused of murder as well. It's a brutal, personal case, and more bodies will turn up before it's solved.
At its core this A&E show is a crime procedural, just like so many of its scripted compatriots. Yet it somehow feels more believable. The setting looks rough and dusty, as it should. The actors flesh out their roles in convincing ways. Even the squeaks and thumps heard in the interior of the hard-used SUV the sheriff drives speaks to a rare authenticity here. And that gives Longmire some atmospheric grit. This is a hard land that sometimes attracts desperate people, after all, and the camera doesn't flinch from their misdeeds.
OK. It does flinch more often than, say, Game of Thrones or House of Cards or Fargo. Longmire is not without its problems, many of which I've already discussed here. But it does manage to be gritty without being overwhelmed with grime. It tells its story without completely succumbing to salaciousness. You might even argue that it illustrates how good television doesn't have to always be quite so bad. And that's good to see. But still not always worth seeing.
"Reports of My Death"
A man turns up dead on a park bench outside the sheriff's office, and Longmire believes it could be the long-lost heir of one of Wyoming's wealthiest families. Meanwhile, Henry—accused of murder but released on bail—breaks free of his tracking bracelet and sneaks away to take pictures that, he hopes, will help lead to the real killer.
Henry obviously breaks the law, but his misdeed is covered up by his lawyer, Cady (Longmire's daughter). Henry also confronts his two-timing girlfriend (who wears a revealing top and tight shorts), shaking her roughly and shoving her against furniture.
There's talk of drunkenness and a deadly opiate overdose. We hear that someone was forced to take peyote. We see a syringe get jammed in a man's leg, and autopsy stitches running down his chest. Folks drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes, frequenting bars. One s-word fouls the dialogue, along with "h---" (twice) and "d--n" (once). God's name is misused a handful of times.
"The Great Spirit"
A man is shot when a gun-shooting trick goes awry. He survives—but the next day the shooter himself is found dead, shot through the neck and dragged through the scrub by a horse. (The corpse is a mess, the face grotesquely torn.) Suspicion falls on the "illegals" who worked for the dead man. But Longmire uncovers other unsavory truths: The workers were being trafficked in from Mexico; they were given false promises, had their families taken away and were forced into indentured servitude.
A splash of blood is seen when that trick goes wrong, and a bloody bandage afterwards. A flashback shows Longmire staggering into Henry's hotel room, bleeding profusely from his back. (We watch a woman stitch up the long wound.) Longmire ties a guy to a horse and threatens to let the beast drag him if he doesn't confess. Someone gets punched in the face.
To get some information, Vic flirts with a trick shooter—admiring the man's holster and telling him she's "into leather."
Henry offers a visiting police officer free beer. Folks pour booze. They shoot bottles and liquor-filled glasses. They discuss meth addicts. Two people smoke cigars. Gambling and gambling debt turns up in the story, as do the words "a‑‑" and "d‑‑n" (once each), "h‑‑‑" (three or four times). God's name is misused a couple of times.