Longmire, the A&E hit series starring Robert Taylor, which premiered June 3, 2012, was a favorite with family and friends last season. It was different from the same old boring television Pablum. It had plots you could sink your teeth into, and characters brought vividly to life by the excellent actors and writers.
But that’s more than I can say for the pulp mystery novels it is based on entitled, “Walt Longmire”, by best-selling author Craig Johnson. I tried the first novel. I couldn’t even force myself to finish it. The only thing going for it — and by extension, the entire written series — is the bare bones structure of a unique lead character and support characters, setting, and background. The writing itself is juvenile, like a Hardy Boys novel trying to appeal to adult readers — with the requisite language and “adult” situations. The difference is, I can still read a Hardy Boys if I’m desperate.
However, the TV show has “grown-up” plots and people without the connotations of the term “adult”, which is often rife with gratuitous profanity and pornography. This is one rare instance when the execution of the story outperforms its “literary” parent.
The second season premiere aired May 27, 2013, with the episode “Unquiet Mind”. This was my least favorite of all the Longmire episodes and made me a little concerned about the continuing integrity of the series. Not to worry. The following two episodes were back to the original standard. I know most Longmire fans loved “Unquiet Mind” without qualification, but it is precisely because I love the series and the characters that I get picky.
So what did I find about that second season premiere episode that was not up to par? Okay. Here’s the deal. On the way to deliver a bizarre and lethal prisoner to the proper authorities, Walt and his tough female deputy, Vic, are “forced” to stop for a mama buffalo in their lane of the highway. It is an empty, straight, long, two-lane stretch with visibility all the way to the horizon, and there is a perfectly good empty lane in which to pass the shaggy beast.
True, a white baby buffalo comes trotting across, but that was a minute or two later, and it still didn’t create a problem for the other lane. Vic starts to get out, and that’s when mama buffalo charges her door. Even if the rationalization was to get the buffalo out of the highway, the logic does not follow. They were carrying a dangerous prisoner and the buffalo would not have remained in the road indefinitely. It was also a very un-trafficked road and the buffalo could be seen long before a vehicle got to it. Walt eventually does drive around, but goes off highway to do it. What was that about? The other lane still had no on-coming traffic. I know there was a reason for the long focus on the white buffalo, but come on.
Another problem was that it was too woo-woo. Okay. I know Walt Longmire has an affinity with Native American Indian culture, and seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to visualizing and interpreting circumstances. In fact, this is one of the appeals of his character. I also understand that his strength was failing as he followed escaped prisoners, alone, into the snow-clad high country. But having apparitions, in the form of supporting characters, pop in and out along his trek was a little disconcerting. One or two would have sufficed, but the visitation of just about the whole cast was a little much.
I understand that the “messages” from these “visions” to Walt’s “unquiet mind”, was a literary device aimed at linking the first season with the second. But sometimes it was hard to separate “reality” from illusion. At first, when he seemingly arrives in a warm cabin with his daughter Cady present, I wasn’t sure if he was back-flashing or hallucinating.
Most of these mind-phases were jarring. Either there should have been a few less of them, or done in a different, less intrusive way. I know that “jarring” might have been precisely the intent, but even the slightest, briefest confusion is not what a story wants in the way of continuity. On the plus side, the omen of the white buffalo, and its actual interpretation, was very well done.
Another scene that caused an “aw, come on”, was when Walt exchanged gunfire with a prisoner and was sent tumbling down a rough, steep incline into a freezing stream of water. I know the intent was to get him soaking wet, and to lose his weapon, in order to ratchet up the tension. But, as I watched him tumbling uncontrollably down the hillside, I couldn’t help but note that he was passing between so many trees and saplings it would have been a miracle if he had not been brought up short by at least one. Or could he not have grabbed one by flinging out an arm, or a leg? One particular slender tree seemed to be begging to be seized.
But, in spite of the problems in the first episode of the season, the following two, entitled “Carcasses” and “Death Came in Like Thunder”, were back to the show’s original fine quality. I feel that “Longmire” is definitely back on track and in the winners circle.