This Longmire fan has been long-suffering while waiting for the return of Walt Longmire and his Wyoming posse, and “Down by the River” was a helluva great way to start the show’s fourth season.
Longmire (Robert Taylor), standing with a shotgun on a secluded runway, is determined to murder Jacob Nighthorse (A Martinez) in cold blood once the local businessman’s aircraft lands. Instead, he’s tackled by best friend Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) who convinces the sheriff, after a healthy struggle, that they will bring Nighthorse to justice for his part in the death of Longmire’s wife, Martha. This robust opening signifies in no uncertain terms Longmire is back with a vengeance.
Editor's note: And the new season just keeps coming, so there will be SPOILERS!
If you’re like me, then you were waiting to see what happened between Branch Connolly (Bailey Chase), and his father Barlow (Gerald McRaney) who had appeared to get the drop on his son, because, despite Branch’s many flaws, he’s not as crooked as his pop. A shotgun blast goes off, but we weren’t in on whether father or son died. Longmire, Vic (Katee Sackhoff), and Ferg (Adam Bartley) search for Branch and eventually find his body in a river, an apparent suicide, based on the angle of the shotgun. There’s also a suicide note of sorts left on Branch’s laptop. But Longmire, literally, isn’t leaving any stone unturned as he pans the river for bird shot, looking for evidence of a homicide which he wants to pin on Nighthorse.
Been awhile since I’ve watched a show kill off a main character, and I have to say I will miss ole Branch. He was a brilliant foil to Longmire, and I had hoped we would have seen the eventual redemption of the character. But life doesn’t work that way, and the writers have taken a bold move to keep this series fresh. So, arguably, last season’s best subplot died with Branch, but now we can follow Longmire as he searches for the motive behind his deputy’s death.
In an episode with a lot of emoting (Ferg gets my triple-hanky vote), I found Vic’s reaction to running over the possum to be genuine … at first. Everyone has a breaking point, and Katee Sackhoff excels in this scene. But Vic must have transported the unlucky critter in her vehicle, because the next time we see her, she’s drinking beer, the roadkill not far from where she's sitting along the riverside where Branch’s body was found, and that seemed to be stretching it. Then, the whole part where she falls back into the water after refusing Longmire’s helping hand was goofy cliché. A minor misstep in a superb episode.
In other continuing threads, Vic is still holding a candle for Walt, though that will once again be put on ice, which doesn’t bother me. I like the stoic, laconic, mooning-over-Martha version of Walt Longmire, and I’m not so sure how much of a mushy, sentimental one I could endure. Oh, and everyone’s favorite pain in the rump, Malachi Strand (Graham Greene), has changed all the locks on Henry’s Red Pony, saying Henry will continue to be the face of the saloon, but Malachi will be holding the purse strings. Henry also seems to be considering stepping in the shoes of the late Hector by taking up the cause of helping the less fortunate. I foresee a very busy Henry, since he appears to be the glue in a lot of Longmire’s plots this season.
Oh, and what about that intimidation ending, where Nighthorse brings together the various Native American societies to send a warning to Longmire? Over the top? Someone I was watching it with thought as much, but I considered it well-executed, though it’s unfortunate their unity is stacked behind the nefarious Nighthorse.
Netflix’s production values are first-rate and it was a seamless transition from the first three A&E seasons (unlike Arrested Development, which seemed to suffer in its resurrection after Fox). One major plus is having all ten episodes at my beck and call, but even better is the fact that episodes are not limited to 45 minutes or less. Seasons 1-3's stories seemed to wrap up too quickly, mainly to satisfy commercial needs. This was especially obvious to many fans of Craig Johnson's Longmire novels, who lamented a watering-down they observed from print to film. “Down by the River” was just over an hour and the plotting seemed well-paced. So major kudos to Netflix for keeping this show pumping by giving it the money to thrive with respectability.
Now excuse me as I binge right into episode two, “War Eagle.”
Read all of Edward A. Grainger's posts for Criminal Element.