Maybe it’s fitting that last night’s Longmire, about a bear attack, brought to mind the Goldilocks fable. Striking the perfect balance between character drama and procedural has been a struggle for the show, but this week, thanks no doubt to an episode penned by creators John Coveny and Hunt Baldwin, Longmire seemed to get the mix “just right.”
The mystery of the week focuses on Ed Crawley, a man recently released from prison (he’d stabbed a girl to death while hopped up on meth), who is mauled by the aforementioned bear. What looks like a straightforward case of When Animals Attack turns out to be something more—as Walt discovers raw meat was tied to the man to bait the animal. Continuing the show’s streak of getting plenty of “Hey it’s that guy/girl” guest stars, the suspects include the man’s angry brother-in-law (Prison Break’s Wade Williams), the girl’s bereft parents (Heroes’ Christine Rose really commits in one scene where she wails on the corpse with a pair of scissors), a zealous animal behaviorist, and the former prison warden.
Louis Herthum also returns this week as gun expert and good hunter Omar to help track the bear. He demands a deputy—“that feisty Italian”—to help him in lieu of payment, leading to a great scene with Katee Sackhoff’s Vic, that just proves again how talented the “bench” is on Longmire and how fun it is to see some different character pairs interacting.
But it’s guest star (and director of this episode) Peter “Robocop” Weller who really steals scenes as Lucian Connelly, former Absaroka County sheriff and Branch’s uncle. Lucian is ornery and cantankerous and a hell of a lot of fun, just like in Craig Johnson’s novels. (I’d even say he’s the most like his book counterpart of all the characters.) He gets arrested for discharging his shotgun at the retirement facility where he lives, voluntarily, and once Walt arrests him and takes him to the station, he can’t help but try to nose his way into the investigation, much to Walt’s chagrin.
Aside from just comic relief, meeting Lucian gives us a bit more insight into Branch and the Connelly family. We learn that the former sheriff seems to want nothing to do with his seemingly well-to-do brother, Branch’s father (whom we’ll meet next week, played by Major Dad’s Gerald McRaney), and decries his family’s “shady ethics.” He even warns Walt that if he’s got secrets—and we know he does—he better be ready to read them in the paper.
The race for sheriff is actually a strong thread in this week’s episode, as we see Henry hosting a somewhat underpopulated fundraiser for Walt—that the Sheriff only bothers to show up to because he’s chasing info on the case. Later, one of our suspects makes it a point to ask Walt for some campaign signs, saying he’d “hate to see another old pro be pushed out of a job by a young guy.”
The problem is, right now it’s hard to get a handle on why anyone would want to vote for Branch. We haven’t seen him do anything particularly noteworthy yet, so it’s difficult to view him as legit competition for Walt. It’d be nice to see Branch doing something truly heroic that raises the dramatic stakes a bit and might actually give us reason to believe he could beat Walt. I’m betting, however, that next week we’ll see that he does actually have stronger ethics than his uncle gave him credit for. It’s tough to imagine how Bailey Chase would continue to be a regular cast member once Walt wins the election, as he surely will, if Branch did anything too irredeemable.
To be honest, Walt’s ethics actually don’t seem to be the most pristine either. This is at least the third episode now where we’ve seen him indulge in some questionable methods to coerce a confession out of a suspect. Add that to the flashbacks—we got another one this week with Walt pulling a gun and kicking in a door—and the anvillicious lines about the evil that lurks at the heart of men. (This week’s is “Someone has to be the sheriff. Otherwise we’re all just animals.”)
Yet up till now, Walt’s been painted as the white hat we clearly should be rooting for. He’s almost always right, and far smarter than everyone around him. There seems to at least be slightly less focus on that this week, and I think the show’s better for it. Other people actually get to discover some important clues—Lucian notes that the dead man had marks from restraints on his body and Vic literally jumps from her hospital bed to point out that the tranquilizer dart wound she received looks just like the wounds on the body that they had wrongly assumed were from Ed shooting up meth—which makes the show a bit more well-rounded. There’s a different and more interesting energy to the scenes where the team collaborates to solve a crime than the ones where Walt just stomps through the office barking orders to everyone as they scurry to do his bidding.
For my money, however, the biggest highlight of this chock-full episode was finally getting a little more backstory for Vic. Considering Katee Sackhoff’s fan base, it’s quite surprising it took six episodes before they delved into her character. Sackhoff’s renowned and revered by sci-fi fans for playing badass babes like Starbuck and Sarah Corvus, and rightfully so, but where she shines most, I think, is not in pulling a gun or throwing a punch (fun though that is to watch) but in accessing the vulnerable side of these warrior women. Procedurals tend to keep their female cops extra-crispy, content to offer cold stereotypes, but Sackhoff can tug your heartstrings better than anyone when she has the right material. She has the talent to turn, as she did with previous roles, what could easily be a one-note role into a far more complex, fully rendered character. So her wet-eyed scene at the hospital as Vic helplessly confesses to Walt that she fights with her husband (Surprise! She’s married!) all the time and now he wants her to follow him to a new job in Australia was a welcome glimpse of a new side to the deputy, something a bit deeper than comic relief and swagger. Hopefully we’ll get even more development in upcoming episodes. It would be a real crime if this mystery drama didn’t clue in to what a goldmine they have in Sackhoff.
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Tara Gelsomino is a reader, writer, pop culture junkie, and Internet addict. You can tweet her at @taragel.