The opening sequence of tonight’s episode offers up a neat encapsulation of the show’s essence. Cinematic (albeit shudder-inducing) footage of this week’s crime—a barn fire and horses set tragically ablaze—is juxtaposed by the open fire at an Indian ceremony in which Walt and Henry are participating. The camera lingers on Walt’s physically scarred back as a shaman speaks the words to a prayer that Henry translates for our sheriff. It’s a deeply spiritual moment, heavy with meaning and then, abruptly, a loud trilling sound cuts the silence.
“That’s why I don’t have a cell phone,” Walt deadpans.
Cell phones are actually a key part of the plot and a running gag in this one, continuing a joke from the pilot. But it’s also a clever metaphor for Longmire’s approach, a shouldn’t-work-but-does mashup of two different kinds of shows: a quippy, action-packed crime drama, and a deeper, soulful character-driven piece. There’s maybe a bit more of the former than the latter on display tonight, and I imagine they’ll keep testing that balance until they find a comfortable fit. But even when plot twists trump emotional breakthroughs, the show’s potential to be more than your average crime drama continues to shine through.
The mystery tonight isn’t quite so cut-and-dried as the previous two, and it requires a bit more suspension of disbelief as well. The barn fire, which at first looks to be a suicide attempt—complete with seriously burned-up corpse—turns out to be something quite different. The corpse was dug up from a graveyard, and the barn owner faked his death. Turns out he was on the run from the mob, his wife reveals in due time, and this horse farmer gig was just a cover. (An aside: the caliber of guest stars on Longmire looks quite promising with Southland’s C. Thomas Howell and Megan Follows—better and forever known as Anne of Green Gables—popping up this episode. Future episodes will see Gerald McRaney, Peter Weller, Tom Wopat, and Shawn Hatosy appearing in key roles.)
Walt does more Sherlockian deduction this episode, making a heck of a lot of intuitive leaps seemingly out of nowhere, but then expositing a bit of obscure key knowledge he possesses that helped him figure it out. For example, at the autopsy, Vic notes that she’d seen a suicide back in Philly where the victim committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a .45, yet there was no exit wound on that corpse, unlike this one. And the next thing we know, Walt’s muttering something about formaldehyde smells at the crime scene and prying open a casket revealed to be empty. Turns out he figured the bullet exited the skull because there was no gelatinous brain tissue left in the corpse to slow it down. It works but it does feel like maybe a bit of a stretch or even a cheat, because the audience isn’t in on it. (Vic expresses her displeasure for all of us, though, grumbling “And you couldn’t have just said that back at the morgue?”)
One gets the sense that Walt definitely gets a bit of a kick out of being the smartest in the room, maybe because he was absent so long. But it works better when he’s outwitting/showing up the too-slick-for-his-britches Branch, than when he seems to be tricking Vic. That being said, I quite liked the scene where both deputies confront Walt about finding out from the local paper that he’d arrested the wife (for her own protection, but that info isn’t public knowledge). They’re understandably peeved that he’s not trusting them and letting them in on things. Branch accuses Walt of freezing him out because he’s running against him and Vic insists it makes them look bad for not knowing. Then Walt lays the bombshell of the mob angle on them—which wasn’t mentioned in the paper—but Vic is still understandably pissed that he didn’t give them a heads up. And she’s not exactly wrong. I hope the show will, sooner rather than later, let one of his deputies be more clever than Walt, or figure out something he doesn’t pick up, just to change it up. The good thing is the scene does end with this amusing exchange from Vic to Walt:
“I really don’t like finding out stuff like this in the paper.”
“Do what I do: don’t read the paper.”
The humor continues to be high with plenty of sarcastic rejoinders this week, although the laugh-out-loud moment of the episode might belong to The Ferg, who roars onto a scene to provide backup in an electric blue Firebird, wheels spinning gravel like he’s shooting a Dukes of Hazzard cameo.
Adam Bartley gets a sweet little emotional arc of his own to shine in tonight too, as the eager-to-please deputy makes a key mistake, leading the mob baddie right to the wife and son whom he proceeds to take hostage. It all ends rather badly (for our refugee at least) though Walt does manage to subdue the hitman after a tussle which leaves him breathing real heavy (not for the first time this episode—less Rainier, more calisthenics Walt!) and Ferg earnestly tries to return his badge to Walt, convinced he’s doing a terrible job. He tells Walt he knows that he only hired him as a favor to Ferg’s dad, and Walt responds that he hired him for two reasons. One was the favor, the second was a reason he’s “still waiting to find out,” and he slides the badge back to Ferg. Bartley opts for awed surprise instead of gushing thanks, and the surreptitious wiping away of a tear as he hustles out of the office kinda makes the whole moment.
It’s a nice understated moment with a lot of heart, and it’s a good lead in to our final scene, which brings us back to that other show. The strains of Hallelujah come up on the soundtrack as Walt visits a burned horse from the fire, and gives the animal encouragement to let go and die. He places the Indian necklace he was wearing at the ceremony on the animal’s burned flesh, and finishes reading the poem that the shaman had been intoning at the beginning. And there again is that man in repair we met in the pilot, struggling with death and grief and healing, maybe taking one more step forward down that dark road of acceptance.
Catch up on all our Longmire content here.
Tara Gelsomino is a reader, writer, pop culture junkie, and Internet addict. You can tweet her at @taragel.