Longmire Episode 1.4: “The Cancer”—A Slow-Growing Malady

Robert Taylor as Walt LongmireGrieving is a slow and agonizing process. The question for Longmire as it approaches the midpoint of season one, is whether or not it’s too slow to make for compelling television. Like last week’s episode, “The Cancer” is a predominantly procedural offering about a pot-growing turf war, with only a few heavy-handed metaphors that remind us of Walt’s wounded spirit and cover no new ground.

Walt’s strong sense of reverence for the dead is lovingly displayed once more. Last week he laid a medicine bag on a dying horse, this week he cuts growths from a bush and places them on the victims’ chests. The music swells and it’s somber and Walt’s soulful, yes, but . . . it’s not particularly deep. There’s nothing further to examine or unpack; the grief is just there, permeating things. If this was a 22-episode season on network TV (and really, no one can tell me this show wouldn’t be a perfect fit for CBS), that’d probably be just fine. Parceling things out slowly when you have so much mileage to cover works. But since we only have six episodes to go before a long hiatus preceding a second season (I’m assuming, thanks to the gangbuster ratings so far), it does feel a little bit like they’re wasting some valuable time here.

SEE ALSO: The whole shooting match of Longmire posts for every season and episode, plus other fun stuff, too!

Great episodes—and great shows for that matter—need forward momentum. Better still, they need an arc. We need to see Walt start to heal, even if in very small doses. Instead, we’re seeing a man flatlining, steadfastly choosing to cling to the past. When a pretty woman he’s questioning about the case blatantly flirts with Walt and Vic gleefully points it out, he snaps at his deputy that she’s imagining things. If we were a little further along in Walt’s process, the episode would end with him agreeing to the date. Instead it ends with him dismissing the woman as just a “registered voter.”

If his personal life is stagnant, though, his work life is not. The theme of Walt being out of touch is reiterated a few times. “What the hell is going on in my county?” Walt asks. Then later, he talks to Henry about the rising crime rate in Absaroka. “It’s a cancer, Henry. And you know, the thing about cancer, by the time you find it, it’s often too late.”

When Walt discovers the bodies of two boys trussed and drowned in a river, it turns out that one of them is a local Cheyenne boy and the other . . . is a member of a Mexican drug cartel? The cartel was growing marijuana on reservation land, and Freddy was dealing it, working for a mysterious “El Lupo.” There is a fair bit of misdirection and red herrings before the revelation that the cartel is only half the story.

Branch and The Ferg
Is it time for the younger generation to take over?
There are small hints here and there of further character development. The Ferg proves Walt was right in refusing his resignation last week, when a Google search he does pays off with a major break in the case. Though it does highlight Walt’s resistance to cell phones and the Internet, and makes one wonder when such a thing just becomes irresponsible for a lawman? (Luckily for Walt, it’s very convenient that one of the main suspects gladly hands his cell phone over to Walt when Henry calls and provides a crucial clue pointing to that suspect’s guilt.)

Lou Diamond Phillips also gets some scenes to shine in as he processes the death of the Cheyenne boy and asks Walt to let him do the notification to the boy’s grandmother. His sense of obligation to the boy lends a weightiness and thread of rich emotion that plays out clearly and touchingly on Phillips’s face.

On the other hand, the Cady-Branch relationship is still under covers (though we learn they’ve been fighting in one tossed-aside line) and Vic still needs something to do other than provide comic relief and exposit about evidence. Sackhoff hasn’t gotten anything emotional to chew into yet—and more’s the pity; as BSG fans can attest, she’s at her best playing vulnerability. But her East Coast impatience this episode was in entertaining abundance as she sassed folks that they walk too slow, tried to search a hotel room without waiting for a warrant, and bashed in a car window after multiple attempts to slim-jim the lock didn’t work.

Katee Sackhoff as Vic
Vic is hard at work.
As a viewer, it’s hard not to share Vic’s impatience at this stage of the show. Like the cancer that’s riddling his county (as it did his wife), is Walt a lost cause? Is he too mired in his grief to be effective as sheriff? Are his efforts too little, too late (especially with Branch running against him)? At this point, it looks like they’ll keep exploring those questions until the season finale, in these same kind of heavily procedural episodes. Right now, Longmire is a good show, a solid hour of entertainment with emotion, humor, and a few twists and turns. However, one suspects if there was a little bit more momentum and development each week, it could be a great show.

Possibly—hopefully—Longmire is still finding its balance. Some shows don’t hit their stride (or pick up the pace on their longer arcs) until the last two to three episodes of a season. With ever increasing competition (Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom debuted in the same time slot this week) and ever-decreasing audience attention spans out there, let’s hope by the time they find it, it won’t be too late.


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Tara Gelsomino is a reader, writer, pop culture junkie, and Internet addict. You can tweet her at @taragel.

Read all Tara Gelsomino’s posts for Criminal Element.


  1. LFC

    I like the fact that Walt is taking his time grieving. If someone feels they need romance to further this show then do something with the Cady-Branch situation. I like how different all the personalities in this series are: Henry is thoughtful, Walt is trying to get his life back on track, Ferg is growing into being a respected member of this group, Cady is loving and smart (I want to see more of her), the Indian cop plays his grudge to perfection, Branch is handsome and smart – a good foil for Walt, but I still think Vic needs to be more sassy.

    May I recommend to all who love this series, read Craig Johnson’s books beginning with “The Cold Dish.” He’s a fantastic writer.

  2. Taragel

    Thanks for commenting! I don’t mind the grieving at all, it’s a key part of his character. But…I think they’ve well established it now. We get that he’s grieving, now they have to give us more depth and tell us new things. They kind of hit on the same note with that aspect for two weeks running now. I’d also like to see all the supporting cast have more to do. That would easily help broaden the world, which feels very insular right now. It’s very Walt-focused, but it’s all internally focused. We don’t get to see much of how he fits into his world except for a few tossed off lines about him not being around much lately. (I think they’re making him into a bit of a Marty Sue, where he’s always right and always is the one to save the day, which worked for Craig’s books because of the first-person narrative, but is a little too shallow for a tv show to sustain.) I love every member of the principal cast. They’ve got a deep bench and I hope they figure out how to use them and integreate it a bit better/more. 😉

    Right now, Longmire is a better-than-average crime drama. But I’d like to see it bust out of that bracket and be even more respected and revered, like a Justified or a Breaking Bad, or what have you. And I think it needs more forward momentum and development in the bigger picture for that to happen.

  3. anamarya

    Sometimes you leave me without anything to add. I agree with everything that you said. I;m not so impatient about the character development becuase I’m used to all the slow movement in other procedurals but the lack of more “involved” if not emotional scenes for Vic is sort of….. anoying.

  4. taragel

    Lol. Sorry Anamarya! 😉 I think part of my complaint is that I want it to be more than a procedural (but that’s my issue, not the show’s, I suppose.) And I just want a little bit more depth for Vic and Branch especially I guess. I feel like we’ve gotten little spotlights on The Ferg and Henry and Cady so far, but we still don’t know a ton about either of them.

  5. kadiebleu

    Although I prefer the 10-13 episode season, you are right on with the slow pace of the big emotional arcs, making me wonder if they aren’t setting up something up for the season finale. With only 10 episodes it would make sense to me.
    I will say that The Cancer is by far the strongest episode so far for me. I liked the crime/cancer metaphor, I think because of the way the literal cancer lead to an odd personal connection to the pot dealer, and because of it felt very much like a wake up call for Walt to leave his grief state instead of succumbing to the cancer himself.

  6. taragel

    Hey Kate! Yeah I have a feeling things are gonna keep going slow, although we should get a bit more character development in episodes 6 and 7 from what I’ve heard.

    For some reason this one felt really repetitive to the last one for me (which, if they’d aired in the original order, perhaps it wouldn’t have…IDK) . Do you think Walt really got a wake up call? I thought the final scene was an indication that he really didn’t have one and was stubbornly not moving forward (by dismissing the lady and not even telling Henry about it). Hmm. IDK! It’ll be interesting to see where it goes!

  7. Betty Breier

    I think it is time for more character development of Vic and Branch. With Branch running against Walt for sheriff there could be more tension between them, giving us a chance to learn more about Branch.
    I’m a huge fan of the books and I really miss Ruby’s presence in the show. She and Walt have such a great relationship.

  8. Taragel

    BLB–ooh yes, why so little Ruby?! I wish we had more of her too. Lorraine Stephens was excellent on FNL, she can do so much. They really have an embarassment of riches in the cast. I’m sure it’s tough to juggle the screen time, but as much as I like Walt, I could do with a little less of him and a little more of the others right now, especially while he’s still in healing mode. I also hope that they don’t add any new characters for season two, as shows often do. I want to get to know our core folks better.

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