Longmire Season 1 Finale: “Unfinished Business”

Walt and Henry playing darts

It’s a strong and swiftly paced first season finale for Longmire as the show finally takes a page—literally—out of the source novels. This episode features the same plot of Craig Johnson’s first Longmire mystery, The Cold Dish, as a quartet of teenage boys who were found not guilty of the gang rape of a developmentally challenged Native American girl suddenly start turning up dead.

Before we get to the real serious stuff however there’s a fun opening scene where we learn that Walt and Lizzie had a little slumber party the previous night. Apparently, though, the dizzy blonde helpfully informs us that it was “just like high school, without the sex.” With excellent timing, Vic and Ferg pull up to deliver Walt’s repaired truck, and there’s plenty of shock and awkwardness leaving Walt blustering that they better think twice about commenting. Luckily for him the phone rings in the nick of time, with Branch calling to tell him there’s a murder that needs solving: one of those boys was shot through the chest with an arrow, an Indian symbol drawn on his forehead.

Charles Dutton
Where are all the black people in this town?
Before Walt can start investigating, he gets another visitor. A detective from the Denver PD (played quite winningly by Charles S. Dutton) has a question for Walt: “Where are all the black people in this town?” Ha! But he goes on to say that really he’s got some news: they found the man who killed Walt’s wife. So the unsurprising reveal that it wasn’t just cancer that got Martha is now on the table.

Walt, in true Walt fashion, evades the detective’s entreaties to meet and talk (as he’s been doing, dodging the man’s calls for quite a while) yet again. And we won’t hear more about Denver till the last five minutes, so hold on to that horse for now.

We plunge back into the crime solving with an appearance from Omar! He’s filling them in on the kind of bow that could’ve been the murder weapon, and he and Vic have another delightful exchange when he says anyone could be the shooter, even Vicki. “That is the second and last time you ever call me that!” She shoots a bullseye and still has the weapon in her hand when he stupidly makes a crack about it being so easy a girl can shoot it. Wouldn’t be surprised if Omar is our first victim of season 2. Just saying.

Branch turns up evidence that the boys’ cars were spray painted with the same symbol as on the victim’s forehead and is convinced that the culprit is the girl’s brother, taking revenge on the boys. Walt refuses to arrest him and goes off to question the boys and their parents, but soon he’s in hot pursuit of Branch, who’s roaring off on his own to arrest the brother. Before he can tell Walt why (the boy worked at a hunting store where compound bows went missing), the men start scrapping right in the middle of the highway until Vic arrives and pulls them apart, screaming “I should arrest you both for public stupidity!” For a kicker, she informs them they’ve got another harpooned kid.

The mystery plays out pretty cleanly, with a couple unexpected twists and a harrowing showdown between Walt and the killer, who turns a gun on himself as Walt meaningfully intones that he used to believe the only way he could find peace was through death, but that there’s another way: Truth. 

Vic / Katee Sackhoff
What to do with the likes of Walt?
Walt saves the day, as he does, but the best thing about the mystery is that Vic gets to be far more of a badass this episode than she has all season, wading into the fray of a lot of out-of-control situations and getting people in order (she literally hauls Branch off Walt by the seat of his pants in that highway fight, and later she gets to break up a high school brawl by threatening the kids with detention or jail). However, when she tries to get all up in Walt and Lizzie’s business, the woman challenges her to admit she has some improper feelings for the Sheriff too. Lizzie suggests that Vic doesn’t wear her wedding ring for a reason (and it’s not the one Vic hilariously gives about it hurting people when she has to punch them in the face, complete with pantomime).

Always a scene-stealer, Katee Sackhoff’s face is priceless in all her conversations with Lizzie, a mixture of cloyingly fake good cheer thinly veiling her desire to strangle the woman. The end of the episode sees Vic slipping that ring back on and pensively contemplating. Does the deputy have romantic feelings for Walt or is she just being protective? The age difference between Sackhoff and Taylor is a tough one to hurdle, and personally, I’m not seeing any real romantic chemistry between the two. It would be a shame to potentially ruin the just-fine bond they do have as sheriff and trusted deputy, but the show sure does seem to be pushing that romance angle.

Vic and Lizzie

In other matters of the heart, Branch and Walt do not reach any kind of a peace accord after their Cady-related blowup, the highway brawl as much about that as about the current case. As the episode wraps up, we see Branch looking at a paper trumpeting that Walt solved the case. Considering the less-than-warm welcome Walt got from both whites and Indians earlier in the episode, it’s a good thing for his election hopes. Not so good for Branch though, and a receptionist comes out and pleasantly says Jacob Nighthorse is ready to see him. Nooo! Don’t go to the dark side, Luke!

And finally we get back to Denver. Henry and Walt have a little chat about how avoiding calls and letters from the Denver PD makes Walt look suspicious, and Walt asks Henry if he should be worried. Henry insists he shouldn’t be, which seems to suggest Henry knows something Walt doesn’t about the whole thing? Or perhaps Henry did something to help his friend? Hmmm. He also brings up Cady and Branch, piqued that Walt didn’t bother to tell him about it before Cady did. And when his good buddy Walt basically tells him to MYOB, Henry snarks, “What a rich inner life you must lead. From time to time you should consider sharing some of it with the rest of us.” Truer words, Henry, truer words.

And his friend’s not the only one feeling that way. Cady is on Walt’s steps when he gets home, crying and furious that she had to find out from Failes that her mother hadn’t died of cancer but was murdered in Denver, when Walt knew all along. Cassidy Freeman really knocks the angst out of the park in this scene, as she has all season actually. She dismisses Walt’s claims that he was trying to protect her with a cold “You’re relieved of that burden,” twisting his own words from last week against him in a nice burn. The scene underlines how difficult it would really be to be in a close relationship with Walt Longmire as well. He may be a good man and a manly man, but that stubborn tendency to bottle everything up and never fill anyone in, whether it’s his deputies on how he figures out aspects of the case, to his daughter and his best friend on his feelings or worries . . . Well, I think it’d be terribly frustrating to deal with Walt on a day-to-day basis.  

Henry and Cady are a good one-two punch and by the episode’s end, Walt’s sitting down at the Pony with Failes, who lays it out for him. They found the man responsible for the “stabbing,” a thirty-something methhead who had the knife with Martha’s DNA on it still . . . but they found him strangled to death. So he asks his big question of Walt: “Did you do it?” And we cut to extreme close-up of Walt’s stoic face as he says “No.”

So is Walt telling the truth, and will it bring him peace? We’ll have to tune in next summer when Longmire returns for season 2 to find out. 

What happened in Denver?
Regarding the season as a whole, I enjoyed it each week and think it was a good introduction to life in Abasaroka. It remains to be seen if the producers can, or are even interested in, expanding the scope and depth of Longmire (a longer run than 10 episodes would probably help facilitate that, A&E!). But it has an amazing wealth of talent in its cast, and a freshness and unique flavor for what’s still mostly a procedural crime show. I’d still like to see Longmire shift into a more serialized drama direction and attain the buzz-generating, award-winning acclaim of a Breaking Bad or Justified or Sons of Anarchy. But it’s a solid wrap-up to a solid season of a good old-fashioned Western mystery show. And maybe, the truth of the matter is that, as Henry would say, “It is what it is.” I’ll have to find my peace with that. All I know is, it’s going to feel like a very long hiatus indeed.


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.

Read all Tara Gelsomino’s posts for Criminal Element.




  1. Saundra Peck

    I soooo agree Tara! This show was so good from episode one, I loved the choice of each actor for each role and loved the development of the characters. But waiting until NEXT summer!!! That will be rough, I was hoping for at least a few more episodes during the winter. Well, I will wait, but not happily!

  2. Scott Parker

    Thanks for all your recaps this season. Longmire was new to me, and my wife and I both love it. Now, to fill in the hiatus, we’re going to read the novels. Since this last episode was the plot of Book #1, do you suggest we go ahead and read it or just move to Book #2?

  3. Betty Breier

    Scott, having read all the books, I highly recommend you start with the first, The Cold Dish, and continue through in order. This episode was loosely based on the book.

  4. beedyr

    Oh my gosh…we love this series. Finally, a show with some depth of character, real stories, terrific acting. We came across it by accident because we watch The Glades, another enjoyable series, that comes on before it. I’m going to my favorite place to order all the books!

  5. Mary Saputo

    I enjoyed this show more with each episode but as far as your hiatus is concerned, Tara, we have Justified coming back which will fill our oh, so lonely hours. I have a question but I first have to say – don’t anyone dare accuse me of being a pervert. See this picture above where Henry is standing at the table? Did anyone else notice that when he turned around to walk away, it “seemed” like they zeroed in on his gluteus maximus? My cable cuts off the last minute so just as the Denver cop was going to ask him a question, my programming stopped. Aaaaargh! No kidding. I had to watch it AGAIN to find out what he asked him. So not once, but twice did I see the same shot and given that I’m older, I had forgotten about that until I saw it again and had the same back end view. Now, as to Lizzie! Lizzie’s a bit ditsy for me, (rhyme?) but I also have the distinct feeling that Lizzie’s not as ditsy as she makes out. Girl fight comin’ up????

  6. Laura K. Curtis

    Bitsy –

    YES! The episode was about 90 seconds longer than normal, so my cable DVR did the SAME THING! OMG, I was so angry…not that I minded watching again, but I wanted to go to bed.

    I did not notice the butt shot, but I am going to have to look again! What a trial that will be…

    I agree about Lizzie. I think it was very perceptive of her to say that her husband never wore his wedding ring at work, either, since he obviously cheated on her.

  7. Vic Parsons

    I really, really, really want to love this show, but it just feels like it is falling short to me. It could be because the books are so amazing, but I think it is more than that. The regular cast is strong and Robert Taylor is an absolute find! That said, the plots have been sort of weak and insipid, the guest stars haven’t been great and the arcs that have played througout the season are downright silly. I was hoping they would wrap up the election and the Denver storylines and start clean in season 2. There is no mystery or even much drama in either of these stories. Eventually, barring dirty tactics by Branch, Walt has to be sheriff and it would be a complete departure from Walt’s basic sense of decency to have done anything in Denver that can’t be justified. The one element that you are hoping doesn’t happen, Walt and Vic, might be the one thing to keep me watching. I do see enormous chemistry between these two. Walt needs a romance of some sort and putting him with a ditz like lizzy is almost insulting. That said, I plan to keep watching and hope that it gets better. It has a long way to go before you can mention it in the same breath as Justified! I do appreciate Longmire helping me find this site. For a mystery lover, it really rocks!

  8. Laura K. Curtis

    @vic –

    I am a fan of most aspects of the show, though I have to agree that the mystery plots are less engaging than they could be.

    I think Lizzie is less ditzy than she appears at first glance, but if they keep her around they’re going to have to make that really clear.

    I actually think the election arc is an intriguing one because of the basic honesty of both Branch and Walt. Perhaps I am just so jaded by the politics I see all around me, but I’d like to watch two basically honorable guys compete for office! The fact that Branch is a character wholly unto the TV show makes him a wildcard–they can do anything with him.

  9. Clare 2e

    I agree @LauraKCurtis-

    I’m enjoying Branch more and more, because he doesn’t have it so easy, doesn’t always get what he wants, has to swallow a lot of crap, even though he’s positioned as the pretty-boy son of influence.

    The mysteries are twisty enough for me, because for one crime/episode TV, they can’t do the slow ripening of evidence against a person who already seems likely (often the culprit in real life). They have to keep twisting and flipping the suspects until we get to someone “completely unexpected” and often more implausible–the kindly cupcake baker who sponsors the orphanage? Nooooo. I think the format where one crime is solved over multiple episodes allows you to dodge some of those plot pyrotechnics, and a show like this would lend itself well to longer story arcs. Maybe they’ll experiment next season, maybe? (I vote YES).

    @Scott Parker Do read ALL the books! Any plot gets really compressed and even changed for TV, so you’ll still have a great time digging into the characters here. (If we only cared about final solutions, we’d all be crossword puzzle fanatics. Okay, I do enjoy those, too!) The books are different, but will be very recognizable, and I think the dry wit that Craig Johnson uses is something the show’s done a good job of keeping.

    ***Oh Wait. Did someone just say that there might be a sweepstakes for the whole series coming up here with other special goodies? Wait, no. I’m sure I didn’t hear that…unless I did.

  10. Allison Brennan

    Love this show. The writing and acting is spot-on. I love the setting and the different types of mysteries/crime aspect than we usually get from big-city crime dramas. But overall, it’s the characters that make the show special.

    re: Branch. I agree with clare2e, Branch takes a lot of abuse — from Walt, from his father, from his uncle (I hope they bring back his uncle next season, lots of family secrets!) Branch didn’t want to run against Walt, I think he admires him greatly and has a lot to learn from him, but Walt doesn’t make it easy. They’re both such great characters, I don’t want to see either suffer (too much!)

    re: Vic. I had a feeling early on that they wanted to do a relationship thing with Walt, but I don’t feel the chemistry, either. What I feel is more that Vic looks to him as a father figure, or big brother, but on a deeper level that maybe she might think is romantic, but isn’t. She’s protective of him and has great respect for him, but she also isn’t afraid to tell him he’s being an ass or that he’s wrong. I’d think she’s more in competition with Cady, and can never truly win that because Cady is blood.

    re: Lizzie. Don’t like her, don’t think she’s as ditzy as she acts, don’t trust her. I don’t understand her motivation yet, though — maybe she just wants a man around, or maybe she has another game going on.

    There is a lot of potential intrigue and I like the campaign story arc (after 13 years working in politics, I usually HATE anything to do with campaign storylines, but this one works on multiple levels.)

  11. Clare 2e

    Forgot to mention: They’ve been saying $h*+ once per episode, but twice in the finale, because it’s double good.

  12. General Lee

    Tara, nice job with all the reviews this season. Looking forward to the next one.

  13. mavis bear

    to much dirty language and talk from deputy vic. over the top.
    ruins a good story.

  14. pugkisser

    Is it just me or does it NOT make sense that the daughter thought the mother was dying of cancer, but she was actually murdered by stabbing? Sure, he could have told Katy that the mom died of cancer and Katy never went out to see her, BUT there are a couple of bits of evidence from the show that make that explanation implausible (besides the fact that Katy would most definitely have gone to see her dying mother):

    1. The daughter says specifically in the final episode, “I watched her die of cancer.” If Katy watched her mother die (even if she just meant she saw her go through the treatments and not that she actually witnessed her final moments), Katy would have been there for some of it, which means the wife probably had cancer or was sick. Does that then mean she was dying of cancer but then someone stabbed her while she was on her deathbed? Seems kind of farfetched.

    2. Walt says that the mother did not want Katy remember her as having died a violent death, which means that the mother/wife had time to tell Walt this information. Does this mean that Walt was there for her dying breaths after being stabbed and she told him this, or am I to assume that at some previous point in their lives, she told him something like, “If I ever get murdered like the victims you see everyday, don’t tell Katy because I don’t want her to obsess over it”?

    Even if these inconsistencies can be explained in the ways suggested above, that is WAY too much mental gymnastics to explain that whole thing. I am beginning to think the editors left some important piece of information on the editing floor.

    Did anyone else notice that or did I miss something?


  15. Desiree Heald

    Diana, the impression that I got was Martha Longmire was slowly dying from cancer – as multiple references throughout the season alluded to – and while on a trip to Denver with Walt for some reason she was stabbed. Quite possible she bled out in Walt’s arms, giving her time to have final words with Walt. If the stab wound was not somewhere easily visible, it would be quite easy to keep it hidden and just say Martha took a bad turn and died of cancer-related causes while in Denver.

  16. Desiree Heald

    Btw, I have shown Longmire to my Mum – another fan found! She was quite put out when I told her there wasn’t anymore episodes to watch until next year.

  17. Tom K

    We love this show, but we are disappointed that season 2 doesn’t return until next summer. We realy miss it.

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