DVD Review: Longmire: Season 6
Some of the best works of crime television of recent decades have attempted to capture the spirit of various regions of the United States, or at least the creative team’s personal interpretations of the heart of the areas. The David Simon series The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street depict Baltimore as a city beset by crime and drugs, yet still beloved by many residents and worthy of being saved. Simon brought a similar sensibility to post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans in Treme. Southland and The Shield eschewed the glitz of the Hollywood side of Los Angeles to focus on the challenges facing the segment of the city wracked with poverty and violence. Justified explored crime and violence committed by colorful characters in rural Kentucky. In all of these examples, the setting was as much a character as any of the humans, and the locale served as the uniting force for the narrative. In a similar vein, Longmire has explored the modern American West in an honest yet sympathetic light, and in doing so, quietly and without widespread recognition, became one of the finest shows on television.
Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis” became one of the most hotly debated arguments in American historiography since it was first posited in 1893. Over a century since Turner declared the America frontier “closed,” Longmire argues that we can’t possibly have a truly “closed” frontier if we don’t adequately understand it. Over the course of six seasons, Longmire has used the fictional Absaroka County in Wyoming as a microcosm to explore the best and worst of America, facing the issues that threaten the nation today, the problems that mar the country’s history, and proposing virtues and behaviors that will save it.
Longmire opened with the sort of mystery that has become a hallmark of television crime shows: the death of the central character’s loved one. This driving narrative proved critical to the character developments of the titular characters on Monk, Veronica Mars, Crossing Jordan, and others, in each case indicating that the detectives cannot move forward until the case is solved. Longmire took this trope a step further. The central character, Sheriff Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor, who never takes a false step in his performance), let everybody think that his wife died of cancer, when in fact she was murdered in what seemed to be a robbery gone wrong. Over the early seasons, viewers learned the identity of the killer early on, but the true motives behind the killing were revealed long after the guilty party received punishment. As Season Six proceeds, Walt realizes precisely why his wife was taken from him, and comes to wonder if he has the strength to keep fighting.
Walt’s mantra has always been “honesty and integrity,” but the sixth season challenges Walt to wonder if upright behavior is enough to fight the lying and corrupt. Without ever veering into preachiness, Longmire consistently argues that Walt’s core values are vital and must not be compromised at any cost, lest those who fight monsters become monsters themselves. As Longmire moves to its perfectly paced finale, Walt learns that he’s always had it right, but perhaps his motto should be lengthened to “honesty and integrity and intelligence and determination.” By the series’ end, it’s possible that “trust for those you care about” is vital as well. Longmireaddresses one of the classic themes of American Westerns– the heroic individual who must fight battles alone. Walt has always been most comfortable playing a lone hand, but the sixth season makes it clear that what Walt needs to triumph over his most dangerous enemies is teamwork– with a heavy emphasis on friendship and family.
Midway through the final season, there’s a pivotal moment that the casual viewer might overlook. Walt has always been better at picking up on other people’s shortcomings than his own, and there’s a brilliant scene where Walt admits the problem that viewers have realized long ago, that he allows personal animus to give him tunnel vision turning investigations. Having identified his own Achilles’ heel, and taking steps to overcome it, Walt becomes both a better detective and a better man, and helps someone close to him along the way. It’s an extremely well-acted moment, but played with a level of subtlety that makes it easy to miss.
In recent years, many television series have inserted storylines on race, but rather than stimulating a genuine and intelligent discussion, these shows have simply marinated in their own preachy self-righteousness, barking out talking points and patting themselves on the back for their own “wokeness.” Without visibly straining, Longmire became the smartest, most intellectually honest, and most humane television show of the twenty-first century to address American racial issues.
Though the contentious relationship between the white and Native American communities is one of the most prominent themes of the show, Longmire argues that the biggest problem facing American society is not based on race but on morality. Notably, villains and heroes come in all ethnicities on Longmire, and social ills have their roots in greed, stupidity, lust for power, and holding onto grudges. The biggest divide in America isn’t along racial lines, but the boundary between those who choose to do right and who make the decision to act immorally. Longmire’s central dichotomy isn’t “Cowboys vs. Indians,” but rather the decent and courageous versus the venal, the cruel, the crazy, and the stupid. The Longmire thesis contends that dividing people into “good” and “bad” categories through identity politics is simply lazy thinking that saves people from thinking deeply about the morality of their actions and those of others.
Longmire further argues that best way to help America triumph over the evils of racism is to provide examples of genuine friendship and collaboration between people from different backgrounds. Instead of endless strident lectures about the irredeemably bigoted nature of contemporary society, like on lesser shows, Longmire shows rather than tells. We see the effects of centuries of terrible policies, and the anger and devastation resulting from them, but we also see what real reconciliation looks like, best exemplified in the sometimes-rocky friendship between Walt and Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips), who may quarrel and clash, but always realize in the end that they are brothers. Walt and Henry’s relationships is one of the two emotional lynchpins of the series, along with that of Walt and his daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman), a lawyer trying to do some good in a world that often doesn’t want her well-meaning assistance.
Race issues aren’t the only problems that Longmire handles so well. The failure to care for returning war veterans, the opioid epidemic, poor education, a challenging job market, and crimes resulting from all seven deadly sins are all portrayed intelligently, never adopting a “cause of the week” finger-wagging tone, while elucidating the problems and providing the first steps towards real solutions, while always making it clear that fixing these issues will take a lot of time, hard work, and often, that most difficult action of all, self-introspection. Longmire never provides an easy answer or a smug sound bite when a long, intense, complex intellectual and moral journey is needed.
As Longmire concludes, previous characters make appearances that feel natural, rather than tacked on, and series-long storylines are wrapped up in way that never seem contrived. Interestingly, one recurring storyline about a hidden treasure remains unresolved, but the purpose of that narrative is to provide a promise of adventure for the future. This ties into the recurring theme of the American frontier– permanently full of hope for the future, adventure, and new beginnings.
Longmire is one of the few shows to end on a tonally perfect note, provide endings that are true to each character, and still leave the possibility for a return to Absaroka County in the future. Viewers need to start the series at the beginnings and proceed through all six seasons, because the series is one epic narrative, a love letter to the American West and the people who live there, cognizant of the region’s troubled past and uncertain future, but confident that hardships and historical injustices can be overcome through a virtuous and forgiving community.
Longmire: Season 6
Longmire: The Complete Series