Branch Comes Forward

A&E’s Longmire is drawing out the Absaroka County sheriff’s election longer than an actual election. As someone who worked in five election cycles, I can assure you that is a very, very long time.

The race between incumbent Walt Longmire and Deputy Branch Connally was an undercurrent to season one and only rarely the focus. I was happy about that because the last thing I wanted in a summer television show was for it to be all about politics when I was working in politics for real life. While that experience was unique to me, I think the decision to downplay it for the first 10-episode season was a good one. It let the show establish and showcase its main characters without forcing them all into a storyline as formulaic as an election.

But in season two the campaign is assuming center stage. In last week’s “The Great Spirit” Branch was as forward about his desire to be sheriff as he has ever been, and Walt finally let his frustration with it, bubble over in front of his deputies.

The episode opened with Walt learning that Branch called in sick to get out of repossessing homes before an election, only to have Walt hear a delinquent trailer owner drop Branch’s name as a friend. In total Walt fashion, he applied a parking boot instead and called it “Compromise.” When a recovered Branch showed up at a murder scene, Walt went passive-aggressive in a way that any Minnesotan can appreciate.

It’s been hard to pin down whether Branch is a genuine public servant or a slime ball. A major casino builder and Branch’s developer father are bankrolling his campaign, which we are led to believe is blanketing the county with advertising. They expect a return for their support, but Branch the candidate hasn’t always obliged. Would he stand up to them as sheriff? We aren’t really sure.

If how he handled his friend’s repossession is any indication, he may not always make the right decision the first time. He and Walt had their biggest verbal altercation in the office when Walt sent Branch to go act like a sheriff and repossess his friend’s trailer. Branch cut his friend a check to cover his late payment with the implicit insinuation that he would pay it back on Election Day. Later, after the friend still didn’t pay the bank, Branch went back and kicked his ass, proclaiming, “I’m the next sheriff.”

After Walt left his office following another argument, Branch got comfortable in Walt’s chair. Actually, Walt didn’t leave the office just yet. Henry stopped him on his way out the door to let him know the detective investigating his wife’s killer’s murder was in Durant. The two set their stories straight right there in the hallway, and it’s safe to assume Branch heard it. If and how Branch leverages that against Walt will show how badly he wants to be sheriff and answer questions about his integrity.

Who will win the race? It’s hard to see the show’s title character losing, but they’ve shown Branch to be the more active, engaged candidate. I don’t know how they will resolve it. There was a strange occurrence a few weeks back when Branch made a reference to his dad about needing his “coffee” during a discussion about his campaign. At the very end of that episode Walt and his daughter were listening to a tape of his late wife when the camera panned to a box up on a shelf in Walt’s house labeled “tea.” The shot’s meaning wasn’t clear and hasn’t been referenced since, I wonder if it is related to some kind of ace Walt has up his sleeve.

No matter who comes out on top, there will be plenty of stories to tell after the election. As someone who worked through five of them, I can assure you that is when the fun really starts.

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