Walt Shot WHO?! Longmire Returns For Season 4

What a joy it is to get to write about a fourth season of Longmire! I was among the legions of fans scorching A&E on social media after the once-proud network announced it would not renew one of its most highly rated programs. It did not help itself by suggesting the reason for giving it the ax was that the demographic was too old. Netflix, that stalwart brand among the world’s aged, came to our rescue and released Longmire’s 10-episode fourth season on September 10.

I probably was not alone in fearing it would come back unrecognizable, but as I watched it last weekend I realized my assumption was not giving Netflix enough credit. You might expect a drastic change had Longmire gone from A&E to, say, Velocity. But Netflix has such a broad appeal that it does not need to typecast its own programming. So please accept my apologies, Netflix, for assuming the worst of you.

The evolutions apparent in season four were those of a show maturing beyond its original storylines. We dealt with three season’s of Walt pursuing vengeance for Martha’s death, and in season four Walt dealt with it himself. It seemed a tad rushed to have the arrows point to Barlow Connally so quickly in Walt’s house but the drama and Walt’s final decisive act delivered a worthy end to his founding storyline.

Many shows fail to make the pivot toward a new arch and meet a slow demise. Some argue this happened with Lost after season two. I would submit (and will in a later post) that Person of Interest faces this imminent danger. Based on other changes we saw in season four I feel comfortable that the brains behind Longmire have a plan. It is going to be a challenging one for fans to accept, but it beats not having Longmire at all.

The biggest and most jarring part of the plan, delivered in the outstanding opening scenes, is life in Absaroka County with out Branch. I give big props to the storytellers for coming up with a better way to reveal his death than simply picking up where season three ended. (There is probably no way A&E gets to visualize Branch’s final reaping pose the way Netflix could.) I also liked the decision to give uncertainty to his replacement, I think some instability in the previously stable sheriff’s office will leave the show plenty of avenues to explore (although hopefully better than will Vic hookup with anyone).

The other major changes that set the show for future seasons are the ones I think will challenge Longmire’s most devoted fans: The evolution of two of our favourite characters. Everyone loves the occasionally stumbling Ferg and pulls for him to become a great deputy. A lot of the Ferg love comes from his loyalty to Walt, but this season challenged that loyalty. A sheriff like Walt needs loyalty if he is going to be sheriff the way he wants to be sheriff. If Deputy Ferguson wavers he could replace Branch as the source of Walt’s foil. That would be a benefit to the Ferg character but leave fans torn between two favourites. Drama!

“It is another beautiful day at the Red Pony bar and continual soirée.” I do not know if his perfectly timed dry wise cracks or the absence of contractions in his speak pleasures me more, but I just love Henry Standingbear. He was Walt’s conscience in the most crucial moments of his quest to appease Martha, including in a fun scene from the season premier. But there has always been the sense that he could break bad if he had to, and at times this season it looked like he would. He is in the hands of Mathias now. The character feels like it could go either way – back to good or breaking bad.

Speaking of Mathias, I was very happy to see things thaw between him and Walt and between Nighthorse and Walt. The way things went early in the season I was full of dread that the show would turn into Walt versus the Indians. I think it is a better show when Walt and Mathias get along and he and Nighthorse at least do not completely hate each other.

There was a small moment in the thawing of their relationship that I think really filled in Walt’s character. Facing off in the casino, Nighthorse pledged to work with Walt on a case only if Walt apologized for blaming him for Martha’s murder. Walt did not flinch and gave a true apology, Nighthorse accepted. I think it revealed both characters as inherently good now that I think about it.

We love Longmire of course because we love Walt, so it was charming to see him try to put the moves on Dr. Monahan, played by the incomparably beautiful Ally Walker. Walt’s relationship with the famous author felt like kind of a fling that was too good for a Wyoming lawman to last. This one seems like they can make it into a real relationship. With the two of them entwined as someone broke into Walt’s house to end the season it seems like it will be.

Which brings us to the only thing I was frustrated with in season four: Vic. The season began with her heading to Walt’s house with a sixer of Ranier and I was like “Well I guess that is where it is going.” Then it disappeared until the season finale. Wut? In that way it felt like Vic herself completely disappeared. She had been the focus of previous seasons so maybe they decided to give her a year off, or maybe they wanted to keep her constant with so many other characters in transition.

I binged all 10 episodes of season four over the weekend, and there is no word on if or when we’ll see a season five. So now we wait.

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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.