Get caught up on the modern western Netflix series as its final season approaches.
For faithful viewers of Longmire, the modern-day western crime drama based on the novel franchise by Craig Johnson — and, yes, you can count most of us who ride for the C&I brand in that band of fans — the start of Season 6 can’t come quickly enough.
Granted, this particular 10-episode run will likely be a profoundly mixed blessing, no matter how excellent those episodes might be, since it will be the final season for the series that Netflix picked up in 2014 when it was canceled by A&E (reportedly because it appealed to an older demographic that was unappealing to advertisers, despite it scoring respectable ratings over three seasons on the cable network). But first things first. Before we can even think of what awaits us at the end of the trail, we want to see how Longmire walks us back from the cliffhangers that were set up in the Season 5 finale.
Consider: During that episode — titled, with more than a dollop of irony, “The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of” — Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor), the veteran sheriff of Wyoming’s Absaroka County, had to recover from the physical and psychological battering he endured during a fistfight with buddy and confidant Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips), a dust-up fueled by Walt’s (entirely justified) suspicions that Henry has been doling out rough justice as the avenging angel Hector. Not surprisingly, the fracas brought an end — a temporary one, we can only hope — to their friendship, just at a time when Walt might need all the friends he can get.
Because of the ongoing bad publicity driven by the wrongful death lawsuit filed against Walt — a carry-over from Walt’s Season 4 shooting of real estate developer Barlow Connally, the man behind the murder of the sheriff’s wife — image-conscious Mayor Sawyer Crane (Eric Ladin) announced plans to have Walt temporarily removed from office, pending the outcome of the legal proceedings. Trouble is, that suspension may turn out to be a permanent ouster. Behind Walt’s back, Crane took a meeting with Jacob Nighthorse (A Martinez), the sheriff’s longtime nemesis, and offered to relieve Walt of his badge in return for Nighthorse’s support during an upcoming reelection campaign.
But wait, there’s more: Walt and therapist Donna Sue Monaghan ended their on-again, off-again romantic relationship after Walt, responding to Donna’s query about their “thing,” responded: “Maybe it’s not the kind of thing we want it to be.” Unfortunately, that left Walt without a shoulder to cry on — figuratively speaking, of course, since Walt isn’t into weeping — when he learned, near the conclusion of the episode, that Tucker Baggett (Brett Rice), Barlow Connally’s estate attorney, isn’t backing down from pursuing the wrongful death lawsuit, because he wants to claim Walt’s home and property for a major golf course project.
As bad as things looked for Walt, they appeared even worse for Henry — much, much worse — at the end of Season 5. The good news: Tribal police chief Mathias (Zahn McClarnon, who recently moonlighted on AMC’s The Son) announced he would stop “requesting” Henry’s extralegal assistance as Hector. The really bad news: The scarred and sinister Malachi (Graham Greene) captured Henry, took him out to a remote corner of the desert, and, with ample help from similarly evil minions, pinned him to ground — with, not incidentally, stakes that belong to Nighthorse — and left him to die under the merciless sun.
Will Henry free himself, or get freed, before he’s baked? Will he ever again invite visitors to the Red Pony Saloon and continual soiree? Will the pregnant deputy Victoria “Vic” Moretti (Katee Sackhoff) establish her own “thing” with the attentive Travis Murphy (Derek Phillips) — or continue to pine for Walt?
And what about Cady Longmire (Cassidy Freeman), Walt’s daughter? Will she continue to be torn between her love for her father and her duties as Nighthorse’s attorney? And what’s the meaning of those spooky visions she experienced during a ceremonial sweat as grateful Cheyenne acquaintances adopted her into their tribe? Specifically: What’s up with that image of Henry hanging from a noose — and talking on a cell phone?
Presumably, we will receive the answers to these and other burning questions when Longmire returns this fall for its final season. At least, that’s the promise implicit in the prepared statement given by the show’s creative team when it was first announced that Season 6 would indeed be the show’s swan song.
“We are grateful to Netflix,” executive producers Greer Shephard, Hunt Baldwin, and John Coveny said, “for the opportunity to compose a closing chapter for these beloved characters that inspires lasting memories. Most importantly, we’re committed to delivering a dynamic and satisfying conclusion to our fans that rewards their longtime loyalty.”
In turn, the folks at Netflix are encouraging high expectations for how the show will be resolved. “We are proud to be the home of the Longmire series,” said Cindy Holland, Netflix’s vice-president of original content, “as so many viewers over the last few seasons have watched and been captivated by Walt’s journey. There has been no better team to work with on this show than Greer, Hunt, and John, and their tremendous cast and crew, and we have every confidence that they will have a satisfying conclusion to this revered series.”
Still, it will be hard to bid goodbye to the good (and not so good) folks of Absaroka County. To be sure, we’ll still be able to read about most of them in future novels by Craig Johnson. And of course, Netflix will continue to stream all six seasons of the series for subscribers. But many fans of the show will have just cause for melancholy as they consider a television landscape without new episodes of a show that so deftly balanced classic and contemporary takes on the western mythos.
“The American West — the sort of iconic, archetypal, American West that everybody thinks about — was a wide open book as far as morality goes,” Baldwin tells C&I. “There weren’t the sorts of social systems and class structures already in place. People could go out there and theoretically be whoever they wanted to be, and make whatever life for themselves that they wanted to make. And that actually allows for a whole different set of choices in terms of both heroic and nefarious activities. And I think that’s what brings people back to the western time and time again.
“But I also think that over the past 10 years, television viewers in particular have been kind of inundated with antiheroes. Really interesting dark characters like Tony Soprano, or Walter White on Breaking Bad. They may do really cool things — but they are decidedly dark, dark characters. One of the things that attracted us to the Longmire character and Craig’s series of books is they were contemporary and modern and all that — but Longmire himself was still a really, really morally centered hero. Kind of an old-school romantic hero who’s finding a way to exist in modern times.”
And that, Baldwin believes, has been the key to the appeal of the Longmire TV series: For all his flaws, and despite his battles with inner demons, Walt Longmire — thanks in no small measure to Taylor’s unfailingly persuasive and consistently engaging performance as the complex character — has emerged as, to put it as simply as Walt would, a good man at heart.
“There’s a kind of nostalgia for an older type of hero that westerns bring out in a lot of people’s minds,” Baldwin says. “I think it’s one of those things that people are kind of hungry for. Like I said: a real old-school hero. Not one who relies on modern technology. One who relies on his own memory, his own knowledge of the people and the place where he lives. And his perception of humanity, and his intelligence. And his sort of bedrock decency.
“To make a character like that interesting I think is sometimes a little more challenging. But I think it’s something that people have been missing.”
Which is a large part of the reason why we’ll be missing Longmire.
The final season of Longmire premieres Friday, November 17 on Netflix.
From the October 2017 issue. Click here to get your copy today!