I love movies and television! I watch great movies and mediocre programs; I watch documentaries dry and crackling, Westerns, action-packed Yippee Ki Yay films, celluloid noir, rom-com, dramedies, tragedies, high-brow, and slip-on-a-banana-peel low.
My mother is to blame. When we were young, she gave us twenty-five cents to spend almost the entire day every Saturday at the movies. Mid-morning, the cartoons and serials started. Feature films followed. Then it was time to wait for Mom who’d finished cleaning and buffing the house until it met her exhausting standards.
Watching the season finale of A & E’s Longmire, Summer 2014, reminded me of those serials and of Westerns in general. The program also caused me to reflect upon why I like the series so much and to add Craig Johnson’s Longmire series to my reading list.
Even though A & E has lost its way, in my opinion, by relying upon a series of reality shows featuring odd people, many of them exaggerated stereotypes, more scripted than real, I have enjoyed the rare and original programming that requires a narrative and art. The Glades, for example, canceled on a cliff-hanger, featured an ensemble cast that seemed to click, to like each other; that was its charm. Longmire, on the other hand, may be a fictional world populated by actors who despise each other at the end of the work day, but none of us would guess. These actors seem to have become the roles they portray; it’s easy to forget that they wear masks for the show.
Besides great performances, especially by Robert Taylor in the title role, the series relies upon good stories about flawed people stumbling and staggering through grief, misunderstanding, and crimes both venal and mortal. They speak words that sound natural and occasionally poetic. The thread holding them together, the one that is taut and admirable, is a moral one. Each character strives to live up to a standard and holds himself accountable.
Except for three consistent and stone-hearted villains, characters both minor and major confess in order to free their souls from wrongs committed by accident or with malice, and each acts to be different, better, and excellent. Thus, the story is a classic and one of my favorites: sin and redemption. Longmire sets sinners on the road to redemption through justice even as he struggles to find that road for himself.
|Photo by Al Griffin|
Aren’t most Westerns moral tales wherein a character longs to stand for something greater than himself? Perhaps this is his nature because he experiences that something in long stretches of prairie, plain, and peak, under “majestical skies fretted with golden fire” (Hamlet 2. 2.). He knows that he must somehow measure up to the grandeur that surrounds him.
As this season closed, however, Longmire stands at a crossroads. How he will proceed is the cliff-hanger. If he turns left, he will forsake the moral ideal; if he does not turn, he must close the door on a personal quest to right a wrong. Longmire's troubled deputy, Branch, also stands at a crossroads: bitter sorrow and the truth straight ahead or a soulless future to his left. Both men, however, seem able to fight demons from within and dangers without because both, above all else, strive for that something greater than themselves.
“Read” Longmire in Craig Johnson’s books or by streaming A & E’s Longmire.
Defend the cliff-hangers used to bring in audiences. It worked for the film version of the final book in both the Twilight and Harry Potter series. It worked all those years ago to keep movie-goers coming back each week for the next installment. It’s how this season’s The Walking Dead ended and how Longmire closed its recent season.