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Rediscovering the American Archetype: Why Longmire is Good

While I was in the US visiting friends, family, paying respects to a late comrade and visiting my horse, I stumbled upon a revelation. Craig Johnson’s novels about Sheriff Walt Longmire were an undiscovered treasure and how I discovered them was through the A&E series based on the novels. In an America hungry to see something positive about its culture and heritage on TV, we now have the bounty that is Longmire.

The actor who plays Walt Longmire is an Australian named Robert Taylor. Many people might remember him for a part he played in the bizarre Matrix film. One would never guess the raw craggy Taylor is an Australian. When he is in character he does that laconic Walt Longmire’s accent so well, one would assume he’s as American as most of the shows viewers. He was born to play the role. I find it strange how there are very few American actors now who could wear Longmire’s beaten cowboy hat, faded jeans, that old brown suede jacket and boots. But the Aussie does not need to apologize. He plays the role as it was meant to be played.

Longmire’s life is tragic. His wife is dead. We discover, though she was suffering cancer, she was murdered by a meth addict. He carries that horror with him stoically but the emotions are there. In the first episode, when he informs a woman her husband is dead, we see a single tear fall and hit the top of his boot. He knows what the loss means and when it’s due to foul play its worse. The murder of Longmire’s wife is the cloud that hangs over every episode. Even if not talked about, the nuances in Longmire’s speech and expressions, ever so subtle, tell the viewer she’s not far out of his mind.

The other characters are well played by Katee Sackhoff, who plays Deputy Vic Morretti. She does a fine job capturing the aimless former Philadelphia Homicide detective. She’s a wounded woman but she has bravado and hides her issues with her husband well. There’s a secret in her past that we’re not sure about, but it’s intriguing.

Lou Diamond Phillips is Henry Standing Bear, a member of the Cheyenne tribe and Longmire’s best friend. Standing Bear advises Longmire, doesn’t take anything from him and is about the only person that can talk to Longmire plainly and honestly. Standing Bear is the voice of the old west, a spiritual native voice. He’s very earthy and he engages Longmire in a philosophical way and helps him see things as they really are.

Longmire’s daughter, Cady, played by Cassidy Freeman, is a rather more sophisticated character in the show and books. She’s a lawyer; she’s seen a lot of the world. She’s very close to her dad but not so close that she knows all of his secrets. Cassidy Freeman does a great job playing her low key. Cady has some of her dad’s laconic character, but not so much that his withholding how her mother really died made sense to her. They have conflict. There’s her need to be a grown up and his need to protect her. The big issue in their relationship isn’t just the lie about how Cady’s mother died, but her relationship with Branch Connolly, Longmire’s deputy and chief rival for the sheriff’s office.

Bailey Chase plays the mercurial Connolly and does a great job capturing his ambition. But unlike his own father, Branch Connolly has a conscious. There are lengths his father would go to that he would not. It all comes down to Cady and his relationship with her.

The land, Wyoming, plays a huge role in the stories. The landscape of Wyoming is as much a character as Longmire. A viewer realizes then the simple truth that if Wyoming’s landscape did not exist, Walt Longmire would not exist. The land made the character, as it did in reality the people who lived there, from the Natives to the explorers, pioneers and settlers. Walt Longmire is a living example of that craggy, roughhewn landscape with its wildness, its danger and its silence.

It has been a longtime since Americans have had a cultural archetype to cheer for. The western sometimes makes an appearance in a big way; Tombstone, and of course, Lonesome Dove come to mind as the best of the later films and series; however, as far as weekly series, we haven’t had a western for decades. A&E adapting Longmire to for TV took a chance Americans missed that western hero and they were right.

The thing about Longmire is this: He’s decent, and honorable. He is also very moral which is a revelation. He doesn’t care for cheaters, liar or corruption. His antagonists know that to. He speaks in hushed tones and but when he has to say something it sticks. When asked why he was so quiet in the first episode he replies, “I was thinking. I do that sometimes before I speak”. That’s a perfect example of the western hero. The cowboy, the law man. Longmire, like so many characters before him, takes his cues from the little things, an Owl on a branch, or a Congress of Ravens. He sees things that his deputies cannot see because they are unable to separate themselves from their technology, and other modern distractions.

One can say Hollywood got one right. A character Americans can appreciate and cheer for without being insulted; or the usual wait for the sucker-punch where values and American pride will be attacked. We have a hero that defines something we have lost in our culture, and that hero, the cowboy who is just and decent, recaptures what we have lost. If you want a show to watch, to be entertained and to cheer for the good guys, Longmire’s your show.

Stephanie Janiczek

Stephanie Janiczek is a former Capitol Hill Staff Assistant, Schedule C Appointee and Leadership Institute alum. Military Wife, Hunter, Horse enthusiast, dog owner, writer and feminist kryptonite.