[This is a review of the Longmire season 5 premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
The stories in Longmire tend to follow as strange a trajectory as the story of Longmire itself. Now in its second full season as a Netflix Original, the police procedural set in a small Wyoming town has endured low ratings on basic cable only to be reborn via the streaming giant. Last season was something of a test for both the series and the service, to see whether or not the vocal fan base would tune in for the continuing adventures of Sheriff Walt Longmire even though they had to pay someone other than their cable provider for it. As it turns out, they didn’t mind at all. Netflix renewed the series a little over a month after all 10 episodes of season 4 had been made available.
Now that the series has found a stable new home and apparently new success, Longmire can go about the business of being one of Netflix’s key original procedural dramas and the character of Longmire can go about the business of cleaning up Absaroka County and, just maybe, finding out whether or not he and Vic are ever going to be an item. But before he gets around to either, there’s still the matter of the cliffhanger to attend to, however. Cliffhangers have been a running theme as of late, but unlike the season 4 premiere, this time around it’s not a matter of Branch’s disappearance but rather the home invasion that brought the season to a close, just as it seemed Walt was ready to move on romantically with Dr. Donna Sue Monaghan (Ally Walker).
The teasing cliffhanger was the sort of thing the series enjoys doing, but this time it came with the implied threat of immediate violence, as the door to Walt’s cabin was kicked in after a string of images brought the season’s narrative full circle. One such image was that of Dr. Monaghan’s van, which had been torched by, what the audience is led to believe, a deranged patient of the good doctor’s. There’s been a good amount of speculation as to the identity of the intruder and whether or not Dona Sue is telling Walt everything about her situation. Now that the season is finally here it shouldn’t be long until we find out.
It doesn’t take Longmire long to reveal what happened to Walt, but to the show’s credit, the identity of the intruder isn’t the most likely suspect and the show isn’t in any real hurry to deliver that information. The result, then, is a fairly solid two-part opener that re-establishes most of the show’s outstanding character threads with haste. Walt being found shot and bleeding on the floor of his cabin by Cady takes the unsurprising route of reminding everyone that Walt’s wife was murdered and that he’s recently taken the first steps in moving on from that trauma by entering into a romantic relationship with someone who’s not Vic. But as much as Longmire doesn’t necessarily trust its audience to follow along with basic plot elements, it certainly knows when it has a classic romantic entanglement on its hands.
A such, once Walt’s been admitted to the hospital and treated for his gunshot wound – which, on this show is just slightly worse than stubbing your toe – Vic seizes the opportunity to kiss him, telling him she wanted to do that before he died. It’s the kind of leading of the audience that this sort of show excels at. Major character points are hinted at or even advanced up to the point where they have to be addressed once and for all, until the case at hand suddenly takes precedence. Aside from the kiss, Longmire does at least make room for a verbal exchange between the two, once Walt and Vic are on the road in search of the missing Donna and trying to piece together the mystery of who broke into his house and shot him.
In order for the show to pull this off it has to keep several plates spinning at once, and in its first two hours, Longmire manages to do so without dropping a single one. For a series that has the advantage of becoming distracted by whatever new case pops up whenever it wants, the season 5 opener remains remarkably focused on the task at hand. The first two episodes owe a lot to the Netflix binge-watch model, which alters the structure of the narrative in such a way that the delay in discovering the fate of Donna and the identity of the person who attacked Walt and took her is just a few seconds away, not a week. It’s hard to say whether this is a function of the writing team being aware of how the season will be distributed or not, but in this instance it works, turning the premiere into a two-part mystery that resolves the central conflict left over from the season 4 cliffhanger, while at the same time establishing a larger thread concerning Sheriff Jim Wilkins (Tom Wopat) harboring Walker Browning (Callum Rennie) and Matthias trying to leverage Henry into making Hector do his bidding.
The Hector subplot will be one to watch, but the fight brewing between sheriffs makes for a more interesting and immediate storyline; one that will likely be further complicated by the presence of Eamonn O’Neill (Josh Cooke) after Walt offers him a job. Interoffice love triangles are as much a staple of Longmire as the sight of a can of Rainer beer in Walt’s hand. It was present with Branch and now with the addition of Eamonn – for however long he manages to stick around – it will likely continue. The only difference this time is that Longmire seems intent on making something out of Walt’s relationship with Donna. After more than a few hints she wasn’t entirely on the up and up with Walt, Donna has (so far) proven to be the person Sheriff Longmire thinks she is. By the end of ‘One Good Memory,’ Longmire hasn’t set fire to what it has built, but rather reinforced it, suggesting the depths of Walt’s emotional trauma by more overtly exploring the trauma of various military veterans like the woman responsible for Donna’s abduction and Walt’s injury.
As much as Longmire stretches the emotional payoff of its characters’ interpersonal relationships, the show can always be relied upon to settle the plot at hand. That is certainly true of the season 5 opener, which works to be satisfying in more ways than one. But it also works to keep certain lingering plot threads going as well. Longmire might not necessarily be stoking the flames between Walt and Vic, but sure isn’t kicking sand on the embers either. In the end, this is a solid season premiere for a show that, like its titular character, just doesn’t know when to quit.
Longmire season 5 is available in its entirety on Netflix.