[This is a review of the Longmire season 5 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
Longmire seasons tend to work in a certain cyclical fashion. Lots of shows employ what is essentially an up and back formula, wherein the action that unfolds over the course of the season eventually sees things shift to where it was when the premiere kicked off. Usually, the "back" part carries with it some semblance of calm or stability, something that makes the tumultuous events of the past however many episodes feel even more turbulent and therefore memorable. Though it's by no means the only series on television to do so, Longmire works a little bit differently. It likes to see seasons begin and end with things going from bad to worse for ol' Sheriff Longmire, his deputies, and anyone else of narrative importance in Absaroka County.
Last season is a good example. It ended with Walt and his new ladylove Dr. Donna at the mercy of an unknown assailant, after the finale spent a good amount of time developing any number of potential suspects. It was the sort of immediate cliffhanger that leaves a particular impression upon viewers, making them care about a very specific set of circumstances when the series returns. This time around, Longmire manages to leave things in a bad place, but not necessarily one that portends immediate physical danger. As such, 'The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of' carries a different connotation, something that's more in line with the conclusion of previous seasons: a storm cloud on the horizon.
For the most part it works to create an engaging road for the show to travel, but also because it avoids the pitfalls of sameness and repetition that can sometimes infect procedurals like this one. But season 5 isn't just marked by its desire to do something different than season 4 or to see the show's characters in a tricky situation when the finale ends. Instead, Longmire seems to be setting up a series of much larger, more personal conflicts yet to come, and because of that it winds up being one of the strongest seasons this series has produced.
Because of Longmire's history, there will always be some question as to whether or not the outlet that makes it available plays a role in its successes or failures. Since the show's move to Netflix, however, there does seem to be an uptick in quality and a greater emphasis placed on making sure the various threads weave into one another satisfactorily throughout the season. It's more likely this is just evidence of the maturation of show's writers' room, but its noticeable nonetheless. But whatever the cause, the result is a Longmire finale that attends to several different character needs at once, delivering an end that feels much more comprehensive in that Vic and Henry also find themselves in tough spots, as the sole focus of the season's conclusion is shifted away from Walt.
The same can be said for the season as well, which might be why season 5 turned out as good as it did. That's not to say previous entries in the Longmire catalog haven't diverted attention away from Walt and on to other characters, but here it felt as though the time devoted to others was put to better use. For starters, Vic's ongoing romantic situation with both Eamonn and, surprisingly, Travis Murphy creates an otherwise rote pregnancy debacle in which the identity of the father is thrown into question. Despite the Bridget Jones' Baby of it all, and the obviousness of the writers' room figuring out which is the best way to go in terms of who the father is – though with Eamonn seemingly resigning from a career in law enforcement and Travis being an entertaining presence/nuisance for Vic, the choice may very well be clear – the show also set up the possibility that the pregnancy will never come to term. Thankfully, though, that's not the interesting part of Vic's thread throughout the season.
Instead, Vic having to relive the trauma of her run-in with Chance Gilbert and his group of "live free or die" weirdoes while he represented himself on trial helps put a little more meat on her storyline than the sole female deputy dealing with a potentially unwanted pregnancy. Moreover, Vic's move to help Gilbert get on death row plays nicely into the season's theme of loyalty, which could prove as disastrous for her relationship with Walt as it was for both Henry and Cady.
The sense of betrayal that eventually came to a head and led to the brouhaha between Walt and Henry made for an interesting through line for the season, and compelling deviation from the norm, as Walt has so often been the guy others rally behind. To the writers' credit, the season didn't position Walt as some lone righteous individual in a world gone mad. Instead, Walt became more human, as his faults and difficulties in dealing with his emotions – especially as they pertain to his relationship with Donna and Cady's professional involvement with Jacob Nighthorse – bubbled to the surface, causing friction between him and his daughter time and again. Similarly, although Walt and Henry's relationship will likely survive their fisticuffs, it will be interesting to see how the lingering specter of doubt (and the eventual realization that Henry is Hector) will play into future seasons.
Season 5 may have had a few elements that didn't necessarily fit – like the Irish mob trafficking heroin in Wyoming – but overall this season of Longmire delivered more compelling procedural stories and managed to infuse the overarching story line with a consistent theme that had an impact on nearly every character. This made for a fascinating and substantial finale that used the threat of Walt losing his job and his land to underline the changing landscape of the series. In the end it's clear: things don't stay the same forever, but sometimes that change will bring about a far more interesting story.
Longmire season 5 is available in its entirety on Netflix.