Like most Texans, I have an odd fascination and relationship with Westerns, in any medium. When done by an obvious outsider, they are at best pastiche or generic “cowboy” stories without really getting the nuances and subtleties of a true stoic, rugged, cowboy character. Thankfully, Longmire manages to capture this visage, and the necessary accompanying elements, without becoming cliche or kitschy.
Obviously, I marathoned the series as soon as it appeared on Netflix, still available by the way, in order to prepare for the upcoming fourth season on the the streaming service. Of course, a few episodes stood out and the desire to examine them at length would not leave my head, thus this post. As always SPOILERS ahead.
While I highly recommend a viewing of the entire series, I will be focusing on a single episode for this analysis; specifically the fifth episode of season one title “Dog Soldier.” The premise/synopsis of the episode is pretty simple, if not unfortunately tragic. Cheyenne children, stolen from their families on the Cheyenne reservation, are then taken from the orphanage/foster homes they are placed in by a man referred to as the “Dog Soldier,” the last member of a band of brave, defiant Cheyenne warriors hunted down and executed by the US government for fear of what they represented (at least in the history and narrative of the show). Although this story makes for intriguing drama, it is sadly too truthful, and not just as historical reminder but as a present problem and issue.
Which brings us to the first lesson: We must wake up, face the mistakes we are complacent in, and correct them. These types of situations can’t even be considered repeating mistakes of the past as that would imply that those errors were actually fixed at one point. Honestly, Native/Indigenous people are still getting screwed over by governments at every level (google Mauna Kea & protests) as a means of acquiring what they have and converting the Native population into “civilized” individuals, i.e. carbon copies of WASP’s without the same privileges. I don’t know how long such actions will continue, but as the series, and life, demonstrates the people will never stay down and will fight back for what is theirs; as well they should.
Beyond the initial narrative, the episode also introduces a favorite subject of most audiences: vigilante justice. Once the core group of protagonists learn of the description of the “Dog Soldier,” Longmire and Henry, his Indian sidekick (look the show isn’t perfect), realize it is Hector, a vigilante of the reservation. He basically gets justice/revenge for people by beating the shit out of those who did them wrong when the law is unable or unwilling to do what is right. As Henry states, “Hector is a sad necessity of rez life.” Longmire reluctantly agrees but still has to find and question Hector. Entertainment is filled with such characters that work outside the realm of law and order to fill the gaps the system has left. This inundation of such figures leads to a conclusion: We believe that the justice system we have created is flawed and wanting and we believe that a lone figure can force fair, ordered justice by sheer force and will. It is the American dream and notion that a singular person can make a difference, but it also abdicates responsibility on our part in how or why the system is broken. We can complain about the injustice of it and wait for the vigilante hero to come; all the meanwhile doing nothing to actually correct and fix what we have let be broken. Perhaps, the actual lesson should be to take action and forget complacency.
The episode ends pretty commonly with the children being returned to their families and the responsible parties being arrested and brought to (actual, non-vigilante) justice. However, there is an interesting, if admittedly a little heavy handed, monologue that Longmire says to the main antagonist of the episode, the social worker who took all the Cheyenne children from their families for profit (it’s explained in the episode, I swear). As I said, the whole speech is a bit long winded, but it boils down to an intimidation tactic where Longmire insinuates that all the chaos and violence and actions that occurred over the last few days may have actually been the spirit of the “Dog Soldier” working through people like Hector and Longmire to help its people in their time of need. It is not apparent if he honestly believes this (particularly considering his own visions, past, and connection with Cheyenne culture and traditions) or if he is simply trying to trick the social worker into turning herself in.
But maybe that is not the right takeaway from Longmire’s speech. Perhaps he offers one of the best explanations of the supernatural to be given on television: maybe there is no “spirit” working but instead it is people finding strength, conviction, and purpose in the spirit and meaning of those supernatural stories. After all, the “Dog Soldier” is supposed to protect the Cheyenne from harm and evil, so does it matter if it was Hector and Longmire who did the heavy lifting as long as the Cheyenne ended up safe and righteous? If the stories inspired them, isn’t the “Dog Soldier” still, in some way, doing his duty?
Thus endeth today’s lesson(s).