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Friday, October 6, 2017

October 6, 2017: LongmireStudying: Nighthorse

[Later this month, the sixth and final season of my favorite current TV show (and one of my all time-favs as well), Longmire, drops on Netflix. So this week, after a repeat of my first post on the show, I wanted to AmericanStudy a handful of Longmire’s many fascinating characters. Leading up to a special weekend post on Native American popular culture!]
On the scene that embodies a character’s—and perhaps the show’s—contradictions.
As I wrote in Monday’s post, and as most of my posts this week have likewise highlighted, what I particularly love about Longmire is its ability to combine the pleasures of genre storytelling (in both the mystery and Western genres) with a multi-layered and thoughtful representation of community, culture, and identity (especially for, though not at all limited to, the Cheyenne). Although sometimes those latter elements work as background or environment for the genre storytelling, enriching but not central to an episode’s main plotlines, more and more as the seasons have progressed the mysteries and action have become intertwined with the cultural aspects. A significant portion of Season 4, for example, focused on a serial storyline and mystery about a young Native American girl named Gab; while Season 5 focused at length on one of my topics from yesterday’s post, Cady Longmire’s move onto the reservation and a number of related stories she encounters there. I’m excited to see how the sixth and final season continues to weave these disparate storytelling threads together.
There’s one potential problem with that emerging pattern, though, and that’s the character of Jacob Nighthorse (A Martinez). For genre purposes, Jacob has consistently been positioned as Walt’s nemesis: as a criminal mastermind a la Professor Moriarity for its mystery side; and as the black hat against whom the protagonist continually battles for its Western side. Yet from the cultural perspective Jacob looks quite different: even before he hires Cady to open a legal aid office on the reservation in Seasons 4 and 5, we see him working to use his planned (and then completed) reservation casino to change the lives and fortunes of the Cheyenne community. In one Season 1 episode, we also see Jacob as the Dog Soldier, a Cheyenne avenging angel who delivers justice outside of the legal system (and thus, in genre terms, in opposition to Walt). Even supporting characters connected to Jacob can have multiple distinct sides in this same way: such as Sam Poteet, a Cheyenne plumber and member of the tribe’s White Warrior spiritual community who from a genre perspective seems to be the villain’s henchman but from a cultural perspective is a potent and complex member of the Native American community (even before we find out he is the father of Season 4 main character Gab).
It’s of course entirely possible for any character, and certainly a central one like Jacob, to occupy multiple roles. Yet some scenes ask us to choose where we place our allegiance, and there these questions become trickier still. I’m thinking in particular about the closing scene of Season 4’s first episode, “Down by the River,” where Jacob and a group of allies visit Walt at his cabin to order him to stop his investigations into Jacob. In genre terms, this is the mastermind or villain using his henchmen/goons to threaten our hero, and our sympathies are clear. But in cultural terms, Jacob’s dialogue in the scene—as he describes what is possible when native peoples come and work together to express communal solidarity and resist those who would destroy them—has significant historical meaning, and it’s difficult for this AmericanStudier not to understand and even sympathize with him. Again, Jacob’s evolving connection to Cady suggests that such audience sympathies might not be misplaced—but that’s not at all what our protagonist, our mystery detective and Western hero, believes. While I’m sure the show’s final season won’t resolve all of its many threads, it seems clear that there will some form of closure for Jacob and Walt, and I’ll be anxiously watching to see whether it’s more on the genre or the cultural side of the story.
Special post this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Takes on Longmire, or other shows, you’d share?

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