[I know I wrote a week’s series of posts on Longmire a couple months back. But having now seen the show’s last season, I can say definitively that a central wish for the AmericanStudies Elves this year is for everyone to experience this wonderful American cultural work. So this week I’ll make a relatively spoiler-free case for doing so by sharing a handful of lessons we can learn from characters on whom I mostly didn’t focus in that prior series. Add your thoughts in comments, Longmire Posse and everyone else!]
[Also: serious Season 6 SPOILERS in these final three posts!]
On a couple final takeaways from the wonderful story of the multi-generational Longmire family.
Perhaps the most surprising twist in the Longmire series finale (ONE MORE TIME—SERIOUS FINALE SPOILERS IN THIS POST!) was its resolution of Cady Longmire’s character arc and her uncertainties about her professional and personal futures: running for Absaroka County Sheriff to succeed her retiring father Walt. I’m not entirely sure that Cady is right for the job of sheriff, not least because (as my Dad and fellow Longmire Posse member noted) the one time she had to shoot someone it left her significantly traumatized. Even if this narrative choice existed solely to allow her final scene in the series finale to be a wonderful echo and extension of the pilot’s closing scene, however, with a new Longmire posting her own “Longmire for Sheriff: Honesty and Integrity” signs, the moment would have been well worth it to this viewer. But I would also say that the possibility of Cady becoming a Sheriff Longmire 2.0 allows us to consider through a multi-generational lens one of the show’s most central and enduring questions: whether and how an old-school type, hero, and person like Walt Longmire can have a role in a 21st century world.
The easy, and not necessarily inaccurate, answer would be to say that he can’t, exactly—at least not in a role like sheriff. It’s not just that Cady is of a different gender, although that does itself speak to the transition between the Western cowboy archetype and a different such figure and identity. She’s also different from him in a number of other ways that suggest modernizing transformations: far more versed in the nuances of contemporary law (as a former practicing lawyer), far more connected to the Cheyenne and Native American communities (as a former tribal lawyer and an adopted member of the tribe), and far more closely focused on issues like domestic violence that have become more prominent law enforcement priorities in recent years, among other distinctions. All of which is to say, Cady’s unhappiness with having to shoot someone might be a feature, rather than a bug, of her candidacy for sheriff, and a reflection of how such roles themselves should adapt to meet the needs of 21st century leadership and justice. Seen in that light, Walt’s final decision to retire and ride off into the sunset (or at least the beautiful Wyoming mountains) makes sense and provides a fitting coda to the story of a man perhaps born (as he said in Season 5) in the wrong era.
Yet at the same time (OKAY, ONE MORE TIME AGAIN—HERE BE SERIOUS FINALE SPOILERS), the final final moment of that ride into the mountains was another surprising and wonderful twist: a cell phone rings and Walt Longmire, the man who swore he would never get such an infernal modern device, takes it out of his pocket, smiles happily, and answers it. We don’t know who’s calling, but my money is on either Cady or Vic, Walt’s longtime deputy and very new (if a longtime coming) significant other. Which is to say, while those are two women in law enforcement leadership roles (partly reinforcing the prior paragraph’s points), they’re also ones to whom Walt is intimately linked, and with whom he seems very likely to continue talking on this newfangled technological device he’s now apparently embraced. Walt has always been a character on the line between old and new, or at least between respect for tradition and the past and a need and desire to move forward into the future in meaningful and successful ways. That cell phone moment, like Walt’s defining and clearly ongoing relationships to two members of the next generation of Absaroka law enforcement, makes clear that whatever his job title or status, Walt Longmire will continue to move into the future, bringing with him much of the best of our past.
Special post this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Other texts you wish we’d all check out?
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