Last week’s shift of morality, from goodness invested in the law and its enforcers to something more complex, appears to have opened the gates for Longmire to grow as a show. In “The Worst Kind Of Hunter,” Longmire continues muddying its moral waters by separating justice from law. The victim, Ed Crawley, is a convicted murderer, out on parole after 25 years and suddenly found dead, apparently mauled by a bear. Many of the people Walt interviews are delighted that Crawley’s dead, to the point of casting disdain on our protagonist for even bothering to investigate the murder.
The officers, after all, merely make up one cog in the system of justice. Even if the courts or prisons don’t work out every time, the cops can’t stop doing their job. That’s the whole point: there are checks and balances, different people making different judgments, all based on different considerations. Regardless of how just one may believe one’s self to be, it’s still the job of the police to accurately figure out who committed crimes. Justice is an abstract concept, created in practice through the interactions of flawed people and institutions.
But you won’t get that from Longmire. The idea that the police need to investigate the crime regardless of whether it’s justified or not is treated as inherently true in “The Worst Kind Of Hunter.” But the lack of examination of justice proves disappointing this week. At the end of the episode, Walt confronts the killer, Crawley’s former warden, and threatens him into admitting the murder. Walt gets his confession . . . and then the episode ends.
That abrupt ending of the policing section of the case has become normal for Longmire, but for the first time here, it’s a severe detriment to the episode as a whole--partly from the editing of the final scene itself. Walt meets with the culprit, accuses him, and threatens him by dumping beef and its juices and smells on the warden, then Walt threatens to release the bear who was used for the initial murder, its senses apparently inflamed by the beef. Walt gets his confession, and then . . . he releases the bear, “Waffles,” anyway.
I can’t tell exactly what’s going in this scene, which is a major part of the problem. Walt, with the gate to the bear's cage almost open, gets his confession. Then Longmire holds the lock. The warden winces. Walt pushes the latch down, maintaining the lock, and turns his attention to the bear (and we don’t see the warden again). He then gives a brief speech to the bear, used as a tool in the initial murder, asking it to stay away from the town, and lets it go. The bear calmly wanders off. It’s a touching scene, but utterly confusing. It doesn’t appear that Walt has actually departed from the place where he confronted the warden, but the warden is gone. The entire point of the threat—that the bear, with its new taste for human flesh, might attack the warden—is lost. On the other hand, the lighting and background seems slightly different. It’s impossible to tell if Walt had been bluffing or if he was in some totally different geographic region when he released the bear.
This directly ties in to Longmire’s apparent distaste for dealing with the consequences of its investigations. Once the warden confesses his crimes, according to the visual logic of the show, he is literally removed from the world. All that matters is Walt’s victory, and his emotional response to the victory, the release of Waffles. There’s no ethical dilemma. There’s no discussion of how right or wrong the warden might have been. No discussion of how his bail would be set, no trial, no regret, nothing. To put it in television terms, we got “Law” but no “Order.” This is important because without consequence, it’s very difficult to discuss thematic depth. (It’s also unfortunate that it lacks the intensity of last week’s wonderful confession scene.)
It’s a bit of a shame, because some of the ideas brought up by “The Worst Kind Of Hunter” were especially interesting. In the first few episodes, “foreign” influences were portrayed as leading to a kind of corruption in the rural Wyoming town and county. Here, the villain explicitly wants to represent a traditionalist point of view, making it a point to support Walt in the election as an old guy being forced out by a new guy (before his crime is revealed, of course). There’s also a comic subplot in which one of Walt’s predecessors gives unwelcome, overly old-fashioned advice to hammer the point home.
Yet this this tension of change versus traditionalism is nothing more than window dressing here. It’s an aspect of social complication in theory, but almost irrelevant in practice. Without consequences, the mysteries are just puzzles to be solved, nothing more.
Rowan Kaiser is a freelance pop culture critic currently living in the Bay Area. He is a staff writer at The A.V. Club, covering television and literature. He also writes about video games for several different publications, including Joystiq and Paste Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @rowankaiser for unimportant musings on media and extremely important kitten photographs.