When I wrote about the first season of A&E’s “Longmire” in June 2012, my natural inclination was to compare the books and TV series. I’d been enjoying the books for a couple of years and hoped for the best for the series. The best I could say – I mean that sincerely – was that the show captured the characters and flavor but not the plot integrity of author Craig Johnson’s mysteries, set in a rural Wyoming county.
I noted some differences between the series and the books. The series omitted a few characters – Sheriff Walt Longmire’s predecessor in office, crusty old retired sheriff Lucian, notably – and added a few, including Lucian’s nephew, ambitious deputy Branch Connally, who wants to unseat Walt in an election.
Missing was the forged-in-Vietnam bond between Walt and pal Henry Standing Bear, leaving the Bear’s motivations sometimes in doubt.
Also absent were a Philadelphia connection – deputy Vic is from there, and it is home to Walt’s daughter Cady’s law practice – and the sense of the mystical and spiritual, as Henry nudges Walt toward a deeper connection with the Native American spirits of the Wyoming countryside. Also absent, to some extent, were the Crow and Cheyenne supporting characters that filled the books.
Maybe the most egregious variation from the books is how the series has dealt with the death of Walt’s wife. In the books, she died before the first story began after a battle with cancer. Martha Longmire likewise died before the TV series began, but it’s implied she died at the hands of a drug dealer in Colorado and Walt (and perhaps Henry) then killed her killer.
I’m glad to say, most of the way into the second season of “Longmire,” that the series has greatly improved.
Sure, star Robert Taylor and supporting cast like Katee Sackhoff were always good. But the second season – perhaps with input from Johnson himself, perhaps from a realization on the part of show creators Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny that Johnson gave them excellent material to work with and they should take advantage of it – has seen the show capture the spirit – and sometimes the letter – of the books.
The first episode of the second season, “Unquiet Mind,” echoed the “prisoners on the loose in mountainous countryside” plot of the seventh book, 2011’s “Hell is Empty.”
The third episode of this season, “Death Came in Like Thunder,” explored the Wyoming Basque community that’s a big part of the books. One of the characters omitted from the TV series is Basque deputy Santiago.
And the second season even returned to two major plotlines of the books: Cady Longmire’s serious injury at the hands of an attacker – although in the books it happens in Philly, where’s she’s practicing law – and deputy Vic’s history on the Philly PD.
The Native American spiritualism that seemed so missing from the first season was greatly felt in the second, climaxing in a scene where Walt – to atone for the killing of his wife’s killer – hooks his chest in “Man Called Horse” style and suffers in the blazing sun.
And although I haven’t seen it yet, I’m told an episode even features the TV series version of Lucian.
I can’t think of a recent TV series that improved so markedly from the first season to the second. I think if you’re a fan of the books, you’ll find more to like than just the character portrayals and tone this season. If you’re not a reader of the books, you’ll find an enjoyable crime drama unfolding on a weekly basis.