‘Longmire” hews closer to Johnson’s books

craig johnson longmire the cold dish

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.

longmire logo

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.

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3 thoughts on “‘Longmire” hews closer to Johnson’s books

  1. Jimmy Lawson

    Lucian has actually been in two episodes; one from season 1 and one from season 2. He is played by Peter Weller (of Robocop fame) and, as with so many of the other characters you have discussed, there are similarities in the TV and book Lucian, and there are differences as well. The similarities are that he is crusty, decidedly old-school in his methods, lives in a retirement home that he hates, and loves to play chess with Walt. The differences are that he has both his legs, and Walt seems to look at him as more of a pest than a mentor or confidant. I am hoping that Lucian has a bigger presence in season 3, as I always find his moments in the books to be some of the best.

    I also wanted to point out that in one of your comments concerning plotlines of the books that make their way to the small screen, you omitted the episode from late in season 1 that concerned the killings of teenage boys that had participated in the gang rape of a mentally handicapped Cheyenne girl. That, of course, was the plot of The Cold Dish, and while the killer ultimately turned out to be someone different (one of the boys, not Vonnie), otherwise there were many similarities there.

    I love the books – I’ve read 7 of the 9 novels so far – and I love the TV show as well. So much better than most of the stuff that is passed off as entertainment nowadays.

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  2. Jimmy Lawson

    Also, failed to mention that The Dark Horse, the novel in which Walt acts as a sort of private investigator in another county to look into the circumstances of a murder that also involved the burning of a barn and valuable cutting horses, served as the obvious inspiration for a season 1 TV episode. That episode involved a former east coast mob guy who stole from his bosses then changed his identity and moved to Wyoming, where his past began to catch up with him and he ended up faking his own suicide and burning a barn full of valuable horses. The novel followed the same basic script, although in the novel the guy tries to frame his wife for the death, and in the TV episode he actually tries to protect his wife in the end.

    Reply
  3. Rick Taccel

    I have decided to stop watching the third season of Longmire because I have become increasingly disappointed with the TV characters. The TV Vic is an idiot and the woman who plays her should have stayed off the screen (she wasn’t that good in that Sci-Fi show she acted in and her voice grates). Walt and Henry are just names from book and they are strangers in the TV series. Ruby is about the closest to the book character but she seldom appears, Ferg and Lucian are also just names. TV Cady is a twit – she had little or no lawyer skills and does not have any smarts – her TV court room scene and her phone conversations with the other attorney bears that out. If I were Craig Johnson, I would cringe at how the characters are portrayed in the TV series – they are nothing like the books (bad English, I know…). But I guess one dimensional characters sell TV ratings. Snippets of the book story lines appear in the TV series – but just barely and the antagonistic relationships with the Native Americans is so not in the books. Please Mr Johnson, don’t be influenced by the TV series.

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