Friday, September 11, 2015

From Cowboy to Classic: The Poetry of Longmire (Season 2, Episode 12)

We here at P&PC have long suspected that there's an undercover army of poets in Hollywood and that, cloaked in the Mackintosh of Nielson ratings and prime-time broadcast slots, they've been sneaking all sorts of poems into people's everyday lives via tv shows ranging from Gunsmoke to Breaking Bad. Well, now we've got some hard evidence to back it up: Season 2, Episode 12 of the I'll-cling-to-my-traditional-honorable-manhood-in-an-ever-changing-world-because-what-that-ever-changing-world-needs-more-than-ever-is-traditional-honorable-manhood Western cop show Longmire. If you're getting the impression that we don't totally love Longmire, well, you wouldn't be entirely wrong. We're through the end of Season 2, and we're tired of the old-man-driven plot generally speaking. We don't like the show's treatment of the Cheyenne Indians all that much. And, truth be told, we wish the show were told from the point of view of deputy Vic or Henry Standing Bear and not Sheriff Walt Longmire. But whatever, right? We've watched it this far and, as the following's gonna explain, there's no way we're gonna stop now.

First aired August 19, 2013, Season 2, Episide 12 telegraphs its literary ambitions via the allusion to Flannery O'Connor in its title ("A Good Death Is Hard to Find") and is then very neatly bookended by two poems, one a cowboy poem, and one a classic. And wouldn't you know it? It was written by real-life poet Tony Tost, author of the poetry collections Complex Sleep and Invisible Bride. Tost (pictured in the ball cap here) is a regular writer for Longmire and first caught our eye with his allusion to Emily Dickinson in the title of Season 2, Episode 6 ("Tell It Slant"), which he also wrote. So, to a certain extent we could tell that the poetry of "A Good Death Is Hard to Find" was coming, and we've been keeping a lookout for it ever since. And now that we've found it, we're looking for more. Indeed, given both Tost's inclination to the poetic and Longmire's first name (Walt), we're fully expecting to get a Whitman reference somewhere on down the line, which would be, like, totally awesome, as it would allow us to tie Longmire to Breaking Bad and Mad Men in a series of three contemporary shows—indubitably a pattern!—all using variously brooding Whitmans to process their threatened masculinity.

"A Good Death Is Hard to Find" opens with what a banner hanging in the back- ground calls the "Absaroka County Cowboy Poetry Slam" taking place at Henry's bar, the Red Pony Saloon ("and continual soiree"), which you can watch in the first clip below. The poem is by the town's sorta corrupt retired former sheriff, and some humorous scenes throughout the episode show him composing or practicing his poetry. And the episode closes—the second clip below—with a scene in which Longmire quotes the Iliad in a downright poetic "get-out-of-town-before-sunrise" ultimatum he gives to Vic's stalker. So, the episode gives us two sheriffs, both with poems in their mouths: one a writer, one a reader; one sorta corrupt, the other of impeccable honor; one trading in popular poetry, one trotting out the classics. We don't really like how the popular-poetry math works out in this regard, but we'll nevertheless raise our glass—a toast for Tost!—and hope that Tony gives us that Whitman reference we're looking for to help make up for it.