The June 17th episode of Longmire – the fourth of Season Two – demonstrated well the ability of the contemporary Western to interweave historical components of the Western genre with issues in the modern West. In an episode entitled “The Road to Hell”, the A&E series presented a story-line that combined facets of the Old West such as cattle rustling and vigilante lynching with the tactics that some current environmentalists will undertake. Longmire is based upon the popular Craig Johnson novel series of the same and stars Robert Talyor as Sheriff Walt Longmire; Walt Longmire is a present-day sheriff in the fictional county of Absaroka, Wyoming.
The episode begins with a Wyoming state trooper calling Longmire to inform him of a tractor-trailer that has been abandoned on the highway with the rig shot up and both the cattle trailer and the truck’s driver missing.
Deputies Connally (Bailey Chase) & Moretti (Katee Sackhoff) and Sheriff Longmire (Robert Taylor) Investigate the Abandoned Rig
The title of the episode references the phrase “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”; there are individuals tied to the disappearance of the cattle that believe what they are doing is justified and in fact, morally good. Those characters, however, are unable to foresee how their actions will be misinterpreted and will lead to the death of the truck driver.
The episode acknowledges both the history of the cattle industry in Wyoming and the West and its current role as part of the regional economy – cattle ranches are a multi-generational livelihood and lifestyle. The term rustler is still used and they are looked upon with the same scorn as in the 19th century and continue to be pursued by “stock detectives”. The cattle industry of the modern West, however, faces another challenge that was not present in the 1800s – a well-organized and media-savvy environmental movement that challenges the practices of the industry on both moral and scientific grounds. Within one exchange, characters representing each side of debate demonstrate just how right they believe themselves to be and scoff at the approach of the other.
Longmire, as a contemporary Western, demonstrated in its June 17th episode that it offers the viewer an opportunity for serious reflection upon both the history and current state of the West as well as debates that are in fact global in nature….literally.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)