I grew up watching Westerns and while Absaroka County, Wyoming ain’t the Ponderosa, the things that make Westerns great – beautiful and desolate landscapes, brooding and rugged characters, and mystery – are readily in evidence in Longmire. “Unquiet Mind,” the season two opener, puts us in the truck with Vic, played by Katee Sackhoff, and Sheriff Walt Longmire, played by Robert Taylor, as they drive a maximum security prisoner through their county to an FBI drop spot. Vic is antsy. She doesn’t know who the inmate is, there is no music because all she’s finding is static on the radio, and the landscape is more bleak than beautiful. Liking nothing more than to get to their destination, she is nearly overwrought when they have to stop for a buffalo in the street. When she tries to shoo it away, it charges, hitting the truck. Turns out, it was protecting the path of its baby, which is a tiny white buffalo. Vic asks how common a white buffalo was and the inmate finally pipes up “About one in every ten million births… It’s a sign, right sheriff?”
They make the rendezvous spot and we learn it’s Wayne Durell, a serial killer who killed Native Americans and sold their organs on the black market. Turns out, he’s in Wyoming to point out where another body is buried, that of Theo Halfmoon, a kid from the Cheyenne reservation in Absaroka County. He’s using the information to stay his execution. Finding Halfmoon brings his body count up to 9.
They head back to a diner where Walt talks to Durell about why he killed Theo. Durell takes the time to psychoanalyze Walt. He points to his unquiet mind for why Walt preferred the quiet as oppose to static when Vic is trying to find a radio station. He says Walt hears the voices too. Walt calls back to his office to get Ferg to find the missing child file on Theo Halfmoon. When Vic bites down on something hard in her sandwich as they drive back – not a toothpick – Walt realizes that the prisoners might have escaped. He turns the truck around and they go back. They find the bodies of agents, the cook, but also evidence that there are hostages. They follow a trail and find one of the inmates and the FBI van. Walt gets Vic to take the inmate back to town while he follows the trail of the others. Walt tracks prints to a cabin which turns out to be Omar’s. Omar is a hunter and Walt’s go-to weapons expert. Omar has already taken out the convict and the waitress, Helen, is safe and warm. Maybe too warm. She was given time to dress for the elements and Walt is suspicious she is the reason they’re all “traipsing through the woods.” Helen admits she knew Wayne Durell, having worked with him on his rehabilitation. She fell for him and moved to the area to aid Durell in his escape. Walt doesn’t get any information from her, so he continues going up the mountain, in the midst of the storm.
Back at the Sheriff’s office, Vic and Branch Connaly (played by Bailey Chase) have to deal with the FBI, who is taking over the case. With the storm getting nearer, no transportation or helicopters, their only plan is to let the inmates freeze to death. Vic rages against the machine, so to speak, but Branch quiets her, then forces Henry, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, to take him on his quest to find Walt. Things go from bad to worse as Vic, unable to stand not being able to get to Walt, takes her frustration out on the FBI in the form of a punch. Left out of it all, she has no choice but to be patient and hope for the best.
As Walt moves up the mountain, his unquiet mind begins to manifest itself in hallucinations. First is the Denver detective who shows up at the end of Season 1 to ask if Walt had found and killed the man who murdered his wife. Though he said he didn’t kill him and bury him in a shallow grave, there is something tugging at the edges of Walt Longmire’s subconscious. Maybe we’ll get to the truth in this season, or maybe we already know the truth.
After stumbling upon the snow-cat and another dead inmate, Walt is shot at by Durell and takes an unfortunate fall, plunging into a river down an embankment. Which is bad news in the freezing cold and blizzard. He sees an owl and decides to follow it, leading to a cabin. His daughter opens the door to let him in. Once again, his unquiet mind brings forward something he feels guilty about. Last season, his daughter found out that her mother did not die of cancer, but instead was murdered. She was upset because she spent a year thinking something that wasn’t true and she had to find out from a stranger. Hypothermia gives Walt a chance to apologize to the daughter whom he has not heard from since she told him he was not longer required to worry about her. He realizes, when he awakens as Theo Halfmoon whispers to him, that he is going into hypothermic shock and he starts a fire. He goes back out after Durell after trying to call Vic using her phone (the most familiar thing about the character is that he only drinks one type of beer, he picks up all litter, and he doesn’t have a cell phone), he finds himself out of range and won’t get the help he needs. He finds the snow-cat out of gas and a trail of blood leads him to a cave. He finds the psychiatrist agent, a large trunk of money, and an armed Wayne Durell. They fight when the weapon jams. Durell, thinking he will get the better of Sheriff Longmire, gives the villain speech. He declares that the white buffalo he saw was a sign of hope and abundance. When he saw it, he knew he would get away. But Longmire says that the white buffalo didn’t appear to Durell – or even himself – it was a sign to the people that Durell had been killing. It was a sign of a better future, a future Longmire assured Durell he would not be in. The finish their struggle, laying in the snow. By the time Henry and Branch find the, Durell is dead, but they’ve made it to Walt in time. Maybe unquiet no more, Walt’s mind conjures up Theo Halfmoon watching the demise of his killer.
Westerns evoke a simpler, more rugged time. While man may have been devising new ways to lie, steal, cheat, and kill, Westerns would show there were still stand up people willing to do what was right. There is a part of me, as the viewer, that understand the decisions that Walt Longmire makes in this episode. As someone who struggles with the everyday fight of being fair when others don’t feel the need to do the same, as a man who cares about everyone in his jurisdiction, white man and Native American, and as someone who doesn’t feel the need to explain himself, even if he will, Walt is almost a character from an age long gone. He gives Durell his say, watches all that happens because Durell felt he got a sign, and felt more than justified with Durell’s end, all things considering. He understands the toll, and he takes it anyway. He is willing to deal with an unquiet mind if it means that what is right gets done. As we move forward, we will see that mindset play out, I think, especially regarding what actually happened to his wife’s murderer. As we watch, we will be the judge, but it is up to our own moral code to decide if we are going to be the executioner.