I’m a sucker for a good cold open, and the one at the head of “An Incredibly Beautiful Thing” was pretty darn good; so far, every episode of this show has had me more invested at the beginning than at the end, but at least this one started off on a high note. A crazy woman comes into a gas station, shouts about how someone is coming to get her, asks the price of milk, and runs out. The gas station clerk (a man named Ellis), follows her, and the scene fades to white. Later, Walt shows up in response to a call Ellis made to the police dispatcher, and after some searching, he finds Ellis dead by the side of the building, with no sign of the girl. It’s short and creepy (the girl’s switch from terror to dairy products helps give the scene a bit of texture, as well as being an obvious clue), and it gives us exactly as much information as our heroes have when they start investigating the case in-depth. Of course, it doesn’t make much sense that Ellis would tear off the note he wrote down about the car’s license plate number and take it with him outside (was he going to finish writing when he could see the full plate?), and it’s silly that Walt decides to throw some tires around and disturb the crime scene just so he can make sure we viewers at home can see the body. Still, it grabbed my interest, which was what it was supposed to do.
The rest of the hour doesn’t really hold up. There’s more creepiness—the girl was from a cult!—but it’s of the generic sort, where pretty girls and psychos spout off vague apocalyptic nonsense before attempting mass suicide via poison and train. (Actually, the train stuff was pretty cool.) Worse than that, though, is how dumb everyone has to act to ensure the mystery lasts an entire episode. It’s a common procedural structure for the actual criminal to be introduced in the first 20 or so minutes; while that can reduce the surprise for people who pay attention to such things, it means that the final reveal won’t come entirely out of left field, and that, ideally, we’ll all be surprised that someone who seemed so innocent could have done such horrible things. Longmire has been following this strategy closely so far, and “An Incredibly Beautiful Thing” is no exception, to its detriment. Walt and Vic have a chat with Leland Townes (a sadly subdued John Pyper-Ferguson) about a car he’s been driving, and Leland admits (without any apparent guilt) that he was at the gas station, and he saw the crazy girl and drove off before Ellis was killed. Then he tells them he also saw a black S.U.V. pull up, and Walt and Vic spend much of the rest of the episode taking the guy at his word. They don’t seem suspicious that he didn’t think to call the police until they showed up at his door, and they don’t even think about how incredibly convenient that “black S.U.V.” is. It takes another cult member popping up, as well as a baby and a midwife, for them to finally put the pieces together.
And that isn’t the dumbest thing in the episode, either. Walt asks Henry to track where the crazy girl came from, and Henry and Ferg find a rabbit hutch where Evelyn (the girl) hid her baby. They keep the baby at the station, thinking (correctly) that Evelyn was trying to hide the child from someone, and it’s better to protect her until this thing blows over. This is all well and good, until Child Services shows up to take the baby into custody, and the cops let the kid go without a police detail. Branch follows the baby outside, but that’s only because he’s badgering Cady to give him a second chance; Vic doesn’t even realize that the cult member they had in temporary custody—the one who’s been sitting on a park bench out front of the station ever since she was released—might make a play for the child until she notices the other woman has vanished. All of this makes for an exciting enough action sequence, but I’m not sure the amount of stupid it took to get there was really worth the trouble. The two don’t even realize Leland is crooked until Vic checks the registration on the car Ellis saw at the beginning of the episode and sees it’s in the cult member’s name. How did this not come up before?
There are a few decent ideas, as usual. Henry as the great tracker is a little weird (I can’t decide if it succumbs to the stereotype or transcends it), but it’s fun to see Ferg coming into his own, and the way the offer of a reward brings in the nutjobs is a nice touch. The sight of a group of women tied to the train tracks, drugged and waiting to be run down, wasn’t something I had seen before on television, and it made for a passably thrilling climax, although I didn’t ever really believe any of the victims would be killed. But the details about the cult are never filled in beyond the most obvious exploitative rhetoric, and once Leland goes full on insane, he stops being a potentially compelling villain. We meet a fellow sheriff of Walt’s, played with an effectively ambiguous amount of goody old boy smarm by Tom Wopat, and Vic’s husband is tangentially involved—Leland owns the land that Newett Energy is mining, and the car was leased to them. (I think.) But that doesn’t really go anywhere, and the reminders that Vic’s husband doesn’t like Walt are distracting and unnecessary.
Still, the cold open is solid, and Ellis (and his death) prove to be the closest thing to a grace note the episode can manage. Ruby is upset when she finds out Ellis died soon after talking to her, and, because he didn’t have any family who could do the job, she volunteers to write his obituary for the newspaper. It takes her a couple tries, but at the end, she’s got something that works: a simple reminder that a man died, and in dying, managed to save a few lives. It’s corny, but sincere, and a fine reversal on the way minor character deaths are usually just tossed out and forgotten by the end credits. Too bad the rest of the episode didn’t live up to it.
- In case you forgot Henry is a Native American, one of the security creeps who arrests him for trespassing on Newett Energy property calls him “Kemosabe.” “No, I would be Tonto, and you would be Kemosabe,” Henry explains.
- What the hell poison did Leland use, anyway? I guess he wanted to make sure he was still alive when the police found him, but it didn’t take much to knock the stuff out of his system.
- It doesn't help that I just watched Martha Marcy May Marlene a month ago.
- Walt’s epiphany about the train tracks was a tad overdone.
- I really wish they’d just tell us what the hell happened in Denver.