Lonesome Dove - Neon
This article was originally published April 2017.
Hey Friends! This article comes to you as a product of a weird series of events. In the hubbub of pre-patch spoilers, Scarlatch and I had a conversation that led to the current article. Here is the summary:
So now, as a function of civic duty to the Eternal community I have finished watching “Lonesome Dove”. Before anyone gives the obvious “approximate could just mean ‘in 2017’ you idiot” or “this is clearly a troll”, I will say “yeah, I know”. I am bracing myself for the worst trolling of my life, but I figure it is my job to live up to my side of the bargain. I’m going to give my summary for all to see. Even though this is not directly related to Eternal, I will use my superb film critique skills to entertain you, and provide some well-founded guesses on the future of Eternal.
To begin with, the series was about 6 hours long, not 12. One can excuse Scarlatch, as I’m sure the memory goes about these things when you get to his age. The series starts hanging around the town of Lonesome Dove. Since Scarlatch said I couldn’t look anything up, we will never know if Lonesome Dove was actually a real place. I’m going to guess that was the name of an actual town, but is now a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas, which is defined by its particularly bland big box stores and stockyards. Before I start talking about anything else, lets take a moment to discuss the name of this town – Lonesome Dove. Who names a place “Lonesome Dove”? You are exploring South Texas, beating up natives, taking their land, and you decide you want to take a break from your genocidal ways to settle down and set up a town. What do you name it? I’m split between “Awesomeville” and “The Thunderdome”. You know what I don’t name it? Lonesome Dove. Why not Homesick Snake? Was Depressed Cactus taken? I can promise you that “Lonesome Dove” does not even crack the top 100 names for towns, but what do I know? I was never a racist 19th centaury cowboy founding a town that was positioning itself to be the site of a future Walmart. Maybe “Lonesome Dove” was the right play after all.
We start episode 1 hanging around Lonesome Dove and get introduced to our main characters, Gus played by Robert Duvall and Woodrow played by Tommy Lee Jones, who are semi-retired Texas rangers. Over the course of the episode we learn that they were once “BAMF”s but now spend their time hanging around Lonesome Dove doing very little. I don’t pretend to know how things worked in the old West, but these guys appear to do a helluva lot of nothing. Perhaps they had some savvy old-west financial advisor who helped them set up a good old-timey investment portfolio. Gus spends a good deal of his time at the local bar playing cards and with the town prostitute Laurie. Woodrow just hangs around and looks grumpy from what I can tell.
I will say that the first episode is pretty slow for a while. Things start moving when an old friend of Woodrow and Gus comes back into town. Jack Spoon is a gambler/womanizer/all-around-smarmy-asshole, and he comes back to Lonesome Dove after 10 years to tell Gus and Woodrow that there is some great opportunity in Montana. Now what happens next seems pretty strange, so I am going to frame it for you. You know that friend that you have that is a top-shelf bullshit artist? Like the guy who tells you a story and you spend the entire time thinking to yourself, “I doubt any of this is true, but it sure is interesting?”. Ok, so imagine that guy, with a gambling problem, coming into town after not seeing them for ten years and says, “Hey we should travel 2500 miles together on horseback”. Oh, and let’s just add in the fact that he admits he accidentally killed someone in Arkansas, and may or may not have a warrant out for his arrest. What do you say? You, like every other reasonable person on earth say, “No, I think I will sit tight here, thanks.” What do Gus and Woodrow say? “Well, that sure sounds like an opportunity! Lets gather up every grown man we can, steal some cows from Mexico and head to Montana to set up a ranch on your advice.” What the hell? How on earth are these guys alive given how stupid they are? Once again, I am not a 19th century cowboy, so what do I know? So the rest of episode one is basically about Gus and Woodrow gathering up the crew to head north, as well as Spoon developing a romantic interest with Laurie the prostitute who decides to come along on this trip in the hopes of one day getting to San Francisco with Spoon.
In episode 1 we also get a bit of a side-plot about the town back in Arkansas where Spoon killed that random guy. I am going to rail against this a little bit since this is a continued side-plot through the entire series and is a perfect mixture of infuriating and mystifying. When we first peek into the town, we have Sheriff July Johnson talking to Peach, the wife of the murder victim. We only have two short encounters with this woman, but I feel like it is important to explain her in as much detail as I can. Imagine if Miss Piggy had never met Kermit, and had just become the most hate-filled annoying version of herself possible. That is Peach. She comes up to Sheriff Johnson and says he needs to hunt down Spoon. Johnson’s wife Ellie hears this and basically says, “That is a great idea! You should do that, and take my 10 year old son with you.” Johnson objects at first to taking his 10-year old stepson on a manhunt for a wanted murderer across unsettled territory, but is eventually talked into it because people in the Old West were (apparently) incapable of making good decisions. A little later in the episode, we stop in again on Peach the hate-witch to see her talking to Roscoe the town idiot/deputy Sheriff. Peach tells him that Ellie (July Johnson’s wife) has left town on a whiskey boat for no apparent reason and Peach wants Roscoe to go tell July about this. We also find out that Ellie is pregnant. I don’t have any idea why Peach thinks Roscoe can find Johnson – given the fact that Roscoe is clearly incompetent – or what he could even do about it once he finds Johnson, since no one knows where Ellie is actually going. But, once again, since people in the old-West were victims of this condition where they could only make bad decisions, Roscoe decides to go find Johnson. This brings us roughly to the end of episode 1.
Episode 2 starts up with Gus and Woodrow’s group crossing a river. One of the younger members of the group is randomly attacked by a huge family of poisonous snakes that apparently ignored every other member of the group. Ok, whatever. Little known fact about snakes: they will always focus in on the youngest member of a group and target them only, since they want to separate the weak from the strong. I can’t verify this fact since I can’t look anything up, but we’re going with it since that’s the only logical explanation. Given that episode 2 starts with a snake-centric scene, I see this as confirmation that Set 2 of Eternal is going to be focused on snake tribal. Set 2 = episode 2; death by snakes = snake tribal. Makes perfect sense! Something to look forward to.
We stop in with Ellie (Sherriff Johnson’s wife). We have found out that she is heading north to find her first husband for…reasons. She has just gotten off the whiskey boat and is now travelling north by wagon with a giant knucklehead who wants to marry her, and Steve Buscemi who, as always, is playing himself. We also stop in with Roscoe who acquires a 12 year old girl sidekick because he is too incompetent to navigate the wilderness by himself, and needs a child to improve the average IQ of his expedition.
Gus and Woodrow get to Fort Worth where they pick up supplies and stop off in a bar where they Gus beats the crap out of the barkeep for being disrespectful. This is where the “Ain’ much of a crime, whackin’ a surly bartender.” line comes from, and I will admit it was a good scene. They also pick up a Mexican cook to come along with them for the trip who is of no real relevance to the plot. Why do I bring up something that has no relevance to the plot? Because this film constantly brings up stuff that doesn’t really matter to the plot. Have you ever heard of Chekov’s gun? Chekov was a playwright who said that you should never waste space in a play. If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it should go off in the third act. You will notice this all the time in movies and shows, especially crime/mystery genres where something subtle comes up early on that is the key to finding the killer later in the script. This show constantlyviolates Chekov’s gun. When this Mexican cook came up I thought to myself, “Well surely he plays some important role later on!” Nope. Basically doesn’t come up again. Whatever.
After this we stop by Roscoe and his 12 year old girl sidekick who are saved from some bandits by Sheriff Johnson. Roscoe tells Johnson that his wife left on a whiskey boat and is pregnant, and Johnson understandably has bit of a meltdown. He then asks his 10 year old step-son where Ellie might have gone. The boy says that his father (who Johnson thought was dead) lives in Ogallala, and his mother is probably going back to him. The boy also explains that his mother only married Sherriff Johnson because his real dad had run out of money. Johnson now has a hard choice. On one hand, he could go back to the safety of his hometown, keeping these children and Roscoe safe and let his wife – who clearly wants nothing to do with him – go back to her deadbeat husband. On the other hand, he could travel to Ogallala based on spotty information from his 10-year old step-son, endangering 2 kids and his idiot-friend, to maybe find his wife who at best has left him for another man, and at worst is already dead. By now I’m sure you can all guess what line Sherriff Johnson takes. They head off to Ogallala.
We go back to hang out with Gus and Laurie. Spoon and Laurie have kinda been travelling parallel to the rest of the group. It appears that Spoon has left Laurie in the wilderness while he goes into town to gamble. I literally can’t fathom the line of reasoning that had to occur where it was decided that Laurie should hang out by herself in the middle of nowhere rather than follow Spoon into town, but let’s leave that for now. Gus and Laurie are flirting when a Native comes by. Apparently Gus recognizes this man from a long distance (even though he has never seen him before). He is the infamous Blue Duck, an outlaw Native that had terrorized the region back during Gus’ heyday. Quick note to aspiring writers out there – if you are writing a villain, I would suggest not using “Duck” in the name. “Blue Wolf”, “Blue Coyote”, or “Blue Snake” – those work a lot bit better if you are attached to “Blue” in the name. Anyway, Gus and Blue Duck have a little conversation where they make it clear they know who each other are, and rather than shoot each other they go their separate ways because…reasons. At this point, Gus decides to head back to the herd, and Woodrow and Laurie decides to stay by herself in the middle of nowhere with a murderous outlaw in the area. Don’t hold it against her; these Old West types had that disorder that prevented them from making good decisions we talked about earlier. When Gus heads back to the herd, he sends another member of the group to go look after Laurie. By the time he arrives it is too late and Blue Duck takes Laurie.
There is a big chunk of the plot here that follows a barely comprehensible series of events where Blue Duck bribes a small band of outlaws to kill Gus and Woodrow. Gus, in the process of saving Laurie, runs into Sherriff Johnson and friends. They are able to save Laurie, but Roscoe and the two kids are killed by Blue Duck, and Blue Duck himself gets away. This seems like a pretty classic example of “playing bad and getting punished” on behalf of Sherriff Johnson. You risked your friend and two kids for the sake of trying to save one random lady you have never met, and all your friends died. The only reason you are out here in the first place is because you are trying to find your estranged wife who left you for her deadbeat ex. You suck at life. Git gud scrub.
Episode 2 ends by checking in on Spoon, who upon learning about Laurie and Blue Duck, decided it was better to go back to town and continue gambling rather than do anything about the situation. Let’s take a moment to remember that going to Montana in the first place was his idea, but he has left that whole operation in search of bigger and better mistakes to make. MTG fans may know the quote, “There is always a greater power.” Spoon proves for us that “There is always a dumber mistake.” too. In the course of his gambling he falls in with a crowd of outlaws who are going to rob a bank in the next town over, and that takes us to the end of episode 2.
Episode 3 starts with Spoon finding out that his new group of bank robbing outlaw friends are not actually very nice people. They kill some randoms for their horses, which Spoon seems to object to. The moral reasoning of Spoon seems pretty spotty. About a week ago he decided he should abandon his girlfriend to a bloodthirsty band of criminals and instead travel to the next town to rob a bank with a group of outlaws he has never met before. When they start killing randoms for their horses – THAT crosses a line. Maybe he is just an animal rights activist at heart?
Gus and friends find the bodies of the dead travellers. At this point I hear one of the stupidest lines I have ever heard. One of the members of the group who is a close friend of Spoon reports that he saw horse tracks that could only come from Spoon’s horse. Okay, that seems a little far-fetched. Judging by the state of the bodies, the tracks must be at least days old. And you say you know these are the tracks of Spoon’s horse. Yeah right. At this point Gus points out “These are horse stealin’ murderers we’re dealin’ with. They might have stole [Spoon’s] horse.” Valid point. How does this gentleman respond? “No sir. I know the tracks his horse makes when he’s ridin’ it.” WHAT? You can just automatically recognize the tracks a specific horse makes with a specific rider even though the tracks are days old? You have got to be kidding me. It isn’t even like Spoon is giant guy who would help make extra deep tracks or something. Sigh.
We catch up with Spoon and his little band of gentlemen, who are now robbing a few random farmers basically to tilt Spoon. Gus and crew catch up to Spoon’s posse, and confront them about all the murdering they have been up to, and decide to hang the group of them, including their former friend. The hanging is actually in the same manner that Jekk is hung in the campaign (sitting on a horse that is then wiped). At this point I got excited, hoping that a renegade angel (possibly with Warcry) would jump onto the set to save Spoon to really spice things up. No such luck.
Now we check back in with Ellie, the giant dumbass, and Steve Buscemi, who come to a random house close to Ogallala. The inhabitants are a middle-aged woman (Clara), her two daughters, and her husband who is extremely ill and bed-ridden. In the manner these things always happen in film, Ellie arrives at the house just in time to go into labor. Shortly after she gives birth to a healthy boy she leaves with dumbass and Steve Buscemi. This was the point that I began to really wonder what Steve Buscemi’s motivation was here. You’re going to help this lady, who is clearly deranged, leave behind her new-born child so that she can find her husband? It isn’t like she has a ton of money to pay you. It is also not like you are trying to help out this friend of yours, since he is doing it out of love for Ellie, right? Doesn’t seem like the way to help him out is to bring this woman to her “true love”. It isn’t even that Steve Buscemi doesn’t have a good reason, he doesn’t have a reason at all from what I can tell. Maybe he was just bored? I feel like there are better things to do with your time, but that is just me. One way or another, they find Ellie’s husband who is in fact in Ogallala. Ellie finds him in jail, and after speaking to him for a grand total of 30 seconds, collapses on the floor from blood loss. When she wakes up her husband has already been hung. I guess this might be our second case of “play bad, get punished”.
At this point we go back to Sherriff Johnson, who happens to stop by the exact same house that Ellie has stopped in. This is obviously an incredibly unlikely event, almost incalculably small, but given what we have seen so far from this series, I was just waiting for it to happen. When Clara explains the situation, Sherriff Johnson is once again given a choice. Stay with his child at Clara’s farm, or continue to chase after his deranged wife who is clearly hell bent on finding the “love of her life” (who is not you). Given that Sherriff has lived his life by making irrational choices, he is not about to start making sense now, and he heads to Ogallala. When he finds his wife, she basically doesn’t even want to speak to him, and he has no real idea of what to say to her, so he decides to leave and come back in the morning. When he returns, she is gone with dumbass and Steve Buscemi. They are heading for St. Louis apparently. It is finally at this point where Sherrif Johnson comes to an age-old realization, “Maybe she is just not that into me.” I guess it is an age-old lesson that everyone needs to learn eventually. Some learn it in middle school, some learn it after the trekking thousands of miles, risking life and limb, for a woman who would rather hang out with Steve Buscemi than you. We each have our own path I suppose.
After Sherriff Johnston comes to his senses, he heads back to Clara’s farm, and signs on to work on the farm so that Clara can help raise his baby. Then, finally, Ellie dies. THANK GOD ELLIE IS DEAD! We get a quick shot of her, dumbass, and Steve Buchemi dead on the plain, apparently robbed by natives. Good riddance to the lot. They were boring and horrible. We do see that the men were scalped, which gives me an idea for a card. Just an idea for DWD, they can take from me for no charge.
Scalping – 3SJ – Spell
Remove all units from the opponent’s void from the game. If you win the game, you get 10 additional gold for each unit removed this way. Draw a card.
It turns out that this Clara is an old love interest of Gus, so the gang stops by on their way north. The encounter is equal parts slow-paced, sappy, and incoherent. Laurie, who has continued to travel with Gus’s squad, decides to stay on the farm with Clara rather than find a way to San Francisco. I could put her on blast about how not continuing on is nonsense, but in reality it makes less sense for her to continue going, so this seems fine to me in the big picture. Gus and the team continue to Ogallala for a chance to visit the prostitutes, and then head North which roughly brings us to the end of episode 3.
After more hardship on the plain, Gus and Woodrow’s team is in the thick of unsettled territory. The manner in which the group has been moving to this point involves 2 members going out ahead as scouts, and the rest following with the herd more slowly. Gus goes on one of these scouting expeditions with a friend, but they run into a pack of natives. Gus and this friend lose their horses in the altercation, and Gus is shot with 2 arrows in the leg. They are able to find a small hole where they can hold off the natives, but are trapped. Gus sends his friend to go back to Woodrow and the gang to send help. Gus himself is able to escape the next morning, where the natives have apparently lost interest. The friend makes it back to Woodrow and company around the time that Gus runs into a friendly man who offers to take him to Mile City. Woodrow goes after him, and eventually finds him in Mile City. By the time Woodrow gets there, Gus has already lost one leg, and the doctor informs him that he has very bad blood poisoning and is going to die. There is a long emotional back and forth, but the relevant plot point that comes of this is Gus requesting Woodrow bring his body back to Texas to be buried. BACK TO TEXAS. They have just spent several months travelling to Montana, and Gus wants his body to go back to Texas. Woodrow, for some reason, actually agrees to this. Gus’ body is left in Mile City for the Winter, and Woodrow returns to the herd to continue North.
The rest of the episode ends up being a very slow-motion conclusion. Woodrow, the rest of his gang, and the herd find a spot to set up a cattle ranch in Montana. In the spring, Woodrow heads back to Mile City to get Gus’ body and head to Texas. He stops in at Clara’s place, and there is a drawn-out, uber-sappy exchange about how much everyone loved Gus. Woodrow continues on his journey with a near-psychopathic fixation on getting Gus’ body back to Texas. He also find out along the way the Blue Duck was caught and hung. He does eventually get back to Texas and buries Gus, and then finally continues to Lonesome Dove, where he can once again return to his life of being grumpy, except now with less company. I suppose his dream was to wander aimlessly for a year and a half for the privilege of coming back to a Lonesome Dove, the future site of a Best Buy.
In all seriousness, I actually enjoyed watching this series. As I make pretty clear, almost nothing makes any sense whatsoever, but it is possible to enjoy it if you shut your brain off. Although I don’t really put any effort into communicating it in this summary, Gus is a really interesting character to watch in many spots. Robert Duvall’s performance, as well as Tommy Lee Jones’ foil to that performance, is what carries the entire script. Episodes two and three are quite strong, but episodes one and four are much slower than they need to be.
I have glossed over the background racism and sexism of the script. I understand the Old West was racist and sexist, so it is understandable that there is some amount of this in the script, but it doesn’t make it any easier to watch. I also personally have trouble with any content that even suggests sexual violence, and there is a moderate amount that is at least implied in the series. Although they do not go too far into conveying the gritty reality of the Old West, there is enough there that you can fill in some of the more unsavory blanks.
Overall, I would rate the whole thing as a 6.5/10, although I can understand why others might like it more if you are particularly draw to the portrayal of Augustus the fine southern gentleman. I have also skipped over a lot of interpersonal stuff that is engaging to watch but not exactly important to the plot. I could nit-pick details about the show for a lot longer than I already have, but most of it is minor, and it is possible to enjoy to show without focusing on that.
I hope people found some of this interesting to read, and I hope Scarlatch keeps his side of the bargain. I certainly did my part. I am now bracing myself for some mega-trolling on by DWD. Obviously I do not plan on writing something like this again any time soon. Still, feel free to share feedback. The entire thing can be found on YouTube. You can all watch it if you like so we can share insane theories linking Lonesome Dove and the Eternal Throne. Do you have questions? Have you watched it and disagree with my assessment? Feel free to share your thoughts! Ultimately, if this is what needs to be done to help the Eternal community, I guess I am happy to take on the heavy burden of watching mediocre TV shows from the 80’s and writing about them. And, at the very least, if anyone in Discord ever asks what I have done for Eternal, at least I can point to this :D.