Lonsesome Dove (1989)

I remember watching the 1989 Emmy Awards and when the winner for “Outstanding Miniseries” was announced, not only did I register shock, but it seemed so did everyone in the audience.  “War and Remembrance” was the winner, but who was expecting that?  It’s certainly one of the biggest and most expansive, but 1989 was the year of “Lonesome Dove.”  Everyone watched it.  Everyone talked about it.  Everyone loved it.  Okay, I can’t prove the middle statement, but the ratings show that everyone watched it and the reviews show that critics loved it.  Sure, “War and Remembrance” is literally almost five times the length of “Lonesome Dove,” but might does not make right in this situation.  However, time has taken care of the error: “Lonesome Dove” is regarded as a classic while “Wand Remembrance” is, well, almost five times the length of a classic.

The town is Lonesome Dove in Southern Texas, as dusty and sleepy a Western town as they come, if you can call the few ramshackle buildings a town.  The chow bell rings for dinner, bringing Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Timothy Scott and Ricky Schroder together.  Robert is serving and when Tommy Lee jokingly suggests he get a job as a waiter instead of a “loafer,” he says he once had a job on a riverboat.  “I was too pretty and the whores wouldn’t let me alone,” he says to make Ricky laugh.  In just a few minutes, we race through a discussion of slavery ending and the chase of the Native Americans into virtual extinction. 

It seems that craggy Robert and equally craggy Tommy Lee have a cantankerous relationship, full of jabs at each other.  Tommy Lee is the worker, while Robert is the old-timer with a piece of wisdom for every occasion.  Robert goes off to the saloon where D.B. Sweeney begs him for money, but Robert and the gang spend their time playing cards all night long.  After, Robert loans D.B. the two dollars, which D.B. wants to use for the one woman in town before sleeping on Robert’s porch.

Just as breakfast is starting the next morning, Danny Glover returns to town with Robert Urich in tow, the latter reuniting with the others after many years.  Robert Urich has returned to get his friends with some colorful stories and can’t believe how big Ricky has gotten.  Ricky’s mother was a whore, dead many years now, and one of the guys is the kid’s father, obviously Tommy Lee, who won’t admit it. 

Arkansas Sheriff Chris Cooper is told by a local woman to arrest Robert Urich, who is a known murderer on the run.  The lady means business, snapping the neck of a rooster she’s holding, scaring Chris into action, but Chris knows Robert Urich is living in Texas now with his friends Robert and Tommy Lee, who are ex-Texas Rangers and therefore not an easy man to arrest.  Chris tells his wife Glenne Headley that he probably should go after Robert Urich, but as a newlywed of five months, she’s not thrilled, and insists he take her young son. 

Robert Duvall asks Robert Urich about Clara, a woman he loved, who is apparently now married with children somewhere in Nebraska.  It’s obvious he still pines for her.  Tommy Lee wonders why they don’t take Robert Urich up on his offer to clear Montana of Native Americans and drive cattle into the area.  “I wanna see that country before bankers and lawyers,” he wistfully tells his old pal.  D.B. has spent all day working off the two dollars, only to show up at the saloon to find Robert Urich making the whole place rock with the whore upstairs.  D.B. gets drunk to forget.

Everything so far has been working up to what the men really do for a living, which is slip over the border to Mexico at night and steal horses.  With the most picturesque sunset to guide them, the seven men set off, easily crossing the river and making their way into Mexico.  When they find the herd, Danny hears “white folks” singing, doing some recon to find there are two men on guard, but they are drunk Irishmen (in the Old West, the two always go together) and no harm (Travis Swords and Bradley Gregg).  In fact, they don’t even know they are in Mexico and decide to join our posse as they all drive the horses back across the river.  They manage to steal over 100 horses.

Chris heads off with Glenne’s son to go after Robert Urich, but Glenne has also slipped away, much to the consternation of the town gossips, who insist that Deputy Barry Corbin go after Chris to tell him.  Glenne boards a “whiskey boat,” full of drunken toughs who lust after her since she’s the only woman around.  In fact, one of them kills another because he has it in his mind to marry her, despite the fact that she’s already married…to a man who is not Chris, and that’s where she’s heading.

The idea of going up North has really gotten to Tommy Lee, and it appeals to everyone else as well, though Robert Duvall has his doubts.  Biding his time, he goes to the local hooker (Diane Lane) and asks to “buy a poke,” but she says she’s with Robert Urich now, she’s his girl and he’s promised to take her to San Francisco.  But, after Robert pulls a higher card than her, she takes him upstairs.  Robert Urich, who’s idea the cattle drive was in the first place, but “he’s too leaky a vessel for anyone to put too much hope in,” Robert Duvall cracks, knowing Robert Urich has no intention of going.  Robert Urich goes over to Diane’s and when he finds out she’s been with Robert Duvall, he smacks her.  She insists on going wherever he goes, though she would prefer San Francisco.  She begs him to take her now, not wanting to go with the herd, and she has him buy her a horse with the $50 Robert Duvall paid her.  “Money well spent…both times,” he says.  Seeing Robert Urich and Diane Lane leaving, Robert Duvall decides it’s time to leave.  No use waiting for a few days. 

Robert Duvall says goodbye to Lonesome Dove, to the empty shacks, to the pigs even to the saloon keeper who is crying over shots at the loss of Diane.  The saloon piano player is the last to join the gang of misfit cowboys. 

The cattle drive starts.  The pigs refuse to be left alone and actually join.  Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones, in their easygoing way, are actually excited to drive 2600 head of cattle and a whole lot of stolen horses up North.  Robert Urich gets a thorn in his thumb and it’s infected, but Danny helps get it out, also telling them to move their camp to the opposite side of the river before the storm comes.  The storm is a giant one and comes on fast, miles of dust moving at top speed.  Ricky is amazed when lightning comes and actually seems to hit the entire herd (with some particularly bad special effects).  Robert Urich and Diane are almost killed by a falling tree.

The next day is spent undoing the damage.  The wagon is stuck in a ditch, but no men are lost, and only about 20 cows.  The pigs are okay.  Bradley is afraid of rivers, though he’s “crossed an ocean” and doesn’t understand his fear.  Robert Duvall comes to make sure Robert Urich and Diane are okay, but Robert Urich is in a particularly surly mood.  Robert Urich decides he and Diane will go to San Antonio to make money gambling, but she refuses to go. 

What makes “Lonesome Dove” work so well is the writing, which makes sure to infuse the characters with subtle relationships.  These are not men of many words, but the words they do use, jokes mainly, are actually proof of their friendship, strong and unyielding.  Something as simple as Bradley being afraid to cross a river, which he confesses to Ricky, bonds them immediately.  Ricky says he’ll cross first to show him there’s no reason to worry.  Ricky makes it, but as Bradley crosses, he’s attacked by water moccasins as Ricky watches in horror. 

The second part of the series starts with the attack, but Bradley isn’t dead, at least not yet.  “Not much we can do, he’s been bitten too many times,” Robert Duvall says a minute before he finally expires.  The entire gang had gone into river to save him, nearly a complete stranger, and though Robert remains philosophical about the death, Ricky is sad to lose his new friend, who is buried with appropriate reverence.  Travis tries to sing an Irish song, but he breaks up, so Robert Duvall steps in with a few choice words and then urges the gang on.  “The best thing you can do about death is ride out from it,” Tommy Lee says.  It’s time to move on. 

In the other part of the plot, Barry Corbin is still trying to track down Chris Cooper and comes across a horrible old man who refuses to share his possum and strikes the woman he “bought and paid for.”  That girl, Nina Siemaszko, has seen Chris and the boy, but refuses to guide Barry unless he takes her with him.  So, she hobbles the old man and convinces Barry to let her come along.  “I’m gonna follow you anyway,” she says, adding that she can catch their food.  Glenne is on her way to Ogalalla, with Steve Buscemi along for the ride.  Chris writes Glenne a letter, not knowing she won’t be at the house to receive it. 

Since the cattle drive’s cook left, they need a new one, and find one in a small town, Jorge Martinez de Hoyos.  Jorge will not ride an animal, which he says “is not civilized,” so he will walk alongside everyone.  In the same town, Robert Duvall knocks the bartender into the bar when he’s disrespectful, not recognizing Tommy Lee and Robert from the picture on the wall, back in the day when they were famous Indian chasers.  They are somewhat upset that they have been forgotten, wondering if they won’t end up like Indians, extinct, in a few years. 

“When were you the happiest?” Robert asks Tommy Lee, who doesn’t think like that.  Robert remember exactly, sitting by the creek where he is with his one true love.  The thought of it even brings him to tears as he admits “letting her slip away like I did” was the biggest mistake he ever made.  To diffuse the emotion, Tommy Lee says, “you still have your whores,” but that only brings Robert to another issue: the fact that Ricky is Tommy Lee’s son and that he never treated his mother well.  Tommy Lee can’t even look at Robert as they discuss it.  This scene runs less than five minutes, but it shows exactly why “Lonesome Dove” is so appealing.  It’s certainly not the plot, which barely holds together.  It’s about the characters.  This is a true novel (a Pulitzer Prize winner by Larry McMurtry no less) filmed.  They creators have not abandoned the characters in favor of spectacle.  In fact, they have emphasized them so much that in two hours of running time so far, there has been barely any excitement, other than a brief dust storm that lasted moments and one death.  The story here is the bonds of friendship, not the actual cattle drive or the myths of the Old West. 

The comic relief plot, which is admittedly a bit goofy, churns on with Nina telling Barry that she’ll cook frogs for dinner, but that their feet jump around as they are being cooked.  She hears men approaching and runs off.  The two want tobacco from him, but he has none.  So, they want his gun and his horse…and his clothes!  Lucky for Barry Nina didn’t run far, because she throws rocks at them and Barry is able to run off.  Just as the bandits are about to shoot Barry, again, Chris rides over with a gun and between him and Nina, they get the bad guys to ride off scared.  When Chris is told of Glenne’s running away, little Adam tells him that his father isn’t dead, as Glenne told Chris and Barry chimes in that Glenne is pregnant.  It’s a whole lot of news to take in at once. 

Robert Duvall sees Diane alone again and goes to keep her company, much to the annoyance of Tommy Lee, who wants to get to Montana with the cattle.  Diane knows Robert Urich has left her and he’s not taking her anywhere, so Robert tries his best to cheer her up.  He gives her some good philosophy, to learn to like the “everyday things,” rather than dreaming big.  To get her laughing, he strips down to his long underwear and tosses her into the water.  But, her sights are set on California and he aims for Ogalalla and his true love.  He then spots an Indian approaching.  The Indian is Frederic Forrest, who recognizes Robert from his Indian killing days.  He would love to kill “two wore out Rangers,” but since Tommy Lee isn’t around, he’ll hunt for other white men to kill.  And off he goes.  Diane will not budge, so they send Ricky to protect her, though he gets knocked out by an unseen assailant.  His horse makes it back to camp without him. 

Robert Urich arrives soon after with Ricky, but Diane is gone, which means Frederic has taken her.  Robert is pissed at everyone for letting Diane be taken.  He rails at Ricky and almost fights with D.B., but Robert Duvall takes bullets and trails Frederic.  He’s the only one who can get him.  Indeed Frederic has Diane, whom he deal with rather abusively, but he’s less scary than a bunch of his friends, who are willing to trade horse and hides for her.  Or maybe he is, shooting a man just for holding up a game of dice. 

Robert Duvall rides in search of Diane, but encounters way too many Indians and they all have guns.  Knowing just what to do, he stops, kills his horse and uses it as a defensive wall, now able to shoot at the Indians and have then running scared.  He’s not completely safe, alone in the desert behind a dead horse.  The marauders stay where they are, with some scary looking guns and Robert throws them off the trail by shooting far from them, making them think he can’t shoot, of course picking the exact right moment to knock off the most annoying of them. 

Tommy Lee is worried about his best friend, and so are the other men.  Jose says that Robert will never catch Frederic and D.B. sings his familiar refrain about how it’s Robert Urich’s fault.  He’s so in love with Diane that he intends to marry her if she returns without Robert Urich.  This starts another fight, but Tommy Lee steps in to stop it quickly. 

Night is beginning to fall and Robert is still fairly defenseless, with just the rotting horse between him and the bad guys, but sensing they are gone, he takes his saddle and gear and walks until he finds a group of people: Barry, Nina, Chris and Adam.  Our plots have finally intersected.  Robert recognizes Chris as the Sheriff chasing Robert Urich, and also as the guys who started shooting to scare off the bad guys.  They are a motley band, no match for the gang, but Robert says he can do it alone. 

Diane is still being mistreated by Frederic, whose friends want her, but he decides she’s not worth it and leaves her for the coyotes to get.  The bad guys want her, but he warns them that if they stay with her and Robert comes, all will be lost.  They all get drink and Robert rides into their campsite, plucking them off one by one with single bullets.  He’s able to rescue the traumatized Diane.  Chris is amazed that Robert could kill all of those men so easily.  He didn’t have to do a thing!  However, Frederic had left the camp and the next we see of him, he’s stabbing Barry and then kills Nina and Adam too.  That’s fiendish!  Chris digs them graves with just a bowl and Robert helps him bury the three unfortunate souls.  Chris wants to help Robert track him down, but Robert says, “I guess we have to let him go this time.”  He advises Chris to search for Glenne, and promises to kill Frederic should he encounter him again.

Speaking of Glenne, noticeably pregnant (time seems to have gone faster for her), she’s somewhere in Kansas with Frederick Coffin and Steve Buscemi.  Steve tries to rape her, but Frederick, who has been killing men who wanted to touch her since the whiskey boat, pulls Steve off her and offers to kill him, throwing him against the wheel over and over, but Glenne wants him alive “in case the Indians come.”  He will not tolerate anyone trying to “marry” her as he thinks of sex. 

Robert Urich has been gambling for days and is convinced to help some local lowlifes rob banks in Kansas.

Having sent Chris off on his personal mission, Robert Duvall has to protect Diane, beaten and frightened.  He makes his way to Adobe Walls, in Northern Texas, a tiny little shelter from the rain.  Sweet man that he is, he tries to snap her back to life by playing cards with her, but she’s too traumatized and breaks down.  As she cries on his shoulder, the second part ends.

Part Three begins with Robert Duvall rejoining his men as the Canadian River is crossed.  “You have become this gal’s caretaker,” Tommy Lee says, somewhat annoyed at this increasing diversion from the work.  Diane still has not really recovered.  She still cries.  She asks Robert why he doesn’t ask “for a poke no more?”  He says he’s being respectful of her situation. 

Robert Urich is running with a really bad crowd.  They surprise him by wanting to rob horse wranglers instead of a bank.  During the gun battle, one is shot and the leader callously kills him because “it was just his unlucky day, huh,” as Robert puts it, now terrified of this bunch.

Only one of the horse wranglers lives and Danny finds him.  So, the leads have to go off and track down the guys who did this.  That means Robert Duvall has to leave Diane and she’s afraid.  The guys follow birds until finding the dead bodies, which they take the time to bury.  Danny follows the tracks and knows there are four of them, but that also Robert Urich is with them.  They suggest that it’s just Robert’s horse, but Danny knows the tracks “his horse makes with him on it.”  Geez, that’s some excellent skill!  They better find their wayward friend soon, because his crazy new pals are giving innocent farmers, or “sod busters” just to go through their house.  The leader finds only a watch.  Killed two men for a watch and then he hangs and burns the bodies!  Two more graves for the heroes to dig. 

Danny spots the bad posse only a little bit away and they surprise them.  Tommy Lee orders them tied up, and that means Robert Urich too, because he participated.  His longtime friends have to go with the credo that “you ride with an outlaw, you die with an outlaw.”  That means they all have to hang from trees.  They kill the bad guys and then it’s only Robert Urich left.  Robert Duvall tells him he has Diane safe and then says goodbye to his friends.  “I’d rather be hung by my friends than by strangers,” Robert Urich says.  He doesn’t wait for anyone to whip his horse from under him.  He digs his spurs in and does it himself.  They are all upset, but Tommy Lee reminds them they have the cattle, so a grave has to be dug.  They leave only the leader on the tree with a sign that says “Man Burner and Horse Thief.” 

At long last, we meet Robert Duvall’s long lost love, Anjelica Houston.  She’s caring for an injured husband kicked by a horse and unable to move, as well as two young daughters.  All of her other children have died.  It’s Glenne and her cohorts who arrive at Anjelica’s farm and are invited to stay.  “This woman’s going to have a baby,” Anjelica says and one is born.  That was mighty quick!  When she left Arkansas, no one could even tell she was pregnant!  Glenne has serious post-partum depression, but Anjelica is understanding and she and her daughters will help her.  Her gentleman friends push on to Ogalalla and take Glenne, but leave the baby.  Her beloved is in jail, about to be executed for the murder of a boy.  She passes out at the jail.

Coincidentally, Chris now shows up at Anjelica’s farm.  Anjelica is gently rocking the baby when he arrives.  Ever hospitable, Anjelica invites Chris in for a meal, just inches away from his son.  Anjelica figures out he’s Glenne’s husband (both being from Arkansas) and tells the baby is his, but that she left.  Chris breaks down and Anjelica tells her daughter, “men have tears in ’em, just like you” when they wonder why a man can cry.  Anjelica is honest with Chris: Glenne wants neither Chris nor the baby.  She never even looked at the baby before leaving.  To make it worse, Anjelica admits “loves new things” and is getting “attached” to the baby.  She asks him if he wants the baby, and if he does, take him now, because she can’t “go through the heartsick of losing another one.”  Chris asks for the chance to find Glenne first. 

The cattle drive nears Ogalalla and Anjelica too.  Diane is worried about how she’ll be introduced and she’s suddenly ashamed of who she is, which Robert tells her not to be.  Robert admits he would like to marry Anjelica.  He goes to Jose, who can tell fortunes, and asks if he’ll marry again.  “No more wife for you,” Jose says. 

With Frederick keeping watch over Glenne as always, Chris arrives to see her.  “The doctor said you are strong enough to talk.  You don’t have to talk, though, if you don’t want to,” he gently tells her.  He then has to break the news that her eldest son is dead, along with Barry and the girl too.  Glenne reacts to none of it, only that her love has been executed.  Chris is very upset by her reaction and when he returns for her in the morning, he finds that she and Frederick have left.  Anjelica offers him a job so he can stay with his son and then we see briefly that Glenne and Frederick have been killed by Indians.

In Ogalalla, Robert buys some new duds and some finery for Diane.  The rest of the boys want some whores for their free time and they go to D.B. for advice, but the discussion is interrupted by the US Army, requisitioning horses for their ongoing fight against Indians.  They beat D.B. when he refuses and then go after Ricky when he holds to the horse.  Tommy Lee finally comes to their rescue and beats the man who attacked Ricky with a branding iron until Robert pulls him away.  Robert tells Ricky that the reason Tommy Lee reacted so strongly was because he was protecting his son.  The boys then return to their question to get laid. 

Apparently more time has passed because Chris has become quite the horse trainer at Anjelica’s.  More strangers arrive at this farm, but this time it’s the ones we expected.  Robert and Anjelica run to each other’s arms with a big kiss, in front of her daughters, Tommy Lee, Ricky and Diane.  Robert is surprised to see Chris again.  Tommy Lee and Ricky go with Chris to look at the horses Anjelica has for sale and Tommy Lee tells Chris that Robert Urich is dead.  Robert and Anjelica talk over old times during a picnic for everyone.  “I was never so married I couldn’t have managed a friend,” Anjelica chides Robert when she tells him she needed him over the years.  She wrote him, but tore up the letters.  Anjelica is also not judgmental about Diane.  In fact, the only person she doesn’t like is Tommy Lee, and only because he has had more time with Robert than she has.  She takes quite a shine to Ricky too, hoping that he’ll return and maybe marry her daughter in a few years. 

The only thing about Diane that Anjelica doesn’t like is that she’s young and beautiful and she no longer is.  “It sure was nice pretending you loved only me,” Anjelica says, but Robert says he loves only her too.  He claims he would kill Anjelica’s husband and send Diane to hell just to stay with Anjelica, but Anjelica knows Diane is very much in love with Robert, so she tells Robert she would never marry again. 

Knowing that Anjelica is out of his reach now, Robert decides to leave and Anjelica asks Diane to stay.  The cow trail is “no place” for her.  Robert promises to return, so Diane agrees.  Anjelica has taken in a baby, a new hired hand and a young girl in a matter of weeks.  Diane asks if Robert still wants to marry Anjelica and he says no, that time has changed them too much.  As Robert leaves, Anjelica begs him one more time to stay, not to go to Montana and get killed by Indians, but Robert wants “to see one more place before I take up the rocking chair.”  Off he goes and rejoins the cattle push.

Tommy Lee is determined to keep going, despite being 80 miles from water.  Danny asks Robert why Tommy Lee is so insistent, and it’s simply because he wants to be the first man to raise cattle in the area.  But, going 80 miles without water is tough on the men, who don’t bear up well.  Even the cattle look miserable.  When the last of the water is doled out, none of the cowboys will take it.  Luckily, they do make it 80 miles to water and everyone is revived.  While they sleep, Indians steal their horses, so Tommy Lee insists they follow them.  Danny says the Indians stole the horses for meat because they are so desperate for food, mostly women and children anyway.  But, Tommy wants his horses back!  Tommy Lee scares everyone away so they can get to the horses, but a blind child is left wandering around.  Danny scoops him up, but an Indian kills him.  “I guess it’s our fault.  We should have shot sooner,” Tommy Lee says, cradling the baby. 

As the final portion of the story begins, Danny is buried, but the rest press on.  In Montana, even Robert has to admit it’s exciting to be in a new country, but he cautions Ricky not to mention to Tommy Lee they think so.  Robert then gives Ricky the psychological explanation of why Tommy Lee won’t acknowledge he’s Ricky’s father: it would be admitting he’s human.

Back in Nebraska, Anjelica’s husband finally dies. “Sometimes grave diggin’ is the only thing we do around here,” she tells her Mexican hired hand.  She then wonders about the afterlife. 

Robert and Timothy decide to chase buffalo, just for the heck of it, because, as Robert notes, soon there won’t be any of them left.  Before Timothy can think about it, Robert rushes off and does it, unfortunately bringing a whole pack of Indians back with him.  This is not good, especially since Robert has taken a few arrows to the leg and Timothy gets shot.  The Indians leave, but our boys know they will be back, in greater numbers.  They have to attend to the arrows in Robert’s leg, which do not come out so easily.  When the Indians return, Timothy wonders why the heck the ever left Texas. 

The men are still trapped in their tiny cave, surrounded by Indians and now a rainstorm.  They decide that Timothy should float down the creek, now swelled by rain water and head back to the camp to bring help.  Robert can’t move in his condition.  Timothy makes it through the storm, his shoulder aching a bit, no doubt from the gunshot that went right through it.  He has no idea which direction he’s going, so he falls to the ground and tries to sleep.  That’s when he sees the ghost of Danny Glover and says, “I’m coming, wait for me.” 

Ron Weyand, who looks like a hippy 100 years before they existed, comes to Robert’s rescue.  Robert’s leg is so badly infected that it looks like it needs amputation, but Ron let’s him ride his horse.  Timothy isn’t dead yet.  He’s sitting in the middle of a field when Tommy Lee and D.B. find him.  Tommy Lee decides to go after Robert alone.  Robert has somehow made it to a Montana town where he can finally have a doctor tend to his wounds.  Once Robert wakes up, he finds his leg has indeed been amputated, joking with the doctor that he hopes he saved the leg so he could use the bone as a crutch.  The doctor insists the other leg has to go too, or else he’ll die.  Robert puts him off by sending him out for whiskey and to tip the whore playing the piano so he can have pretty music. 

Tommy Lee arrives at the cave where Robert had been hiding out and follows Robert’s trail all the way to the Montana town and Robert’s bedside.  Robert has a gun cocked and ready for anyone who tries to take his other leg.  “I’m the one man you don’t boss,” Robert tells Tommy Lee.  In their bantering way, Tommy Lee wonders what Robert needs his legs for, since all he does is sit on the porch, but Robert says he “likes to kick a pig every now and then.”  Robert admits it’s vanity that is making him keep the leg, and they also discuss what kind of funeral Robert would want.  His ideal burial spot is “Clara’s Orchard,” the spot in Texas where he tearily told Tommy Lee of his love for Anjelica.  Tommy Lee has to haul him all the way back to Texas? Robert tells him, “I’m sending you on another adventure so you don’t get bored being a rancher.”  And one last request: Robert wants Tommy Lee to admit to Ricky that he’s his father.  Robert writes notes for Anjelica and Diane, but he’s “so lightheaded” he “forgets which is which.”  This scene bursts with tenderness, but in character.  The two don’t get sloppily emotional, but they do get to say their goodbyes in their own special way.

Because it’s winter, the doctor suggests they keep Robert’s body in Montana and take it back to Texas in the spring.  The doctor assumes Tommy Lee will forget to come back for the body, but he doesn’t know that Tommy Lee would never promise something he didn’t intend to do to the fullest.  He then has to gather the men and tell them that Robert is dead.  For the winter, however, they still have to man the cattle, even in snowy cold conditions.  Tommy Lee pretty much keeps to himself until they reach a spot by a river where he decides to build his ranch, bringing the cattle drive to a stop. 

D.B. wants his wages so he can go chase after Diane, who he refers to as a whole, much to Tommy Lee’s consternation.  The rest of the men stay to construct a ranch, though Tommy Lee sends a few of the boys, under the command of Ricky, to go sell some cattle to a nearby Army camp.  Not all are thrilled to be taking orders from the youngster, and a fight even breaks out, but his resolve is strong. 

The months tick by and a ranch takes shape.  Ricky is able to tame horses, “just like you,” Timothy notes to Tommy Lee, who says nothing, but looks on with pride.  When Tommy Lee leaves to fulfill his promise to Robert to take his body back to Texas, he almost tells Ricky he’s his father, but the words choke in his throat, though clear to everyone.  He does leave him in charge of the ranch, though. 

Because D.B. had brought the news, Diane and Anjelica know Robert is dead and that Tommy Lee is taking his body all the way back to Texas.  Even Anjelica tries to convince him to leave the body at her little cemetery, but Tommy Lee intends to keep his promise.  He also gives both women the letters Robert wrote on his death bed.  Poor D.B. has been working at Anjelica’s ranch, pining for Diane the whole time, even when she skips dinner to spend the whole night standing by Robert’s coffin.  Anjelica reads her letter, in which Robert asks her to take care of Diane, but Diane cannot read.  Anjelica offers to read Diane’s letter to her, but she doesn’t need to hear it.  That it has her name on it in his handwriting is enough for her.  Anjelica tries one more time to convince Tommy Lee to leave the body, full of hate for him.  He’s keeping that promise, but not the other one she knows Robert would have asked of him: give Ricky his name.  Anjelica says she “despises” him, but what she’s really angry at is that Robert and Tommy Lee had the closeness and tight bond she could never have with Robert.

Alone, Tommy Lee actually hauls the body back down, encountering small towns that have heard of his exploit, Indians who thankfully leave him a lone and even a bad wheel that needs fixing in New Mexico.  The local blacksmith even knows about Tommy Lee’s promise.  By coincidence, it’s in the New Mexico town that Frederic is awaiting execution for killing a family.  Naturally, Tommy Lee wants to see him.  Frederic is still unrepentant, not surprised that Tommy Lee brought Robert’s “stinking corpse” to see his funeral. 

Frederic avoids hanging by trying to escape and falling out the window with a guard to his death, the “flying” he told Tommy Lee he was taught to do.  The wagon carrying Robert’s body is destroyed in a river, along with the coffin, but Tommy Lee pushes on, dragging just the body behind his horse.  Birds of prey eat at the body and Tommy Lee looks like he ages 20 years by the time he reaches the promised spot, a man with a determined soul, but a broken body.  He finally buries the body.  “Well, there you are,” he says when it’s done, now unable to hold back the tears.  “I guess this will teach me to be more careful about what I promise in the future.” 

Actually, Tommy Lee makes it all the way back to Lonesome Dove, where the Mexican cook is ringing the dinner bell, though no one is around to eat.  Tommy Lee notes where all the dead men are buried, but the rest are safe in Montana building a ranch.  Not much is left of Lonesome Dove.  The saloon burnt down, with only the piano recognizable in the char, a suicide by the owner who missed Diane too much to go on.  A reporter from San Antonio wants to interview Tommy Lee, a taciturn man who does not rest on the laurels of his many accomplishments. 

In actuality, “Lonesome Dove” is just a collection of rather tame vignettes strung together by the personality of its characters.  It really shouldn’t work as well as it does.  It’s missing most of the elements of a typical miniseries: epic thrust, high emotion and even higher drama.  Hell, there’s not even a slumming movie star in sight!  But, due to exceptional writing and exquisite acting, “Lonesome Dove” is a shining example of American television at its best, no matter kind of genre label it is given. 

Categories: Adventure Miniseries

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