Hillbilly rock and rebel yells fill the air at The Red Pony where a rodeo party is in full swing. A drunken cowboy whoops atop a mechanical bull while buckle bunnies and rodeo kings stomp their boots in time to the music.
THUMP! A boot slams into a body on a gleaming wood floor as an alarm wails in the background. Beneath a priceless portrait of Sitting Bull, there's another sickening CRUNCH! as boot connects with bone. A hooded figure clutching a thick belt with a silver buckle lands another blow. And another. Then a kick in the ribs so fierce the body lifts off the floor.
Cheering hoots fill The Red Pony as the cowboy pitches on the mechanical bull. The dancers spin, and shot after shot of whiskey is tossed back.
THWACK! THWACK! The attacker thrashes the body with the silver belt buckle in a mighty rage.
Belt buckles gleam on the low-rise jeans of girls making out with their cowboys. The mechanical bull finally bucks the rider and Henry Standing Bear laughs. The party goes on...
And so does the merciless beating.
At Deputy Victoria "Vic" Moretti's house, bodies thrash around in bed. Vic and her husband, Sean, are in the thick of awkward but steamy sex. Vic's cell phone rings. To her husband's dismay, she gropes for the phone. It's Ruby, the Sheriff's dispatcher. Vic declares she's having sex with her husband, but Ruby is adamant that she's needed at The Red Pony where there's "a situation."
While Vic gets dressed Sean complains that she should let Walt figure it out. It's her day off, and he flew home especially to see her. Vic says that she's all Walt's got, then promises to be back in two hours. Watching Vic strap on her gun, Sean purrs he's finally gotten used to her as a blonde. Vic rewards him with a sexy grin and recalls the old adage.
The rodeo party is still swinging at The Red Pony when Vic arrives, but there's no sign of trouble. Vic spots Henry. What the hell? Where is the situation she was called in to handle? Ooops. Henry nods towards the end of the bar where Sheriff Walt Longmire is busy tossing back a beer. From his slurred hello, Vic reckons that beer is only one of many. Walt assures Vic that everything is under control now, but he could use a ride home. Her eyebrows just about shoot off her face. Is he f***ing kidding?
In the parking lot, Walt apologizes for disrupting Vic's evening, and is surprised to learn she was having breathtaking sex with her husband. He thought they were fighting. Vic replies that's why the sex was so spectacular. Ruby's voice cuts in on Vic's radio: ADT security reported a break-in on Horse Creek Road. Vic suggests that Ruby send Branch since she's got her hands full with "whozit," but Branch is too far away. Walt pulls his shotgun out of his Bronco.
Red lights flashing, Vic's truck pulls up at the Sublette house where the ADT alarm is still wailing. Even though he's sobered up, Walt wants Vic to take the lead. He'll be her back up. Vic pulls out her gun and, noticing shattered glass on the walkway leading to the open door, raises it in front of her. She steps cautiously into the house with Walt behind her beaming a flashlight.
The elegant ranch-style mansion is packed wall-to-wall with expensive artwork. Vic and Walt split up. Heading into the living room, Walt notices boot-shaped footprints in what looks like blood. His flashlight beam picks up exposed nails on the chimney over the fireplace, but whatever they once held is now gone. On the floor next to the fireplace is a thick belt with the silver buckle. Walt sees that it's caked with blood and skin. Vic shouts for Walt from the other room. He draws his gun as he rushes to join her.
Walt barges into a bedroom where Vic is kneeling next to the battered body of Chris Sublette. There are bloody lash marks, gashes and bruises covering his face and arms. He's alive, but barely.
Walt and Vic carry Chris' unmoving body out wrapped in a bed sheet. As they load him into the back of Vic's truck, a Lexus pulls up and Julia Sublette, stunning in haute couture casual chic, rushes out demanding to know what's going on. She got a message from ADT security and rushed back. When she sees the body she panics. Is that Chris? Walt assures her that Chris is alive, but they have to get him to the hospital immediately. Julia recoils from Walt's breath, and asks Vic if he's ok to drive. Vic responds that she's driving, but since Julia's breath also reeks, she should make sure she's ok to follow them in her car.
At the hospital, a doctor informs Walt that Chris is in a coma, and is only alive thanks to his fast action. Vic arrives with Julia who explains that she owns an art gallery in Ranchester where she planned to spend the night after drinking a few glasses of wine at an opening. Once she got the ADT call, she changed her mind and raced home. Walt asks if Chris was having trouble with anyone recently. Julia explains that he's a beer distributor who sponsors rodeo riders and had recently dropped his top rider, named Levi Giggs. She explains that some riders have tempers, especially if their manhood is threatened. Walt reveals that something from above the fireplace seems to have been stolen as well. Julia is taken aback. It was just a cheap reproduction of a famous painting "Custer's Last Fight." Why would someone beat her husband into a coma for that?
Later at the Sheriff's station, Walt studies the legendary painting in a history book. The original was lost in a fire decades ago, but copies of it used to hang in just about every bar in the West. Walt's slick young Deputy, Branch Connally, remarks he always liked Custer's jacket in that painting. They wonder who would steal a cheap copy when there were so many valuable originals in the Sublette's house. Also, if Chris Sublette walked in on a robbery, why would the thief linger to beat him up instead of just running away? Walt believes the beating is more about emotion than burglary. They need to talk with bronc rider Levi Giggs. He had motive and the belt found at the scene has a rodeo buckle. Branch knows most of the rodeo guys, but he's never heard of Levi. Walt orders his other deputy "the Ferg" Ferguson to check on Julia Sublette's alibi.
It's nearly dawn when Vic drops Walt off at The Red Pony. He apologizes again for messing up her evening and reminds her to sleep for a few hours, cause she's got her first rodeo in the morning. Vic jokes about being excited - not! Walt wearily climbs into his Bronco as Vic backs up her truck.
As Walt puts his key in the ignition, a ghostly face rises up behind him and Walt leaps from the truck with a shout. He drags the figure out of the back as Vic screeches to a halt. It's Bob Barnes, the rodeo clown in smeared make-up and skirted costume much the worse for drinking. Walt yells at Bob - next time he'll shoot him! Bob apologizes; Henry took his keys, and he couldn't bum a ride, so he crawled into the back of Walt's truck to sleep it off. Vic points out that Walt puts dead bodies back there. Unfazed, Bob grabs her for a drunken kiss just as her husband Sean pulls up. Bad timing. Not only is Vic eight hours late, but seemingly having a blast. Sean sarcastically asks Walt's permission to take his wife to breakfast, and invites him to come along since he'd hate to separate them for even a few hours. Walt is too tired to fight. Breakfast is on him. Vic heads for her truck throwing Walt a sheepish grin. Bob and Walt sit on the back of the Bronco watching Vic pull out. Bob had no idea she was married. Walt sighs. We all have our little secrets.
At the rodeo arena the next day, a crowd cheers on two cowboys competing to rope a frantic steer to the ground. Walt, Vic, and Branch pass by the crowd at the front of the arena. This is Branch's home turf and a cowboy on horseback teases him about being too old to saddle up. Branch grins. He's not too old, he's too smart to saddle up! While Branch high fives his pals in the stands, Vic tells Walt that, according to the doctor, Chris Sublette could wake from his coma in two hours, two years, or never. The rodeo announcer's voice booms looky-here it's Walt and Branch, the two rival candidates for Sheriff of Absaroka County. The crowd cheers, especially for Branch who flashes a megawatt smile and struts. Walt cuts short the performance calling to Branch to help track down Levi Giggs. Branch gives a smartass retort that if Levi is a bronc rider he's probably with the broncs!
Minutes later, Branch leans on a pen watching bulls butt horns with the reverence of a true cowboy. Passing cowhands, Vic wonders if their jeans could get any tighter? Branch points to the man he was told is Levi Giggs. Walt sees a bucket under a spigot and starts filling it with water, telling Branch to dump it on the dirt path. He wants Vic to come with him to meet Levi, who is examining a horse. Walt politely greets Levi, but it's Vic who gets his full attention. Levi swaggers towards her unwittingly drawing closer to the patch of mud where Branch dumped the water.
Walt questions Levi about being dropped by his sponsor. Levi insists that he quit, but admits he was accused of mistreating the horses to get them to buck harder - a dirty lie. Leering at Vic, Levi coos he's very gentle. Vic retorts that she's not. So what's the real reason Chris dropped his ass? Levi claims that Chris' wife is a "buckle bunny" and Chris didn't like the way she looked at him. Sensing tension, Branch extends a hand to shake with Levi, putting him at ease and, more importantly, tricking him into stepping forward into the mud.
Noticing Levi's bruised knuckles and large silver rodeo buckle, Walt asks where he was last night when Chris Sublette was nearly beaten to death. Levi insists it wasn't him who did it; he was out kicking ass and chasing ladies. Looking at Vic, Levi examines his scraped knuckles, then sniffs two fingers in an obscene gesture. Vic rolls her eyes and walks away instead of belting the slimeball. As Levi returns to his horse, Walt drops a quarter by Levi's boot prints in the mud and tells Branch to photograph them with his cell phone and compare them to the footprints found at the crime scene. Branch is impressed. Old Walt still has it going on!
Walt decides to visit Dennis Nunn, the vet attached to the rodeo. If someone was abusing the animals, he would know. On the way out, they are ambushed by Lizzie Ambrose, a tiny blonde bombshell with a smile as wide as the Wyoming sky. She hails Walt to ask why he called her last night. Branch and Vic are nearly as interested in the answer as Lizzie, but Walt doesn't have one. Lizzie must be mistaken. She points out that everyone in the state has a 307 area code, but there aren't many Walt Longmires. Busted! Walt stammers that he must have misdialed. Lizzie moves close to him and lowers her voice. She ought to be relieved since the last time he wanted to talk to her was about two dead bodies found in her river, but next time he misdials, he should let it ring or leave a message. As Lizzie walks away, Branch ribs Walt about this new-fangled invention they came up with called Caller ID.
At the veterinarian's office, Dr. Dennis Nunn is preparing to treat a horse. Walt questions him about reports of riders abusing their animals. Dennis immediately guesses that Walt is referring to Levi Giggs. A rider reported that Levi was using a "hot shot" - a low voltage cattle prod - on his horses to get them to buck harder so his score would be higher, boosting his winnings. Dennis uses a prod like that sometimes, but only to move a sick or dangerous animal; that electrical charge can damage a horse's heart and possibly even cause a heart attack.
Dennis' son Zac, a pale teen helping his dad with the horse, was sent to keep an eye on Levi. Zac got video of Levi using the prod on his bronc. When they showed it to Chris Sublette, he dropped Levi immediately. That impressed Dennis. Most sponsors wouldn't care about a rider torturing broncs as long as that rider was winning purses. Dennis' wife, Langley, a plain woman with worried eyes, approaches with a chart for Dennis to sign. They are shocked to learn that Chris was beaten into a coma. Walt wonders if Levi Giggs could do a thing like that. Dennis believes that if you can hurt an animal, you can hurt a man. Walt nods. Ain't it the truth.
Later in the hall outside the Sheriff's office, Branch confides in Vic that he's worried about Walt since he heard Walt was drunk at the crime scene last night. Vic is disgusted. She knows Branch is just digging for dirt to sling at Walt during the campaign. She leaps to his defense: Walt behaved responsibly calling her for a ride, and then only acted as back up when the call came in. Walt returns, interrupting their tete-a-tete with news that Levi is a liar.
Inside the office, Walt tells the team that Levi Giggs was using a device to shock his horses. Branch reports that Levi hasn't won prize money in over a year, so he's probably broke. Branch can't tell much about the boot print, but, looking at the photo, Walt identifies a Buckaroo heel common among bronc riders. He orders Branch to keep checking into Levi's alibi. Meanwhile, Vic has been calling pawnshops and galleries, but no one has tried to sell off a Custer print.
The Ferg checked out Julia Sublette's story, and it's true, she was seen at the art opening in Ranchester. At 9pm, Julia checked into her hotel room and at 9:40 room service was delivered to her and her husband. Walt raises an eyebrow. At that time, Julia's husband was being beaten into a coma. So who was the man in her room described as "white, male, and very good looking?" Was Julia having an affair? Branch turns away from the group to pour a cup of coffee and Vic watches him suspiciously. The Ferg wonders aloud if Julia arranged a hit on her husband to get out of her marriage. Walt tells him to get Julia on the phone and goes into his office to take the call. Vic follows.
In Walt's office, Vic lowers her voice. She knows who Julia is sleeping with - Branch!
Later, Branch brings his fast food supper into Walt's office to report that he's had no luck finding anyone who can verify Levi's story that he was partying too hard to have assaulted Chris Sublette. Walt's steely gaze stops Branch from taking a bite of his burger. What's up? Walt leans across his desk and asks Branch who he's sleeping with. In an icy tone Branch replies that's none of Walt's business. Walt insists if it's related to the Sublette case, then it's absolutely his business - and Branch's duty - to fess up. Walt knows Branch heard he was supposedly drunk at the crime scene. Only two people could have told him that, Vic or Julia Sublette. Vic claims it wasn't her and Walt believes her. So he asks again. Is Branch sleeping with the victim's wife? Branch looks Walt in the eye and replies hell no. Walt tries another tack. Does Branch know the victim's wife? No. Never met her. Walt is confused. if neither Vic nor Julia Sublette mentioned his drinking to Branch, then who did?
Barlow Connally, Branch's father, opens his door to Walt the next day. He teases Walt, saying that if he's going door to door for campaign donations, he can forget it. Barlow is voting for his son. He offers Walt an espresso in his magnificent living room where a fire blazes in an enormous stone fireplace. Walt cuts to the chase: is Barlow having an affair with Julia Sublette? Barlow sighs. He wouldn't classify the emotionally detached sex he and Julia enjoy as an "affair." Just because old-fashioned Walt wants to put a sappy spin on it doesn't mean that Barlow had motive to beat the crap out of poor Chris Sublette. Barlow tried marriage a few times and it didn't agree with him. Julia is gorgeous and smart; they have fun and then she goes home. Why would he want to mess with that?
Barlow confesses that he was with Julia last night. When Walt asks if he'd admit to that in a court of law, Barlow fires right back, asking if Walt would admit that he was drinking on the job. He accuses Walt of exerting leverage so Barlow won't use what he's got against him during the campaign. Walt is disgusted. This is about a man getting beaten half to death! Barlow disagrees; the beating was about the theft of a rich man's painting. Walt explains it's only a reproduction and worth essentially nothing. Barlow knows better. He asks Walt to consider how much the painting would be worth if it hadn't been lost in a fire.
Back in his office, Walt confronts Julia with what he's learned about her affair and the painting. Julia insists that while she might have been looking for passion in her life, she cares about her husband and wants whoever hurt him brought to justice. She admits that she and Chris bought the painting on the black market. They knew it was illegal but it was perfect for them. She reveals that the painting is worth between three and four hundred thousand dollars - an abundance of motive!
At the Sublette house, Vic wonders if Levi knows how much the painting is worth. Walt compares the photo of Levi's boot print in the mud to the one in blood on the floor. Vic points out they both have Buckaroo heels. Walt teases Vic that Wyoming is rubbing off on her. The print doesn't prove it was Levi, but it doesn't rule him out, either. Ironically, Chris' own belt was used to beat him.
Walt ambles slowly through the house as Vic searches through drawers and shelves. He picks up a photo of Chris and Julia that was lying face down. Vic wonders what will happen when Chris wakes up and hears his wife was cheating on him with Barlow Connally. Walt wonders how people live with themselves.
In Chris and Julia's bedroom, Vic remarks that cheaters have a way of rationalizing what they do. Clearly self reflective, she adds sometimes people realize they married the wrong person. Walt looks at her wracked with guilt and confesses that he cheated on his wife. Vic's jaw drops. He called Lizzie Ambrose last Friday after work. It wasn't a misdial. But when he heard the phone ring, he hung up. It felt like he was cheating. Vic is stunned. He's kidding right? He's talking about his deceased wife, the one who would want him to be happy! Vic's eyes are wide as saucers. Is that why Walt was drinking? Guilt? Walt is silent, looking in a drawer by the bed. He finds three pictures of Chris and Julia. Why put your happy couple pictures in a drawer? Vic supposes they were in a fight, but Walt thinks Chris was expecting company; someone who would feel uncomfortable seeing the pictures. Vic's phone rings with the news that Chris has emerged from his coma.
At the hospital, Julia looks on protectively while Walt and Vic question Chris. His face is a massive bruise with thick lacerations and one eye swollen shut, but he manages to shake his head. He did not know his attacker. Walt reveals he's aware of the black market painting, was that why Chris was attacked? A shrug; he doesn't know. Walt has just one more question. He noticed that none of the photographs with Julia were on display. Chris' eyes dart nervously to his wife. She warns Walt to stop, but he presses on. Was Chris expecting company? Chris is agitated, breathing heavily through his tube; he croaks to Julia that he loves her and yanks out his IV. Julia screams and Walt struggles to stop Chris from killing himself.
Out in the hall, Julia makes it clear that she wants Walt out of there. She should never have allowed him to talk to Chris, who is clearly traumatized from the beating. Walt believes it's more than that. Chris is afraid of something. Julia just wants Chris to recover and for Walt and Vic to leave him alone. She slams Chris' door in Walt's face. He grabs Chris' medical chart from the door and scans it for answers. Chris' doctor hurries over, and Walt asks her if the chart indicates that Chris was unconscious from something other than a concussion. The doctor confirms that he was knocked out by some kind of heart event. Possibly ventricular fibrillation caused by drugs like cocaine, or an electric shock. That clicks for Walt.
Returning to the vet's office, Walt asks Dennis Nunn to show him the photos of Levi Giggs using his hot shot on the bronc. He wonders if the cattle prod leaves red marks on the body the way a police taser does. Dennis isn't sure since they'd have to shave the horse's hair to see that. That's why he sent his son Zac to secretly tape Levi in the first place. It was the only way to prove the allegation. Dennis brings the photos to the back of his truck and opens the tailgate over a bumper sticker reading "Bronco riders do it in 8 seconds." Langley looks on anxiously as Dennis shows Walt a series of screen grabs made from Zac's video. The electric prod is hidden under Levi's chaps and then connected to a thin wire running to the saddle that shocks the horse. Afterwards, Levi dismounts and disconnects and nobody is the wiser. Except this time Zac got the proof on tape! Walt looks closely at the last picture of Levi putting away the hot shot. Exactly what kind of prod is that?
Later at The Red Pony, Walt slams a hot shot electric prod down on the bar, pulls up his shirt, and orders Henry to shock him. Henry refuses. Walt insists it's important to solve the case, but Henry believes it's an insane way for Walt to punish himself because his wife is dead and he's not. That sucks, but it is what it is. Walt HATES that phrase - he's serious! Henry agrees that Walt is so very serious; he used to be fun... sort of. Walt retorts that Henry used to not be such a sanctimonious prick! Henry picks up the prod and shocks him. Walt gasps and drops to the floor.
Branch is naked in bed with Walt's drop dead gorgeous daughter Cady. She is his secret lover, not Julia Sublette. Branch tells her he thought his head was going to explode when Walt confronted him about his sex life. He mimics Walt's gravelly voice interrogating him. Cady is not amused. She's sick of lying and sneaking around; feeling nervous and guilty all the time. Maybe if Branch wasn't running against her dad it would be different. Branch offers to quit the race. When Cady realizes he's serious, she tells him not to change his life for her. Whatever this is that they're doing, it's over. But Branch doesn't want it to be over.
The next day at the Sheriff's station, Walt has Levi in the jail cell as he shows him the hot shot cattle prod and incriminating photos. The prod Levi used on the broncs is the same one used in the assault on Chris Sublette. Walt pulls up his shirt, revealing marks that match the marks on Sublette. He accuses Levi of shocking Chris, beating him, and then stealing his painting. Levi claims he is guilty of shocking his horses, but denies having anything to do with the assault. What would he do with a painting? Write a poem about it? Vic comes over to tell Walt someone just tried to pawn "Custer's Last Fight." Walt locks up Levi warning him not to hog the cot.
At the pawnshop minutes later, a scrawny farmer claims he arrived at The Red Pony at 4pm yesterday, and found the painting in the back of his truck when he left the bar at 2am. Vic finds it hard to believe the farmer was drinking for ten straight hours. The farmer leers at her. Part of that time he spent pissing, but Henry can verify he was inside the whole time. Walt looks at Vic. They know someone who wasn't inside. Vic cringes when she realizes who he means.
Bob the rodeo clown is smearing on his make-up outside the rodeo arena. Bob admits he was pretty ripped last night. Sometimes you need to just get numb and dumb. Walt understands. Really. But right now he needs Bob to try and remember if he saw anyone put something in the back of a pick-up truck. Bob thinks, and remembers a drywall guy! He saw someone take a big piece of drywall out of his truck and put it in the back of someone else's truck. Walt asks if it might have been a painting. It could have been the "Moaning Lisa" for all Bob knows, but he does remember the bumper sticker on the guy's truck - it was so sad! The guy was advertising his own humiliation. Walt writhes with impatience waiting for Bob to get to the point. The bumper sticker read: "Bull riders do it in 8 seconds."
Within minutes, Walt arrives at the vet office where Dennis Nunn's pick-up truck is parked bearing the bumper sticker Bob described. Dennis and Langley come out to greet Walt. He asks who drives the truck. Zac comes to stand next to his dad who replies that they all do, it's the family truck. Walt tells them that he needs the family to come down to the station because one of them beat Chris Sublette within an inch of his life last night and, if he dies, that's murder.
In his office, Walt shows the three of them the Custer painting. Do they know what it's worth? Three or four hundred thousand dollars. So why would one of them just drop it in the back of a stranger's truck? Dennis stands up to leave with his family. Walt warns that if they leave, he'll charge all of them. Dennis denies having anything to do with the beating or the painting. Walt demands to know where he was that night. An uncomfortable silence settles on the room. Langley speaks first. She knows Dennis wasn't at the Sublette's house. She's been worried that her husband was having an affair with Julia Sublette - he's always going over there to tend to their animals, and she and Dennis haven't been close lately - so she asked Zac to follow him. Dennis glares at his wife as Zac stares at the floor. Langley continues. Everything's ok, because Zac followed Dennis to the Sublette's house and told her that he's not having an affair with Julia! So neither Zac nor Dennis could be involved with the beating.
Walt stares at Zac. Before anyone can move, he grabs the boy's foot and compares his boot sole to the bloody print in the crime scene photo. It's the same size. Dennis shouts for Walt to let go of his son, but Zac is slowly imploding. Walt asks him if this is the boot that put Chris into a coma. Langley screams she's calling a lawyer, but Dennis commands his son tell the truth! Zac tells his father he is full of s***. Dennis wasn't screwing Julia Sublette; he was screwing her husband!
Dennis tries to deny it, but Zac keeps talking. He followed his father to the Sublettes'. He was mad and went to the window expecting to see Dennis with Mrs. Sublette, but instead he was... The boy can't say it out loud. Langley begs him to stop, but Zac goes on. He went back to the truck and got the hot shot and waited for his father to leave. Then he rang the bell and Chris answered, calling him "son." Zac flipped out, used the hot shot to put Chris down, and started kicking and beating him until he stopped moving. The boy breaks down sobbing. Langley is in shock. She turns to her husband and asks him if it's true. Dennis looks her square in the eye and says no. Zac snaps and jumps on his father screaming that he hates him! Walt grabs the boy and tries to subdue him, but he's out of control.
The Wyoming plains stretch out forever under the afternoon sky. Branch sits on his horse admiring them; a classic cowboy silhouette. His father rides up behind him wondering where he's been. Branch needed to clear his head. Barlow lays on the pressure. Why hasn't Branch used the fact that Walt was drunk at a crime scene against him in the election? Branch defends his boss - he didn't drive, he saved Chris' life, and he recovered a priceless work of art. Branch looks his father square in the eye. He believes he'll be a good sheriff, but maybe running against Walt right now isn't such a good idea. Barlow violently disagrees. Their ancestors built Wyoming! It's Branch's time; Walt's had his. Branch caves, but doesn't want his father to use the drinking against Walt. Barlow doesn't need to; Walt isn't as pure as Branch believes. As father and son ride off, Barlow advises Branch to forget that he likes Walt and find something to hate about him!
That night at The Red Pony, Henry and Walt stare at "Custer's Last Fight." To Henry everything about it is a lie, from the clothes to the geography. Most everything people learn about Little Bighorn is fiction. Walt agrees - if you repeat a lie long enough, it becomes the truth. Lizzie Ambrose slithers up to Walt dressed to the nines. She giggles that she got his message. Walt grins at her like an idiot, then remembers to pull out her chair telling Henry, whatever she's having, he's paying. The first date has begun.