Friday, August 15, 2008

Action Girls: The Women of Lonesome Dove, Part Four – Agostina Vega

Let’s get this out of the way first. I like Jon Voight a lot, but he’s not Tommy Lee Jones. Of all the non-Tommy Lee Jones actors to play Woodrow Call, Voight seems like he’s trying hardest to imitate Jones and it’s distracting. Watching him is kind of like watching George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He does a pretty good job, but you can’t enjoy him properly because you keep wishing he was Sean Connery.

Fortunately though, Return to Lonesome Dove is six hours long, which was enough time for me to get used to Voight and start accepting him in the role. I’d still get twinges of regret along the way, but by the end I wasn’t constantly being sidetracked by it any more.

This is probably heresy to Lonesome Dove fans, but in many ways, Return to Lonesome Dove is my favorite mini-series in the saga. It’s certainly the most focused. Even Lonesome Dove, as excellent as it is, is pretty episodic in its portrayal of the cattle drive. Return has some of that as Call returns to Montana with a herd of wild horses and some new recruits (led by Lou Gossett Jr. and CSI’s William Petersen). They’re harried along the way by the coolest, nastiest villain yet in the saga: Cherokee Jack Jackson (Dennis Haysbert from 24 and The Unit). And they’re accompanied by a beautiful, Mexican woman named Agostina Vega (Nia Peeples). But more on her later.

What grounds Return is the story of Call’s illegitimate son Newt as he tries to run the Montana ranch in Call’s absence. I didn’t mention Newt much when I discussed Lonesome Dove, but he really is the heart of that story. Gus and Call dominate the saga up until that point, but Newt – a boy without any real peers and whose father doesn’t claim him – is the “lonesome dove.” And he’s the heart of Return to Lonesome Dove too. In fact, without Newt, the title doesn’t make any sense since no one actually returns to the town of Lonesome Dove in the mini-series. What happens is that Newt, who temporarily finds a home – first on his father’s ranch and then in the company of a neighboring cattleman named Dunnigan and his wife Ferris (Oliver Reed and Reese Witherspoon) – learns that he really is still all alone in the world. But that maybe that’s where he needs to be for a while.

It’s Newt’s adventures with Dunnigan and Ferris – and how that affects Call when he returns – that drive the story. It’s a much more traditional, straightforward Western that way, and maybe that’s why fans of the series don’t care for it, but I was ready for it after so much winding in the storytelling of the previous three mini-series. And it’s still powerfully told. Newt has always been a loyal character, so it’s captivating to watch his loyalty so convincingly divided between Call and Dunnigan.

Agostina’s story is a subplot to Newt and Call’s, but she’s still way cool, so I want to talk about her. She approaches Call in Texas and wants to join his drive back to Montana. Part of her motivation is that Call can provide work to Agostina’s poor village, but mostly she wants to stick close to Call and learn more about him and his former partner Gus McCrae. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Agostina’s so interested in Gus. The clue is right there in her name. The mystery behind her is what she’s going to do once she learns what she wants to know. Is she going to kill Call? Hug him?

Nia Peeples does an awesome job at giving layers to Agostina. At first Agostina comes across as extremely tough. It wouldn’t be a Lonesome Dove mini-series without at least an attempted rape, but when it started to look like Agostina might be the victim, I wasn’t worried. “She can take care of herself,” I thought. And I was glad to be able to think it. That’s the first time I was able to do that since starting the saga.

And, it turns out, she could take care of herself. But I was surprised to see how the experience shook her. She’s an Action Girl, but she’s a vulnerable one. Not only in her reaction to being attacked, but also in her confusion about what to do once she learned more about Gus. She’s a complicated woman. I don’t expect her to show up in either the Lonesome Dove TV series or the Streets of Laredo mini-series, and that makes watching both of those less appealing. Especially since she starts a relationship with one of my other favorite characters from the saga, Chris Cooper’s July Johnson.

Since I spent so much time talking about Clara in the last couple of posts, I should probably follow up on her here. Barbara Hershey does as good a job with her as Anjelica Huston did, though the character has changed yet again with this mini-series. And not necessarily for the better.

Clara was a dark character in Lonesome Dove, but she’s even more tragic here. If she was starting to reach the end of her rope at the end of Lonesome Dove, she’s hanging from it by one hand in Return. In spite of that, there’s not much development for her though. She’s already proven herself a strong woman, so piling more and more heartache on her just to show that she can take it seems kind of pointless and cruel.

Still, it’s good to see her relationship with Call change from where it was in Lonesome Dove. Even if she’s not as vital a character as she once was, she’s still an interesting, valuable part of the story.

Four out of five butt-kicking Mexican gals.


Jason Copland said...

I really enjoyed Lazenby as Bond. I'd even go as far to say that OHMSS was the best Bond film of the bunch.... until the new Casino Royale, that is...

Michael May said...

I've learned to appreciate him too and can even enjoy him, but I still occasionally get a twinge while watching it because - as great as it is (easily in my Top Five) - I think how much better it would've been with Connery. Especially that last scene.


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