“Mending the Line” opens in Afghanistan, as a group of Marines, celebrating their final day of deployment, are sent out for one last patrol by their leader, Colter (Walls). Things go haywire. Many of the men under his command, including good friends, are killed, and Colter is severely injured. Back home, haunted by guilt and self-medicating with alcohol, he lands in a veteran rehab facility in Montana. It seems like a good facility, with treatments tailored to the specific person’s issues. Dr. Burke (Patricia Heaton) recognizes Colter’s impatience to be healed, immediately, so he can get deployed again, but tries to get him to manage his expectations. He doesn’t take well to the group therapy, lashing out at the counselor, who never served. Colter is a mess.
Ike (Cox), on the other hand, is decades past his own war but still makes periodic visits to the facility, especially after he blacks out while fly fishing by himself. Ike is a crotchety isolated guy, a former Marine, whose sole respite from his mental trouble is when he’s out on the river. Dr. Burke sets up Ike and Colter: Ike will teach Colter the ins and outs of fly fishing. They spend a lot of time at the local bait & tackle shop, run by Ike’s old friend Harrison (Wes Studi). Ike and Harrison know each other very well, and their dynamic is prickly, humorous, and familiar. Colter’s training has its bumps, but eventually, he’s out in the river, trying it for himself. (There’s a funny moment where Ike upbraids Colter for calling the fishing rod a “pole,” echoing a sentiment in A River Runs Through It: “Always it was to be called a rod. If someone called it a pole, my father looked at him as a sergeant in the United States Marines would look at a recruit who had just called a rifle a gun.”)
The third central character is Lucy (Perry Mattfeld), a librarian who volunteers at the rehab facility, reading to the veterans. Lucy is a troubled woman, anxious and distracted. Her back story isn’t revealed until later, but she clearly is haunted by something. She’s stuck, just like Ike and Colter. When Ike sends Colter to the library to get some books about fly fishing, Lucy gives him The Sun Also Rises (forgetting that one of the main characters has been rendered impotent from a war injury). There may be a little spark of romantic interest between Lucy and Colter, but it’s on the slowest burns.