Yellowstone season 2 swings for the most jagged and ill-made fences.
This Yellowstone review contains spoilers.
With the second season premiere of Succession looming on HBO this weekend and Billions on a break over at Showtime, the latest episode of Paramount’s own take on the popular “obscenely rich and deplorable families” genre firmly made its case. As strong (and weak) as the Duttons, their allies, and their enemies may seem, everyone in this program amounts to the same thing: caricatures of unforgivable violence and mayhem that, no matter how much audiences are pushed to empathize with them, are wholly beyond salvation.
Consider an otherwise tender moment between siblings Jamie (Wes Bentley) and Beth (Kelly Reilly) in the first five minutes of “Resurrection Day.”
“You know what’s so dangerous about you?” she says. “You justify every act before you commit them. You’re consumed with the world’s perception of you. What kind of man I am, that’s not a question you ever ask yourself. What does the world think of me? That’s the only question you ask.”
Beth, of course, is referring primarily to the fact that her sweet prodigal brother recently became a cold-blooded murderer. Last week, the once-wayward Dutton boy realized that not all of the moves he had made against his domineering father John (Kevin Costner) were accounted for, thanks to the reporter Sarah’s (Michaela Conlin) intervention. So, he decided to strangle her in the Montana woods in an attempt to silence her. And as the latest episode quickly reveals, Jamie just can’t handle the pressure of what he’s done.
“You’ve finally done something that makes you see yourself the way the world does. The way I see you. The way he sees you,” his sister tells him after finding him bawling in the bathroom. “I gotta tell you something, and it comes from a place of love. You should really consider killing yourself.”
On the one hand, yes, Beth’s honest-to-goodness advice to Jamie is pretty unbelievable. On the other hand, considering all of the equally horrible things that she and just about everyone else in the Dutton clan has done for the past season and a half — especially what Jamie just did — it’s not all that surprising. Sure, creator Taylor Sheridan wants the viewers to sympathize with this family whenever the occasion calls for it. At the same time, though, Yellowstone’s creative team is always working to remind audiences of who (and what) they’re watching: a soapy drama about awful people doing terrible things.
The Duttons are the obvious focus of this storytelling strategy, but the owners of the Yellowstone Ranch aren’t the only people in Montana who are willing to fight dirty and without a care for what anyone — especially the viewers — thinks. Enter the Beck brothers, Malcolm (Neal McDonough) and Teal (Terry Serpico). A new addition to Yellowstone’s roster in season 2, these “businessmen” have been working to ruin the plans of Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) and Dan Jenkins (Danny Huston), two occasional frenemies of the Duttons, all season. They’ve also been screwing around with the Duttons themselves, like when they killed John’s cattle a few episodes back. But now? Now they’re targeting his children.
Specifically Beth, whose fierce defense of her father on all fronts has placed her squarely in Malcolm’s sites. “That’s the problem with playing dirty, Beth,” he tells her during a rather tense conversation. “When someone plays dirty back, there’s no one to cry to. There’s no charges to file. There’s nowhere to scream about the injustice you’ve endured because if you do, all your filthy laundry just spills right out into the open for everyone to see.”
He offers the example of a woman named Susan, a former business partner of the Becks, whom the brothers realized was trying to make additional profits for herself on their backs. So, they had her “taken care of” and “shipped off” to California, to think about what she’d done to them and to escape the trauma their repercussions had inflicted.
All of this is meant to be a warning for Beth, and sure enough, the Becks send two men to rough her up later on in the episode, Not only do they beat her, but they threaten to rape her if she doesn’t stop fighting back and refusing to scream. But Beth being Beth, she remains resolute in her decision not to cry out for help, and she does so long enough so that Rip (Cole Hauser), her lover and her father’s trusted ranch hand, can save her. And save her he does, because he promptly kills the two men who assaulted her. Her brother Kayce (Luke Grimes) then strings up their corpses and sends them back to the Becks with a message.
Other B and C story items pop up throughout “Resurrection Day,” like the seemingly happy reunion of Kayce with his estranged wife Monica (Kelsey Chow) and their son Tate. What’s more, the episode’s primary throughline — the repercussions of Jamie’s heinous act and his inability to cope — come to the fore when his father offers him the chance to escape it all by leaving his life as a lawyer and political power player behind. Instead, the boy who was raised on ranching can return to that life and see how it fits.
In other words, Jamie is given the chance to be reborn.
But this is Yellowstone we’re talking about, a show that exists in the same amoral framework of similarly-focused programs like Succession and Billions. Nothing can save Jamie or any of these people, no matter how much we want a few of them to be saved, and that’s alright.
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