“Yellowstone – Season One and Two” (2018-2019)
Created by: Taylor Sheridan and John Linson
Featuring: Kevin Costner, Wes Bentley, Kelly Reilly, Luke Grimes, Cole Hauser and Gil Birmingham
Carl Reynolds: “I hope I never meet the first man who thought it was a good idea to ride a bull.”
John Dutton: “I dunno, Carl… First man might be worth meeting. It’s the 2nd man I wonder about.”
Released recently on Blu-ray are the first two seasons of the fantastic television show “Yellowstone” (2018-present) which not only features Kevin Costner in the lead role but was co-created by Taylor Sheridan who has been the driving force behind some of the best neo-westerns of the 21st century, with this new series he shows over two seasons why he is one of the pre-eminent writer/directors working today. Not only she able to tell meaningful stories within narratives of a two hour time frame but can draw a narrative out over a period ofmyers as he has with “Yellowstone”. In terms of quality television shows airing at the moment there is definitely a glut, but this series has to be in the top five of narrative series on air currently.
“Yellowstone” follows the Dutton family, owners of the largest ranch in the United States. The plots revolve around family drama and the bordering Native reservations, and national park.
The idea of a television show based around a family who own and work on a ranch is not new, think “Bonanza” (1959-1973) with just as much action but with an updated plot that brings into view the war on terror, a daughter as a prime mover within the family, Native American rights, what is a legacy, the National Parks and enriching urbanism, overpopulation, struggling farms and a host of other themes that resonate throughout these first two seasons. All of this is delicately placed with a show that is led by Western veteran Kevin Costner who plays an ageing patriarch who is struggling with his own life, that of his families and enemies he sees as a threat for everything he holds dear. Like much of Sheridan’s work he always seems to have three levels of casting with a sturdy veteran, a few great character actors and new faces that not only broaden out the cast but also seem to make his projects feel super fresh and interesting.
Sheridan who came to prominence with his expertly written “Sicario” (2015) illustrated the skill and expertise he had writing about the murky sides of crime and justice, with a narrative that at times threatens to either be overcomplicated or to spin out of control, but actually is tightly paced, was complex enough to be understandable and of course instantly recognisable as part of the Western genre in a post modern setting, all the characters are updated in a way that feels naturalistic without an ounce of artificiality. In a feat of huge work Sheridan wrote and directed the entire first season of “Yellowstone” which explains how well it holds together and how it has laid the work for the rest of the series, no matter how long it lasts, in terms of look, feel, sound and of course the themes involved. There is no doubt this a great looking series with expert performances and a great deal of action and intrigue.
If you are not ready for the experience of “Yellowstone” then there will be a few elements that will not only take you by surprise but will make you return, the first one is the performance by Kevin Costner who is no stranger to the Western genre, here he does not disappoint, in fact his appearance and performance, for me, is reminiscent of Martin Sheen as President Bartlett in the “The West Wing” (1999-2006). Once Costner appears his is a magnet and you cannot take your eyes off him, you cannot help but wait to see him talking, riding or shooting knowing inherently there is some realness to his character, built not over the course of this show but over the course of a career. As well as Costner there is the fantastic appearance of Cole Hauser who has found a character that suits him, he is almost unrecognisable as a quasi son and brother. Then there is the guts of the show in Kelly Reilly who is tough as nails but with a vulnerability that is almost never shown, Wes Bentley as the always trying to prove himself son and brother who is clueless to what is going and around him and finally Luke Grimes who is essentially the main character who does not know himself at all, he has his own family that are estranged as he is at times from his own family.
There are guest stars galore from season to season that are far too numerous to go into here but none of them disappoint in the slightest, knowing their own parts without overplaying, the genre in regard to the acting is so important. Watching any of Sheridans shows the one aspect that is vital is the actors never overplay always believing in the plot and dialogue, there are no knowing winks, there is internalised angst, doubt and in some cases bravery.
I absolutely love this series, it has the added benefit of having relatively short seasons which means that it never outstays its welcome, it has an efficiency in its narrative so that there is not a minute wasted, it is all plot and action. By the end of the second season this is a well oiled machine that at times seems like it will not have an ending but like all great narratives especially in the modern age once a plot line ends there is a hint of new one arriving.
Another aspect of the show that is vital is the music, there have been almost 100 songs across two seasons, almost acting as a shadow character: underscoring motivations, amplifying emotions and slyly commenting on the characters’ dubious choices. Seeded with the likes of Whitey Morgan and the 78s, Blackberry Smoke and Jason Isbell, “Yellowstone” has especially been a boon to fans of Americana and so-called outlaw country. Besides Chris Stapleton, who has also been featured several times, these artists generally receive little to no mainstream exposure. Texas artists, in particular, have prospered on “Yellowstone.” The first episode ends with Austin-area folk-country foursome the Trishas’ spooky “Trouble About My Soul.” Turnpike Troubadours, linchpins of the Texas/Red Dirt scene (and sadly on hiatus), lend “Long Hot Summer Day” to a rousing bar fight in the Season 2 premiere. Uncle Lucius, Casey Donahew and Jason Boland & the Stragglers have all been heard, as have old-timers Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver.
Daybreak: John Dutton tries to protect his ranch from land developers, an Indian reservation and America’s first national park.
Kill the Messenger: As the dust settles from the shootout, the Duttons deal with the potential repercussions.
No Good Horses: The Duttons deal with a painful family anniversary. Kayce saves a young girl from danger. Jamie and Beth plan their respective political careers. Rainwater makes an ominous threat to the Dutton legacy.
The Long Black Train: A secret about John comes to the surface; Beth shows Jenkins a rough night out; Quality time with Tate leads to a close call.
Coming Home: As Kayce feels the heat from tribal police, Jamie works his legal magic; Rip recruits a new cowboy; John makes a play to keep Kayce and Monica close to home.
The Remembering: A new partnership threatens John and the Yellowstone; Jamie ramps up his political campaign.
A Monster Is Among Us: Rip stumbles upon a dangerous and dire situation; A plan is set in motion designed to squeeze John and threaten his way of life; Monica begins a tough recovery.
The Unravelling: Part 1: Rip faces a sheriff’s investigation after his accident with the tourists, Jamie’s political future comes into question, and Beth goes after Dan’s finances.
The Unravelling: Part 2: John discovers his true alliances, Rip searches for answers, Jamie’s political career is threatened, Beth takes on a new role, and Kayce returns home.
A Thundering: Kayce settles into his new role at the ranch; A damaging article threatens to expose John; Rainwater pitches his new plan to the tribal council.
New Beginnings: Kayce and Rip come to blows; Beth starts buying up land to protect the ranch; Monica begins a new chapter at the university.
The Reek of Desperation: New powerful enemies look to block Rainwater and Jenkins’ plans for a big business deal; John and Beth groom a new political candidate.
Only Devils Left: John’s enemies strike a direct hit on the Yellowstone. John forms an unlikely alliance. Kayce has his first day as a livestock officer.
Touching Your Enemy: Jamie tries desperately to confront a previous mistake; Kayce tracks down evidence; Jimmy tries to make some extra cash on the side.
Blood the Boy: Jamie makes a drastic move in order to protect his family; Jimmy takes a shot at a rodeo competition.
Resurrection Day: Tensions escalate as the Beck brothers become frustrated by the Duttons’ unwillingness to play ball; Jamie looks for a fresh start at the ranch.
Behind Us Only Grey: John and Rip seek revenge; Monica ponders the consequences of her living situation on the ranch; Jimmy clears old debts.
Enemies by Monday: The Duttons gear up for a final fight with the Becks; Beth helps Monica out of an uncomfortable situation.
Sins of the Father: The feud with the Becks comes to a head as the Duttons scramble to save one of their own.