This article contains spoilers for Yellowstone.
The Yellowstone fandom, much like the show itself, is strong-willed and fiercely loyal. This writer will admit, I have dived into the deep end in a few different online forums to see what other fans of the show are talking about, and often share in the joy the show brings to us every Sunday.
For most of us, the show is a strange, dark, and violent catharsis – which explains the rabid response to characters like John (Kevin Costner), Beth (Kelly Reilly) and fan-favorite Rip (Cole Hauser). They live a good life, they’re hard working, they love their family and will protect each other with fists, bullets, and blood (and the occasional snake in a cooler).
But co-creator of the show, Taylor Sheridan, is no slouch when it comes to writing. The man understands that to be successful, you need balance. The cast of characters he and his writing team have assembled over the past four seasons are often cunning, and ruthless but the show is not without love, or humor or heart.
Which is why Monica Dutton, (Kelsey Asbille) isn’t merely a key member of the extended Dutton family, she is a necessary part of the show itself. Monica seems like a side-character at times, but Asbille’s tender and intelligent performance throughout the time she’s been given on screen has elevated her to one of my favorite characters. So why is it, that if you were to read through these fan pages on any given day, it seems that more often than not, the consensus is that Monica is one of the worst aspects of the show?
What’s truly baffling is what some fans perceive as weakness in her character, and is somehow often overlooked if it comes from… almost any other character. Monica is fiercely intelligent – she was a teacher, and has always been a guiding light for her son, Tate (Brecken Merrill). We’ve seen similar intelligence in John, and in Beth. Traits that are often admired because these characters are one step ahead of their enemies. Yet if Monica can resolve an issue through debate or by leading by example, fans haven’t acknowledged that intelligence.
Monica is also insanely strong. Sheridan and his team haven’t written a weak-female character yet, so anyone that sees Monica as ‘whiny’ is simply wrong. Women in the Yellowstone universe aren’t merely the contemporaries of their male counterparts, they often lead them, or upstage them, and Monica is no different. This is a woman who has survived the tragic loss of part of her family in the very first episodes of the show. Her brother, Robert (Jeremiah Bitsui) is shot and killed by her own husband, Kayce (Luke Grimes), and then shortly after Robert’s death, her sister-in-law commits suicide, and Monica has to see her nieces and nephews taken away by social services.
Throughout that tragedy in the very first episodes of the show, she still stayed by Kayce and proved her loyalty is just as strong as any Dutton protecting their kin. Let’s not forget, this is also a woman who put herself on the line as bait to capture a predator that had been killing First Nations’ women, proving herself to be an absolutely invaluable member of the community. If this strength, loyalty, and resilience was shown by, let’s say, Beth, every fan of the show would be praising how bad-ass Beth is.
Another unfair character assassination against Monica is how often some fans seemingly can’t stand it when she sticks up to Kayce, merely for voicing what she believes is best for Tate. That aforementioned balance that is so crucial to the show thriving for so long is often embodied by Monica (and Asbille) because she is, simply put, one of the only voices of reason in the show. Many fans don’t want to admit it simply because this is a show where the vengeance and fury of the Duttons shake the very mountains of Montana. Yet, any sensible parent would agree with Monica. She’s seen what it’s like for children to be separated from their parents because of violence, and everyone has to admit, the Yellowstone ranch is a dangerous environment, and the Duttons, while loving and loyal, are not the most stable family dynamic.
Tate was kidnapped, and as a result suffered trauma for quite some time. Granted, Tate’s recuperation meant some therapeutic time camping with his grandfather, perhaps a counter argument for the Dutton-ranch life, but if not for John’s rivalry with the Beck brothers (Neal McDonough and Terry Serpico), Tate wouldn’t have been taken in the first place. What’s interesting to note is that Monica is the only real example of motherhood we get in this show, yet people question her motivation simply because they feel she’s holding Kayce back. They want Kayce to be as ruthless as John, or as violent as Rip. The irony being that Kayce and Monica truly seem like they were made for one another, and have a similar disposition and emotional spirit. They are both reasonable people who love their community, their family, and their children, and yet these Monica-haters only seem to focus on those traits in Monica, and see them as weakness.
If the tragic introduction was not enough to show just how strong she is, these first few episodes in season 5 should be enough for any viewer to align themselves with Monica. There are those who question why she would drive herself to the hospital in the first place, and perhaps that wasn’t the strongest decision, but the loss is what is important here. With Kayce and Monica losing their newborn son, it will undoubtedly prove once again the strength and resolve of this woman. More importantly, in one of the most memorable moments of last weeks’ episode, the amount of respect and tenderness that John showed Monica at the funeral service was one of the most touching moments in the show’s entire run.
Therein lies the point that many critics of Monica are missing. Look at the amount of respect she gets from the other characters in the show. Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) and Mo (Mo Brings Plenty) know how invaluable she is for their community. Beth stood up for Monica in the second season when Monica was racially profiled at a boutique and humiliated, showing tremendous respect for her sister-in-law. In fact Monica may be one of the only female characters in all of Yellowstone where Beth has shown respect and kinship.
John always respects Kayce’s wish to do what he needs to do for his family any time he’s faced with a tough situation, even if that means that what Kayce and Monica choose is not what John agrees with. John perhaps recognizes the love, loyalty, strength, and fierce intelligence within Monica that generations of Dutton men have fallen in love with when it comes to the women in their lives, and so never questions her place in the family.
The point is, if your favorite character can show Monica some respect, it’s about time you, the naysayer does as well.
New episodes of Yellowstone, season 5 premiere Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Paramount Network in the U.S. and the day after on Paramount+ in the U.K.