This Yellowstone review contains spoilers.
Yellowstone Season 2 Episode 1
Earlier this morning, before the Yellowstone season 2 premiere on Paramount Network, the cable network announced in a press release that it had ordered a third season of the ratings success. The next batch of 10 episodes, which will continue the 10-episode run that began tonight, will premiere sometime in 2020. Oh, and remember Josh Holloway from Lost? He’s going to be in it, too.
Discussing Yellowstone’s season 3 renewal may be a strange way to begin a recap of “A Thundering,” the season 2 premiere episode, but it’s also an appropriate one. Three episodes into its initial run last summer, the drama series from Sicario and Hell or High Water writer Taylor Sheridan quickly became one of basic cable’s most-watched programs and was second only to The Walking Dead. Judging by what happened in tonight’s episode, it will do the same in throughout the remainder of season 2 and, most likely, well into season 3.
So, how is the Dutton family situated in “A Thundering”? Despite the many heinous events perpetrated against (and by) them last season, patriarch John Dutton (Kevin Costner) and his adult children — or at least the ones who still remain loyal to the cause — are all trying to maintain their stronghold on the Yellowstone Ranch. Purportedly the size of the state of Rhode Island, the family’s ranch is the largest contiguous piece of private land in the country and the state, and due to this fact, everyone else seems to want a piece of it. Montana’s corrupt state government, wealthy business owners vying for land development deals, the Native American people of the nearby Broken Rock Reservation — they all have been, and still are, gunning for the Duttons.
John’s son Lee (David Annabelle) was killed early on in season 1, a murder that set things in motion for his initially uninvolved brother Kayce (Luke Grimes). Their sister Beth (Kelly Reilly), meanwhile, remains faithful to the family business and runs her father’s books — all while nearly drowning herself in alcohol, drugs and ranchhand and henchman Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser). Jamie (Wes Bentley), meanwhile, is a political operator who hopes to ascend the governmental power ladder outside of his father’s influence.
In the fashion of a Dallas-esque, cliche-ridden soap opera — which Yellowstone most assuredly is — none of the Duttons’ plans really worked out all that well in season 1. They don’t seem to be going to well for these concerned parties at the start of season 2, either. Plagued by a cancer diagnosis he refuses to even acknowledge, let alone talk about, John tries to force Kayce to make as many big business decisions as possible — including the vetting and hiring of a potential new hand. He wants the family, and the ranch, to survive long after he’s gone — no matter what it costs said family, as Kayce never wanted in on the family empire in the first place.
Jamie, meanwhile, struggles with his decision to essentially reveal his family’s dirty secrets to a reporter he agreed to talk to last season. He wants to help the ranch survive, but he just can’t being himself to do it the way his father wants — which means opting out of his chosen political life in the city. As for Beth, she’s perfectly fine with carrying out her father’s vengeful wrath against Jamie by identifying potential political rivals for his state attorney general bid.
And that’s just the Dutton side of things. Monica Long (Kelsey Asbille) struggles to make her own way in a new teaching job while also hoping to shield her son from his father’s crimes — his father being Kayce, and the crimes being the many increasingly terrible things that he’s done on his father’s behalf. One of these, of course, was the murder of Monica’s brother Robert, a revenge killing for his murder of Kayce’s brother Lee.
Speaking of native relations, the reservation chief Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) has big plans for opening up another casino offsite, and purchasing the land it sits on, in order to diversify the tribe’s assets and raise more money for its educational programs. Not everyone in the council is on board with the idea, but he manages to get the majority of their support for the effort.
Many other small bits and pieces in the larger Yellowstone map get the occasional nudge throughout “A Thundering,” and that’s the point. Unlike season 1’s later episodes, which had established enough good will and narrative movement in order to keep the ball rolling, audiences have been left with nothing new to go on for quite some time now. So, the premiere needs to pick up nearly every single thread and tug where it can in order to remind viewers who’s doing what, where and why. It’s a necessity for any show returning after a hiatus between seasons, but with a show as jam-packed as this, it results in a rather slow, sometimes painful slog. Plus, despite be the star, Costner’s John hardly gets any screentime.
Or, at least that’s until the final act, when a ranchhand is badly beaten in a local bar brawl. As a result, Kayce, Rip and the other Yellowstone workers unleash a bull into the establishment to chase out the offenders and beat them to a pulp. Rip offers a casually violent warning to the barkeep, but Kayce takes things a few step further when he threatens to burn the whole place down — yet another sign of the character’s gradual decline since the death of his brother.
Don’t forget John’s episode-ending “cancer” scare either, when he collapses in front of everyone and is forced to admit to having colon cancer in a moment of desperation. When the episode turns out to be a ruptured ulcer in need of immediate medical attention, however, this requires a swift local surgery (without anesthesia) by the ranch’s veterinarian, Kayce, Rip and a few ranchhands willing to help out. So, yeah… there’s that.
Yellowstone airs on Paramount Network.