This Yellowstone review contains spoilers.
Yellowstone Season 2 Episode 2
“There’s being scared to die, son, and knowing it’s coming,” John Dutton (Kevin Costner) tells his son Kayce (Luke Grimes). “When you know it’s coming, tomorrow stops factoring into your decisions because you know you’re never going to see it. Then you live. You realize you ain’t dead, you’re not gonna die and now you gotta face all them decisions you made. And out of all that, you gotta figure out how to let yourself start living again.”
In response to this particularly wordy (and falsely philosophical) moment, the wealthy Montana rancher’s prodigal son responds, “I don’t know how to do that.”
It’s a rather touching moment that comes early in “New Beginnings,” the second episode of Yellowstone season 2, and one of many new developments meant to suggest that all of the many, many twisting events of last week’s “A Thundering” are over now. After all, before John and Kayce’s little father-son chat, the former opens the episode with a doctor’s visit that essentially ties up the traumatic events of the premiere’s final moments. What season 1 suggested was an untreated colon cancer diagnosis turns out to be an untreated ulcer that bursts, forcing John’s ranch hands and veterinarian to perform emergency surgery on him.
As sentimental as these beats are meant to be, however, they more often than not feel like rote narrative devices performing specific, emotionless tasks instead of playful moments intended to pull the audience one direction or another. Or both.
For like “A Thundering” and the majority of the first season, “New Beginnings” does little to advance Yellowstone’s many A, B and C plots beyond bare-bones soap opera clichés. Which, to be honest, is as much of a plus as it is a detriment. Critics hoping for stellar work from Costner are more disappointed than not, but audiences are tuning in in droves — likely due to the show’s being more “comfort food” that not.
But, we digress from the comings and goings of “New Beginnings,” the title of which applies to more than just John’s new lease on life and Kayce’s continued reluctance to become what his father wants him to be. Back at the family ranch, there’s the matter of the patriarch’s ever-faithful daughter Beth (Kelly Reilly), a hard-working businesswoman who handles most of the Yellowstone’s financial affairs and dealings. She’s currently on a tear, buying up land and whipping hungry real estate agents into shape or discarding them altogether.
On the one hand, Beth is doing all of this groundwork because she is devoted to her father and his empire. On the other hand, she’s also making up for the slack left by the departure of her and Kayce’s brother Jamie (Wes Bentley), whose political aspirations have made him a pariah in their father’s eyes.
The problem is, Beth is sodevoted that she wants to know about everything that’s happening on the ranch — even if John and Kayce don’t want to share. So when the trio has dinner together following Kayce’s fight with Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser), one of the Yellowstone’s most senior ranchhands (as well as Beth’s frequent boy toy), her attempts to converse about her brother’s many bruises are met with forced ignorance.
“Let’s not talk about work at the dinner table,” John grunts at his daughter.
“What would you like to talk about daddy? What should we share?” Beth responds with annoyance. “He’s been up since 4 a.m. working. You go to bed at night thinking about work. Wake up doing the same. If we don’t talk about work, we have nothing to talk about. Are you suggesting that we eat in silence? Is that what you want?”
When John and Kayce meet Beth’s mostly rhetorical questions with abject silence, she makes her main point abundantly clear. “Are you shushing me, daddy?” she scoffs. “I am a 35-year-old woman. When I sit at a table, I will talk about whatever the f*ck I want.”
As much as this dinner scene demonstrates just how much of a ball-buster Beth can be, though, her words are relegated to the realm of “outbursts” by the men, who simply write it off as another one of Beth’s dramatic tirades and continue on with their meal despite her absence.
Speaking of absence, the Dutton family drama and the ranching quibbles that surround it aren’t the only things happening in the wider world of Yellowstone. Nor, for that matter, are they the only beats that are undergoing the “New Beginnings” of the episode’s title. There’s also the matter of Kayce’s estranged wife Monica Long (Kelsey Asbille), who is now living apart from her husband with their son following the traumatic events of the first season. (Her brother killed Jayce’s brother and he ultimately took revenge on his family’s behalf.) Now on her own, she has secured a new teaching job at a local university that, as seemed to be the case in “A Thundering,” was going to make things a lot easier for her.
At least, that was until the first day of class, for despite the gig’s many benefits — from healthcare coverage to the instructional freedom to teach Native American history on her own terms — the student body isn’t always as accepting or forgiving. Despite one particular student’s series of outbursts, however, she quickly demonstrates just how little power he has, and how much more power she has, which is a situation that she (and, traditionally, her people) have almost never had during the past few hundred years. What’s more, it even becomes an incredibly teachable moment, as the student approaches Monica after class and offers what seems to be a heartfelt and honest apology, one that she accepts with a warning against further agitation.
Much like Yellowstone’s penchant for soapy, cliché-ridden monologues and plot devices, this moment also feels a lot deeper than it actually is, for the show will occasionally try to present itself as a “woke” approach to contemporary relations between colonizers and those they colonized. As nice as it is to see these moments included in the series, however, they are few and far between and, to be frank, have little to no effect on life at the Dutton ranch.