This Yellowstone review contains spoilers.
Yellowstone Season 2 Episode 3
John Dutton (Kevin Costner) has big plans for his son Kayce (Luke Grimes). Not only does he have him ordering around the ranch hands at the family’s Yellowstone Ranch, despite the misgivings of star employee Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser), but the patriarch is also trying to get his would-be successor into the Livestock Commission Office he occupies — to better protect the ranch. Yet all of this conflicts with Kayce’s own feelings about his newfound line of work, and whenever he tries to do things a little differently, the system fights back.
Or, as ranch hand Lloyd Pierce (Forrie J. Smith) puts it to Kayce, “Different never works.”
This very well may have been a working title for “The Reek of Desperation,” the third episode of Yellowstone’s blockbuster second season on the Paramount Network. All of the Duttons — John, Kayce, Beth (Kelly Reilly) and Jamie (Wes Bentley) — have been trying to do things differently for the past few episodes. In many respects, they’ve been doing it all differently since the death of John’s wife and kids’ mother, violent act that the latter group witnessed firsthand. But whenever any kind of change, whether major or minor, is forced upon these people, there is almost always blowback.
One of the bigger instances of this concerns Jamie, the other (surviving) son, who was ostracized from the family at the end of season one because of his political ambitions. He wants to be Montana’s next attorney general, and he’s got the backing of Governor Perry (Wendy Moniz-Grillo). Unfortunately, since his campaign is against his father’s wishes, he doesn’t have the money or the party affiliations necessary to make it work. (John and Beth even went out of their way to enlist a competitor who would surely sink Jamie’s campaign.) Enter Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) and the Broken Rock Reservation.
Throughout the first season, Rainwater and his people, who were neighbors of the Yellowstone Ranch, have been a constant source of frustration for the family. In fact, it’s one of their members — the brother of Kayce now-estranged wife Monica Long (Kelsey Asbille), who is responsible for murdering their late brother Lee. So, when the reservation leader comes to Jamie with a proposition — that of being his campaign’s benefactor for a third-party run — the politically-minded Dutton balks at the proposition. He despises his sister Beth and, in turn, is kept at arm’s length away from the rest of the family. At the same time, they’re family. He’s still loyal to them, and he doesn’t want to jeopardize that by falling in with Rainwater.
“I don’t think I can do it,” he tells his girlfriend and confidante Christina (Katherine Cunningham), with whom he’s been working toward the attorney general’s office since the first season. When she realizes that his admission isn’t just about refusing Rainwater’s money, but is also about the campaign itself, she turns on him. She accuses him of cutting and running at the first sign of opposition, then angrily asks him to leave — especially if his apparent decision to withdraw is an indication of his willingness to return to the Yellowstone ranch and beg for forgiveness. “The ultimatums never end!” he exclaims before doing exactly that.
That’s a lot of change for a single storyline in “The Reek of Desperation,” and per Pierce’s advice, most of it doesn’t seem to be working. Of course, Jamie isn’t the only member of the family — let alone character on the show — who tries out new things and fails miserably. Kayce isn’t too keen on playing the role that John has set out for him, and his father’s attempt to get him invested in the Livestock Commission triggers one of the more troubling aspects of these changes for him: the estrangement between him, Monica and their son Tate.
Monica has a new gig at the university, where she and Tate have moved, and between earning the respect of her students and fellow faculty members, and undergoing intense physical therapy to overcome her injuries, she seems to be doing just fine. Though she’s not, for despite the awkwardness (and deep-seated animosity) between her and Kayce, she still loves him. And he still loves her. “Everyone keeps telling you to leave and you keep doing it. What you’re supposed to do is fight for the life that you want,” she tells him during a rather bitter reunion. In kinds, he responds, “You asked me to leave… You wanted something different, you should have asked for something different.”
Outside of a late confrontation with Jamie, Beth doesn’t feature too much in “The Reek of Desperation,” which allows more room for other big attempted changes (and their inevitable failures) to take center stage. Like Rainwater and Dan Jenkins’ big new business deal, which involves buying land near the national park to use as a new casino, hotel and living community meant to generate new money (and power) for Broken Rock. In many ways, it’s meant as an attack on John and the Yellowstone ranch, as neither man can stand him and his family. The problem is, their venture has caught the attention of another player.
Enter Malcolm Beck (Neal McDonough), a local power player who isn’t at all happy about the casino development’s encroachment on his territory. “Thriving in Montana is about staying in your lane,” he tells Jenkins during a rather tense first meeting. Having already faced off with John and won, however, he doesn’t take the bait. “I’m so tired of you bullies with your bolo ties and your Lucchese boots,” Jenkins quips. Of course, if the casino is ever going to want a liquor license, then they’ll have to apply directly to Beck’s office — a revelation that doesn’t sit too well with all parties.
But it all comes back to the Duttons, and especially to John, who almost never purposefully seeks out change while realizing that he’s been enduring one of the biggest changes of all: the death of his wife and a life without her. After a few drinks and some attempted relations with the governor, something she says to him about parenting in their particular condition hits him hard. “Can you name the last time that you had a conversation with one of your children about how their day went or how they feel or what they dream of?” she asks him at the bar. “Yeah, I can’t either.”
During the closing scene of the episode, John attempts to do just that while eating dinner with Beth and Kayce. Beth immediately talks business, but her father insists on the “how” part of his question. Bemused by his attempted conversation, she cheers her sobriety and remains quiet. Kayce, on the other hand, refuses to speak about any of it. And when Jamie enters to announce his withdrawal and seek his spot at the table, a scene that cues uncontrollable laughter from Beth, John must exit the house for a moment of privacy. He just can’t handle so many changes happening so fast. None of them can.