The beginning of episode three of the first season of Yellowstone brings us our first flashback, during which we learn how Beth developed that chip on her shoulder, and boy is it ever a doozy.
Last episode, the ghost (metaphorical) of Dutton's deceased wife hung over much of the episode, with Beth angered at having to be in the same room as a picture of their family back when it was whole, and John looking at the same picture and visiting her grave. Now we see our first real glimpse of Evelyn Dutton (Gretchen Mol). It's 1997 (remember when?), and Evelyn, Kayce and Beth are out for a horse ride. But Beth's nervous on her horse, which she complains is "afraid of everything." Evelyn then, to our surprise, tears into her daughter, saying the horse is only afraid of what she's afraid of, and that the whole world is waiting on her, as usual.
Whoa, did I accidentally turn on Mommie Dearest instead of Yellowstone?
As Beth negotiates her nervous horse across a cattle guard, the mount rears up, panicking Evelyn's horse. Evelyn drops to the ground, and the horse drops on top of her. She's shattered, and likely paralyzed. She calls Beth over to her and tells her to get John. Kayce protests, saying that he's the faster rider, but Evelyn tells him no, it's Beth's fault, she should do it.
Last week I said that though the show is undeniably atmospheric and entertaining, it does sometimes dip into the ridiculous in the service of that entertainment. I can't imagine that anyone, even the most pettily cruel mother in the world - hell, let's include the universe - would make her daughter go get medical help as some sort of lesson to her. If Kayce's faster, send Kayce, for goodness sake. Then you might have another half-century of being cruel to your daughter to look forward to!
But no, Beth goes off to find her father, sobbing as she rides off. Then, as if the point hasn't already been made, and amply, Evelyn even lets fly with one last cruel zinger: "you couldn't have remembered how to ride a horse?" Now that's how you mess someone up for life. Or make them into a viciously selfish corporate hatchet-woman, I suppose.
Kayce, however, gets the typical youngest in the family treatment - as soon as Beth's out of eyeshot she cradles his face in her hand and says, kindly, and with a sad smile, "if this is the last thing we see, than so be it."
Maybe there's more to the Beth and Evelyn relationship than they are revealing to us at this point, but wow, that's some Game of Thrones level mean mother schtick. Although it does sort of make it more interesting that John dotes so much on Beth - perhaps he's making up for Evelyn.
Meanwhile, a younger John Dutton (Josh Lucas) is branding calves with Jamie, Lee and some ranch hands when he notices that two horses are approaching the corral: Beth's and Evelyn's, neither with anyone mounted on them. They find Beth up the trail, and I guess she either abandoned her mount or fell off. Then they rush to find Evelyn and Kayce.
As an aside, this sequence is beautifully cinematic, and contains some of the most gorgeously shot scenery we've seen so far.
For a moment, even John is sort of mean to her, as his panic makes him scream "where are they, Beth" at her. But an instant later, tenderness takes over. He asks again, and she replies, "I don't know." I'm not sure this makes much sense, because if they were about to leave through a cattle gate it must have been fairly close to the ranch proper, but I guess she's a child and understandably agitated.
By the time they reach the body it is full dark, Evelyn is dead, and wolves are beginning the circle the corpse. Kayce is left to defend her from the animals with a small knife. He plants his feet and screams when John arrives and shines a flashlight on him, the terrible knowledge of his wife's fate playing across his stoic face.
I guess we've seen part of the origins of two Duttons: one, how Beth learned not to get close to anything (except, presumably, her dad and Rip), and how Kayce developed his warrior streak.
Dutton's also got Evelyn on the mind as he waits in his bedroom for Governor Perry to join him. Again, the show's not exactly steeped in subtlety when it shows Dutton and the governor in bed together. Governor Perry is again suggesting Jamie pursue a career in politics, telling him there's no other Republican running right now (did I miss for what position?).
"Even if I let him run, it wouldn't be as a Republican," Dutton growls. Funny, I had him pegged as one.
But evidently they mean that Jamie should run as an Independent - making it that much easier to do what Dutton wants him to do, regardless of party.
Then Governor Perry emerges from the bathroom wearing Evelyn's robe, which Dutton tells her to take off. She's slightly miffed, but I suspect that it's not out of the ordinary for Dutton, and Governor Perry quickly forgives him. Playing the dead wife card might work with the executive branch.
Now we join Kayce and Tate for some father/son target practice. Kayce fires his submachine gun and pistol, and Tate his BB gun. But Tate, who's a pretty perceptive little guy, tells Kayce he wants to go home. Then in the truck, after a brief argument over gummy bears (that Tate wins), the little boy says what's on his mind, asking if Kayce's going to go "back in the army." It ends in tears. "I don't want you to go," Tate says. "I don't want to go," Kayce says.
"Then don't," Tate replies, and Kayce seems to consider the logic in the boy's thinking.
Jamie, meanwhile, is trying to convince the Attorney General's office that there's a slight chance that the embalming-fluid-addicted coroner might have accidentally or purposefully killed himself. That's as opposed to having his card punched by Rip, which it seems that the Attorney General knows is the more likely of the two possibilities. Still, he finally admits there's a chance that it was suicide and not murder in the first, tampering with evidence, conspiracy, etc. Thank goodness that Montana state government is so corrupt (in the world of Yellowstone, anyway) or the Dutton's might get in trouble some day.
Now, here Beth does something I just don't understand. She drags a work light and a couple of bottles of wine over to a horse trough, stripes naked, and gets in. I get that she's looking to make a scene on the anniversary of her mother's death, and that she's mad that John would have Perry over on said anniversary. But why does she have to be naked in front of the ranch hands to do it? Why can't she just corner Perry in one of the hallways of their giant mansion and call her a naughty word?
But then, Beth's a born showboater. And maybe even a bit of an exhibitionist. Still, she doesn't miss the chance to suggest Jamie's not sexually matured, saying she doesn't have the time to explain why their "peepees" are different. Oh, Beth. I don't like you yet, but I think you might become an acquired taste.
Nobody but Rip can get her to stop the foolishness. But even after agreeing to go inside (still nude), she says something that might clarify her mission statement: "everyone suffers today."
Now, if you do the math (and if don't want to, I'll do it for you), Kayce has killed two people over the course of the show so far: his brother-in-law in the premiere and the injured meth-cooker in the second episode. Well, here we are almost 15 minutes into the episode, and Kayce's only shot milk jugs and an old rusted mailbox so far.
Whoops, I spoke too soon, because as he and Tate are driving back discussing the proper functioning of knock-knock jokes, they notice a white van parked by the side of the rural road.
It turns out that the van contains a young Native-American girl bound in the back, and two men in the front. Tate picks an inopportune time to leave the truck, and one of the men, in a hazmat and gas mask, pops out with a gun. Kayce's a quicker shot, and dispatches him almost immediately, but that gives the driver time to take off. Kayce takes Tate and tells him to do exactly as he says, hiding him in a drainage tunnel (maybe not exceptional parenting there, Kayce. I can't help but think Monica wouldn't be too impressed.) Guess what's in the tunnel with him? A rattlesnake, of course!
Kayce gives chase to the surviving kidnapper, catching up to him after the white van hits a ditch. The driver runs away, takes two shots, keeps running. Kayce ropes him, and as he falls the driver hits his head on a rock. Goodnight.
Does that count as another dead guy in Kayce's rapidly escalating body count? Sure, I'd say so.
Kayce attends to the young woman in the back of the van before returning to find Tate holding a dead rattlesnake. It seems Tate might just be a chip off the old block.
The young woman doesn't want to go to the authorities because she doesn't want anyone to know what happened and besides, she figures justice is done. So Kayce and Tate give her a ride to her house after removing the snake's tail for a keepsake.
At her house the victim tells her parents what happened, but continues to say she doesn't want to go to the authorities. Her father (Geno Segers) wants to get revenge, but the guilty are already dead. So it remains only to clean up the bodies of the kidnappers, which Kayce agrees to do with the girl's father. He takes Tate home and continues to be cryptic with Monica, telling her he "has something to take care of" and that he'll be back late.
Later that night, Kayce and the girl's father, along with a few other men, have dug a large pit for the bodies and are preparing to light them no fire. The girl's father explains that they have dug the pit to hide the evidence for Kayce's sake, and that they are burning the bodies for his own sake, as burning the bodies will trap the souls on earth. They tell Kayce that since he killed their bodies, it falls to him to trap their souls. He declines, but they insist.
Isn't it about time we checked in with Thomas Rainwater? Well, he's dressed to the nines in a sharp tuxedo, rehearsing a speech he's going to give, and about to drive to the function. On the way, he sees a coyote, which his driver informs him is a "bad sign." Sure enough, as soon as he's off the reservation, he is arrested. Dutton has delivered on last episode's promise to call in his debts, flexing his muscles here to show Rainwater who's boss. Rainwater, for his part, is nonplussed. He says that after working in mergers and acquisitions for Merril Lynch he did a little estimating and decided that the Paradise Valley would cost about $14 billion to buy. He tells Dutton he's going to start with his spread. In fact, Rainwater's game is a long one - if he can wait until Dutton dies, he can buy the property after Dutton's children are unable to afford the estate tax on the ranch.
That's a lot of people who want to take the Dutton's land - the real estate outfit owned by Dan Jenkins, the entire Broken Rock reservation, and potentially the State itself if it decides to exercise its right to eminent domain.
Dutton has also decided that it is Beth, not Jamie, that should be the family's first politician, to Jamie's chagrin. And Beth is a huge success with the Republican party guys that John has over to the ranch; Jamie can hear them all laughing heartily and whatever she's saying. When she goes out for a smoke, Jamie tells her she's a cancer and then tells her to meet him in the barn. Once there, she tells him the reason she's been chosen to be the candidate is that she'll win, and he always loses. She then admits to hating the ranch and to a desire to sell her share as soon as John is dead. But until then, she will do everything she can to help her father. Beth's nothing if not a doting daughter.
But then Jamie takes it a step too far, saying he can barely remember what Beth was like before she "killed her." Well, now ole Beth's mad as a boar bear, raining punches and further insinuations of unmanliness on Jamie until POW, he hits her. Uh-oh.
"How's that for a man," Jamie asks.
"A real man would have walked away," she chuckles. Keep in mind that half a second ago she was punching him, calling him a word I shan't repeat here, and shrieking "be a man, be a man."
Maybe she'll make it as a politician after all. She is, however, right. Jamie ought not to have punched her sister. And really, he probably shouldn't have brought up Beth "killing" their mother, especially on today of all days. Come to think of it, I know we're only three episodes in but we don't really have much reason to like Jamie so far, do we? We know he wants his father's approval (meaning he's stolen his dead brother Lee's character trait out from under him), but what else is there to like?
His ambition, maybe? As he's nursing his wounded pride and busted lip, he drinks expensive whiskey out of a decanter and broods. Dutton joins him, and Jamie tells his dad that he's running for Attorney General with our without his father's permission. Dutton concedes, saying he'll support that decision before adding he'll put Jamie's head through a wall if he ever punches his sister again.
Dan Jenkins, largely absent this episode, is trying to find legal recourse for the Dutton's damming of his tributary on their land when he notices Beth in the bar. He decides to try his hand at wooing her, despite the objection of his sleazy lawyer. When told she's an "assassin", Dan replies "what am I?"
Dan's sin on this show might turn out to be hubris. Because while I wouldn't want to cross any of the Duttons, I'd savor crossing Beth the least. But off he goes to buy her a drink. Beth calls his game right away, asking if sleeping with Dutton's daughter would be enough revenge for losing a $100 million dollar subdivision. Jenkins opines that it is. Beth then says that she's not only going to ruin him, but generations of his family before comparing the act of physical love with her as being like "touching the sunrise." Jenkins is smitten.
Back at the ranch, we have a short but nicely written little sequence in which Jimmy is closing up the barn for the night when he notices Dutton sitting in one of the stalls. Dutton asks if Jimmy remembers his grandmother, and Jimmy responds in the negative, saying his grandmothe died before he was born and that the loss of her was enough to destroy his family. But he compliments Dutton on his ability to keep his together after the death of Evelyn. Dutton says that it did kill his family, it's just taking a long time to die. If Jamie and Beth's relationship is any indicator, he might be right.
Finally, we have Rainwater, newly released from jail as a result of the tribal lawyer's actions and because he has agreed to return Dutton's cattle to him. Has Rainwater admitted defeat? We'll see, but I think it's not too likely.
And in the episode's last moments, while Kayce and Stand Alone talk about breaking this Forest Service horse and the dearth of good horses left on this earth, Samantha Long, the wife of Kayce's dead brother-in-law, commits suicide. I'm not sure this subplot adds much to the story, and it might even be a little bit tasteless, but maybe it is leading to something.
As a mournful tune by Puscifer begins to play, we see an small army of developers advancing, ever-advancing, on the Dutton's ranch.
It's another wildly dramatic episode of Yellowstone with most of the things that, so far, have characterized the show: a bit of Native-American mysticism, some portentous lines, some high drama amongst the Dutton siblings, and at least one shooting.
For my money, it is an improvement over last week's episode, but I do have one lingering question that I hope to have answered next episode: what happened to that dinosaur?