S1 E4: "The Long Black Train"
3 out of 5 stars
It's early morning at the Dutton ranch - the crack of dawn. The ranch hands are beginning to stir. Jimmy, still the low man, tends to the barn, while others start boiling the coffee and making breakfast. It's as peaceful as we've seen the Yellowstone Ranch yet, a fact not lost on Dutton, who calls it "the best it'll be."
A few hours later, morning has broken over the land in which Kayce and the girl's father buried the men who were going to assault or traffic her. The developers have found the bones and called Thomas Rainwater. The body is skeletonized, so the head of the development crew hopes that the bones are old, otherwise their project is going to be held back. Rainwater, demonstrating a startling lack of concern about what he almost knows for certain is an active crime scene, snaps one of the bones in half, and waves it in the foreman's face, asking him if it smells fresh or not. The foreman immediately vomits.
Wow, the Broken Rock tribe has an awful lot of leverage on Kayce, don't they? Also, as an aside: do you think Kayce will kill anyone this episode? I'd lay about even odds on it.
Later that day, Dutton is in the Yellowstone helicopter, getting an aerial view of part of his herd (these are the beef being returned by the Broken Rock tribe after the first episode's fatal altercation which resulted in the death of Lee Dutton and Native-American Robert Long ).
On the ground, Rip and Jimmy are riding with the herd when Dutton radios them to tell them that some of the cattle have gotten away from the rest and are now in the trees. Rip, with typically salty language, tells Jimmy to ride with him to round up the errant beef. But Jimmy, still the low man, and still relatively unsteady on a horse, shows a little reticence. Rip does not sympathize.
Jimmy falls off his horse, the poor guy (he's probably still aching from his 8 hour-long horse-breaking session and, I suppose, being branded alive, too). Again, it is the kindly old Lloyd that comes to help him. Does Lloyd see himself in Jimmy? We already know Lloyd is one of the branded ex-criminals that form the inner circle of Dutton's ranch-hands, but we don't know his history. Could he have started as green as Jimmy?
"I don't think I'm cut out for this," Jimmy says.
"No one is. It has to be cut into you," Lloyd replies, sagely.
It seems poor Jimmy can't find his hat, a sin that goes without forgiveness among the hands at the Dutton ranch. So he wanders off in search of it.
Kayce and family, meanwhile, are dealing with the emotional toll of the suicide of Robert Long's wife - including figuring out what to do with Long's children, now orphaned. Monica tries to clean up the spilled blood at the Long house, cutting around the blood stain on the carpet and intermittently gagging. It's a brutal, sad scene. At one point she opens the fridge and finds almost nothing inside but the remains of a can of beans. When Kayce comes into the kitchen, she tells him her read of the situation: Long's wife killed herself, yes. But it wasn't a suicide. Not in the sense that she wanted to end her life so badly that she didn't care what happened to the kids. Instead, she says, it was a "sacrifice." With three kids, no husband, no money, no food and no prospects, Long's wife killed herself because she knew it would be the only way her parents would take the kids. Long's wife's parents, reasonably well-to-do in Seattle, had strongly disagreed with her decision to stay on the rez, and she knew that if she asked them to take the kids they would say no. Now, Monica reasons, they can't say no.
On the porch, Kayce and Monica wait for the kids' grandparents to arrive. Monica says that maybe they should leave the rez too before asking Kayce to take Tate and leave so that the boy doesn't have to witness his cousins leaving with their heartbroken grandparents. So Kayce asks Tate if he wants to go visit Grandpa Dutton, and Tate smiles in evident excitement.
Eventually, Monica loads the children into their grandparents' SUV. The dead woman's parents again reiterate that they wanted the woman to leave the reservation, and then they leave, with the children waving a tearful goodbye to Monica. The show's portrayal of the rez so far has not been particularly nuanced - it's either the death-haunted hellhole in which Kayce seems to shoot someone once a week, or it's the casino's ivory tower from which the scheming Rainwater looks down at his pawns. There's not a whole lot of in-between.
Where the heck is Jimmy's hat? He's looked for it about everywhere he can think when he finally discovers it. Then, a second later, he hears the tiny lowing of a calf in the brush. It seems there's still one head of cattle that the rest of the cowboys didn't catch. Jimmy reluctantly decides to do the cowboy thing and help it back to ranch.
Meanwhile, John Dutton is trying to endure the furious bucking of the stallion Kayce gifted him. Two old-timers who also ranch cattle watch Dutton get thrashed around. I guess they're fellow ranchers. One of them happens to be the father of Dutton's doctor, and in a gross abuse of doctor/patient confidentiality, the old-timer reveals to the other (and to us) that Dutton really oughtn't be riding at all; Dutton's got colon cancer. Apparently, the cancer was advanced enough to operate on, and just last week Dutton had "two feet" of his colon removed. Now he's being jostled around like he's in an industrial paint shaker.
Holy moly - you mean the great John Dutton has cancer? Or did, recently? This might just change everything - and it certainly puts the way he's been dealing with his children in a different light.
Plus, if Dutton's health is at risk, that means that Thomas Rainwater's threat may yet come to pass: if Dutton's family is unable to afford the astronomical estate tax on their father's ranch, that could the end of the monolithic Yellowstone spread.
One thing is for sure: I'll bet that wasn't Costner on that bucking bronco - the man can ride a horse, but no studio in their right mind would let a Hollywood star in his 60s do that. Not with all the insurance in SoCal.
Later, Dutton is putting the stallion in the barn when Emmet Walsh (Buck Taylor), one of the aforementioned old-timers, confronts Dutton with his new, ill-gotten knowledge of Dutton's illness. Dutton is predictably pissed, making it clear in no uncertain terms that Emmet should be quiet about this, and so should his doctor's father. Knowing the Duttons, I wouldn't be too surprised if Dutton dispatches Rip to kill the doctor's whole family.
Buck Taylor, by the way, is a true Western actor of the old school, having appeared on Gunsmoke, The Sacketts, Tombstone, Gettysburg, and, of course, Cowboys Vs. Aliens.
Kayce shows up just then with Tate, and Dutton switches gears from intimidation to grandpa mode. Later, we see Dutton and Tate down by the river, where Dutton teaches the boy how to gather the right rocks, twigs and kindling to make a fire. But Tate reaches for the wrong twig and ends up in the river, where the current is quickly carrying him away. Dutton, no longer a young man, still manages to rescue the boy but it's close. Dutton knows there's going to be hell to pay when Kayce and/or Monica finds out.
Now we catch up with Beth, continuing her one-woman crusade against villainous Bozeman real estate developer Dan Jenkins in her own particularly Beth way. We join the scene in Jenkin's country club bar, or whatever evil lair he keeps, as a nervous bartender is telling the manager that there's a woman in the bar who refuses not to smoke. Who could that be?
The terrified bartender tells the manager that Beth "made a compelling argument" why she should be allowed to smoke. In short order the manager too, is cowed, rushing off to get Jenkins for her. Only when he's gone does Beth extinguish her cigarette by putting it out in her own cocktail. Before asking for another.
Jenkins arrives, and Beth continues her attempt at being his ruin. Jenkins says this is where his family lives, as if Beth gives a flying leap a rolling donut about that. She suggests, with the finesse only she can muster, that he go around the corner and pop a viagra and that they go to another bar to wait for it to kick in. Jenkins ought to have the sense to decline her invitation, but, alas, he does not.
At the Yellowstone, Jimmy returns to camp with the calf slung over his horse. This inexplicably attracts the ire of Fred, the big bully who hassled Jimmy earlier in the series. Fred knocks Jimmy down, and then when Jimmy is able to return with a couple punches of his own, proceeds to beat the everloving crap out of him. Then Rip shows up and, after making short work of Fred, tells Jimmy that he'll see a thousand Freds come and go, but branded men are family. This is what passes for tenderness among the bunkhouse boys. But it is satisfying to see Jimmy get some respect, first for returning the lost calf and then for valiantly trying to take the blame for starting the fight with Fred. Is Jimmy secretly the hero of the show? So far, at least, he's the most blameless and maybe most relatable.
Before leaving, Rip tells Fred that now he cleans the horse dookie - which means that Jimmy's not the "low man" anymore. Fred balks at that, and Rip tells him that, fine, he's fired. He tells Lloyd to give the man his wages and get him cleared out of the bunkhouse. I'm sure the Duttons will give Fred a fair severance package and a recommendation at his next job, right? Wrong. But we'll see what happens to Fred in a bit.
Kayce shows up and tells Rip he needs a horse - his father and his son have not come back yet. They sally forth. Dutton, for his part, is telling Tate a fanciful story about how he got his surgery scars. In his telling, he was riding through the forest when a goblin attacked, and slashed him with a sword. Dutton tells Tate he pulled out his own sword and killed the goblin. Then the two share a happy laugh, and Dutton goes and bums everyone out by telling the small boy that he'll miss this. After all, Dutton reasons, he'll grow into a "shriveled raisin in the corner, telling you stories you don't want to hear." That's a cheerful thought for a boy who just had a brush with death. Come to think of it, he's had two recently: his river misadventure and his successful fending off of a rattlesnake in a culvert last episode. When Kayce shows up he's a little mad, but not that mad, so I guess there's that subplot introduced and resolved in one fell swoop.
But what do about a problem like Fred? Rip thinks he's seen too much (huh?), and that he should be taken "to the train station." But we Montanans know there's no passenger train in the Paradise Valley (yet), so either the show is inventing geography again, or else "train station" is a euphemism for something violent. Come to think of it, nobody has been killed in this episode yet, have they?
Beth and Jenkins arrive at a raucous cowboy bar where Whiskey Myers is playing. Hundreds of rowdy patrons are pushing each other around, making out, and fighting. Beth tells Jenkins that places like this are a tightrope for men. Too weak and everyone hassles you. Too strong, everyone tests you. Beth immediately catches the eye of an amorous cowboy who comes over and insults Jenkins' pants before suggesting something lewd to Beth. Beth, still flirtatious bats him away with the mere mention of her surname. Jenkins starts to get the picture as to why they're at this particular bar. Beth attracts another cowboy, and tells him Jenkins doesn't like the way he's looking at her. This time Jenkins decides he'll try to show some spine, standing up and WHAM, the cowboy punches him and steels one of their beers. Jenkins finally gets the picture and leaves just as Whiskey Myers finishes up the song.
We then join Lloyd and Fred as they grow near to the "train station." Fred expresses his frank opinions of Dutton, the ranch, and Lloyd, and Lloyd pulls up by the side of a cliff. Fred, using his considerable brainpower, discerns that "this ain't no train station!"
"Sure it is," Lloyd says. "A long black train." Then he shoots Fred right between the eyes.
Next, Kayce and family are returning from the hospital when tribal police arrive and arrest Kayce. And on the one episode where he hasn't killed anyone.
Finally, back at the cowboy bar, Rip arrives and tells the cowboy trying to flirt with Beth that "you're in my seat, guy." The man leaves with a meek "sorry." After opening a beer, the two get up and have a dance together to the mournful tunes of one of Whiskey Myer's slower tunes.
What I can't figure is why the Duttons have to kill a ranch hand just because he's seen how the ranch operates - there can't really be any valuable proprietary secrets among the bunkhouse boys, could there be? Or has Fred seen something else we're not privy to yet? Or is the show just indulging in a little of that violent melodrama that gives Yellowstone it's particular flavor?
Only time will tell. But I do know that Kayce'd better add at least one to his body count next week or he'll fall behind; so far he's four for four.