Season two of Yellowstone opens with a literal bang as Thomas Rainwater dreams of some kind of explosion. He sees a Native-American on fire, and then a tree on fire (a somewhat unsubtle biblical reference, perhaps), and then he sees Dan Jenkins sitting next to him, face charred by whatever has happened to them all.
Thomas asks Dan, "what happened to you?"
And Dan responds by turning to Thomas and shooting him in the head before Rainwater awakens in bed covered in sweat.
As if that wasn't enough to signal that this season of Yellowstone is going to be a wild ride, we then cut to Dutton and the Bunkhouse Boys who are on a dangerous mission to roundup some spooked bulls that have wandered into the brush.
Lloyd, the voice of reason, says that the horses will get gored if they go into brush that thick, but Dutton is determined not to leave "$100 thousand worth of bulls" behind. So they send in the dogs to flush the bulls.
As the dogs run to do their job, local rancher Travis complains that this wasn't exactly what he had in mind when Dutton invited him to cover over and maybe chase some cows. That's Taylor Sheridan, the creator of the show, as Travis. Before he was a writer and bigtime television producer he was a lowly character actor on shows like Sons of Anarchy.
Then Lloyd gets the best line of the episode, as he often does: "Boy, if this don't pucker your red eye, I guess nothing will, huh?" I'm hoping this season delivers a whole lot more Lloyd. The assorted ranch hands and millionaires split upas they rush the thicket, managing to push out the majority of the bulls. But there are a couple left, and Kayce goes in to retrieve them with an impressive display of roping. Rip seems troubled, but that's a recurring trope these days.
After those brooding sepia credits we catch up with the African-American cowboy who accosted Jamie for wearing a fancy suit. He's arrived at the Yellowstone looking for work. Dutton, Rip and the rest are separating the bulls from the cows while taking turns torturing Jimmy. This means that he's the one that's going to have to use the "Lane Pulsator IV Electronic Bull Ejaculator," since Avery refuses. Will poor Jimmy ever not be the low man? At that point the job-seeking cowboy arrives and asks who runs the outfit. The cowboy, who goes by the apropos moniker Cowboy, asks Dutton, who refers him to Kayce (and not Rip?).
That's veteran character actor Steven Williams as Cowboy, who you may recognize from his appearances in a wide range of diverse work, including the recent Stephen King horror film "It," the original "Blues Brothers," and one of my favorites, "The X-Files."
Meanwhile Jamie, now shacked up with Christina (Katherine Cunningham), seems a little out of his element. We can tell he's unhappy because he subtly balks at the notion of meeting Christina's parents in Missoula and because he now has a picture of Obama on the wall. In the world of Yellowstone that seems to mean your soul is lost.
Next, the point is driven home because he has to go to a coffee shop for caffeination. He asks for a simple cup of coffee but is presented with a bewildering array of choices. He tells the barista to pick for him, and she goes with a pour-over, one of those artisanal presentations popular in fancy espresso joints. He acts as if this is a major hassle.
I'm not sure this makes sense, by the way. Even before his exile from the Duttons, Jamie was a fancy lad. He's the kind of guy who wears a $1000 suit every day, not one of the bunkhouse boys. I'm sure that coffee shops in Helena do pour-overs. But again, the show is conveying to us that he's somewhat begrudgingly becoming civilized. Christina, for her part, opines that "the best measure of progress in a town is a decent cup of coffee." I'm not sure I disagree.
In Bozeman, Beth is renting a fancy space for the satellite office of her firm. In one of those inaccuracies that could only irritate long-time Bozemanites, the realtor says "and I didn't think Bozeman could grow anymore after the Co-Op moved here!" When asked what the Co-op is, Beth replies it's kind of like a Whole Foods. But the Co-op was started more than 30 years ago by Montanans, a way for Bozeman-ites to get local and organic produce. The Duttons might not like it, and certainly, the physical space it now occupies does recall a Whole Foods in both its content and its presentation, but it didn't exactly "move there." But I digress.
Beth then tells Dutton that she's found a candidate to run against Jamie. She's a State Prosecutor from Miles City and "a pretty girl" who, in fact, somewhat resembles Beth - all part of her plan to piss off poor Jamie, already unimaginably taxed by the coffee situation in Helena. Even Dutton remarks that they look similar.
Rainwater now has to defend his over-arching plan to destroy Dutton and sieze his ranch to the tribal council. One of them correctly points out that Broken Rock already has a casino. Rainwater says that their existing casino isn't a destination, but that one in the Paradise Valley would be. Moreover, if they owned the land they could annex it, making it officially part of the reservation and therefore not subject to regulation and state oversight. One of the council members objects that "it's the same thing the white man's been doing to us for centuries," and Rainwater says sure it is. But now it's time to do it to them. (On a personal note, I kinda like Rainwater. I think he's an interesting character and, unlike Dan Jenkins, who is just pretty sleazy all the way around, I find myself being on his side more often than not.)
Monica, sufficiently recovered to move around with a cane, has rethought the proposal offered by the president of MSU. The president of MSU tells her the money earmarked for that plan has been put off until next semester when they find a professor. Plus Monica didn't want to leave the school without a teacher. Monica says that she can teach at the other school in the morning and then drive to MSU for afternoons and evenings. We're not sure how far Broken Rock is from Bozeman, but the president does remark that it's a "long drive." He offers her a job teaching American history covering the period from Columbus to the Declaration of Independence. She agrees as long as she can teach an indigenous view of those events, saying "I look forward to teaching young minds about the man who introduced genocide to the Western Hemisphere," leaving the president looking vaguely troubled.
Back at the Yellowstone, Beth's candidate for DA, Cassidy (Kelly Rohrbach) arrives at the Yellowstone and remarks that in Eastern Montana, "you could stand on a can of tuna and see the whole state from there." As someone who was born in Miles City, I sympathize. Cassidy tells Duttons that she started a charity that saves horses from slaughter and uses them to rehab veterans suffering from PTSD. Dutton and Beth agree that nobody could possibly have any problems with that.
Meanwhile, it's grub time for the Bunkhouse Boys, and everyone is chowing down except Walker, who is brooding and playing guitar. Walker's aloof guitar playing (and, as a reminder, he's played by country star Ryan Bingham so the show tries to get it's money's worth out of having him on). Cowboy, having his first meal with the crew, tells them all what he thinks of their horsemanship, which isn't much. He even threatens to beat Ryan (Ian Bohen) like a "rented mule." Rip, evidently pissed off at Walker's guitar playing, says there's one rule on the ranch: you fight anyone, you fight Rip. Cowboy then approaches Walker, and it turns out they two know each other from having both worked on a ranch in Nebraska. Walker reiterates to Cowboy that the ranch is evil, and that he should get out while he can. Someday, probably this season, we're going to get a showdown between Walker and Rip, and my money's on Rip.
Kayce comes to the Long house to see his now-estranged wife and to see Tate, but Tate's already asleep. Kayce decides to watch him sleep, and Monica has a crying jag. Let's just get these two back together, huh? Also, what happened to Tate's dinosaur?
Beth meets her boss Bob at a fancy Paradise Valley bar to discuss her complicated plans to destroy Dan. They're over my head so I won't try too hard to explain them except that they involve conservation easements and Conservation Reserve Programs and that it'll make them a lot of money and allow them to buy up a whole lot of land. A mere $100 million initial investment is all it will take, which is evidently just chump change for her boss Bob.
Now after all that heady financial talk it's a relief to go spend a little time in the Bunkhouse, where the crew is trying to unwind after work with a little poker. Avery and Cowboy, those troublemakers, say that it's Saturday night and the stakes ought to be higher than a few bucks worth of chips. They decide they oughta play "cowboy poker."
Cowboy poker is played thusly: you set up a card table and a deck of cards in the middle of an arena. Then you get some cowboys to sit at the table. Then you let an angry rutting bull into the arena, and the last cowhand to throw down their cards and run away wins. The Bunkhouse Boys play themselves a hand. Avery, tough gal that she is, wins the pot. Rip hears the commotion and makes a big show of being mad, but once the ranch hands are out of earshot he asks Lloyd to report on who won. Naturally, he's pleased that it was his new recruit.So the bunkhouse boys go to the bar instead.
At the bar, Jimmy and Avery seem to have some chemistry, although she correctly points out that he "looks like the roadie for a white rapper," which is pretty spot-on. By and by, one of the mean cowboy-types that frequent all of the honky-tonks in this show comes over and asks Avery for a dance. Jimmy says they're having a conversation. The cowboy is nonplussed, and Jimmy, emboldened by his success with Avery, tells the amorous cowboy to "f*** off." A huge fight ensues, and everyone is bruised. Back at the bunkhouse, Lloyd says "that's why you don't go to the bar without me."
But then the ever-intense Kayce arrives home and decides that something's gotta be done about this so he wakes up Rip and the two head out to exact their vengeance, Yellowstone style. Which involves backing a trailor up to the entrance of the bar and letting that same rutting bull into the establishment. One by one, as the denizens of the bar exit out the back, Jimmy calls which ones were involved in the altercation. The bunkhouse boys beat the hell out of the offenders with bats. It's all a little bit much, and Walker doesn't want to take part. Rip tells him he's going to live up to the brand, or he's going to take it back. They head back into the bar and tell the owner that maybe he should call Rip next time someone attacks his ranch hands. Kayce, not to be outdone, threatens to burn the place down. Once again, Rip looks troubled.
Dutton goes out for breakfast at a local diner where the waitress calls him "Commissioner." Who should be there but Dan Jenkins. Costner sidles up next to him in his booth, telling him "your head wasn't screwed on straight. We straightened it. You're welcome." Just like a mafia don, Dutton isn't exactly concerned with subtlety.
But Jenkins doesn't intend to leave Montana. He also takes the opportunity for a low blow, telling Dutton that outliving his son (remember that?) is the one failure that can't be fixed, ever. Dutton tells him that he won't cut him down next time he's hanging. Jenkins unconsciously feels his throat, which is still probably pretty sore.
And back at the Bunkhouse, the prophecied artificial insemination has to come to pass, and sure enough, it's Jimmy with his arm in the cow. As usual, the whole cast makes fun of him one by one. Then, perhaps as a result of so much fun, Dutton collapses. He's taken into the veterinarian's trailor. She's not afraid to diagnose him: "it's not colon cancer, it's an ulcer. And it's ruptured." How did John's doctors miss that it was cancer when a veterinarian can tell what it is from two seconds of looking at an ultra-sound? Well, that's just one of those absurdities in which Yellowstone feels free to indulge itself.
She tells him that they have to cauterize the ulcer. A gory sequence follows in which they do just that, with John looking into his own gaping stomach before passing out. Finally, a Yellowstone helicopter picks Dutton up, presumably to take him to Bozeman General Hospital.
"I've got so much to undo," Dutton says, staring out of the helicopter.
And just like that, season two is off and running. See you next week, dear reader.