Season 2, Episode 2: "New Beginnings"
Five stars out of Five
Now, before we get down to business here, I'd like to make an observation about this episode: it's one of the talkiest and most touchy-feely episodes of the whole show, and I mean that as a positive. Though the show's characters are acutely drawn, we don't always get much development out of them, and this episode shows several Duttons making some progress, further enriches Rip's self-sacrificing loyalty to John Dutton, and actually lets Kayce smile. Kayce smiles in this episode. Several times!
Ok, let's hop on into the fray.
John's in the hospital again, and the much-beleagured Dr. Stafford (Brian Unger) is as happy as ever to be dealing with one of the Dutton. Hell, at least no one's getting beat up. Stafford asks to look at Dutton's sutures (which were administered, you will recall, by a veterinarian) and decides that Dutton's well enough to go home. But he'd better go to his swimming physical therapy. It's hard to imagine Dutton in a swimming pool, isn't it?
As an aside, it's a nice moment when the doctor tells him he can put his hat on the bed, and Dutton replies, "no, I can't." it seems that even though Kayce considers himself too rational to believe in superstition, the same does not apply to his father. It's also a small moment of levity when Stafford suggests he visit a dermatologist and Dutton, naturally, indicates his displeasure at that notion.
It falls to Kayce, as the new heir apparent to the Yellowstone, to drive his dad home. He hits some potholes on the way, whether intentionally or not, and Dutton's discomfort causes him to tell Kayce to pull over. They stop in a farmer's field and have what passes for a Dutton heart to heart.
Dutton admonishes Kayce for helping to beat the snot out of the guys at the cowboy bar, telling him not to fight. Wranglers handle their own problems. When Kayce asks how he's supposed to sleep in the same bunk with men he won't defend, Dutton tells him he's not going to sleep there anymore. Wasn't it Kayce's idea to sleep in the bunkhouse, by the way? It seems season 2 is taking some measures to correct its course.
Dutton tells Kayce he finally understands him; his brush with death has meant that he's stopped factoring tomorrow into his decisions, but Dutton's not dying anymore, and that means he's not going to think like there's no tomorrow. Once you know you're going to live, that means "you've got to face all them decisions you've made." Dutton is suggesting that Kayce too has to figure out how to start living again. Kayce says he doesn't know how to do that. Dutton admits that he doesn't either, but they'll figure it out.
Could this presage the emergence of a kinder, gentler Dutton?
Keep that in mind, because I think we'll see kindler, gentler variations on a couple of the main cast in this episode, including a certain Dutton daughter who's never demonstrated even an iota of kindness ever before.
We join her with her boss Bob, beginning to snatch up those pieces of real estate they discussed in the last episode. With them is a sleazy real estate agent who attracts Beth's considerable ire after he suggests that she look at one more piece of land that isn't technically for sale. It's called the Pelican Ranch, and right away Beth smells a rat. She tells him off, paying special attention to his "capped teeth and spray tan," not to mention his "waxed ass."
The reason, as we find out in a later scene, is that the owners of the Pelican Ranch were, well, a little defrauded by the real estate man. It was called "Pelican Ranch" because he stocked their pond with a pelican decoy, both enhancing the charm of the place for the buyer and also scaring off the birds that feed on the pond's fish. Once the buyer put down the money, the fake pelican was collected from the pond, which means that the birds ate all the fish; the buyer thought he was getting a fully-stocked fishing pond, but that wasn't so. Beth asks him what he'd need to sell and the man, throwing out what he thinks is a ridiculous number, tells her $9 million. Bob writes him a check on the spot. And then, Beth also smiles. And not one of her acidic crocodile smiles, but a genuinely affectionate smile. Whoa, what is happening to Yellowstone? I will say this: it's the first time I've liked her so far on the whole show.
Monica, meanwhile, is beginning her new job at the university. As she comes into the classroom, a jock remarks in an unsubtle way on her attractiveness. A previous generation may have used Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" as a reference point. He instead suggests that he's seen this exact scenario in online porn. The times, they are a-changing. Monica cuts him down pretty well, but not without insinuating that he's probably a date rapist, and that his is the sort of attitude that caused Columbus and friends to massacre the Natives. I suppose she's not wrong. Meanwhile, the president of the university witnesses her telling the frat boy off and is suitably impressed. As they leave the auditorium he suggests she move into faculty housing, which would make for a shorter commute (although she's presumably still teaching at the school in Broken Rock, but whatever). She says she'll consider it. Then Trent, the jerk frat boy, apologizes to her. I suppose that makes it a good first day of teaching.
At the Yellowstone, the bunkhouse boys are putting up a fence. When someone asks why Cowboy doesn't have to do this grunt work, Rip snaps that it's because he's a day worker, so he doesn't leave the saddle. Walker says that he's worked at ranches where he never had to leave the saddle either, and Rip tells him maybe he should have stayed there. Walker agrees, much to Rip's ire. Finally, Walker makes a crack about having a fondness for the farmer's daughter, and how they have that in common, and Rip's not happy. Walker announces he's leaving that night, draws a knife, Lloyd draws a pistol, and everyone's worked up. Walker mounts up and leaves.
His first stop is at the bunkhouse, where he collects his things. He bids Cowboy adieu. Then, on his way out of the ranch, he runs into Dutton and Kayce, returning from the hospital. Kayce and Dutton reassure him that he won't be asked to beat people within an inch of their lives anymore, and that what happened the other night won't happen again. Dutton tells Kayce he's "making some changes."
We found out that one of those changes is making Kayce a livestock agent, thus handing him the badge that his dead brother Lee used to wear (remember Lee?). Dutton tells Kayce he should be honest and fair with everyone, but that he can't be that way until he's that way with himself. Dutton tells him he ought to get his wife and son back. As Kayce leaves, Dutton tells Kayce to tell Rip to come up to the house.
Good thing, too, because Rip's heading to the bunkhouse to kill Walker. He's already thrown an expensive saddle and destroyed a coffee table by the time Kayce catches up to him.
Dutton tells Rip that while he's the one he trusts the most, Dutton's going to have to ask him for something difficult. Kayce has to learn how to run the ranch, and that means Rip assuming a secondary role. Not only that, but Rip's going to have to move out of his cushy room in the house and into the bunkhouse. The boys in the bunkhouse are enjoying some college football when Rip comes in and sets up. Something tells me that the bunkhouse boys aren't too happy about that, especially Walker.
The next morning as the bunkhouse boys are mounting up, they're also trying to figure out the new power structure in the bunkhouse. Dutton suggests to Kayce that he's going to have to fight Rip or otherwise show his dominance. Kayce does his part to force a confrontation by having Rip and Lloyd ride drag - and by extension, make them eat the herd's dust. Rip tells Lloyd they're just tools.
Rip heads off under the pretense of helping Walker, but instead throws him off his horse and into a tree. As Walker lies, panting, on the ground, Rip gets ready to trample him. Walker comes within a foot or so of being murdered when Kayce intervenes. It's time to fight.
They fight in the arena so that all the bunkhouse boys can watch. They both get some good licks in, but ultimately Rip lets win - and in so doing fulfills what Dutton asked him to do. The balance of power in the bunkhouse has shifted, and everyone can see that Kayce's the new boss.
It's dinner time at the Yellowstone, and Beth's getting there late. She asks Kayce why he's beat up and Dutton tells her not to talk about business at the dinner table. She flies right off the handle, storming out before she's taken a bite. Dutton comments that she hasn't made it through a whole dinner since she was eleven. And Kayce, by god, he actually laughs. And then, though I'm tempted to think my eyes deceive me, Dutton chuckles too, or at least smirks. It's an episode of firsts.
Beth, her temper tantrum arrested, finds Rip brooding in a field. She joins him, telling him that she remembers how wild and angry he was the first time she saw him. She confesses that she was always worried that Dutton would love Rip more than he does her. But then, another moment of something approaching tenderness: she says, "don't leave." And Rip tells her he won't. This is his family, he says, "whether any of y'all think of me that way or not."
At the Long house, Tate notices that Monica is examining the floor plan of a two-bedroom townhouse. Felix reminds her that she and Kayce were married in a Native ceremony, not just a courthouse - that means they're married in the afterlife too. It seems everyone wants Monica and Kayce back together.
That night, Kayce's sitting outside thinking when Beth approaches. They discuss Rip; Kayce thinks he's nothing but a bully, but Beth tells him, correctly, that he's only what Dutton's made him. And then Beth, always one to stir the metaphorical s**t, tells him that he's going to pick a fight, end up in jail, get sued, and lose them the ranch. She implores him to go home and to stay far away from Dutton. Beth sure is hard to figure out - always ready to fight for the ranch, but eager to get rid of it once Dutton dies. Eager to do what Dutton wants, but eager to talk about what a monster he is to anyone who'll listen.
Now it's time for physical therapy, and for the unexpected thrill of seeing Dutton sharing a pool with a bunch of screaming little kids; a sight which causes the moribund Kayce to laugh again! Eager to prove that he's not just a tough cowboy but a champion swimmer, he swims the length of the pool underwater before colliding with - you guessed it - Monica. Tate recognizes Kayce and starts yelling Daddy. Everyone stands around looking like they don't know what to do next.
And that's the end of the episode.
For my money, it's one of the best so far. It's done a lot to reveal facets of the characters that we've never seen before, and is emotionally resonant without a single murder (although it did come close). I'm not saying Yellowstone should never have a murder, because of course it should. But it is nice to learn a little more about these people, good and bad, in which we're asked to invest.
In fact, it's interesting to think that in this character-driven episode, with so many interesting scenes, there was nary any Dan Jenkins or Thomas Rainwater to be found. It makes me wonder if we'll see the same for them this season. I've said before I'm a fan of Rainwater. I think he's an interesting character, and I find myself on his side a lot of the time. But Jenkins is harder to like. But maybe we'll get some deepening of their characters too as we head for whatever explosive confrontation was hinted at in the first episode's dream/premonition.
See you next week, Yellowstone fans!