Yellowstone’s second episode, “Kill the Messenger”, still has a host of problems, but the core ideas are there and the bones of a great show are waiting to be unearthed.
Yellowstone isn’t a great television show yet, but there’s definitely one inside it somewhere. I can’t quite put a finger on what’s holding it back; might be how it lurches from one place, one idea to another, sometimes without any build-up or warning, but it might just as easily be writer-director Taylor Sheridan’s tendency to self-indulge. Then again, that’s what gives Yellowstone it’s oddly authentic contour, and at this point is the main thing holding it all together. In the second episode, “Kill the Messenger”, Kayce and his son accidentally dig up some dinosaur bones, which feels like the kind of oddball childhood memory that a lesser writer – or a judicious editor – might have cut.
“Kill the Messenger”, in a lot of ways, was anthological, knitting together various scenes of cover-up with strange, often incongruous interludes. In the wake of the climactic cattle-motivated shootout in last week’s premiere, it quickly becomes apparent that the Duttons’ retelling of events isn’t going to hold up to scrutiny. Medical reports and eyewitnesses indicate the presence of a third individual, and much of the episode is devoted to John calling in favours to stop the inquiry from implicating Kayce in the murder of his own brother-in-law.
The point of all this, narratively, is to display the scope of John’s local influence, but the various means by which he accomplishes the task speak to the nature of rural Montana and the codes of manly manliness that govern it. A visit to a rodeo to sweet-talk one of the investigators takes the form, mainly, of a lamentation on raising sons and riding bulls. Another visit to a local preacher convinces him to redefine the commandant about bearing false witness to essentially say, “Don’t snitch on John Dutton.” That’s a great scene, in part because it plays on the archetypal god-fearing nature of good old country folks, but mostly because it’s quite a legitimately frightening display of social power.
Some other instances of strong-arming in “Kill the Messenger” are less subtle but equally effective, such as when the Duttons’ grizzled enforcer, Rip (Cole Hauser), stops by the medical examiner’s office and convinces him that a reasonable course of action would be to blow up the whole place with the guy still inside it. Again, not exactly subtle, but it does the job. For what it’s worth the medical examiner dips his cigarettes in embalming fluid. This is explained to John earlier on, to which he responds, “What?”, and when it’s repeated simply says, “Jesus Christ” and refuses to meet with him personally out of sheer disgust.
Then there were some moments that were simply contrived or outright bizarre. One of them involved Kayce and Monica, arguing about Kayce’s decision to re-join the military when a roadside trailer that they were driving past randomly exploded. Kayce found the charred occupant laying a few feet away in a ditch and mercy-killed him, which was presented quite explicitly as a bonding moment between him and his wife. After a while it also came to incorporate Thomas Rainwater, who invited Kayce to a sweat-lodge and explained to him why children always look like their fathers when they’re born – apparently, it’s an evolutionary thing, so that the father knows the baby is his and doesn’t kill it. I mean, if you say so, Tom.
This kind of thing I can take or leave, but it’s memorable in Yellowstone because all these wacky ideas evidently mean something to Taylor Sheridan, and it comes through in the writing. There’s a nugget of wonderful phrasing or profound pontificating in almost every single scene, even the ones that don’t properly fit together. It makes the experience worthwhile, like you’re combing through the loose earth to put those buried dinosaur bones back together.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.