“A Thundering” isn’t the smoothest reintroduction to Yellowstone, but it reminds viewers what they have missed about the show in its absence.
This recap of Yellowstone Season 2, Episode 1, “A Thundering”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous season by clicking these words.
Yellowstone is one of those shows you don’t realize how much you miss until it returns. I enjoyed the first season of the soapy neo-Western, particularly Sicario and Wind River scribe Taylor Sheridan’s occasionally demented writing, which would lurch enjoyably from overwrought familial drama to played-out macho tropes to truly bizarre diversions, such as a roadside meth lab explosion or a bear attack. The Yellowstone Season 2 premiere, “A Thundering”, isn’t that crazy, although admittedly it has a lot of work to do in reintroducing the narrative particulars and tugging on old threads that the first season left dangling behind.
In case you forgot, of particular import in Yellowstone is the Dutton family ranch, the most massive and prized piece of real estate in Montana, currently presided over by old-school no-nonsense patriarch John (Kevin Costner), his erratic, borderline alcoholic daughter Beth (Kelly Reilly), and his black sheep son, Kayce (Luke Grimes), who moved in after his family life fell apart following the murder (admittedly in self-defense) of his wife’s brother.
His wife, Monica (Kelsey Asbille), returns in Yellowstone Season 2, Episode 1 trying to make her way without him; to protect their son from him and the things he does at the behest of his father, whom she despises. And she’s not the only one. The Dutton land is besieged on all sides by competing parties: slimy, smug developers, the state government, and nearby Native American people shepherded by reservation chief Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham). The estranged Dutton, Jamie (Wes Bentley), is trying to forge his own political career away from the family’s influence, but John and Beth are determined to bankroll political rivals so that he can’t establish a foothold.
There’s always some detective work that needs to be done when you return to a show like this, and “A Thundering” is very much designed to ease returning viewers back into the complex web of land purchases, cultural battles and political maneuvers that define Yellowstone. It isn’t always graceful, but then again it never has been. But the Yellowstone Season 2 premiere does something that the first season also did remarkably well, resulting in a breakout ratings success: It makes it very difficult for you not to pay attention.
In part that’s because there’s a lot to keep track of. But it’s also because you can never quite guess what’s coming next. In “A Thundering”, several of the Dutton ranchhands are assaulted in a nearby bar, so Kayce and John’s right-hand henchman Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser) visit to even the score. It’s a sequence that involves a bull for no good reason, and there’s simply no substitute for that kind of barmy storytelling. I, for one, am thrilled that Yellowstone is back in much the same form as it was before, and one can only hope it continues to garner an audience who want to see more and more of it.