“The Reek of Desperation” highlights how difficult change can be, no matter how much it might be wanted or needed.
This recap of Yellowstone Season 2, Episode 3, “The Reek of Desperation”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Yellowstone Season 2, Episode 3, like the two episodes before it, is about change — or, more specifically, it’s about the inability to change even when it’s in everyone’s best interests to do so. “The Reek of Desperation” makes the point quite clear, right from the beginning. Kayce is trying to lead the ranchers, but they don’t respond to his new, softer way of doing things. They do, however, still respond to Rip, who is continuing to play the game out of loyalty to the Duttons. As Lloyd (Forrie J. Smith) puts it, “Different never works.”
That idea is reinforced throughout “The Reek of Desperation”. Jamie realizes that he won’t be running for the Attorney General’s office unopposed anymore; his father’s new political golden child will make sure he isn’t getting financing or votes, and as an independent, there’s nothing he can do about it. Thomas Rainwater, fresh from getting into bed with Dan Jenkins in order to build a new off-reservation casino, offers him benefaction, but to accept it would mean Jamie is not just deciding to do things without his family’s help but to actively oppose them. And he isn’t willing to do that.
As part of his grooming of Kayce as the successor to the ranch, John tries to get him enrolled in the Livestock Association, which sets some alarm bells ringing. He passes the criminal check, but he frets that he wouldn’t be able to pass a psychological evaluation. Still unsure of his suitability for the role, he goes to see Monica at the apartment provided to her by the faculty. Both are clearly struggling with being apart, and what it might mean for their respective futures if they continue to be. But their arguments, like so many that blossom when long-term relationships go wrong, are circular. Monica believes he should have stayed and fought for his family; Kayce believes he was to told to leave, and simply did so to respect his wife’s wishes. “If you wanted something different,” he says to her, “You should have asked for something for different.” Fair point.
There’s that theme of Yellowstone Season 2, Episode 3 cropping up again. “The Reek of Desperation” also deals with the idea of change that can’t be prevented; that has to be adapted to and overcome. The progression of time and trends is something that deeply bothers John. He meets with Governor Perry (Wendy Moniz-Grillo) and complains about how the swanky bar they’re in used to be something else, and how they’re drinking foreign wine. The erosion of frontier traditionalism doesn’t suit him. Neither, it seems, does being old. When things get a bit exciting between them, the moment sputters out into nothing. They both miss their late spouses enough that they’ll never fall in love again. I’m not sure I needed to start my day with a Kevin Costner dry-humping session, but I can only be thankful that things didn’t go any further.
The only person in “The Reek of Desperation” who seems to be handling change well is Rip. He’s getting on with his new, hands-on responsibilities around the ranch, much to the annoyance of Beth, who sees his demotion as a betrayal. But looking around at all he still has, he can’t see it the same way. There are two types of people, after all — those who never have enough, and those who have all they need. Beth is the former, which is why she throws herself so completely into her family’s business affairs. She believes that by taking and conquering and owning everything, she’ll find some satisfaction in herself, her family and the life they all share. But between them, resigned to feeding horses or not, Rip is better off. Her indignation at his treatment is indignation that she’ll probably never be as content as he is.
In a bizarre diversion that’ll presumably pay off later in the season, Jimmy is accosted at a hardware store by some old associates, who try to force him to make certain purchases for them. He refuses to and assaults one of them, leading to a bit of a scuffle. It meant nothing for Yellowstone Season 2, Episode 3 and felt oddly out of place, but it also didn’t feel like an isolated incident. Something to keep an eye on going forward.
Meanwhile, Dan Jenkins meets with a new character, Malcolm Beck (Neal McDonough), a ruthless landowner whose territory is set to be encroached upon by the new casino. Dan is utterly sick of being bullied by rednecks, and is quite smug about his challenge for the Becks — Malcolm is in business with his brother — to deal with the matter legally. But his tune changes when he learns that he can only apply for a liquor license through Beck’s office; a virtually insurmountable hurdle when it comes to opening a casino. He sends a frustrated fist crashing through the model of his planned developments.
“The Reek of Desperation”, as a title, makes sense in the scene in which Beth goes to see Jamie in order to convince him to withdraw from the race. It’s what she insists people like Thomas Rainwater can smell on him, which is why they’re so willing to cozy up to him as long as he can offer something they need. But he isn’t suited to being a politician. He’ll be thrown around and pulled apart by people who are, and the family will suffer as a result. Jamie has many problems with Beth, particularly, and with his family generally, but he won’t stand in open opposition to them. He still has their best interests at heart. Despite being challenged not to by his girlfriend Christina (Katherine Cunningham), he withdraws from the race, returning to the ranch to sit with John, Beth and Kayce, eating grilled octopus at the dinner table. Beth, naturally, finds this hilarious.
But John doesn’t. After trying (and failing) to inject some normality into the Dutton dinner table conversations, he heads outside, and Yellowstone Season 2, Episode 3 ends with him quietly cursing his late wife for leaving him as he watches Rip go about his mundane business. Change doesn’t come easily, no matter how much you want it to.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.