“Meaner Than Evil” sees a return of the Yellowstone of old, and makes us wonder whether or not we realized that the Yellowstone of all was kind of stupid.
This recap of Yellowstone season 3, episode 9, “Meaner Than Evil”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“Meaner Than Evil” took its title as a challenge, delivering an episode that could have easily been plucked from the shallower, pulpier days of the first season, when the Yellowstone ranch was depicted as a kind of nutcase cult where brands are seared into flesh, no slights go unpunished, and anyone who refuses to play along gets killed and chucked off a cliff.
In many ways, this feels like an odd move for so late in the season, but Yellowstone has always delighted in using murder as a convenient problem-solving tool, and there hasn’t been much of it in this year’s outing comparatively speaking. At least with the first couple of seasons, you had a good sense of who the Duttons were going to murder, if not necessarily when they’d get around to it, but since Season 3 has largely been about faceless venture capitalism, it hasn’t offered too many actual targets. John’s old buddy Wade and his son, whose name I still haven’t caught or bothered to research, feel like they were introduced entirely for this purpose, though we’ll get to them in due course.
The main thing going on in Yellowstone season 3, episode 9 that doesn’t have much to do with anything else is the matter of Jamie’s biological parentage, though you have to imagine it’ll eventually factor into the broader narrative, one assumes by vindicating Jamie’s inevitable decision to turn against his “family”. That’s what he’s struggling with here, as he can’t quite get to grips with the fact that he’s adopted and that his junkie dad killed his junkie mother; he has always felt different, ostracised, apart from the rest of the Dutton clan, and he feels that understanding this cranky old murderer is the only means by which he can figure out who he really is. Maybe that’ll be the case, maybe not, but nothing much comes of it here beyond Jamie finally realizing that floating his credentials as an introduction can’t get him what he really wants – it takes him breaking down a little and admitting the desperation he’s feeling for the old man to pay him any mind at all.
A scene in “Meaner Than Evil” that I absolutely cannot fathom why writer Taylor Sheridan and director Stephen Kay included was shared between Kayce and Monica. The former reckons there’s no point in Tate going to school since his future is tied up in the ranch and everything he’ll ever need to learn is right here; this would be stupid even if the entire plot of the season wasn’t about the inevitable seizure of the land surrounding the ranch and thus the ranch being put completely out of business, but the season is about that, with a side helping of the place barely breaking even anyway for added context, so it makes considerably less than no sense that Kayce thinks Tate’s going to have a prosperous future running the ranch. At first, it seems like Monica is going to point this out, or at least argue that lots of rather despicable things tend to happen on the ranch, including but not limited to the permanent branding of its workers and the execution of its enemies and sometimes its employees. But while she makes the point that the whole branding his sons business probably makes John a less than ideal teacher, she quickly accepts the idea that he has softened now and just inexplicably comes around to Kayce’s ridiculous Luddite logic. Isn’t she supposed to be an academic?
You could maybe argue that the Season 3 Dutton ranch is indeed a bit softer than the place as seen in the first two seasons, but then the rest of “Meaner Than Evil” completely argues against that. It even wheels out one of the show’s longstanding tropes of Beth f*cking up the family mealtimes just so she can curse and kick off in front of Tate and Monica. Admittedly, she has plenty to complain about since she has been fired, her chair now occupied by Willa Hayes since Market Equities have bought out her bosses, but you can tell that the scene only exists for the purpose of putting paid to John’s silly idea that this is one big happy family who don’t discuss business over dinner. As a matter of fact, while the Duttons are eating, Rip and the ranchers are out murdering two men and forcing another who they were supposed to murder but didn’t into hacking off chunks of his flesh.
To some extent this is justified, at least by Yellowstone standards, since it turns out that Wade and his cowboy cohorts are in the employ of Roarke Morris and Market Equities, and have been tasked with using Wade’s decades-old grudge with John to goad the Duttons into illegal retaliation, thus making it easier for the state of Montana to seize the land. Why this scheme would be underway alongside offering the family a very lucrative and incentivized buyout is anyone’s guess – is this Plan B, in case Plan A doesn’t go ahead, or did Sheridan just have ideas for both plots and couldn’t decide between them? More to the point, why would Wade, knowing John intimately enough to have a Yellowstone brand of his own, deliberately antagonize him and his workers to the extent that they seek revenge, knowing that their interpretation of revenge is murder? Seems like he didn’t exactly think this assignment through.
Nevertheless, John is wise to this in “Meaner Than Evil” and explains that this is what’s going on when Rip reports to him that Colby and Teeter have been deliberately trampled by horses (they’re both okay.) Knowing that retribution is exactly the response that’s expected of him and that it will inevitably lead to his ruin, John nonetheless sends Rip and the ranchers out to take revenge on Wade, which they accomplish by lynching him from a low branch and getting Walker to slice the brand from his chest. It’s a nasty sequence, and while the bodies are dumped in some kind of lawless frontier where they’re either never found or not investigated if they are, you have to imagine something will come of the act.
If it doesn’t, then questions need to be asked since there’s no way it should be this easy for the Duttons to get away with this so late into the third season – it’d also make Roarke Morris, ostensibly our current Big Bad, look incredibly stupid, given he knows exactly what Wade was up to and will subsequently know what’s happened when he suddenly stops answering his phone. But for Roarke to prove it he’s going to have to track the corpses down, which according to Lloyd’s own explanation of the area would dredge up so many skeletons that this show might conceivably go on forever as a longwinded legal drama in which the Duttons are made to answer for every rancher or local that annoyed Rip over the years.
You’ll notice that this depiction of the ranch in Yellowstone season 3, episode 9 doesn’t exactly jive with the version of it that we’ve been treated to all throughout this season; after being expected to see the place as the last frontier of good, honest, rural life, it’s suddenly Walker, the returning parolee bard, who gives voice to what the place really is: “A magnet for everything that’s wrong in this f*cking world.” Fittingly, he’s told by Rip to pledge himself to the cause or be killed, for real this time, and having had enough he just goes along with it. That’s kind of how I felt about this episode.