'Yellowstone' episode 4 review: 'A Long Black Train' shines a sharper light on Dutton ranch but is still all over the place
Recap of first three episodes
Upon premiere on June 20, Paramount's 'Yellowstone' became the network's most-watched original scripted series telecast ever, drawing in over 2.8 million viewers and doubling the record for that of its first scripted drama series 'Waco,' and tripling the debut viewership of 'American Woman.'
That number only grew as the other elements began factoring in, with the show taking the honor of becoming the second most-watched TV series on ad-supported cable to air in 2018, only behind AMC's 'The Walking Dead.'
These numbers can almost certainly be attributed to the star ensemble that the breakout drama boasts, with two-time Academy Award-winner Kevin Costner spearheading the show as John Dutton, the stoic patriarch of the Dutton family who happens to control the largest contiguous ranch in the United States.
The likes of Luke Grimes, Cole Hauser, and Kelly Reilly feature in prominent supporting roles in a script penned by the critically acclaimed Taylor Sheridan.
Sheridan has also taken up directing duties for the drama that addresses one of America's age-old conflicts — tradition vs modernization. His work in 'Sicario,' 'Hell or High Water,' and 'Wind River' had cemented his status as a master for mapping out the sociopolitical climates of the country's southern states and the Bible Belt.
His work in plotting out and capturing the intricacies that have plagued the region since the country's foundation is unmatched, and he seems to be revelling in the opportunity to mesh out another one. However, the first three episodes of 'Yellowstone' left much wanting, revealing characters that were painfully one-dimensional and a premise that lacked direction.
While one can't fault their development — one thing the show does exceedingly well is giving each character, however seemingly insignificant, ample screen-time to grow and mature — the fact that all of them are so inherently dislikable gives you little reason to keep watching. Yes, the 'good guy v bad guy' is an angle that is very much a thing of the past, with anti-heroes all the rage, but in the case of 'Yellowstone,' characters end up more ambiguous than intriguing.
There was quite a lot to love about the show too. For one, there could hardly have been a better location to base the show in than Montana. Stitched in between each of the episodes are some breathtaking shots of the region's winding roads, rolling hills, pristine rivers, and lush forests, with Sheridan taking every opportunity to stake out a scene in the state's resplendent natural beauty. But keeping true to one of life's cardinal rules, every ecstatic moment is undercut with one that brings one crashing down to Earth.
A special shout out to Jimmy Hurdstrom (Jefferson White), the gaunt-faced drug addict has-been with no future, and who's given a shot at being a cowboy after his grandfather begs Dutton to take him under his wing. In a show that's so full of characters you can't help but dislike and develop a distaste for, Jimmy provides a refreshing contrast. You genuinely want to see him overcome his depressing past and succeed.
Episde 4: 'The Long Black Train':
'The Long Black Train' opens with Kayce Dutton (Luke Grimes) contemplating his guilt over the shooting of his brother-in-law. The chain of events set in motion led his bereaved, broken widow to commit suicide, leaving four young children orphans. Wishing to shield his son Tate (Brecken Merrill) from seeing his cousins taken away, Kayce sends him to spend the day with grandpa Dutton at the Yellowstone ranch, building on the first three episodes' attempt to explain the pair's estrangement.
One gets the feeling that 'Yellowstone' is attempting to tackle a few too many unfurling storylines all at once, as evidenced by the episode's constant shifts in narrative. One of the better bits involved Sheridan's presentation of life at Yellowstone Ranch, punctuated by Jimmy's determination to fit in and become one of the tribe. A heartwarming moment, nay a rite of passage, is fulfilled when he's thrown off his horse and loses his cowboy hat. Forced to scrounge for it, Jimmy discovers a calf separated from the herd and caught in the thorns, freeing it to bring it back to the ranch. But unfortunately, these moments are fleeting and far too few in between.
Instead, the primary focus of the episode seems to be a cult of brotherhood going around on the ranch that makes it out to be some kind of living, breathing criminal organization. Jimmy is tripped and bullied into submission by an 'outsider,' Fred (Luke Peckinpah). Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser), Dutton's right-hand-man who had practically forced Jimmy into servitude in the ranch by threatening his life, comes to his rescue. Wheeler beats Fred to a pulp, spewing some hyperbole about how now Jimmy's been branded with the sacred 'Y,' and will forever hold an important place at the ranch. "Not us," he says. "We die here."
That level of extreme loyalty seems woefully misplaced, however, with Dutton immediately suggesting they replace Fred with a 'two-bit crook like Jimmy.' The patriarch then recommends that they drop Fred to the 'train station,' which turns out to be a metaphor for putting a bullet through his head, and which turns out to be the inspiration for the episode's title. Why do they need to kill him over such a petty squabble? He's apparently worked there too long and 'knows too much,' further adding on to this insistence that the Yellowstone ranch has some seedy underbelly. When will we be introduced to this seedy underbelly? Hopefully, soon, because the show has little going for it currently.
We mentioned in our previous review that the characters seemed to have an unnecessary penchant for flamboyant and exaggerated dialogues and that trend continues with 'The Long Black Train.' This time around, the guilty party is Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham), who explains to Monica Dutton (Kelsey Asbille) that her husband is guilty of murder through some hogwash on how spider webs appear random but are, in fact, constructed by a spider. Uhm, okay?
Kelly Reilly does her best with Beth Dutton but has little to work around. The audience has no insight into what made her into the current hyper-aggro manifestation of herself, any explanation of how she inadvertently led to her mother's death notwithstanding. Four episodes in, one would hope her interactions with her family would reveal more, but she's been locked into an odd confrontation with land developer Danny Huston (Danny Jenkins) instead. It's likely that Sheridan reveals more as the season progresses, but it might be too late to redeem the character by then, she's as unlikeable as they get, and not just for her personality on-screen.
While taking up an insignificant portion of the episode, her interaction with Huston at a local cowboy bar was as enjoyable as the episode gets. Not because of how she plays around with Huston and emasculates him, but because the boisterous, upbeat atmosphere, the country music and beer flowing in the background, and battle-hardened cowboys at the bar truly capture the essence of the Wild West. A small teaser of the things to come between her and Wheeler and the fate of Kayce after his arrest by the police should keep the audience interested enough to tune in once again next week.
Prediction for episode 5, 'Coming Home':
Kayce's capture and impending incarceration over the murder of the two kidnappers should provide Rainwater the political maneuvering power to finally get one over arch-nemesis John Dutton, especially after the latter had him embarrassed over cattle theft. Revenge is nigh, and it is indeed a dish that is best served cold.