'Yellowstone' episode 7 review: 'A Monster Is Among Us' reveals good and bad side to Taylor Sheridan's writing
'Yellowstone' is picking up the pace as it heads to the season finale and 'A Monster is Among Us' is built on several previous storylines.
Recap of episode 6, 'The Remembering':
With 'The Remembering,' creator and director Taylor Sheridan worked towards answering some of the questions that have plagued viewers since the series premiere such as "Why does Kayce (Luke Grimes) hate his father John (Kevin Costner) and the ranch so much?" or "What resulted in Beth turning out as such a foul-mouthed, emasculating, loathsome woman?" or "Why was Jamie's (Wes Bentley) political ambitions so abruptly swept underneath the rug?"
'Yellowstone' has very much been a series that has improved as the season has aged — Sheridan's characteristic method of non-linear storytelling no doubt playing its part in the drama's slow-burning approach — and 'The Remembering' honored the trend. The episode reveals the reason behind the rift between Kayce and John, delving into fact that the latter's strict disciplinarian approach with his children, as well as Kayce's rebellious younger days, resulted in Kayce punished with the ranch's signature Y brand. His impregnation of Monica (Kelsey Asbille) and refusal to abort the baby subsequently fractured the relationship beyond repair (at the time).
There was also an odd altercation between Kayce and Rip (Cole Hauser), who after a brief exchange of words, went to blows with one another. And oh, for some reason, there was a big brown bear on the ranch that seemed to have dropped out of nowhere. While Sheridan used the bear as a prop to add further shades into Rip's character, the creeping feeling was that it would make its return in subsequent episodes to further the plot.
'The Remembering' also marked a return to the politicking and scheming that was a prominent theme in the drama's first three episodes. Jamie sets the wheels into motion for his bid for the Attorney General's Office — aided, or so he thought, by his father's lover Governor Lynelle Perry (Wendy Moniz) and new campaign manager Christina (Katherine Cunningham) — and Thomas Rainwater returns from relative obscurity to strike a deal with business magnate Dan Jenkins (Danny Huston) with the aim of finally 'getting one over' John.
Beth (Kelly Reilly) was also her usual scathing best, ensuring she gets the last word in during a bizarre confrontation with Perry, though the most significant happening has to do with Monica. Seemingly on the way to recovery after injuring her head while attempting to separate a schoolyard fight, she suddenly falls unconscious as 'The Remembering' closes out. We had seen death aplenty in the show already, was this an indication that there would be more?
Review for episode 7 'A Monster Is Among Us':
The short answer? Yes. But more on that later. 'A Monster Is Among Us' opened with John barreling down one of Montana's umpteen scenic roadways, only to be taken aback by a group of Chinese tourists on his land who appear to be mesmerized by a brown bear. Angered by their indifference to the carnivore, he picks up a rifle and angrily strides toward them, berating them for their carelessness and demanding they get off his ranch. When questioned by one on the legitimacy of his claims, he fiercely states, "This is America. We don't share land here."
There were so many things going on in that one little scene that makes you appreciate Sheridan's masterful writing. Firstly, the bear. Its unusual and out-of-place (yes, even for a ranch the size of Rhode Island) first appearance in 'The Remembering' indicated that it had a bigger role to play, and this all but confirmed it. As we learn later in the episode from Jenkins' lawyer, the bear(s) made their way on to Yellowstone after being displaced because of John's river rerouting maneuver, and its status as an endangered animal could mean that the Dutton patriarch is served a felony notice.
Two evidently unrelated, inconsequential events combine to unravel arguably the series' most important subplot: Dutton's downfall. It's Sheridan at his very best, with the multitude of storylines he had so carefully crafted over the previous six episodes now beginning to take shape. There are other instances to support this prognosis as well. That random fleeting reference to John's cancer is episode four turned out to hold weight as well. Not only did it go on to weaken the Dutton family's political clout at a time Jamie is attempting to run for AG in 'The Remembering,' it also returned here with a vengeance to practically cripple John over into retching blood. John intimated he felt the winds of change gathering pace, but little did we know that it would be a result of a bear and colon cancer.
It wouldn't be surprising in the least to learn that Sheridan had dropped other little breadcrumbs across the series that point towards the big picture either. If I were a betting man, I'd wager the appearance of Sarah Nguyen (Michaela Conlin) as one half of the unassuming lesbian couple beckons ominously for Dutton. We previously saw her absorbed by the cattle war that claimed Lee Dutton's (Dave Annable) life and appearing in the nurse's room at Monica's school, and in 'A Monster Among Us,' she's there once again. She's due to make an appearance in the episode preceding the season finale, 'The Unraveling: Part 1,' as well, so make of that what you will.
I'd previously written that the methodology Sheridan uses in concocting his movies was one that did not translate well into a television series format and I stand by my point. That approach had resulted in the first half of the season feeling disjointed and repetitive but is now paying dividends. As we approach the last two episodes, as well as the second season, the series is building that intrigue factor it had sorely been missing all this time.
But as has been a trend in 'Yellowstone,' the episode was bogged down by its fair share of negatives, the primary of which is Sheridan's writing of female characters. I've already gone into detail with Beth, who was the only significant woman in the entire show but represented the traits that would make you believe she was a pseudo-male. Arrogant, mean, and foul-mouthed —don't get me wrong, her snapping back, "Repeat that in English, I don't speak Dipshit" to Walker (Ryan Bingham) when he quips about her less-than-graceful fall of the horse was glorious — Sheridan, in recent episodes, has resorted to counterbalancing her hyper-aggro persona with a softer side.
In 'A Monster Is Among Us,' we got to see the meekest Beth yet. The first time we see her, see's bawling her eyes out on her bed, and a Christmas flashback and a first period delineate the relationship between her and her mother a little further. Though it was previously revealed that Evelyn Dutton (Gretchen Moi) blamed Beth for her death, it's now shown to us that that was because she had warned her daughter she would have to be hard to her because she was now a woman. "I have to turn you into the man most men will never be … You’re gonna hate it, sweetheart," she says. The rest of the episode sees her strap on her cowboy gear for the first time in what must have been decades, accepting to babysit nephew Tate (Brecken Merrill), and then enjoying herself in a singalong with the Cowboys at the residence. It feels as though Sheridan is trying to overcompensate at this point, throwing her from one drastic end of the spectrum to the other, and that does not reflect well.
Christina is quite appalling as well. The very scene she was first introduced in 'The Remembering,' Perry hints that she should 'get with' Jamie, and in this episode, she certainly tries her very best to do so. Despite being portrayed as a smart campaign manager who will get Jamie to his goal of AG, she still inhibits the personalities of a bimbo and is shown to be completely smitten by his mere presence. She responds to his nonsensical monologue about how he's not an idealist because he just wants power and to protect his family's holdings by bashfully telling him,"That’s the most idealistic thing I’ve ever heard a politician say." To add to the sizzling (no, not really) tension between the two, she says, "It's not the break room...It's you." Cheesy much?
Sheridan's proclivity to write in something fantastically and nonsensically brutal is getting tiresome as well, even more so because he never follows up on them. They're there for the heck of it. In 'A Monster Among Us,' we see a couple from the group of Chinese tourists from the start of the episode inexplicably hanging over a steep cliffside, moments away from certain death. Rip comes to the rescue, but to add to the life-or-death stakes claims he can only save one of them and that the pair will have to choose between themselves who would get pulled to safety.
But wait, there are even more stakes! Just as he tries to rescue them, the brown bear he had been hunting makes its reappearance, and as a result, both tourists fall to their death. The bear isn't lucky either and gets shot in the head. Horrific violence backed with little substance. I'm still entirely unsure why the idyllic Yellowstone Ranch is such a magnet to death and destruction. It's awkward and out of place.
At its core, 'Yellowstone' is still about the tussle between the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, preservation and modernization, and there are still bits that hint at that struggle. For one, we see Monica's grandfather taking solace in an old Indian tradition of burning sage near his bed-ridden granddaughter in the hope the spirits would answer his prayers. But almost immediately, the camera pans to a smoke detector and a nurse comes rushing in, demanding he put it out or risk blowing up the oxygen tank nearby.
It's a startling contrast and one that we witness once again during John's speech at the cattlemen's association dinner. Despite his wealth and status, John states that ranching was not about profit and all he wished for was to see his land peacefully pass on to his children without having to worry about those who constantly look to steal it. He also talks about breaking even, adding that he was counting on God to "give us a little rain and luck." Hyperbolic? Sure. But you can sense where he's coming from. The interplay between power and property are at the crux of the show and its most fascinating aspect, and that's the direction Sheridan should ideally head towards.