'Yellowstone' season finale review: 'The Unravelling Pt. 2' sets the stage for a blockbuster second season
'The Unravelling Pt. 2' had some surprises in store for the audience but leaves many questions unanswered
Recap of 'The Unravelling Pt. 1':
In 'The Unravelling Pt. 1', director and creator Taylor Sheridan delved into the backstory of one of the ranch's more mysterious characters: Rip (Cole Hauser). Presented to the audiences as a machismo cowboy with a sunburnt face and impeccable beard, his undying loyalty to John (Kevin Costner) and the Yellowstone ranch was always intriguing and, as it turned out, so was his past.
A flashback to 1997 shows a then-teenage Rip cowering away as his drunken, violent father murders his family. A burst of courage sees him pick up a pan and go to town on his old man, killing him in the process. John then discovers him hiding away in one of his barns and takes him in as one of his own, with Rip promising the Dutton patriarch his life in return for the kindness.
His violent background and tragic upbringing are poetic in the sense that the same violence now follows him around in his thirties (I presume). Exhibit number one would be one of the most gruesome scenes in the series yet.
As he leads a federal officer to the corpse of the bear he killed, a twist of fate ensures that the officer's horse runs away bucking and tangles itself in a barbed wire fence.
As a result, the officer ends up impaled through the abdomen with a metal pole, though fortunately, there was a semi-happy ending in store this time around.
An increasingly rare segway into life on the ranch is shown via a conversation between Rip and Walker (Ryan Bingham). Walker is told in no uncertain terms that, because he agreed to be branded with the Yellowstone Y, he has no choice but to spend the rest of his days in servitude to the Duttons.
Beth's (Kelly Reilly) presence has dwindled quite significantly, though she did make a cursory five-minute appearance. Her plan to screw over Jenkins (Danny Huston) began to take shape, though, of course, not before she decided to screw around with his psyche by making his wife cheat on him. Elsewhere, the show's only other major female character, Christina (Katherine Cunningham), continued to have the hots for Jamie (Wes Bentley). She seems to suspect that Sarah Nguyen (Michaela Conlin) is up to something and has a cringy heart-to-heart with her boss.
It was a whole lot of everything that, quite frankly, added up to nothing. For an episode that was supposed to set up the season finale, it was undercooked, though the hope remained that 'The Unravelling Pt. 2' would prove to be a barnstormer.
Review of season finale 'The Unravelling Pt. 2':
'The Unravelling Pt. 2' opened with a return to the federal investigation of the death of the grizzly bear. As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours. As the season proceeded, John's well laid-out structure and control is coming apart at the seams, with even nature conspiring to f*** him over as the bear's corpse is desecrated by a pack of hungry wolves. As the rain poured down from grey skies, giving the whole scene an ethereal feel, the sheriff insists that the situation does not bode well for John because of the bear's endangered status. He rebuffs Rip's claims that the killing was done in self-defense, only to be caught lying about not finding any casings.
While the implication here is that John just lost yet another one of those on his payroll, I feel it hints at something greater: Sheridan's disdain for authority. I went into detail in my previous review of how the director may have used the bear to address the hot potato topic of wildlife preservation in the country, and I think he used this segment to highlight the rampant corruption within the country's police forces.
While the sheriff was already corrupt and doing John's bidding, the fact that he sells out to the highest bidder without a second thought is probably Sheridan's way of showing audiences that they're ethically bankrupt too. It's not all too surprising yet curious to see so many elements of powerplay embedded within the show's narrative.
I'd mentioned in my first ever review of the series that Sheridan may find himself with a problem later on in the season because of how the show lacked a likable character (except Jimmy (Jefferson White), of course, but more on that later). Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) was supposed to be the underdog that went up against big, bad cowboy John in a war of attrition for land. However, Rainwater is a billionaire Indian who tries to play up his so-called tradition and heritage while having none and proves just as unlikable as John. I guess we'll never know if it was meant to be this way, but picking a side in this battle is impossible, even more so after John's latest outburst.
I understand where John's coming from, I do. He has to protect a ranch that has been in his family for 132 years. But because of the ruthless, Machiavellian way he goes about it — alienating and berating his children, treating everyone around him as disposable assets, and generally being a d*** about things — you can't help but root against him. I honestly can't tell whether he's supposed to be the protagonist or the antagonist, or maybe even some kind of twisted anti-hero.
Is there a life lesson he's trying to impart here? If so, deciding to put the ranch in a trust and making Beth the executor doesn't seem like the best way to go about it. He tries to put a stop to his son's run for Attorney General even though it presented the best opportunity to redeem his power and, when that fails, goes about trying to actively sabotage it.
For someone whose primary concern has to be the numerous conspirators trying to take over Yellowstone, he does have a lot of time to scheme against Jamie. He then throws the toys out of the pram and goes out of his way to remove Jamie as the ranch's chief counsel and erase him from the will. There's an old, wise saying that goes, "If everyone's an a***hole, then you're the a***hole," and it's something John should ponder upon sometime.
Another thing that's quite noticeable is how there is a tangible disconnect between the episodes, with storylines developed in one episode only addressed sporadically in the following ones. Case in point: John is shown to be suffering from cancer and is shown hurling blood in 'A Monster is Among Us,' but is fit as an ox and fighting Jamie in 'The Unravelling Pt. 1.' Of course, the cancer makes a return in 'The Unravelling Pt. 2,' with John mentioning the fact that he'll be gone soon over and over and over again. The point is, such inconsistencies give the series a clunky outlook.
Now, back to Jamie, who after being shunned by his father seems to be in a jovial mood, proclaiming how he's never felt more alive. But as is with most things in 'Yellowstone' such moments are rare and fleeting. Sarah reveals herself as an investigative journalist (Looks like my prediction that she would play an important role in how the season would play out proved quite prophetic after all) and gives Jamie the option of either being the subject of the article or the source behind it. There's a little bit of cajoling involved — she insists that he's a good man and that it's his father who she's after — but the AG hopeful eventually flips.
And that brings to my previous point of how 'Yellowstone' had no likable characters. Maybe I jumped the gun a little bit over there because Jamie certainly fits the bill, at least for me. Impecabbly suited up, meticulous in his work, amicable in demeanor, Jamie represents the qualities and practically everyone else lacks, so you can't help but root for him. As he tearfully concedes that he's doing the right thing by exposing his father's illicit activities, you find yourself agreeing with him. Will Jamie be the focus of 'Yellowstone' as it goes into season 2? You won't find me complaining if that is indeed the case.
As for his other brother, Kayce (Luke Grimes), the perspective has changed. Dumped by his wife Monica (Kelsey Asbille), he finds himself in angst and returns to a ranch he last called home quite possibly a decade ago. He offers his 'services' to his father, and when the finale closes out, we witness a character shift that I think will suit him quite well. A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one.
Jimmy is back, and as hilarious as ever. Maybe it was just me, but Walker calling him 'the dumbest mother**** I've ever seen' in his heavy southern accent had me in stitches. There's something decidedly wholesome about him and his story, and it helps that each of his appearances is accompanied by those of the other cowboys on the ranch as well. They give 'Yellowstone' an authenticity and a soul that otherwise remained elusive, and with the addition of new cowgirl Avery (Tanaya Beatty) into the mix, that dynamic just got a lot more interesting.
I kept hoping that Beth was someone that I would like as the season progressed but, instead, she became this ambiguous mess. Sheridan's attempts to humanize her with half-cooked backstories resulted in a character that is caught in this Jekyll-Hyde limbo.
At times, she was caring and understanding, but almost immediately reverted to her scathing, emasculating self a few moments later. And I still can't wrap my head around her unbridled hatred for Jamie while at the same time, displaying this reverence towards John who still quite clearly blames her for his wife's death. Some kind of atonement perhaps? Either way, if anything's clear, it's that she's miserable, as is evidenced by her conversation and subsequent making out with Walker.
'The Unravelling Pt. 2' draws down the curtains with a gorgeous shot of John walking into the Montana sunset with the ice-capped mountains looming in the background, though, if truth be said, that was probably one of the best segments in an episode that was a whole lot of nothing for a season finale. It remains to be seen whether such a non-ending will haunt the series when it returns next year.
Sheridan's first ever crack at a television show does have its fair share of positives — the exemplary cinematography, the excellent character development, a stellar cast that put in noteworthy performances — but also quite a few negatives as well. It's clear that his patented slow-burn that worked so well in movies such as 'Sicario' and 'Hell or High Water' won't cut in this format, so the question is: Will Sheridan stick, or will he twist?