In a short scene before the opening credits of this week’s Yellowstone, “Freight Trains and Monsters,” John and his grandson are gathering their gear at the camp to go fishing when Tate asks a good question: “Why can’t we live like this, right here, everyday?” It’s an idea that recurs throughout the episode. The thought rattles around in John’s head, as he later orders his men to break camp and move everything up the hill a bit, to where there’s no cellular service. And Monica — after riding her horse up to the camp to get all sexy with Kayce on the ground while a wolf watches them — ruminates on how sad it is that, “The way we used to live for a million years is now an event, for weekends and holidays.”
“Freight Trains and Monsters” is hardly the most eventful Yellowstone. If last week’s premiere was all about setting the table for season three, then this week’s episode (once again written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Stephen Kay) is about sitting around that table, relaxing, and reflecting. The hour’s mostly filled with conversations, not conflict. But underlying all of the chitchat is a fundamental disagreement as to why people want to spend time in picturesque Montana.
Once again, this week’s best scene involves Beth and the newcomer Roarke Morris, who we — and she — has now learned is a money manager, in state to help advance the interests of the real estate consortium that’s suddenly challenging Beth’s bosses at Schwartz & Meyer by buying up all the available land around Yellowstone. Beth has figured out that the interlopers must be planning to build an airport, followed closely by a ski resort and an accompanying upscale small town, similar to Park City in Utah. So she storms off to talk to Roarke, the “dip-fuck” she describes to Schwartz as “like Lucille Ball and Fabio had a kid.”
She finds him rolling a joint and sitting by the creek at Cross Creek Ranch. Turns out he’s been reading up on her family’s, um, aggressive response to business rivals. (“The old west, still wild,” he laughs.) Roarke doesn’t try to hide what his clients are doing, nor does he say he disapproves — although he does make a point to tell Beth that he’s not the one calling the shots. And when she asks what all the ranchers are going to do when they get driven out by ski shops, boutiques, and award-winning restaurants, he smirks and says, “They won’t have to be ranchers anymore ‘cause they’ll all be so fuckin’ rich.”
There again is what this episode is about. What if — as is the case with John Dutton — the biggest dream of a rancher is just to be a rancher? What if the people working this land would like to continue enjoying its beauty and its bounty themselves, rather than selling out to tourists?
I think what I liked most about “Freight Trains and Monsters” is that it explores these matters is such a low-key way, with minimal speechifying or hollering. This question of what makes for a satisfying life, it comes up again in a couple of other scenes with Beth. In one, she wakes up in Rip’s soft, warm bed, enticed by the smell of the big coffee, bacon, eggs, and frybread breakfast in the kitchen. She gets teary-eyed at the way he’s taking care of her, looking a little like an urchin who’s finally found a home — with her legs dangling from his dining room chair, not quite reaching the ground. But later in the episode Rip finds her howling and whooping in his corral, like a wild horse who maybe doesn’t doesn’t want to be penned in, no matter how cozy the stall.
So make no mistake: There’s fresh trouble coming for the ever-wary Duttons, given that their proactive approach to solving problems inevitably means they can’t stay out of their own damn way. Probably the most dramatic moment in this episode involves Jamie, who’s given an opportunity to be as much of a tough guy as his father in his new role as Livestock Commissioner. Asked to send one of his agents to take care of a couple of horse thieves — and told that said agent should handle the case “the right way,” by making an example of the perpetrators — Jamie dispatches Agent Steve Hendon to scare these boys straight.
But Steve takes things too far, trapping the thieves — unrestrained — in a horse trailer while he drives across a bumpy road. When he brings the suspects to the cops, Steve’s shocked to open the trailer and find that both of them are dead … and that he’s getting arrested.
That’s how “Freight Trains and Monsters” ends, with a cliff-hanger to resolve next week. But given the nature of this episode, the real ending comes a scene or two earlier, when John tells a moving story about his late wife and then wonders aloud why he bothered building a life with someone he was ultimately going to lose way too soon. Even the simplest of good times sometimes don’t last, especially when powerful forces — like death, or venture capitalists — come calling. As Roarke says to Beth, “There’ll come a day when the only noble job left will be fishing, because no one’s figured out a way to own the ocean.”
To which Beth says, “Yet.”
The Last Round-Up
• Some fun repartee in the Beth-Roarke sequence, where she huffs, “I’m nobody’s girl!” and he shrugs, “You’re somebody’s girl,” and she says, “Let’s stop speaking in Billy Joel songs,” and he corrects her with, “Jackson Browne,” prompting her to say, “My mistake, you fuckin’ cheese-dick.” So classy, our Beth! (As a dad-rockin’ Gen-Xer though I am obliged to point out that the Jackson Browne song Roarke is referring to is called “Somebody’s Baby.”)
• The circumstances behind Beth’s facial scars are horrific, but it’s certainly been visually striking these past two episodes to see that teardrop-shaped cut under her eye.
• Rip quickly explains away Avery’s departure at the end of last season to John, saying, “She’s a drifter. Drifter’s drift.” But Rip also admits that having a woman in the bunkhouse somewhat counterintuitively kept the other ranch hands from acting like animals all the time, so John gives him permission to hire another lady, so long as she’s “ugly or mean.” Rip settles on “mean,” recruiting an ornery, foul-mouthed Texan named Teeter (Jennifer Landon), described by Lloyd as “the kind of girl who got drove to high school wearing a hockey helmet.”
• It’s a nice moment when Rip chokes up, thanking John for his letter last season that essentially made him a Dutton. Cole Hauser has stealthily become another of the big reasons to stick with Yellowstone.