If the HBO series, Succession, is a peek at the rancid lives of the billionaire class, then perhaps Yellowstone is a case study in what that billionaire class wants to take away from the undeserving – the ordinary people. And in this story, the wealthy want Montana, which they describe as “poverty with a view.” And they want to take that view and turn it into more money for themselves.
And truly, the views are eternal. Beth Dutton sums it up: “The land is god.” The cinematography is a glimpse at what once was the entirety of the west when it was wilderness. And John Dutton is hell-bent on trying to keep it “his” wilderness to pass on to his family. But is this desire more pride than love of pristine land or love of family?
Yellowstone is a modern Wild West in which “justice” is frequently meted out on the spot. And what is justice? Well, it appears to be what attains the agenda of those with the power. It mingles the story of a constant desire to own the land with old fashioned values like family, loyalty, greed, and survival. The series is also heavily laden with horses, cattle, and gorgeous wide open spaces.
It’s a violent story – very, very violent1 . It’s so violent I’m actually surprised my husband is still watching it with me. Well, he does leave the room frequently.
The macho men take their shots at the prissy ideas of veganism, not killing animals, not eating GMOs, and on and on. Stupid tourists get themselves killed riding something that isn’t actually a ride: the Wild West – because unfettered capitalism has erroneously taught them that everything is a ride you pay to enjoy for a short period of time. Next…
Yes, at times a really salient point is made. But it all seems wrapped up in John Dutton’s comment that we’re all going to be killed by something eventually. So, kill or be killed. In a sense this “kill or be killed” theme is part of the old concept of masculinity in the Wild West, whether that notion of masculinity was real or projected2 .
Other significant issues have been highlighted: indigenous woman disappearing from the reservations and being used in sex trafficking as well as the genocide of the indigenous people that began in 1492 in the Americas, and a case is made that it continues to this day. I loved one of the t-shirts a college young man was wearing that said, “Fighting terrorism since 1492.” The show’s writer is very good at provoking conversation.
Taylor Sheridan, the writer, seems to be deeply personally invested in ranching. He actually wrote himself into the Yellowstone story as an accomplished wrangler which he apparently is. He is said to have actually bought the largest ranch in the world, the 6666 in Texas, and is writing a spinoff on it as well as a prequel to Yellowstone called 1883.
The actors are all incredible. The sets are gorgeous3 . The show is bursting with action. To me, Yellowstone is more like watching a blockbuster movie that continues each week than a TV series. It’s far more epic than traditional TV. I’ve become invested in the characters, as flawed as each one is. And, perhaps because we now own our own little ranch in Oregon, the whole ranching theme resonates with me. Hell, I’m even getting more into country music4 ! And this TV series has introduced me to a huge playlist of country music.
Yellowstone is great storytelling, heavily laden with violence and themes as old as the country. It longs for a fictional time deep in the past – a time that has been incredibly whitewashed and reframed by the winners. But who will be the winners of this story – those who want to preserve a way of life rapidly fading or those who want to get rich off of selling a view they are rapidly destroying.
The TV series seems to sense the pulse of the nation today: if you can’t get justice/fairness/what you want through the system, just go outside of it because it’s all rigged and always has been. Do whatever it takes. Call your path inevitable progress whether it is or not. And be like Beth Dutton: have no fear. Instead, savor eating your enemies alive.
Stay away from the Train Station! ↩
I’ve read about the old west being a place for the misfits of civil society at the time – mixed race couples, gay men running ranches. These stories rarely get told. And there isn’t a compelling gay couple storyline in this series as of the first four seasons; though, I think we were led to believe Jamie might be gay. ↩
deep earth tones, log beams, leather, rich dark colors and fabric patterns, stone work ↩
My daddy would be proud – and shocked! ↩