Yellowstone, The OFFICIAL Review, Let em Hang

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By Jim Mundorf

I don't watch a lot of TV. So I don't have a lot to compare this to. I liked it. I was thoroughly entertained...after my initial disappointment wore off. It's good, its just not as good as I was hoping for. The only hour long dramas I've ever watched in my life were Deadwood and Mad Men. So I guess I was hoping this would be similar to that. What those are is a glimpse inside what it might have been like to live in those places at those times. As Yellowstone is set on a massive Montana cattle ranch I was hoping it would be a somewhat realistic glimpse into what its like to live there, its not.  There are spots that are. Some scenes do accurately show some of the things cattlemen and people out west are dealing with, but they're mixed in with so much other BS that, if you don't know better it'd be hard to tell the reality from the fiction.  

In The Neck?

The first scene sort of sums up the whole show. It opens on a mountain highway. There's been an accident involving a truck hauling construction equipment and a horse trailer. Kevin Costner, who plays the leading role of Rancher John Dutton, walks up to an injured horse with its head out of the damaged trailer. Its obvious the horse needs put down. An accurate portrayal of the life of a Rancher. Accidents happen, hard decisions have to be made, and sometimes animals have to be killed to minimize their suffering.  So far so good, but then he raises the pistol, and shoots the horse... right in the neck! I mean what the hell? In the neck? I suppose if you hit it just right you could break its neck, but what would more likely happen is it would go berserk in terror as it watched itself bleed out. So there it was, within the first minute of the show, I realized this was not what I was hoping for. And that's pretty much how the season went. The story showed some pretty interesting and accurate portrayals of ranch life out west.  It showed people some of the things livestock producers have to deal with that not everyone thinks about. Then out of nowhere it would make a hard left turn into an inaccurate fantasy land. 

 One thing they did that added a lot of interest and authenticity having Ryan Bingham playing the role of one of the ranch Cowboys. He's one of my all-time favorite singers and he doesn't do to bad as an actor either. He grew up on ranches in west Texas and New Mexico, and he does bring some of that authenticity that money can't buy. Nothing says authentic like a guitar picking, ex- bull rider with a mouth full of fake teeth. 

One thing they did that added a lot of interest and authenticity having Ryan Bingham playing the role of one of the ranch Cowboys. He's one of my all-time favorite singers and he doesn't do to bad as an actor either. He grew up on ranches in west Texas and New Mexico, and he does bring some of that authenticity that money can't buy. Nothing says authentic like a guitar picking, ex- bull rider with a mouth full of fake teeth. 

Save Some Drama

In the first few episodes there is just to much drama for the story to be anywhere close to believable. I quickly lost count of how many people were murdered every episode. Just when you thought they couldn't lay it on any thicker someone new would show up and drop dead. The bad part about that is that it took away from some of the important parts of the show. For example the show does a good job of bringing attention to the living conditions on Indian Reservations. At one point a young woman on the reservation commits suicide. The show spends about 5 minutes on that issue and moves on to the next thing. That's how the first few episodes go. It seemed like they tried to jam 10 different storylines into every episode, and each of those 10 story lines, if they were really explored, could have been a whole episode. But then in last few shows of the season it seemed to find its stride. It was as if they were in a dead sprint to establish story lines and characters and once they had them they settled into a nice trot at the end. 

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Let em hang

There were a few scenes throughout the season that really nailed it and made me want to keep watching. The one that I couldn't stop thinking about was in the first episode. It pretty well summed up what today's ranchers are faced with. It is when the Ranch owner John Dutton (Costner) rides up to the fence line to talk with a man who is golfing. The golfer  is a high dollar real estate developer and Dutton confronts him about a sub-division he is trying to build. The developer responds saying, "You expect me to believe you're concerned about the environment? You raise cattle you f***ing hypocrite!" And there it is, a perfect representation of what is happening today. The rancher sits a top his horse, standing on native soil, in native prairie grasses, on land that has not been disturbed since the beginning of time. Generations of his family have cared for the land, kept it healthy so that he could be there to do the same for his children. And across the fence is a man standing on a man-made golf course, on ground that was dug up and grass that was planted and water that was pumped in through a sprinkler system. Gallons and gallons of water pumped in every night so this man can stand there and play his precious game and scream over the fence a lie that he was fed. The lie that cattle are bad for the environment. A lie that he swallowed hook line and sinker. A lie that he likes to retell because it lines up perfectly with his economic plans. That is where today's cattle ranchers are. They are being screamed at, that they don't care about the environment because they raise cattle. And the people doing the screaming are causing  much more environmental destruction and have a lot to gain from the spreading of their lies. 

In the last episode the story of the real estate developer goes back into fantasyland, but its a trip I loved to see them take. That's the thing about TV, I guess sometimes its truly enjoyable to watch things you will never get to see happen.  "Let em hang."

Also read: Hostiles: Movie Review, History Told Honestly

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