It took guts to re-air any part of Yellowstone on CBS.
Yellowstone Season 1 Episode 1 was not the sanitized Westerns of the 1950s and 1960s. This series tells it like it is, and the coarse language is an important part of the Western’s character. So is the violence.
Nothing in this series is gratuitous, but it is graphic — and originally made for cable, where there are looser standards about what can and cannot be said.
The introduction to the Duttons felt more like a movie than a television series. The cinematography was breathtaking, but I was struck by the symbolism of the opening scene and how well it foreshadowed Lee’s death.
It’s not fair, this life. I wish I could give you better. The best I can offer you is peace.
Our introduction to John Dutton is of a wounded man who must put a horse that’s been faithful to him out of its misery, wishing desperately he could give it something other than the peace associated with death.
In the hands of lesser creators, this might have come off as hokey or overly sentimental, but it worked perfectly here.
This opening also warned viewers of what was in store. This first scene was full of both violence and heartbreak, set against the gorgeous backdrop of rural Montana. It’s almost ironic how often such beautiful land is soaked with blood — of both the Duttons and their enemies.
Although there were some soap opera elements at play, the series didn’t rely on outdated tropes and, in some cases, turned them on their head, creating a modern, compelling story of life in the West.
Notably, the conflict between the Duttons and the people living on the reservation didn’t provide any clear sense of right and wrong.
Thomas Rainwater wanted to stand up for his people, but other members of his tribe didn’t necessarily agree with his methods. The Duttons were as determined to hold onto the land their ancestors had stolen from the Indians as Rainwater was to make a scene, and the conflict led to tragic losses on both sides.
Soft-spoken Kayce’s dilemma was my favorite part of this opening episode. A Dutton by birth, he was married to an Indian woman, and that put him squarely in the middle of this conflict.
Felix made it clear that Kayce would never be one of them even though he accepted his marriage to Monica, and Kayce’s response demonstrated that even though he supported the Indians, he couldn’t understand their painful history.
Kaycee: This is my home. If someone doesn’t want me here, let them make me leave.
Felix: That’s a silly thing to say, considering you are standing on a reservation.
And, of course, Kayce ended up killing Monica’s brother after Monica’s brother shot Lee. His refusal to explain what had happened will create a wedge between him and Monica, and the shot of his Yellowstone brand on his chest after she walked away was easily one of the most powerful of this pilot episode.
The pilot did a masterful job of introducing each of the main characters and the roles they play within the story.
Jamie is the lawyer who desperately wants the approval of his father that he’ll never get, Kayce is the prodigal son who left to forge his own path, and Beth is the closest thing John has to a right-hand man. And since Lee was introduced far after the others, it was somewhat unsurprising that he died.
Beth has probably had a lifetime of people underestimating her because she’s female and she doesn’t play around. She’ll use sex appeal and sex itself to control the men around her, and she’ll grind anyone into the ground who dares cross her.
I loved the way she stood up to those men at the business meeting. They weren’t expecting that, which made the way she forced them to sell to her all the sweeter.
Talk about a badass woman!
The Duttons’ battle to stop developers from building condos on their land and ruining their access to the water is so ironic in the face of the ongoing conflict with the Indians.
The developers are trying to do to them what their ancestors did to Thomas Rainwater’s ancestors. Rainwater’s reaction to this will be interesting once news gets out.
Although there is a lot of action, some of it graphic (did anyone else turn away when Rip branded Jimmy?), the pilot also devoted plenty of time to developing the main characters and their conflicts.
Jamie and John seemed to get along well, but by the end of the episode, it was clear that John was only using his son for his legal expertise, while Jamie was so desperate for approval he’d take whatever crumbs he could get.
It was especially telling that after Lee’s funeral, John asked both Jamie and Beth for their help but only asked Beth to stay and fight.
John seems to treat Jamie like an employee rather than a son, asking him for his next legal steps but never sharing anything personal. John’s snubbing of Jamie spoke volumes as he ignored Jamie’s declaration, telling the developers ‘no’ even though he disagreed with John’s decision.
The scene at the fishing hole between the brothers offered a brief respite from the violence and drama elsewhere but also spoke to John’s controlling nature and the price Kayce paid for marrying an Indian woman and living on the reservation with his family.
His brothers had no qualms about speaking disparagingly about the reservation in front of Tate, who considers himself an Indian. And Kayce had been gone for years, so clearly there’s a backstory there itching to be explored.
The pilot ended on a cliffhanger, though a quiet one. The war between the Duttons and Rainwater’s people has only begun, and it’s anyone’s guess what John will do next.
Your turn, Yellowstone fanatics! Whether this is the first, second, or third time you’ve experienced the pilot, we want to know what you think.
Hit the big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know.
Don’t forget you can watch Yellowstone online if you’d like to view it again.
Yellowstone Season 1 airs on CBS on Sundays after 60 Minutes.
Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.