Why you need to watch the biggest show on cable TV.

Do you guys realize how many people are watching Yellowstone?For some people who prefer critically acclaimed shows like SuccessionThe new way to admire the isolated nature of American culture. Many people, in fact, watch Yellowstone: The fourth season of Paramount Network premiered, which aired in November, and had over 12 million viewers. And for a big and beautiful drama starring Kevin Costner as the patriarch of the Dutton ranching family and co-written by Taylor Sheridan, his films AssassinAnd Hell or High Water, And wind river They have received varying degrees of critical acclaim, and it’s a bit surprising how much it is absent Yellowstone The feel of the discourse on the Internet. Is it because every character you’re supposed to like Yellowstone Do I hate the idea of ​​online discourse at all? Well, that didn’t stop the self-hating internet before!

Although the average reader of cultural criticism (like the one on Slate) may still be unsure of where to watch it Yellowstone—If you don’t have cable, it will air on Peacock — the show is so popular that it now has a prequel. 1883, the story of how the Dutton family headed west, began last Sunday; The first episode aired after the new Yellowstone. cast 1883 It offers almost comedic levels of western/rural vibes: there’s Tim McGraw and Faith Hill as the pivotal couple, James and Margaret Dutton; Sam Elliott as a cowboy allied with them on their journey across the continent; Isabel May is their wayward fiery daughter Elsa, who is angry at her role and just wants to be a cowboy. (“Beautiful, rebellious teenage girl” is a total cliché in historical fiction, but Elsa is also a little piece of advice for fans who love Beth Dutton, the fan-favorite daughter played by Kelly Riley in Yellowstone; she Not a tomboy like Elsa, but she is fiery With a capital F.)

It makes sense to take it Yellowstone Back in time. Everyone in the show world is obsessed with history—principally the idea that the Dutton family’s lifestyle, as owners of a gigantic ranch adjacent to Yellowstone National Park, employers of many cowboys, and owners of various local salads, is a deeply true idea. The driving tension in the plot comes from the fact (undeniable in the world of the show) that this lifestyle is threatened by the passage of time and the changing ways of the world. This is not an exact topic. It’s something the characters say out loud, a lot. These threats come from every side: capitalists with more money and power than the Duttons are looking to buy their land for development. The militias are trying with their blood to kill them. More than once, a character has called Dutton’s farm “Alamo,” and they certainly mean it in the sense of “Desperate Last Stand,” not in the sense of “Texas who wanted to enslave people were angry at the Mexicans who wanted to stop them.”

Datons from the past, whose background we will learn 1883 unfoldAnd They are everywhere in Yellowstone, perhaps especially in John’s mind. Twice this season, we got glimpses of the 19y Duttons’ world century Yellowstone. In the opening episode of Season 4, Jon lies in a coma in a hospital bed, and is shot multiple times by gunmen hired by his adopted son’s biological father to kill the entire family, so the adopted son can get the farm. (Threats from all sides, as I said). John seems to have some kind of vision, and we’ve moved on to the winter scene. James Dutton, Tim McGraw, with two sons (one of whom is John’s father, John Sr), on horseback; They encounter a group of starving indigenous people and give them a cow to eat. Outside the hospital, Beth Dutton talks to a boy she met and whose father was inside, too, dying. “What kills your father?” The boy asks Pete. “The 21St horn,” she answers. Meanwhile we find out at the beginning of the second episode of 1883 That James Dutton was a Confederate officer who spent most of the Civil War in Yankee Prison Camp. Doctors over time seem to have clung to lost cases.

If it is not clear whether you are supposed to love family members Succession, it is very clear in Yellowstone And 1883 Which you’re supposed to like (most) Duttons. Some of them look borderline psychotic, and most have too many flesh for their name, but they’re almost always dirtier and saltier than everyone else. The key to viewer loyalty is the unwavering belief you are supposed to have in each show’s central father figure. I gasped – then cried – at the end of season one Yellowstone An episode where the camera follows Costner, thinking about all his troubles, across the farm, playing the soundtrack to Marie Gauthier’s “Mercy Now”: “My father can use a little mercy now / The fruits of his labor are falling and slowly rotting on the ground / His work is almost done, it won’t be time Long, he won’t be around/ I love my father, he could use some mercy now.” We, the viewers, are meant to have mercy on John – deep in his heart, he is well-meaning.

This patriarchal loyalty has a politics of its own, especially in the West, where land is everything. Yellowstone The Duttons, in their gigantic home, are depicted with all their prayers, with The helicopter they own, as besieged just like the aboriginals of the Confederate tribes of Broken Rock, who live on the adjacent reservation. Early in the show, opposition arose between John Dutton and Tribal Chief Thomas Raine Water (Gill Birmingham), who told John that he planned to take over Dutton’s farm and return it to the state it was in before the white settlers. He arrived: “I am the opposite of progress. I am the past catching up to you.”

But as time goes on, it becomes clear that the show wants to prove that the Duttons are more “authentic” (authentic and under threat) than they are like other white people who have recently come to Montana to become Montana residents. One of the original characters even says to John, at one point, “You’re Indian now”—and the show uses that phrase for the episode title. I think the show tries, clumsily enough, to evoke some sense of solidarity, but the men on the frontier, in the United States, are often portrayed as “citizens of the frontier”, even as they retain the right to seize their lands. (This is where I will warn you that in the next paragraph, I will talk about plot points involving suicide and children in distress.)

I almost stopped watching Yellowstone The first season is caused by a series of events in which Case, Dutton’s youngest and former Marine (Nach), married to Monica, an Aboriginal woman played by Kelsey Aspel, shoots his brother-in-law in the course of the conflict between the Dutton family and the reservation. The consequences of this procedure quickly accumulate, and they are bleak. Casey’s sister-in-law, who lost her husband and had neither work nor money, and three children who died by suicide; She believes that her children would be better off with their grandparents, who would have to take them with her when she went.

Yellowstone Totally obsessed with drawing the lines among the city viewers watching Succession And the kinds of real people they’re supposed to be Montana.

Case and Monica look after the children while their grandparents campaign to pick them up. In one of the scenes in this sequence, newly orphaned children are in the bathroom with Case and son Monica. The youngest, who is probably about 4 or 5 years old, is crying heartily, utterly deprived. The pain and trauma of this original child lies in the story so that we can see Casey’s reaction and reflect on his guilt, so that Casey and Monica’s decision to move their son away from the reserve makes sense, so the isolation between Case and Monica can arise and is eventually resolved. This show is often too much for me, but in this sequence, it was just too much too much.

However, I can’t stop watching this show, over four seasons, for the ways in which it portrays dramas traditionally underutilized by the kinds of media critics are accustomed to covering. Yellowstone Totally obsessed with drawing the lines among the city viewers watching Succession And the kinds of real people who are supposed to be in Montana. In season one, a California billionaire trying to take over the Duttons ranch dies, gasping, “I have every right to be here. This is America.” But it is clear that he and his ilk NoSince they are dead, the strong are the ones who survive. the earth, Yellowstone He tells us, he has some sort of knowledge of who’s supposed to be there, and if you’re still alive in Montana, it must be because the Earth refused to kick you out. City dwellers would never have a chance to see this show of the Wild West.

I watched three episodes of 1883And, so far, the show seems to have the same mystical sense that there are white people gaining the right to land and white people who don’t—plus the natives, who will be banished, in the sad course of progress. The wagon train that escorts Duttons across the country steadily drops German immigrants, losing in wagon-wheel accidents, banditry, and snakebites. The opening sequence, a flash forward, depicts Elsa, the daughter, as she battles the aboriginal warriors attacking the train wagon. We haven’t gotten back to that part of the story yet, so it’s not clear how Elsa will survive. But I guess, given Yellowstoneabout her feelings for the Duttons and Montana that she will succeed.

I’ll watch the rest 1883 with interest, wondering how this show would go on to transform the rhetorical trick of Yellowstone, who criticizes and celebrates the Duttons’ colonial-settler success, sometimes in the same scene. Yes, the fact that YellowstoneA deeply compelling and deeply romantic vision of American history, the story of a group of victors passionately convinced that they are victims – so popular, so widely seen on cable in the age of cable cutters, that it deserves a lot more critical analysis than it currently gets.

Here’s an example of why: In a press release about the second run of the still-running show, 6666– Another contemporary Western about a giant Texas ranch that counts itself and “still operates as it did two centuries ago” – Paramount + described the name 6666 Ranch as “synonymous with the ruthless pursuit of raising the best horses and livestock in the world.” (Last year, Taylor Sheridan bought a 6666, IRL ranch.) The lack of compassion for most people who aren’t Dutton—or at least Dutton-esque—is what sustains life. Yellowstone. What bothers me the most is that these shows take this as a moral fact, because the person most correct about what the Duttons are is the reporter who died in season two of Yellowstone, in the course of trying to write a piece on it. “No man should own this big land,” she says. “This is not a kingdom, and your father is not a king.” And then, one of the Duttons killed her.

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