Paramount Network welcomes back viewers to Yellowstone with an episode that catches up, albeit briefly in the case of Jamie, with the lives of the Dutton family. Season two episode one titled “A Thundering” opens with Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) dreaming of a burning bush, a woman running while on fire, and of Dan Jenkins (Danny Huston), face half destroyed, pointing a gun in his face. Thomas wakes in his bed, screaming.
John Dutton (Kevin Costner) joins his son, Kayce (Luke Grimes), and a few ranch hands to search look for cattle who’ve wandered into the thick woods. John sends his dogs in to herd them toward the edge of the woods, rather than have the horses attempt to ride deep into the dense forest.
The cows stampede out of the woods, but one dog lags behind barking insistently. Kayce re-enters the woods and lassoes the last wayward cow. It’s a reckless move, but John seems proud of his son.
Back at the Dutton ranch, Kayce and the men herd the cows into pens. Lloyd reports they’ve rounded up 800 so far, but he’s interrupted when the bulls decide to force their way in with the cows. Jimmy (still the low man on the totem pole) has to face the angry bulls in order to close the gate. He complains, as usual, but Rip (Cole Hauser) doesn’t let him off the hook.
Jimmy’s also forced into handling the artificial insemination process, along with Avery (Tanaya Beatty). It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it.
A stranger arrives looking for work. He’s on his way to Arizona and needs to make some money first, and John points him to Kayce to plead his case. Kayce’s barely listening to the stranger as he realizes his dad is expecting him to take charge. Rip’s paying attention to this shift in power, but his face remains unreadable. (The power struggle for the #2 spot is on.)
Next, we catch up with Jamie Dutton (Wes Bentley) who’s lying in bed as his girlfriend/campaign manager ticks off his campaign schedule. While she’s getting dressed, Jamie heads out to fetch two coffees. He displays his lack of patience as the barista prepares his drinks. (That’s all we see of Jamie this episode.)
Meanwhile, Beth (Kelly Reilly) and her assistant, Jason (David Cleveland Brown), check out a rental space. The agent explains there’s a rent reduction for a multi-year lease. “If I’m in Boseman this time next year, Jason here has instructions to poison me,” says Beth in her typical blunt style.
She rents the space for six months and returns to report to John back at the ranch. Beth provides her dad with research on a woman she’s found that fits their needs, a state prosecutor who’s pretty and used to be a rodeo queen. When John notes the woman looks like her, Beth gleefully assures him Jamie will hate her.
Thomas Rainwater meets with the tribe’s leadership council. They voice their concerns about building a new casino 90 miles off the reservation, and Thomas reminds them their reservation isn’t a destination. They’re worried about building an off-site casino they can’t control, but Thomas has that angle covered. They’re going to own the land and lease it to the casino. They’ll be able to build other businesses on that land, without government oversight.
One very vocal member of the council isn’t convinced the money will help the community and will not vote to authorize the funds to begin the casino project. The other members of the council remain silent.
Monica (Kelsey Asbille) still has a noticeable limp from her accident and uses a cane to help her get around. She’s following her dreams and is ready to accept the job the college offered her for a Native American Studies program. Unfortunately, the college no longer has the funds available for that position at this time.
Monica had initially turned down the job offer, unwilling to leave her teaching position at the school on the reservation. She now believes she can do both jobs, and the man she’s meeting with has a temporary solution. She can take on teaching a course in American History now, and then move into the Native American Studies position next semester when the funds are available.
Monica’s leery of the teaching assignment, given the course is focusing on the period between Columbus’ arrival and the Declaration of Independence. He assures her she can teach her version of America’s history and she agrees to the job. “I look forward to teaching young minds all about the man who introduced genocide to the Western hemisphere,” says Monica.
Cassidy, the attorney Beth researched, arrives at Dutton Ranch. John explains they’re looking for a candidate to support, and Cassidy’s understandably surprised. She asks why they’re not supporting Jamie, and John says they want what’s best for Montana. It’s implied he doesn’t think Jamie’s what’s best.
Beth asks about the wounded warriors program Cassidy started, and Cassidy explains they save horses from slaughterhouses in Canada. The horses are then used for equine therapy for veterans suffering from PTSD.
Beth has to leave the informal meeting which continues in her absence. Cassidy’s not sure she could prompt voters to turn out since she’s from a tiny town, but John assures her he’ll handle that.
The ranch hands chow down on supper and the newcomer’s the center of attention. He calls himself Cowboy which causes the others to scoff. He stands his ground, calling out Jimmy as someone who should never be a cowboy. Rip warns him about fighting on the ranch and then takes off in a huff, but not before telling them to tell “Elvis” it’s time to eat.
Cowboy volunteers and it turns out he knows the singing cowboy sitting away from the group. Cowboy and Walker (Ryan Bingham) met while working in Nebraska before Walker went to jail for seven years. Cowboy reminds him that life is behind him, and Walker warns this ranch is different than others. He thinks Cowboy should leave while he can, but Cowboy isn’t concerned. Walker also warns him to keep an eye on Rip and all of the other ranch hands.
By the end of their chat, Cowboy appears curious and concerned about this new place he’s signed on to work.
Kayce shows up in the evening to visit with his son. Unfortunately, the boy’s already asleep. Monica assures Kayce she’s not keeping the boy from him; she’s just trying to shield him from Kayce’s past. However, she agrees to let Kayce wake up their son if he puts him back to sleep. Kayce decides to let his son rest, opting to watch over him while he sleeps.
Beth arrives at a bar to meet with Bob Schwartz (Michael Nouri) and we finally discover why she’s renting office space. Beth’s come up with a plan to not only turn a tidy profit for Bob, but also secure the land surrounding her family’s ranch. She makes the pitch that they should set up a fund, buy land, and put the land in a conservation easement (cutting the property tax). The next step is to enroll the land in a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a program in which landowners are paid not to farm their land. In this area that might be $300 or $400 an acre, meaning the government’s payments equal the cost of the land in seven years.
Bob’s leery, but Beth pushes on. If they start with a $100 million investment in the land and then use the CRP payments to buy more land, they can buy 50,000 acres a year on the government’s dime. They’ll be profitable by the end of the second year. No one else has done this because no one has the money to be patient for two years.
When Bob asks what’s in it for her besides her fee, Beth replies, “I’m making you money, Bob, and I’m digging a 200 square mile moat around my father’s ranch.”
Bob instructs her to start gobbling up land.
Back at the ranch, the wranglers are spending their Saturday night sitting around playing poker. Cowboy taunts them into playing real “cowboy poker,” and a handful take the bait including Jimmy and Avery. The rules are simple: play a hand of cards in the middle of a pen while a bull is let loose in the arena. The last one at the table wins.
Avery is the bravest, remaining seated as the bull charges. While they group laughs about the game, Rip arrives to shoo them all away from the bull. He warns them to go a bar if they want to sit around getting drunk.
They take Rip’s advise and head to the bar, and of course a massive fistfight breaks out. They return to the bunkhouse and that’s where Kayce finds them nursing their wounds.
Kayce can’t let a beat down of Yellowstone men stand and grabs Rip for some payback. They return to the bar but this time they’ve got a secret weapon. Rip and Kayce set a bull loose inside the bar and then wait outside with the wranglers for the men who beat up them up to emerge.
As each one exits, they beat them with pieces of wood fashioned like bats. Walker refuses to participate, and Rip warns him he’ll take back his brand if he doesn’t comply with the Yellowstone code.
Once the men are incapacitated, Rip leads his men inside to round up the bull. He then threatens the bartender, warning him to call next time he sees men from the Dutton ranch in a fight. Kayce listens to Rip threaten the bartender and throws in his own warning, “Maybe next time I’ll burn it down.” (Kayce is way past playing it cool and controlled.)
The next morning John takes a seat opposite Dan at a diner. He’s surprised Dan can swallow (remember, they strung him up at the end of last season) and shocked to learn Dan’s not planning on leaving town. Dan claims he loves Montana and didn’t report the incident to the sheriff because he wants John on the Yellowstone Ranch when he takes it away from him.
The day also finds Jimmy artificially inseminating the cows. They tease him he only has about 60 to go as they watch the gross process. John walks away, chuckling, and then suddenly collapses, blood streaming from his mouth. He’s brought to the trailer of the veterinarian overseeing the inseminations and she immediately takes an X-ray. He manages to say he has colon cancer, but she tells him this is something different. He wouldn’t be spitting up blood if this emergency was related to the colon cancer.
She discovers he has a ruptured ulcer and they can’t make it to the hospital in time. Unfortunately, she can’t use the cattle anesthesia on him because it’s too strong. He’ll have to be operated on using just a local.
Rip, Cowboy, and Kayce assist as the doctor warns it’s going to hurt like crazy, but John must stay still. Kayce has medic training from the military so he’s her first assistant and helps as she cauterizes the wound.
John’s taken by chopper to the hospital, alive and able to actually sit up a little. Kayce’s by his side and says, “Bright side…you don’t have cancer. You’re not dying yet.” John admits he’s been living like it and that might actually be worse. “So much to undo…I’ve got so much to undo,” says John.
More on Yellowstone:
- Yellowstone Series Review
- Recap of Season 1 Episode 2 “Kill the Messenger”
- Recap of Season 1 Episode 3 “No Good Horses”
- Recap of Season 1 Episode 4 “The Long Black Train”
- Recap of Season 1 Episode 6 “The Remembering”
- Recap of Season 1 Episode 7 “A Monster Among Us”
- Recap of Season 1 Episode 8 “The Unravelling: Part 1”
- Yellowstone Season 1 Finale Recap
- Yellowstone Season 2 Episode 2 “New Beginnings” Recap
- Yellowstone Season 2 Episode 3 “The Reek of Desperation” Recap
- Yellowstone Season 2 Episode 4 “Only Devils Left” Recap