Yellowstone season 1, episodes 1 and 2 recap: “Daybreak” and “Kill the Messenger”

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Yellowstone. Photo: Kevin Lynch/Paramount Network

Yellowstone arrives on the new Paramount Network to fanfare and high expectations.

This prestige show has a stellar cast led by Oscar-winner Kevin Costner, who’s returning to the genre he’s most associated with — the western. The show was created by Taylor Sheridan, who is also directing each of the series’ 10 episodes.

Sheridan’s made a name for himself in the last few years for writing modern-day western films, including Sicario, Hell or High Water, and Wind River, which he also directed.

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Given its pedigree, it will come as no surprise that Yellowstone nails the look and feel of the genre. There are big sweeping shots of the beautiful, wide-open landscape, a soundtrack dedicated to country and bluegrass music, and horses and cowboy hats everywhere.

Unfortunately, the story and pacing of the series’ first two episodes are uneven. Throughout there are lots of plodding, vague exchanges, punctuated by bursts of violence that don’t feel entirely earned.

This is especially true in the two-hour series premiere.

Yellowstone, Season 1, Episode 1 recap: “Daybreak”

The first episode of Yellowstone, “Daybreak,” begins by introducing viewers to the Dutton clan, who own the sprawling Yellowstone Ranch in Montana.

There’s Costner’s patriarch, John Dutton, who’s ruthlessly protective of his land and wields power over the Montana town in which he lives and his children’s lives.

John has four adult children: Lee (Dave Annable), the son who stayed to help run the ranch; Beth (Kelly Reilly), the only daughter, who escaped to the city, where she’s a take-no-prisoners corporate banker; Jamie (Wes Bentley), a lawyer who, desperate for his father’s approval, defends his interests in court; and  then there’s rebel son, Kayce (Luke Grimes), a former Navy SEAL who now lives on the nearby Indian Reservation with his Native American wife, Monica (Kelsey Asbille), and their son, Tate (Brecken Merrill).

Jamie successfully holds off a land developer’s claim of eminent domain on 30,000 acres of the Dutton ranch, but John is still unsatisfied. He wants the developer’s project to build subdivisions next to his ranch stopped entirely. He even threatens the developer, Dan Jenkins (Danny Huston), over it.

John also summons Beth home to help with the issue. However, for the first two episodes, she does little beyond sniping at pretty much anyone she comes into contact with.

Meanwhile, Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) is elected the Chairman of the local Native American tribe. He wants to right the wrongs that were done to his people by buying back the land that was stolen from them, including the Dutton ranch.

It’s this latter issue that leads to the incident that seems likely to fuel much of the plot moving forward. The Native Americans cut the barbed wire off the fence that marked the border between their land and the Duttons’. As a result, the Duttons’ cattle wander onto the Native American’s land.

When John goes to see what the trouble is, the Native Americans threaten to shoot him if he crosses the border into their land. Later, John and Rainwater meet to negotiate a resolution to the issue. Rainwater says the cows are his people’s now. John accuses him of theft but Rainwater doesn’t back down.

Without a satisfying conclusion to the dispute, John goes to the Native American reservation to retrieve his cattle. Over Jamie’s protests, John takes off in a helicopter, while Lee rides on horseback with a posse of Bureau of Land Management agents loyal to the family.

When the Duttons arrive at the reservation they find Monica’s brother and grandfather guarding the cattle.  The Duttons try to herd the cattle home, while Kayce, taking the side of his in-laws, gets in the middle and attempts to herd the cattle further into the reservation.

The standoff results in a shootout that leads to Lee’s death at the hands of Kayce’s brother-in-law. Kayce witnesses the incident and kills his brother-in-law in retaliation.

The next morning Kayce brings Lee’s lifeless body back to the Dutton ranch on his horse.