[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for “Yellowstone” Season 1, Episode 3: “No Good Horses.”]
Kevin Costner’s John Dutton is the patriarch of “Yellowstone,” but it took until the third episode of the new Paramount Network series for audiences to get a glimpse of the mother.
Introducing Evelyn Dutton (played by Gretchen Mol) via flashback, in the final moments before a fatal riding accident, reframes a lot of what the audience understood about the Dutton family. Series writer/director Taylor Sheridan told IndieWire that picking this specific introduction was a choice made mostly on instinct.
“It’s hard to say. It’s not an intellectual decision. It’s a feel. It felt like the right time,” Sheridan said. “It felt like we need to understand the loss that the family had suffered before you see the things that unfold. And so it just felt right. I wanted us to know the characters a bit and be curious about the decisions that they were making.”
Back in the show’s present, the character most shaken by her mother’s death (Beth, played by Kelly Reilly) continues to deal with the psychological ripples of that fateful horseback ride. Much like Beth was plunged into the deep end of adulthood, Reilly’s first experience in character was a surprising plunge itself.
“My first day of filming was on day two of the shoot and it was the scene in the bathtub. So I was like, ‘OK. Thanks. Good. Nice to meet you.’ There’s no warming into it.”
More than bathing in an outdoor trough, the specificity of emotions was what presented the biggest challenge, particularly when they came with Sheridan’s specific expectations.
“There’s an adrenaline about the show for me. There’s no just sitting around talking. Everything counts. You have to be prepared,” Reilly said. “Some of my lines are really hard to say. [Taylor] would just be ‘Quicker, quicker, quicker, quicker, quicker.’ Like, she is just effortless. She’s an assassin. He just wanted her to, in every scene, be fiercer. Because I’m much softer than her.”
Tempers Flare, Duttons Tussle
One of Episode 3’s centerpiece sequences is Beth and Jamie (Wes Bentley) coming to literal blows. The contentious relationship the two characters show in the opening episodes boils over in the stables as the two get into a substantial fistfight.
“The scene where I beat the shit out of Wes? Yeah, I think that was the first week, too,” Reilly said. “I’m not a tough girl. Don’t tell anyone, but it’s just not who I am. Like I don’t think I’ve ever punched anybody in my life. Taylor was like, ‘You need to look like you’ve been throwing punches since you were 10 years old. You’re a feral kid who’s been brought up by men on a ranch.’ So I really worked hard on finding that strength in her and that rage. As soon as I nailed that, I could feel Taylor just relax.”
Someone else who recognized that rage and commitment? Bentley, her scene partner.
“I don’t know if she’d ever actually done a fight scene before, but that was not apparent. She went for it fully,” Bentley said. “In that scene, I turn around and I go back, and Kelly hit the ground harder than any stunt man I’ve seen in a long time. And I was like, ‘Oh, she went for it!’ She’s so much fun to watch. I feel very lucky that I get to be in a lot of those scenes with her.”
In case their lingering glares at each other weren’t evidence enough, this altercation leaves plenty of unresolved tension between Beth and Jamie.
“It gets stronger and stronger. It gets really nasty and sad and funny, all at the same time,” Bentley said. “It’s kind of funny to watch them go at it because it’s uncomfortable. And it has the potential for being the main conflict within the family.”
A New War of Words
The other notable showdown in this episode happens went John Dutton confronts Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) in jail after the latter has been arrested. For Birmingham, the appeal of the scene was using words to illuminate a very specific moral framework for the series.
“‘What a small man you are, John.’ I know, isn’t that awesome?” Birmingham said. “It gets right back to Taylor’s writing and how unique it is. There’s so many quotable lines because they sum up a human condition or human thought or concept. Where people are going through life in such a poignant way that you just have to stop and think, ‘Yeah, that’s true.’ And then reflect it back on yourself. You’re getting the revelation. Hopefully if you have some kind of sense of reflection, you could see how you apply it to yourself.”
As the title of the series might hint, there’s so much from “Yellowstone” that draws from its natural surroundings. Whether it’s the land issues that form the backdrop of the conflict between John and Thomas or the landscapes that motivate these characters to grab their own part of the horizon, filming in Montana helped to bring out that feeling in not just these performances, but also the actors themselves.
“We totally absorbed the lands, the culture, and it was great. It was everything I hoped it would be and I’m still learning more,” Bentley said. “We went back to Montana and it was stunning there in the spring. I was having some real profound moments about why this land has the influence it does on people, the feelings we all get on when we’re there. It’s a very strong feeling of wanting to dominate a mountain as well as behold it. Your first thought is, ‘That’s beautiful. How can I get to the top of it?'”
“Yellowstone” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on the Paramount Network.