From the very beginning of Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone spin-off/prequel, one of its high-profile stars is holding a shotgun. But it’s not Harrison Ford’s Jacob Dutton hunting down a wounded man in the woods; instead, Helen Mirren’s Cara Dutton is administering some lethal frontier justice.
The opening scene, which lacks contextual information, segues into a familiar voiceover. 1883’s doomed Dutton daughter Elsa (Isabel May) recalls the family’s history of being followed by violence. Her musings lead to an unexpected African scene where a big game hunter is nearly mauled by a lion.
The film’s first five minutes are somewhat confusing, as they focus on Jacob Dutton, brother of James Dutton from 1883. Ford’s character is surveying land ravaged by locusts and drought, and he has come across his nephew John Dutton Sr., who was last seen as a child in 1883. The two men discover that most of the Dutton herd has perished due to these harsh conditions.
The next scene displays the problem of the town, with prohibition supporters and ranchers being very angry. The latter two groups convene in a town hall meeting run by Jacob and other livestock officials to discuss some tension that Dutton has a personal investment in. Desperate times have led the sheepherders – headed up by Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn) – to allow their flock to graze on private land, which includes some of Dutton’s property that he uses for his cattle.
The situation is this: the sheep and steers are hungry, but there isn’t enough grazing land for both to live. This has created an ongoing “ranch war,” in which cowboys kill trespassing sheep. After the meeting, Jacob and Banner get into a physical fight about it. With a gun in hand, Jacob tells Banner that stealing grass is equivalent to stealing livestock.
After discussing the plan with other members of their livestock association, Jacob and John decide that all the ranchers must put their cattle together and move them to greener pastures. It’s a risky affair that’ll require the help of everyone, but it’s necessary to save their livelihoods. John’s son Jack (Darren Mann,) a young cowboy who is set to be married soon, will also need to lend a hand.
Elizabeth (Michelle Randolph), Jack’s fiance, is quite unhappy when she discovers that her wedding must be postponed so her future husband can drive cattle up a mountain instead. She even goes so far as to suggest he marry a cow and have the union blessed when they reach the mountaintop! Cara arrives soon after to talk some sense into the bride-to-be, explaining the good and bad points of being married to a rancher. The girl calms down eventually, accepting that the cattle will always come first in Jack’s life, and rushes into his arms for a reunion kiss.
Banner is still clearly not thinking things through as he and his vast herd come across a fence blocking off some rich ground. With barely any thought to the possible consequences – or the gun Jacob threatened him with just hours before – he orders his men to cut an opening in the fence and let the animals feed.
After planting the seeds of future conflict, we are taken back to Africa, where the hunter is now sleeping on a train. He has a graphic nightmare about his time in World War I and is awakened by an attendant. He reflexively pulls his gun on her but quickly apologizes and pays her for the trouble. He has arrived for a job that involves hunting and killing a “leopard the size of a sofa” that is terrorizing a camp of high-society types on a safari holiday.
In 1923, we are taken on a lengthy and seemingly disconnected narrative detour involving a mysterious hunter’s exploits and Jacob’s ranch war woes. We are introduced to Teonna Rainwater (Aminah Nieves,) a young Native American woman forced to attend an American Indian boarding school. These boarding schools were established then to assimilate Native American children into the white man’s world.
At the school, she’s first verbally and physically abused by a nun with a ruler, Sister Alice (Kerry O’Malley), then by a priest, Father Renaud (Sebastian Roche.) After the brutal encounters, she shares with a friend that they’ve never heard from any friends or family who have left the school. She suspects they were all killed and suggests escaping unless the same fate is desired.
Dutton’s ranch hands are driving the cattle up the mountain when Jack spots some grazing sheep. A horseback man watching over the herd raises his rifle and shoots at Jack. But we’re left wondering where the bullet landed because the episode cuts back to the ranch scene.
The leopard hunter finally finds his target, but not before the beast chows down on a flirting married woman tourist. After slaying the creature and as one of his tracker companions points out that there are two leopards, the second predator pounces at the hunter right before the episode ends with a cliffhanger.
The kicker is that we learn the man’s identity just before this scene unfolds. The hunter is Spencer Dutton, born after the 1883 series ended. He is the youngest son of James and Margaret, who settled in Montana. Aside from John Sutton Sr., he is the only surviving member of their clan. Cara begs him to return to the ranch in a letter, addressing him as her “Dearest Spencer.”
Source: Entertainment Weekly