I am late to HBO’s Succession, having just started watching it this week, but I can tell you this much from what I have seen: It shares a lot of similarities with Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone, which is now the highest-rated cable show of the summer and the biggest hit in the Paramount network’s history (including when it was known as Spike TV).
That said, after its first full season, I’m still not sure what to think of Yellowstone. The early episodes were very good, and reflected what we’ve come to expect from the work of Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Wind River): A deliberately slow-paced but compelling character drama with gorgeous cinematography following John Dutton (Costner) as he seeks to maintain the family ranch for another generation. He has four kids, none of whom are well-suited to take over the operation: Beth (Kelly Reilly), a deeply damaged, aggressively sexual bully-tyrant who is unconditionally devoted to her father; Jamie (Wes Bentley), an ambitious lawyer with a political streak who doesn’t have the stomach to do what it takes to win his father’s approval; Kayce (Luke Grimes), the brawling, hot-headed family outcast who lives off of the ranch with his Native American wife and child; and the other son, who just wants to work the land and be a cowboy (he is killed in the pilot episode and barely mentioned again, like a pre-planned Brother Chuck).
However, Yellowstone — the Dutton Ranch — faces a lot of outside pressures. Dan Jenkins (Danny Huston) is an outside developer who wants to build in and around Yellowstone, and Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) is a tribal leader who wants to take back the land stolen from his tribe, and who is willing to play dirty politics in order to accomplish the feat.
Yellowstone had all the makings of a slow, meticulously crafted drama about maintaining one’s way of life, which would pit John Dutton and his generations-old ranch against Thomas Rainwater and his people’s rightful claim to the land.
However, around midway through the season, Yellowstone changed gears. It lost its pace and went into overdrive, throwing a number of storylines at the wall to see which would stick. It went berserker. Characters were getting murdered; there was a cancer storyline; flashbacks to young John Dutton (Josh Lucas) and his wife (Gretchen Mol); Dutton was sleeping with the Governor; Kayce’s wife was nearly killed taking her kid to school by a student in a school brawl; and the shooting of an endangered bear nearly cost the Dutton farm everything. The show quickly went from Wind River to Dallas, almost as if it knew it was trying to hold on and grow its sizable television audience.
However, a lot of the storylines were abandoned or forgotten about — the dead son quickly becomes an afterthought; the three meth dealers that Kayce killed forgotten; the bear storyline resolved in one scene; Beth fucks everyone indiscriminately and I swear Jill Hennessy was on this show for an episode, too, before disappearing, never to be heard from again — and yet the show never seems to get a handle on the main storyline: Who will inherit the ranch? There’s very little resolution in that regard, almost as though the entire first season was a table-setting prologue to the rest of the series.
Story-wise, it’s a frustrating up-and-down season that nosedives into Ryan Murphy territory midway through. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that — like Ryan Murphy’s shows minus the dead characters returning to life (not yet, anyway)— it wasn’t entertaining as hell. It’s not the show I thought it would be — or the show I necessarily wanted — but it’s wild and unpredictable and the characters — while wholly unlikable — are just compelling enough to make it all work in spite of itself. Whether I want to be or not, I’m invested in both the characters and the main storyline, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how far it can jump over the shark in season two (which has already begun production, set for a 2019 release).
Header Image Source: Paramount