This article contains plot recap and minor spoilers regarding Yellowstone.
Hard to believe that now, with the writer’s strike resolved, audiences are one step closer to the long-awaited final episodes of Yellowstone being produced. Five years ago, the success story which would give birth to the Taylor Sheridan TV empire hit audiences like a snake pouncing from a cooler.
The show has been a great juxtaposition of soap opera romances, betrayals, and family drama coupled with rugged, country-fried savagery. Yet now that the show is making its network debut on CBS, the uncensored violence and colorful bunkhouse language that is such a memorable part of the show has to be muted.
Yet, this writer would argue … that was never the strength of the show.
Many fans within the Yellowstone community feel as if a censored version of the show is a betrayal to the true flavor of the brand. One fan posted in an online forum that “it just isn’t the same when cowboys don’t cuss.” Others, perhaps justifiably, have said that if there are those who would watch the show but cannot handle the profanity, then those people should not watch. But that statement makes it seem like the swearing, sex, and violence is what defines the show, and that’s simply not true.
Yellowstone has really proven itself to be one of the most superbly balanced dramas in recent memory, drawing in several different demographics, political leanings, and age groups. It can easily be said that there is something for everyone. Co-creator Taylor Sheridan’s writing really shines in the early going of the series, giving audiences an entire family of captivating characters.
Having watched the first three episodes of both the censored CBS broadcast, and the original, unbridled Paramount Network version, yes, there are changes, but they are minor. There are less than a half dozen changes to the language in the first two episodes (yes, we counted) and most of the time, it’s a muted f-bomb or changing “god damn” to the somehow less sacrilegious “damn.” Even those defending the “true character” of the show have to realize not much is lost in translation by taking the swearing down a notch.
One notable edit occurs in the heated rivalry between Jamie (Wes Bentley) and his sister, Beth (Kelly Reilly). In a rare instance, Jamie comes to Beth for advice but, naturally (as has become the custom throughout the show’s run), the two end up exchanging insults. In the uncensored version, Jamie leaves Beth’s room flipping her off, but of course CBS doesn’t show that. Most viewers might not even notice, predominantly because that’s not the climax nor the point of that scene.
The scene really ends with Beth knocking over the family portrait off the wall that Jamie specifically made a point of putting back up. The portrait of the Dutton family is about 30 years old, featuring Kayce, Lee, Jamie and Beth all as kids, standing with their mother, Evelyn (Gretchen Mol). As Jamie hangs the picture back up (since Beth took it down as soon as she came home) he stares his sister dead in the eye, confronting her about their mother’s death. That move is the real “f-you” and that’s exactly how Sheridan wrote it. Jamie flipping the bird could never compete with that, and it perfectly encapsulates the soul-wrenching rivalry Beth and Jamie have towards one another. They never pull emotional punches.
So what about the sex drive of the show? The first three episodes feature a few steamy scenes, almost always featuring fan-favorites Beth and Rip (Cole Hauser). Yes, CBS trimmed a bit of their first sex scene to diminish the sheer titillating aggressiveness of their love-making, but there isn’t a human-being alive who won’t need to catch their breath even after the censored version of that scene.
Beth also has a very memorable scene in the second episode as she bathes in the horse trough, a bottle of champagne in hand, to commemorate the anniversary of her mother’s death. Yes, there is a bit of nudity in the original aired version, and naturally, the CBS broadcast crops out that nudity to focus more on Reilly’s face. CBS even goes so far as to CG parts of her bathrobe to stay closed so we don’t get the same full view that only streaming and cable can provide. Does this ruin the scene? Sorry fans of Reilly… it does not.
Sheridan’s thesis of this scene was to show a few select key characters and relationships. It shows how damaged Beth is regarding her part in her mother’s death. It ironically shows how much Jamie actually cares for his sister, and even wants to be the voice of reason to reel her lunacy back in at times. Finally, and most importantly, it shows that Rip is the only one who can really put up with Beth, and get her to listen. The unfettered state of undress does absolutely nothing to add to those relationships. The implied nudity is enough. Even if she were in a bathing suit, someone bathing in a horse trough is memorable enough and shows the fact Beth doesn’t care what anyone thinks, Jamie is naturally awkward in the moment, and Rip remains the stalwart protector.
Fans can also relax, safe in the knowledge that all the violence remains intact. There is a large constituency within the Yellowstone fanbase for whom the violence truly defines the show. So fear not, bloodthirsty fans, if the first three episodes are any indication, almost all of the vicious cowboy chaos is shown in its full glory.
As mentioned, however, the important thing is that the great world building remains untouched. Even with the more “wholesome” CBS version, audiences understand everything they need to understand about who the characters are, and their relationships. The emotion of every scene is still there. The stakes are still apparent, and the tension is still palpable.
Yes the full spectrum of spicy words not uttered in church gives Yellowstone a certain flavor, but that’s never what made the show great. It was always about the characters we love, we never needed their full vocabulary or to see their full birthday suit. They, and the show have always been more than that.
Rerun episodes of Yellowstone currently air Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBS.