Kelly Reilly
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Tv Why I, a liberal gay man, love ‘Yellowstone’

Why I, a liberal gay man, love ‘Yellowstone’

Kelly Reilly

Not since Julia Sugarbaker told Marjorie about it the night the lights went out in georgia has a female performer who gave the audience a feast of camp and rampage as Kelly Reilly serves up every week on ‘Yellowstone’. And I, a gay man, am here to say she ate, no crumbs, she’s the mother, and whatever we’ll say next year because we no longer live in a world that won’t discuss Reilly’s performance as Beth Dutton . With the first half of Season 5 now available to stream on Peacock with the rest of the series, I need to get something on the record.

Yes, I watch “Yellowstone” (or as most publications call it “That Show Your Parents Love”). Yeah, it’s troublesome and messy and it cringes sometimes, and yeah, OK, I tend to hit the fast forward button when men talk about, I don’t know, family duty and fatherhood and whatever patriarchal straight men dress for a desk job in cowboy tog discuss significantly.

Beth doesn’t dress like a woman who lives on a ranch. Wearing more kohl than Elizabeth Taylor in “Cleopatra,” she stalks Montana in leopard-print coats, shrouded in cigarette and booze fumes and sometimes dressed in a strident cottage core that enhances her unpredictability. A woman with cap sleeves would indeed order a double Tito’s and then chide the waitress for lacing it in a martini by saying, “A martini has vermouth and it’s fun with friends. I don’t like vermouth, and these aren’t my friends”? If it’s Beth Dutton, she will, and you’ll record it and post it to Instagram Stories with the caption “Me on a first date.”

Many series have premiered in recent years boasting a female anti-hero, usually Don Draper or Walter White who drops the name. What makes Beth so iconoclast is that her wickedness isn’t in the service of her own self-interest. If anything, she’s made herself borderline unreliable with the kind of business shenanigans last seen in “Melrose Place” (Amanda Woodward might be the only one who could tiptoe with Beth). Beth destroys businesses and lives because her father is determined to preserve the family ranch, a quixotic mission that she repeatedly refers to as the Alamo. She knows the game ends in failure and ruin, but she keeps playing.

That combination of fatalism and fury is catnip for audiences hungry for the kind of “bad girl” character TV has only provided in the form of housewives soaked in white wine as of late. There is no redemption for Beth; even her backstory (her dying mother blamed her) is shot through with an exaggerated quality that borders on the surreal: on the anniversary of the Dutton matriarch’s death, Beth drinks from a champagne bottle naked at a watering hole front of ranch hands.

Kelly Reilly in “Yellowstone”Fundamental network

Perhaps a more honest take on this argument is simply to list Beth’s best lines and moments, from destroying a racist store opener’s store (and sense of self-worth) to refusing to bend as she’s beaten and threatened with sexual assault and murder to putting her back in, back out lover in his palace after having sex with “I always remember your dick used to be bigger. I guess it’s just the nostalgic in me.

Still, there’s a growing consensus that cruelty, makeup, and fabulous eyeliner don’t make a character — at least, not after four and a half seasons. I wonder how much of this is how tough and inflexible Beth is (especially in the hands of Reilly). “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” also received pushback for allowing Midge to thrive no matter what, but not to the virulent degree Beth receives. At worst, the criticism hinges on the improbability of Beth Dutton; she is, they say, a woman obviously created and written by a man. But Beth is the most fully realized character in “Yellowstone” – and certainly the most fully realized female character. Such is the stuff of the rest of the series that most friends look dumbfounded when I tell them I watch the show; most of the coverage has consisted of modern-day cowboy epic rather than what it is more frequently: “Dynasty” with spurs. (Though “Falcon Crest” with cattle might be more fitting.)

But so were the great female roles of classic Hollywood written by men. Beth Dutton recalls the women Molly Haskell identifies in her book “From Reverence to Rape”. Long before the feminist movement, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell played single, childless career women, until their last moments, when men once again exercised their authority and presumably made them, happily, into wives and mothers after the credits. Beth Dutton is a denial of it all, a woman whose tragedy was forced sterilization as a teenager but whom she corrects the child she has taken in when he calls her “mom” saying she is not her mother.

What’s the endgame for Beth? Will she ever relax, will she find happiness with her husband, will she walk away from her family? I hope not. Her tragic flaws are Shakespearean in scope and made all the more tragic by her recognition. Beth doesn’t deserve a happy ending and she knows it. With nothing to lose, she’s a wild card in ways women weren’t often allowed to be. There is no severe pantsuit for her as she systematically destroys a man’s complacency in a meeting room or bedroom. She does not adapt to appeal to anyone. (Imagine that for a moment!) And for gay men who over-identify with troubled women, this is one of the greatest gifts we could get on a weekly basis. “Yellowstone” may very well be the show your parents love, but hopefully Beth Dutton’s best moments are the clips that play on loop at gay bars.

Yellowstone Season 5A is now available to stream on Peacock. “Yellowstone” Season 5B is still (possibly) set to premiere on Paramount later in 2023.

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