Leave the Saddle, Take the Cannoli:
The Mafia connection to the TV show Yellowstone.
(Disclaimer: This is an unsolicited opinion and review. Paramount Network has not paid me in any way shape or form for this.* )
I tend to gravitate toward the more gritty types of TV shows. My favorite shows are those with a criminal angle such as Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Boardwalk Empire, Snowfall, and The Americans. It’s gotten to the point I can’t even watch regular network TV shows anymore because they’re too tame for me. If its not TVMALSV, its not for me.
Yellowstone is, and has been, my favorite TV show since it debuted in 2018.
The star of the show is Kevin Costner who plays John Dutton. We've all seen Kevin Costner in some very iconic roles over his career, but in my opinion, John Dutton is the role he was born to play. Dutton runs the Yellowstone Ranch in Montana, and is in constant battle to protect his family and the ranch from those who want to take it from him....usually via questionable or illegal means. Dutton's main rival in the show is Thomas Rainwater, played by Gil Birmingham. Rainwater is the head of the Broken Rock Reservation. Not only does Rainwater want to reclaim the Yellowstone land for his people's right to the property, but also because he wants to expand his casino, the Painted Horse..
John Dutton has 4 children, 3 sons and a daughter. One of his sons (Lee) dies early on in the show. Dutton's wife (Evelyn) dies many years before season 1 begins, but flashbacks during the show tell the story of Evelyn's death and its effect on the family. Dutton’s two living sons are Kayce (Luke Grimes) and Jamie (Wes Bentley). Kayce struggles with being the leader of the family that his father wants him to be. Jamie never quite seems to fit in, and has always yearned for the kind of affection that Kayce gets from their father.
John’s daughter, Beth, is played by Kelly Reilly. Beth Dutton is without a doubt the most terrifying person on TV, and she hasn’t even killed anyone….yet. As you can imagine, I’ve watched a lot of violent TV in my life and I don't say that as a joke. When Beth speaks, we can see there's scheming in her eyes and in every expression. Viewers are always left wondering just what she's plotting. Reilly deserves an Emmy for her performance. Whomever writes for her deserves an Emmy as well, in addition to a raise.
There is also an “adopted” son by the name of Rip. Rip is played by Cole Hauser. Have you ever watched something and thought, “Where have I seen him before?” It took me a while to figure out, but Hauser also played Benny in “Dazed and Confused”. Look it up if you haven’t already. Rip however, isn't a fun loving party guy like Benny. In addition to being Beth's love interest, Rip is also the ranch "enforcer" and the head of the bunk house ranch hands known as "The Branded Men". Hauser plays Rip perfectly - rage and toughness when necessary, mixed with just enough honor and gallantry that it endears us to his character despite his murderous flaws.- just like so many of TV's recent anti-heroes have. (Tony Soprano, Walter White, etc.)
One of the underrated parts of the show is the soundtrack. Music supervisor Andrea Von Foerster seamlessly places together the perfect selections for each episode and every melodic scene. She even utilizes one of the shows stars, Ryan Bingham, who not only plays bunk hand Walker, but also contributes songs to the track list. Kevin Costner's band Modern West contributes some songs as well.
The Godfather Connection
When I watched the first episode of Yellowstone, I immediately noticed its similarities and parallels to Francis Ford Coppola's cinematic interpretation of Mario Puzo's “The Godfather.”
Let me be clear, here. That is NOT a criticism. It’s a compliment.
I’m a big fan of the mafia genre, and The Godfather is my favorite movie of all time. I have watched it well over 100 times. Same with The Godfather II. Sometimes, I watch a version titled “The Godfather Saga”, that puts the scenes from I & II in order and includes all the deleted scenes. I'm such a huge Godfather fan, that I once saw a Kabuki (yes, Japanese Kabuki) interpretation of it at a theater. My wife and I also once attended a Shakespearean interpretation called "Corleone" at a small theater in St Paul (See photo from playbill) .
At a time when Hollywood has seemingly run out of ideas, constantly rebooting movies & TV shows that probably shouldn’t be rebooted, a western interpretation of The Godfather is pure genius.
At first the connections between the Dutton and Corleone family were subtle, with similarities in the characters, their story lines and family roles. Even some of the dialogue stood out. In one episode, John says, “Let’s not talk about work at the dinner table.” In The Godfather, there’s the famous scene where Sonny tells Carlo “We don’t discuss business at the dinner table”
During season 1, I wrote this comparison below. (Go easy on me. Back then I didn't have the benefit of 3 seasons of hindsight)
John Dutton = Vito Corleone. Fends off challenges, often illegally, from those who want what he has. Gives
mafia style orders all while trying to preserve his family.
Kayce Dutton = Michael Corleone. Both (Kayce and Michael) were in the military and trying to avoid the family
Business - but it eventually finds them. Like Michael, Kayce also has to kill an in-law.
Monica Dutton (Kayce’s wife) is a combination of both Michael's wives: Like Appalonia, she suffers a tragedy.
Like Kay she is a teacher and eventually leaves to get away from the family business.
Lee Dutton = Sonny Corleone. Oldest son, killed by gunfire in an ambush.
Beth Dutton = Connie Corleone. Dealing with a death of someone she loved who treated her terribly (Evelyn
Dutton/Carlo), she rebels & acts out but eventually rejoins and runs the family.
Jamie Dutton = Fredo Corleone. Turns on his own family, but comes back. What does that say about his future?
If one of the branded men asks Jamie to go fishin’, he might want to take a pass.
Rip Wheeler = Tom Hagen. Adopted son that organizes the dirty work.
Rip: “This is my family whether y’all think of me that way or not.” Even though he gets removed from his post, John tells him “You’re the only person I can trust.”
Hagen (to Sonny): “I’m just as much a son (to Vito) as you or Mike.” In Godfather II, Michael tells Hagen, “Now you’re the only one I can trust.”
Lloyd the ranch hand = Clemenza. Capo of “the branded men”. Takes Fred for a ride (sans cannoli). Leave
the saddle, take the train.
Fred the ranch hand = Paulie - "Won't see him no more." "Took the long black train."
Thomas Rainwater = Don Barzini. The other Boss plotting against the Dutton family.
Dan Jenkins = Solazzo/Moe Greene. High roller being squeezed out of a casino.
Sherriff Haskell = Officer McCluskey. He’s corrupt and turns against the Duttons. Again, what does that say
about his future? He might want to give up veal for a while.
Sarah Nyugen = Johnny Ola. Entices Jamie/Fredo to betray, eventually things got tight around the collar
Walker = A reluctant Frank Pentangeli ?
Jimmy = Vincent Mancini...is there some Dutton in him?
What I can’t figure out is what Walker and/or Jimmy's roles are in all this. Clearly, they’re being set up for a big moment at some point. Maybe one of them will turn on the family Fabrizio style? "Prepara la macchina!"
That was written in 2018 - before the end of season 1. Season 2 obviously had some more similarities, Kayce (Michael) accepted his role in the family. Jamie (Fredo - I knew it was you, you broke my heart), tries to clean up his mess. Dan Jenkins gets “Moe Greened” and the Beck Brothers (Rosato Brothers) make their appearance, and well, exit. I also think I may have been wrong about Thomas Rainwater. He might be a bigger boss than Don Barzini was. A boss of bosses, maybe more like Hyman Roth.
By the time season 3 rolls around, the similarities are no longer subtle. They're in your face. My son likes to call hints or callbacks to other movies “easter eggs” when he watches films. Here though, the “easter eggs” are actually oranges. In The Godfather there are often oranges in scenes right before or during which someone gets killed/dies. For example Vito Corleone is buying oranges from a street vendor when he is shot in the drive-by in front of Genco Olive Oil Company. When Tom Hagen has dinner with Jack Woltz, there's a plate of oranges on the table. Right before Don Fanucci is killed by young Vito, Fanucci grabs an orange from a street cart. There are countless other examples. If this is the first time you've heard the orange theory, you should Google it.
In season 3 of Yellowstone, there are oranges in multiple scenes.
In the scene where Jamie has everyone in his office, he offers them all orange juice before he starts the meeting. And if that wasn’t enough for you, in one of the final scenes of season 3, Rip has to put down a horse. Before he does it, they show the horse's head. If you haven't watched the finale yet, I won't say anymore. I'll just leave you with this. “Khartoum, Khartoum.”
In a way, I feel like the horse's head was a tip of the cap to the fans who recognized it from the beginning.
So what does this all mean? Does it give us any clues about Season 4? Does Tate go fishing with uncle Jamie? While Vito, er I mean John recovers, does Rip seek revenge and “take Joey Zasa OUT!!” ?? Purists are rolling their eyes right now because I used a Godfather 3 reference. But if Yellowstone writers are loosely following The Godfather story line, wouldn’t that be the next logical path?
Either way, I can’t wait to find out. Season 4 begins on November 7 on Paramount Network.
Feel free to let me know your thoughts or any comparisons that I may have missed.
* = Unless, of course they want to. I would gladly listen to any offers. Have your people call my people.