I have now COVID-binged all three seasons of YELLOWSTONE. It’s basically THE SOPRANOS with cowboy hats. Like Tony, the men on this show agonize over injured horses but don’t have no problem taking any person, for any reason, to the train station — that is, shooting them and throwing them off a roadside cliff in middle-of-nowhere Wyoming. These people are narcissistic, self-righteous, violent and depressive, crying and killing and literally howling at the moon all within a five minute span. They’re a pin-up calendar for 2020.
Somewhere in this swirling maelstrom of drooling lunacy is Tate, the nine-year-old-ish grandson of the family. Tate is the reason I watch YELLOWSTONE. His totally unfair and utterly fucked up journey is what makes this show matter. The epic struggle, and utter failure, of Tate’s extended family, this self-aggrandizing clan of aw-shucks murderers, to protect Tate from the nightmarish phantasmagoria of the family business, is our collective failure to protect our kids from the witch’s brew of narcissism, solipsism and abject stupidity that we are currently living through.
I pity Tate the way I pity my 5 year-old son, Ezra, and millions of kids like them, who are caught up in this shit. Everyone over 18, we’re on the hook for this mess. It doesn’t matter who you voted for. We’re adults in a democratic society. We’re accountable for this rolling disaster.
But our kids. They did nothing wrong. In fact, they did everything they were told. And their reward is to be inflicted with trauma by the out of control bullshit of their so-called guardians.
We promised to keep our kids safe and we failed. That’s what YELLOWSTONE is about.
Here’s a list of the outrageous, totally unfair bullshit that has befallen Tate over the first three seasons of YELLOWSTONE. (I will definitely miss some items on this list, but close enough.)
Tate spends the afternoon with his Uncle Lee. Shortly thereafter, Lee is murdered in a pointless shootout over stolen cattle. So long, Uncle Lee. Then Tate’s dad, Kayce, the best grown-up we’ve got on this show, stashes Tate in a lonely roadside drainage pipe while Kayce runs off to gunfight a van load of generic evil meth guys. Alone in the drainage pipe, Tate is attacked by a rattlesnake, which he has to kill with his bare hands. After Kayce dispenses with the meth guys, he returns to find Tate covered in blood, holding the dead rattlesnake. No worries – Kayce lets Tate keep the rattlesnake’s rattle. Thanks?
Then Tate gets a truck ride home with the young Native American sexual assault victim who Kayce rescued from the meth guys. Tate gets to know her just well enough to be personally affected when, unable to process the trauma of her assault, she fatally shoots herself. The suicide prompts Tate’s cousins, his best friends, to move away. Not exactly the “Tom Sawyer on Holiday Hill” childhood experience.
But no time to dwell on that fiasco – the Tate trauma train rolls on! Tate’s mom, a teacher, intervenes in a high school fist fight, takes a punch to the jaw and falls head first onto concrete, unconscious. As a pool of blood spreads under her fractured skull, all of the high school kids flee the scene. That leaves, you guessed it, our man Tate, who watches, screaming, as his mother slowly dies in her own blood on a sidewalk.
Cut to — Mom in the hospital. No telling how long Tate was alone with her before help somehow arrived. After mom comes home, she suffers a massive brain bleed, collapses, and almost dies again, so it’s back to the hospital. And don’t worry – Tate has a front row seat for all of it.
With the giant bandage still on her head wound, Tate’s mom then decides to separate from Tate’s father. Dad moves out, Tate and his mom moves into a new home several hours away, and Tate barely sees his father. A few weeks/months later, his parents reunite – never mind, kiddo, divorce cancelled, no biggie! Again – WTF, grown-ups?
Next, Tate and his parents move onto the Yellowstone ranch, Tate’s third home in maybe three months. But hang in there, Tate – we’re almost to the fun part!
Season two crescendoes with Tate’s kidnapping by white supremacists who snatch him right off the family ranch, the one place where he was supposed to be safe, shave his head and stash him in a filthy bathtub where he’s blasted with Nazi rock. Tate has to know that these imbeciles are very likely to kill him. But his family shoots their way through about 40 guys and find Tate locked in the bathroom, screaming in terror, but otherwise safe and sound – aside from the night terrors that haunt him in Season 3.
In fairness, somewhere along the way, Tate got his own horse. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.
My son, Ezra, is about to turn six. He’s in kindergarten. I remember kindergarten. I got a bunch of time outs for talking in class without raising my hand. And I got in trouble when Josh Hadeya and I chased the girls around the playground with our shirts off. Mrs. Molovinsky was not happy about that. There was also my whirlwind two-week relationship with Lilly Goldman that ended with me and Lilly loudly announcing in front of the class that we were NOT boyfriend and girlfriend anymore! And that’s it. That’s the list of bad stuff that happened to me in kindergarten.
You know what never happened to me in kindergarten? I never had an active shooter drill. But Ezra has. I remember holding his hand and asking him about it. He said, It’s scary because there could be a scary bad guy. That was before COVID, when things were “normal.”
You know what else never happened to me in kindergarten? I never hopped out of the car at school and said, Daddy, wait, where’s my mask? I never tried to hug a friend and had the friend refuse because he was afraid hugging me would cause him to get sick and die. I never went to a friend’s house and was told I couldn’t go inside for epidemiological reasons. I never had to shelter in place at home for three months until I began exhibiting symptoms of depression. But Ezra has.
Ezra’s a good boy. He does his schoolwork. He eats. He sleeps. He brushes his teeth. He cares about his friends. He loves his family. He won’t go to sleep until he’s spent 20 minutes acting out Minecraft, jumping up and down on the bed, punching and kicking and grunting, fighting skeletons with his enchanted diamond sword. He watches too much YouTube – sometimes in conversation he’ll tell me to, “Comment down below” – but that’s my fault. Ezra does everything he’s supposed to do. And his reward is to live through this slow-motion apocalypse because, like Rick Moranis in Spaceballs, Ezra is surrounded by assholes. I owe him an apology.
I’m sorry, Tate.