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Yellowstone

‘Yellowstone’s Biggest Missed Opportunity Involves One Dutton

Of all the Dutton clan, this living member is the most under-utilized, and it's a crying shame.

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  •  Monica Dutton is often overshadowed by other Yellowstone characters and has been given limited screentime and character development.
  •  The inconsistent writing of Monica’s character has made her unlikeable at times, with contradictory actions and decisions.
  •  Despite her flaws, Monica is a necessary and important character in Yellowstone, representing the resilience and compassion of Native American people.

Not every Yellowstone character is created equal, and some have more screentime, increasingly compelling character arcs, and better dialogue than others. Sure, not every character can be Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly) or Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser), but that doesn’t mean that the show can’t make others just as interesting. Of course, there’s one member of the Dutton household who is most often left out of all the fun, and that’s none other than Kelsey Asbille‘s Monica Dutton, the only Native American member of the clan.

Monica Dutton Is Often Overlooked By ‘Yellowstone’

The way the show explains it, Kayce (Luke Grimes) and Monica got pregnant and then married pretty young. This caused some real strain within the Dutton family when John Dutton (Kevin Costner) attempted to convince his youngest son to take Monica in for an abortion. Instead, they had their son, Tate (Brecken Merrill), and lived on the Broken Rock Indian Reservation alongside Monica’s family, removing themselves even further from the Yellowstone. But this didn’t last forever, and eventually, John had a change of heart, hoping for a relationship with his grandson. Yes, the same one he didn’t want years prior. It’s a mess.

Although Monica showed up on Yellowstone with a lot of promise, she was soon tossed to the wayside in favor of other Duttons with seemingly more interesting story potential. Kayce and his struggles with John, the sibling rivalry between Beth and Jamie (Wes Bentley), and even Rip’s battle with the bear back in Season 1 all made for more compelling television, and as a result, Monica became the nagging wife with not much else to do except get frisked by a cop in Bozeman only to be saved by her sister-in-law. That and getting knocked out and sent to the hospital, that is. Even Jimmy (Jefferson White) had a more complete arc in the first season compared to Monica, who went into Season 2 separating herself even further from her husband and his family.

Now in its fifth season, Yellowstone often struggled with what to do with Monica throughout the show’s reign. Outside of her marriage to Kayce and her responsibilities as a mother, Monica is only shoe-horned into family scenes when it’s convenient and rarely has a compelling arc of her own. Unfortunately, whenever she does have an arc, it usually involves breaking up with Kayce for a time, trying to move on from him, blaming it all on the Dutton family, and then making up and moving on elsewhere. The tried-and-true formula has remained consistent for over five years, but it may finally be slowing down.

‘Yellowstone’ Doesn’t Know Where It Wants Monica’s Story to Go

No character on Yellowstone has gone through more trauma than Monica Dutton. Aside from all the family drama she and Kayce were put through before the start of the series, Monica is sent to the hospital in Season 1, has her son kidnapped in Season 2, and spends the first half of Season 5 grieving the son she lost. There’s more, of course, including the death of her brother Robert (Jeremiah Bitsui) who was killed by her husband in the first episode, all on top of being attacked in their own home during the Season 3 finale/Season 4 premiere. With all of that, you’d think that Yellowstone would find a compelling story to tell about this character who has been so much. Instead, she’s tossed to the wayside again and again.

For a while, Monica taught an American history class at the local university (which would be Montana State University if the Bozeman in Yellowstone is anything like the one in reality), but that didn’t end up lasting terribly long. Instead, her teaching was unceremoniously phased out around the time she moved back to the Dutton stronghold (again, temporarily) with her husband the moment she realized she’d made a mistake by leaving him. What Yellowstone is trying to say about a character like Monica is a bit confusing. On one hand, she criticizes those who have taken her people’s land, while on the other, she marries a family that owns the vast majority of Paradise Valley. But not every Monica-related plotline is bad or uninteresting. Sometimes they show real promise.

During the show’s third season, Monica did something with her Native American heritage that was actually quite powerful, albeit dangerous. In “I Killed A Man Today,” Monica helps Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) and Mo (Mo Brings Plenty) kill a man who had been attacking and raping women on the Broken Rock Indian Reservation (not too dissimilar to the ideas Taylor Sheridan previously explored in his film Wind River, which also featured Asbille). Using Monica as bait, Mo is able to kill the assailant with a sniper rifle, but not before Monica first gets a few knocks in. This event deeply changes Monica, and it helps her to better understand how Kayce had felt taking lives in the past. But more importantly, it helps her to actually do something to help protect her people, even if it is entirely outside the law (and beyond dangerous). Unfortunately, Monica hasn’t done much on the reservation since.

Inconsistent Writing Often Does Monica a Disservice on ‘Yellowstone’

Like many in the Dutton clan, Monica Dutton is a hypocrite, and five seasons of Yellowstone prove that. She consistently goes from criticizing the Dutton name and legacy while also using it whenever she gets the chance to her own advantage (John is partially responsible for getting her the teaching job in the first place), which is part of why fans of the show have become increasingly irritated with her character. While that’s mostly a reflection on creator Taylor Sheridan’s writing and not the actress herself (who plays the part expertly), it doesn’t change the fact that Monica is often an unlikeable character. It’s only more recently during Season 5 that Monica has become more likable

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, and that’s largely because of how she (along with the rest of the Dutton family) laugh at newcomer Summer Higgins (Piper Perabo) at the dinner table. 

But Kelsey Asbille, like everyone else in the Yellowstone cast, deserves to play a character as well-layered as some of the other Duttons. The fact that Monica is able to forgive Kayce for killing her brother but not for going back to the ranch early on in the show is an interesting example of how strangely written her character is. Yes, people are complex, and sometimes our decisions don’t seem realistic when looked at on paper, but given that this sort of behavior is Monica’s standard (she often blames Kayce for things that aren’t his fault), it is a bit frustrating. And let’s not forget how she attempted to drive to the hospital while in labor, or how she nearly slept with her physical therapist despite being still married to and in love with Kayce.

Monica Dutton Is a Necessary Part of ‘Yellowstone’

In a series that often features cold and violent characters, someone as tenderhearted and compassionate as Monica is necessary. Aside from a few slip-ups, Monica really is a good mother at the end of the day, and she frequently puts the needs of her child and her immediate family over the greater Dutton Ranch’s needs. While the character can be poorly written at times, and often she seems like nothing more than a side character meant to propel others (such as Kayce), Monica represents the peace that can exist between folks like the Duttons and the people of Broken Rock. Without her, and without her son in particular, there would be no character on Yellowstone who actively walks in both worlds.

Additionally, Monica represents the resilient spirit of Native American people. Despite all the trauma and tragedies that she’s gone through, she continues to endure and has become increasingly more relatable in later seasons. Losing her second son in Season 5 is no exception, and her ability to walk through that tragedy and remain true to her family is beyond impressive. Sure, Monica could be given more to do at times, and early on she did seem pretty inconsistent, but she has grown significantly over Yellowstone‘s five impressive seasons. As such, the back half of the final season should offer her a shot at redemption in the eyes of longtime fans who couldn’t get past her earlier years.

‘Yellowstone’ Struggles at Native American Stories, But the Franchise Is Getting Better

It’s no secret that Taylor Sheridan has been criticized in the past for his representation of Native American people. His 2017 directorial debut Wind River largely focused on the plight that the people of the titular Indian Reservation face, and featured a powerful ending that caught everyone off-guard. However, many have been critical of the way in which Sheridan dealt with the issues of the reservation, something that has been a continued issue in Yellowstone. While characters like Monica and Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) might bring plenty of compelling (and necessary) stories to the table, compared to shows like Dark WindsReservation Dogs, and even Netflix’s Longmire which spent careful time examining these issues, Paramount’s premiere neo-Western falls flat.

To Sheridan’s credit, Yellowstone films its scenes concerning the fictional Broken Rock Indian Reservation on a real Montana reservation (the Crow Indian Reservation, to be exact). “I don’t think that there is a more misrepresented group in American cinema than the Native American,” Sheridan has been quoted as saying. “And what little I can do to correct that historical perspective in fiction, I’m gonna do.” Yellowstone prequels such as 1883 and 1923 have been commended for authentically portraying Native American dress, traditions, and plights throughout their respective time periods in America, and rightfully so. While the flagship series might leave some to be desired, the greater Yellowstone Universe seems to be picking up the slack.

How Sheridan and company could better tackle issues on the reservation in Yellowstone remains to be seen. The series itself will be ending with the back half of the yet-unreleased Season 5 (which will also be the exit of series-star Kevin Costner), though a sequel series is in the works to continue the Dutton story. How Monica and the people of the Broken Rock Indian Reservation could fit into that is currently unclear, but given Sheridan’s commitment to telling Native stories as authentically as possible, now is the time for him to put the story where his mouth is.

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