Before we jump in—spurs first—to the two-episode Season 5 premiere of Yellowstone, let’s quickly recap the previous season.
John Dutton doesn’t die after getting shot. Beth doesn’t die after getting blown up. Monica doesn’t die after getting choked. Kayce kills a bunch of people. Jimmy becomes a man. Girls are allowed in the bunkhouse; everyone fights. Market Equities blah blah blah. Jamie becomes a daddy. Jamie learns his daddy hired the attack on his Dutton daddy. Jamie vs Dutton daddy, John Dutton, for governor. Summer Higgins happens, but, like, who cares. Teeter! Beth illegally adopts Carter. Monica mopes. Jamie kills his daddy. Beth gloats. Kayce’s season-long journey is sandwiched into ten minutes of hallucinatory screen time during which some kind of Dutton doom is prophesied.
So, a pretty uneventful season.
Season 5 kicks off around eight months later. (We know this because Monica, only a few weeks into her pregnancy at the end of Season 4, is now just shy of three weeks due.) The new season immediately finds John as victor of the Montana governor’s race, a result that tosses the ball back to the courts of Chief Thomas Rainwater and Caroline Warner (Market Equities). While the latter appears to be set up as the main antagonist this season—alongside all metaphors for coastal elitism—it appears as if Rainwater will be John’s key opponent. As Angela says to Thomas during Episode 2, “We’re right back where we started.” And this applies to the series as much as the season; the very first season mostly focused on the struggle over land between the Duttons and the Broken Rock Indian Reservation. We’re likely coming full circle this season, back to this struggle.
The season’s core question, then, isn’t whether or not the Dutton Ranch will be saved, but rather who will own the land once it is. That’s our prediction, anyway.
Let’s dive in.
It’s early morning after election night and John Dutton (Kevin Costner) definitely doesn’t want to be governor. He’s just defeated McMullen (the first of the show’s many representations of parasitic out-of-state coastal elite scum) and goes on stage to give a victory speech. Jamie (Wes Bentley) is despondent, clearly still harboring ambition for office, but held in check by Beth’s evidence of his patricide.
Watching the speech on TV are both Dutton antagonists. First, we see Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham). He’s asked by Mo (Moses Brings Plenty) whether the result is good or bad for the reservation. Rainwater: “It’s a good thing for the land, but I don’t see how it’s good for us.” It’s good for the land, because John will cut funding for both the hotel and airport (Market Equities’ investments). It’s not good for Rainwater, because the election makes John more powerful and reinforces his grip on the Yellowstone, the land the reservation has contested since Season 1.
Next, we see Caroline Warner (Jacki Weaver) freaking out while watching the speech. Ellis Steele (John Emmet Tracy), whose firm represents Market Equities, points out Jamie’s dejection. Warner then tells him to call for Sarah Atwood, likely a large power player this season and Beth’s antagonist in the struggle to retain Jamie’s allegiance.
Speaking of Beth (Kelly Reilly), we’re then shown a flashback, after the commercial break, of an 18-year-old Beth asking Rip on a date. The flashback device will be used throughout the episode and into the next, signaling a departure from previous seasons—which have employed flashbacks, but never to this extent. The device suggests the importance of Rip and Beth’s relationship this season, on which Beth appears to reflect guiltily. (Or the show is just running out of ways to show characterization.) This flashback finds Beth taking Rip to a local bar, and teaching him a lesson about male jealousy, which ends with her bagging another cowboy in front of Rip—because he left her alone at the bar? Who knows.
Present-day Beth then apologizes to Rip (Cole Hauser) who suggests she find some way to occupy her time instead of “beating the shit” out of herself. (She will then turn to beating the shit out of other people.)
The End of All of Us
Meanwhile in Helena, John and now-senator (and still awkward love interest) Lynelle Perry (Wendy Moniz) discuss the challenges John will face in office, namely, other people; John hates other people. John is then awkwardly sworn into office, giving a speech about his first-week plans, including cutting funding for Market Equities’ investments and taxing non-residents. In the car ride back to the ranch, John admits he ran for office only to protect the Dutton ranch, the Yellowstone. He reminds Beth and Jamie that the family ranch comes first in all their decisions.
Back at the ranch, the bunkhouse prepares for John’s victory party. (Featuring live music by Shane Smith and the Saints, who totally fucking rock.) As John complains to Senator Perry about having to leave the ranch to do his elected job, Beth finds Rip sitting on the hill and dramatically overlooking the celebration. Without any prompting, Rip compares the festivities to the fall of the Roman Empire, foreseeing John’s election into office as the beginning of the end for the ranch. Beth, like us, looks totally perplexed. And then the scene ends.
Meanwhile, near the Canadian border, Livestock Commissioner Kayce (Luke Grimes) has arrested a group of horse thieves. He then calls Monica (Kelsey Asbille) to tell her he won’t be coming home that night. Monica then says she needs to go to the hospital. Kayce calls for an ambulance and then heads there by car, even though he’s, like, over 300 miles away. Monica and Tate (Breken Merrill) then erratically drive to the hospital, and, because there hasn’t been enough drama this episode, unsurprisingly collide with another car. John immediately rushes to the hospital where Tate explains that his baby brother died. He tells his grandfather the boy’s name was going to be John—yet another signal of doom for the Dutton clan.
Take a breath. Good? Okay, now let’s revisit that car accident!
The culprit turns out to be a hard-to-open bag of pretzels. Monica, unseatbelted and rotund like a beach ball, was somehow ejected through the windshield and into a field with only minor injuries. After the flashback, Kayce and Tate talk about the event. Tate tells Dad to make another baby brother.
Later, Monica asks Kayce what he saw in his vision—what “the end of us” actually means. Kayce responds cryptically, saying Monica’s accident wasn’t what he saw; in his vision he had to choose what “the end” would be. (It’s clear Kayce’s actual vision will remain something of a mystery box for the rest of the season, which is stupid and annoying. Also stupid and annoying: what the show has done to Monica. Once a strong player in the Dutton vs. Reservation battle—and someone helping protect indigenous women—she’s become a constant victim of circumstance and a total passive, mopey dullard. RIP Cool Monica.)
Anyway, let’s move on.
At the ranch, Rip tells Carter (Finn Little) to saddle John’s horse and ride—a sign that Carter can finally graduate from shoveling shit and now seek paternal approval. He immediately fucks it up. While helping herd cattle, he steers his horse into some rough terrain, the horse shatters its leg in a hole, Carter breaks his arm, and then Rip comes over and kills the horse.
Just before all this, Rip and the others discover a dead cow, likely eaten by wolves—though, it’s suggested something else might have first killed it. Rip tells Ryan (Ian Bohen) and Colby (Denim Richards) to hunt the wolves. Later that night, the two ranchers, using thermal vision on their rifles, shoot and kill at least two wolves feasting on the carcass. When they get closer, they realize the wolves are tagged, meaning they came from Yellowstone National Park and are thus protected. Their actions, they believe, could cause an uproar among conservationists and put a stain on John’s first month in office. Rip tells them to float the collars downstream wrapped around logs; the collars should fall off eventually, signaling that the wolves were either killed in the stream or somehow broke the collars (we guess?).
Wait, So Everyone on 1883 Died for Nothing?
Back in Helena, John is realizing just how totally uncool being governor is. After seeing a boring education association meeting on his schedule and realizing his schedule has been created by other men with agendas, he fires his chief of staff and appoints his daughter. So now the state government is full of Duttons: a Dutton (John) as governor, a Dutton (Jamie) as attorney general, and a Dutton (Beth) as chief of staff. Seems totally legit and ethical.
John then announces his plans to cut funding from Market Equities’ hotel and airport projects. Jamie, who originally helped broker the deal between Market Equities and the state, points out that the corporation will sue for breach of contract and then delay until John leaves office in four years. (John plans to be a one-term governor, using his reign to halt all development and protect his property from future seizure.) Senator Perry (still in Helena, we guess, to hold John’s hand for a little bit) agrees with Jamie’s concerns. John doesn’t care and tells Jamie to take care of it anyway. Perry then tells John he needs to learn how to play the game, which means actually going to meetings in order to gain favors.
John takes this advice and meets with two state officials. He asks them to deny Market Equities’ request to rezone. They push back, saying the airport will bring in revenue for the state. John promises them he will find new revenue sources. He also says he will revoke Market Equities’ lease on his land and that he will put the land into a conservation easement, meaning no development could ever occur and litigation on the airport would be moot. The problem, Beth points out after the meeting, is that the Duttons won’t be able to split up the land and sell it in case of financial trouble; it might mean the Dutton family could lose the land altogether. Beth is flabbergasted at this decision. It seems to contradict all of John’s motives and, for viewers, John’s character; the whole point of the last four seasons was not just to keep the land but to keep the land in the Dutton’s ownership, given how hard they fought for it (which was also the point of 1883, the spin-off series: if it took so much bloodshed to reach the land, John should fight equally hard to keep it). It makes little sense that John is now interested only in retaining the land as a single piece of untouched property rather than in family control over this property. Has he been won over by Summer Higgins’ conservationism? Has he changed his entire mission in life? Or maybe he just lied. Probably that.
Anyway, let’s move on.
The episode ends with Rip, Ryan, and Colby sending the wolf collars down the river. We follow the callers as they stubbornly stay on the logs. Then one log gets caught on a tree branch, the collar still attached. The crime will be obvious now. (Why didn’t they just float the collars without the logs given the strength of the river? Find out next week, we guess.)
Joshua St Clair is an editorial assistant at Men’s Health Magazine.