The following contains spoilers for season 4 of Yellowstone.
When Yellowstone season 3 ended—when John lay dying on the roadside and Beth and Kayce stood facing bullets and shrapnel—we figured season 4 would ride hard: The ranch was under attack from a foe that meant business, and there would be an answer. Someone would pay. Someone would die.
Now as season 4 wraps, that previous finale feels like another era—one where every event, every character conflict, every consequence of that attack seems to have led nowhere. Or, if it led anywhere, it led to one patricidal decision less about character and more about ridding the season of a plotline it never intended to develop. The Yellowstone season 4 finale did end with a bang, but it was nowhere loud enough to be memorable, nor precise enough to be earned. Garrett Randall is dead. The Duttons are still alive. The ranch seems as secure as ever.
Before we break down the season 4 finale, let’s bemoan one last time the season that could have been.
Season 3 set up a clear triangular conflict among the Duttons, Market Equities, and the Broken Rock Reservation / Rainwater. Beth and John were locked into battle with Roarke who was also locked into battle with Rainwater, who was also still breathing down the neck of John. We had the opportunity for uneasy alliances, back deal trades, and political power moves. We met Angela Blue Thunder, a Broken Rock power figure we thought would do battle with Beth Dutton. The stage was set.
None of this materialized. The conflicts were scuttled to make way for a militia attack, which came from none of these sides. While this attack may have still changed the playing field for the better, it did little. Even when we knew the attack came from Garrett, its effects remained singular: At no point did the attack upset already-established power dynamics. We waited an entire season to unspool any sort of clear conflict, and were left instead with a half-hearted infiltration of Market Equities, a half-hearted back deal with Rainwater, and a discussion on “right” vs “just” stuffed into later episodes and carried along by a half-hearted trial (and love affair) no one seems to care for.
Rainwater and Mo—once the most compelling foil to the Duttons—are reduced to a tired western trope of metaphor-talking Native Americans helping guide the white protagonists to revelation. Monica—once a vocal opponent to the Duttons and emotional counterweight to Kayce’s loyalty to family and land—is likewise sidelined as an emotional mother figure. Ultimately, the season suffers from an inability to introduce a compelling threat to John and John’s way of life. This threat has always been the motivating force behind the series’ events, i.e., the point of the show. Every Dutton character decision. Every alliance. Every bullet fired. It’s all about the land!
Other interesting conflicts that were set up—including a governor’s race between Jamie and John, an alliance between Beth and Summer to thwart Market Equities, and an oncoming showdown between John and Garrett—all went nowhere, and they went nowhere fast.
The season seemed to put all its emotional weight on Jamie’s final decision. Yet his is a character we just can’t take seriously enough to care about.
Some hope for season 5: Beth may have made an enemy out of Riggins during her conjugal visit—making him want to leave a bloodier mark on the world and finish the Duttons off for good. The Jamie and Jimmy storylines seem to be over, making room for the return of the Reservation as a prominent plotline. Both Yellowstone spinoff series, 1883 and 6666, will have already begun and will no longer require screen time to tease.
Anyway, here’s how how the season 4 finale unfolded.
Beth, What in the Hell Are You Doing?
Having offended John’s sense of right and wrong, Beth has to make amends. She does so by asking John permission to stay at the ranch in exchange for making her tactics less amoral. Before she can fulfill this promise, however, Beth has business to take care of. She visits Riggins in prison where she finds out that he had previously been interviewed by Jamie—and had told Jamie who hired him to kill the Duttons.
Armed with this information, Beth confronts Jamie, threatening legal action and bodily harm.
Beth, however, faces her own legal action. Caroline Warner shows Beth the front page of the New York Times, which features a story about the airfield protest. Beth had leaked the story after tipping off reporters to Market Equities’ plans to disrupt the protestors by using the National Guard. Warner accuses Beth of violating her contract and revealing business secrets. She threatens Beth with jail time. She also vows to fully take over the Yellowstone and turn Beth’s family home into a public toilet.
Later, Beth kidnaps a priest and marries Rip.
The Bachelor Season Finale
Jimmy returns to the Yellowstone having given his final rose to Emily. Emily meets Mia at the bunkhouse. The two fight over Jimmy. Jimmy later talks to John who releases him from any debt he owes the Duttons. Jimmy travels back to the Four Sixes with Emily, his fiancé. They will likely be prominent characters in the Yellowstone spinoff series.
Kayce Dances with Wolves
We’re not sure what demons Kayce needed to exercise this season—or why now—but the demons arrive. During his narcotic-laden ritual, Kayce has a vision of his brother Lee, who tells him nothing of import. He also has a vision of Avery who he briefly makes out with. He then has a vision of his time in combat. Finally, the wolf is made incarnate into a girl (maybe someone we will meet in 1883?). The girl leads Kayce to a ridge from which he looks down onto two paths—both undesirable futures, but futures, the girl tells Kayce, she will lead him through.
Later, Monica asks Kayce what he saw. Kayce responds: the end of us all. So probably season 5. Kayce saw season 5.
All Rise for Judge John
John speaks with the judge about Summer Higgins, who faces a life sentence after assaulting a police officer at the airfield protest. The judge wants to make an example out of Summer who he sees as representing a growing threat to the way of life in Montana (even though Summer was ironically protesting a land development that was also a threat to the way of life in Montana). John tries to talk the sentence down. He fails. Summer is given over 15 years. Later, after John waxes about changing times and the end of days, the judge agrees to reduce the sentence.
And that’s about all from John this season. Moping around the ranch and talking about “right” an “just.” What happened to his character’s power?
Et Tu, Jamie?
And finally, the culmination of all the supposed themes and events of the season: Jamie making a decision which father he will swear fealty to, John or Garrett. Except Jamie doesn’t make the decision freely at all. Like the spineless cretin he is, Jamie instead makes the decision because he’s afraid of Beth.
After Beth threatens Jamie with jail time or Rip killing him, Jamie choses a third option: kill Garrett himself. He does it. Later, when taking Garrett to the train station (the border where the Yellowstone bodies go) Beth photographs him. Now, she says, she owns him.
Jamie won’t be able to run for governor or challenge the Duttons again. He’ll likely resign as attorney general and return to the ranch as a loser. So much for all that character development.
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