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‘Yellowstone’ Season 4, by the Numbers: Week 1

Tate killed a clown, Beth smoked a cigarette after somehow evading death, and John Dutton said John Dutton things. Let’s go over the Season 4 premiere and preview the upcoming episode.

Paramount/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The wait is over. Red State Succession has returned with a bombastic vengeance. Yellowstone is back and hell yes, it is more Yellowstone-y than ever.

If you’ve followed the sweepingly cringe but nonetheless addictive epic of the Dutton family and their sacrosanct Yellowstone ranch to this point, you know exactly what you’re getting into. It’s a deeply conservative show about preserving a certain way of life. It can also be deeply nihilistic, or a show that touts its Nietzschean bona fides as existing in a place beyond good and evil. It’s a show in which every line of dialogue is an extremely deep but also pithy Mission Statement. It’s a show in which people are constantly getting shot in hails of righteous gunfire. It’s so goddamn cool.

Every episode of Yellowstone—and I say this with love—is a mess. Occasionally, it’s a beautiful mess, sometimes it’s a mess in a “WHAAAAAAAAT!?” kind of way. The show’s beating heart resides entirely in its unhinged verve and going-hard ethos. Yellowstone will always push the limits as a rule, whether it makes sense or not, piling bonkers plotline atop bonkers plotline and waiting for the inevitable explosion. The two-part intro to Season 4 exemplified this completely. The first 10 minutes were full of action and dread, but that tapered off very abruptly into a softer, gentler opener. Considering last season ended with the lives of basically every main character in doubt, you’d be forgiven for being surprised that so much of the two-part premiere was about procuring expensive horses, yelling at medical professionals, discussing Hamburger Helper, and then getting absolutely zero answers on who was trying to kill (almost) every Dutton on planet Earth. Also, Tate killed a clown.

Each week we’ll gather ’round this online fire pit and break down the salient events of the previous episode using only hard numbers—because numbers are the only thing on God’s green earth that don’t lie, I’m sure John Dutton would say. This might include who gets killed in ridiculous fashion, how many wise but cutting remarks Beth dishes out to people she loves, and how many times John Dutton (Kevin Costner) gruffly points out that this is “his land.” Then we’ll look ahead to the coming episode and predict next week’s numbers.

100,000 (Approximately): Bullets Fired at Kayce on a Montana Side Street

So many important things went down in Big Vibes Country last week. After Season 3’s finale explosively ended with Kayce, John, Beth, and Jimmy all potentially dying, the Season 4 premiere provided mercifully quick resolutions. First off, to avoid being shot by multiple attackers in his tiny office, Kayce simply flipped over a desk that looked to weigh hundreds of pounds with a flick of a wrist and fought off his assailants with smoke grenades and gumption. Later, the firefight migrates to the street and for a moment it appears as if the bank robbers from Heat got lost in Montana and, just for the love of the game, they decide to have a little assault-rifle-off on the side streets. They lose, but injure Kayce. (Spoiler alert: He’s fine.)

2.5: Beth’s Drags From a Post-Explosion Cigarette

Elsewhere, Beth walks out of a building—which recently partially exploded with her in its immediate vicinity—a bit dazed, but still with the requisite sass to demand a cigarette from a stranger and get that classic Beth revenge look in her eyes. Beth isn’t afraid of death, is the point.

8: Witnesses to a Rare John Dutton Thank You/Apology

John Dutton, played with sweet taciturnity by Costner, was ironically saved from a hail of gunfire by the smartphone he hated to use. Later, a bit recovered from automatic rifle fire, he wanders into his ranch hands’ quarters and gives a heartfelt apology and genuine thanks to the denizens of the bunkhouse. It’s a sweet moment that gives Costner the opportunity to add just a bit of vulnerability to his curmudgeonly self. But then you remember this is the guy who LITERALLY BRANDED THESE PEOPLE and coerced them into indentured servitude. At that point you start to think, well, sure, saying thanks is an important first step!

2: Household Items Thrown at Jamie

A stressful episode for Jamie (Wes Bentley), beginning with Beth visiting him at work and throwing both a rat trap and a baseball at him before straight up threatening his life. Much later, perhaps to get over that whole rat trap situation, Jamie buys some sweet land for himself while hanging with the man who murdered his biological mother (his biological father, Garrett Randall, played by Will Patton, all soft-spoken and menacing). When Randall pushes for ranching with a Kawasaki Mule and some border collies, Jamie gets all wistful about how horses are cool. This is Yellowstone’s way of telling us that Jamie is still a Dutton, despite everything. Still, this story line is a bummer. No one wants to see how this goes.

1: New Big Bad

It’s a tradition in Yellowstone, but we need new greedy city folk each season. Strangely, they always think they can outsmart the Duttons using big words and possible assassination attempts—and not strangely at all, John Dutton eventually prevails by having Rip kill them in some very creative manner. The premiere of Season 4 introduces us to Caroline Warner (Jacki Weaver), a Market Equities bigwig who may very well be our new tenderfoot villain. Coming in hot, she drops this line: “Living in Montana is poverty with a view. You threatened to take the view.” Dang. Wow.

-1: Old Big Bad

We need to say a few words for the dearly departed Roarke, the former Market Equities point man who had some early sexual tension with Beth but was ultimately just an expendable dude with a bad haircut. Roarke was clearly just Sawyer from Lost after escaping the island. He found a new career, was still sort of a con man, was played by Josh Holloway, and made himself a lot of money looking at stock market stuff on his laptop. He also really loved to fish.

Was Roarke a bad guy? Honestly, he seemed all right for a money-hungry vulture trying to dominate nature and dismantle everything our protagonists hold dear. Still, Rip walking up to him all casual and throwing a snake in his face while he was just trying to enjoy his day seemed a bit harsh. To make matters worse, Rip then taunted the dying Roarke with, “You fell for one of the classic blunders! The most famous is ‘never trust a cooler full of rattlesnake.’”

Infinite: Horses Jimmy Has Fallen Off or Will Fall Off During the Show’s Run

Sweet and relatable Jimmy—essentially the Cousin Greg of Yellowstone—survives his latest fall from a bucking horse, but this of course means he’s broken his word to John Dutton, who told him to never mount a grouchy horse again. Just an FYI for everyone planning to break your word to John Dutton: don’t do it! It never works out!

Many: Casualties

It’s somewhat impossible to put a hard number on this morbid information—at least from a mental standpoint. If you’re going to watch Yellowstone and pause the episode each and every time a human being is blasted by automatic weapon fire or bitten by a poisonous snake, I gotta say, that may not be good for your health. Many people perished in these two episodes—including an assassin in a clown mask, who was blasted by Kayce’s son Tate, a literal child. May they all be at rest.

0: Dead Duttons

Somehow, despite the extremely well-coordinated and executed plan (or so it seemed?) to eliminate John, Beth, and Kayce, not a single one of the assassination attempts was successful. John was saved by a phone because he hates technology (this is irony, and also something that happened in a Portlandia skit nearly 10 years ago); Kayce went full ’80s action-hero to fend off a basically zero-sum survival situation; and Beth, well, Beth definitely should be dead. She was like 2 feet from a massive explosion. This very much brings to mind Audrey Horne’s last explosive scene in the Season 2 finale of Twin Peaks, though thankfully Beth doesn’t wake up 25 years later in an asylum. That said, her back is quite messed up. Rip, sensitive man that he is, doesn’t mind, though.

So, the point is, someone (but who?!) launched an extremely meticulous and coordinated attack on the Dutton family. And then there’s a time-jump ... It’s nice that whoever decided to kill all of them at once (and failed, yikes) also decided to just let them heal up for two months. That’s cowboy chivalry. It’s a Montana tradition, much like stopping on the road to help useless Californians change their tires.

1: Flashbacks to the Olden Days

Of course this happened. A central tenet of Yellowstone is the Dutton family’s magical, perhaps obsessive bond with the land. Showrunner Taylor Sheridan wants us to understand exactly why John Dutton is so bullishly cantankerous and stubborn about his acres. Did we really need a period-piece spinoff to more specifically delineate every literal step of the Dutton journey? That remains to be seen. (But also, probably not.)

1: Times Lee Dutton Was Mentioned

It’s wild to think, but Lee, the 38-year-old bachelor who was killed in the closing minutes of the pilot, has basically never been mentioned by his father or his siblings in, like, three years. So, it was nice to hear him mentioned in the Season 4 premiere. Then again, it was only in relation to Kayce telling John he’d kill him and bury him next to Lee. This family, man. Yikes.

1 for Sure, but Maybe 2: Spinoff Soft Launches

Obviously, the major “WHAAAAAAAAT!?” moment for Yellowstone fans was the flashback that took us all the way back to 1883, the days when John Dutton’s grandfather was showing his white-savior bona fides by graciously gifting a steer to a band of Native Americans. This revealed Tim McGraw as the Dutton patriarch of olden times and the star in 1883, which will document the Duttons’ journey west, their ultimate confrontation with the people to whom the Yellowstone ranch land actually belongs, and no doubt their artful maneuvers to make it their own.

The existence of 1883 has long been established as a thing that is happening. There was a trailer for it halfway through the Season 4 premiere. (One highlight: Sam Elliott pistol-whipping some fool.) But apparently there is going to be a second spinoff called (for now!) 6666 about, uh, I guess a cattle ranch down in Texas where, you know, shit is different and somehow more real than it is at Yellowstone? Because Jimmy disobeyed John Dutton’s request and now he’s being semi-exiled to Texas, where they will make a cowboy of him—or else. It’s cool. Yellowstone is slowly becoming the MCU.

Half: How Much Money the Woman at the Bar Has

In the scene from which the first half of the premiere takes its title, Beth drops some wisdom on a stranger who has been ordered by her brusque partner to get him a beer. “You have all the pussy and half the money,” she says to a nice woman at a bar, explaining feminism and changing the world one unhappy couple at a time.

1: How Many Soulful yet Angry Runaway Kids Beth and Rip Basically Adopt

His name is Carter. Beth meets him while smoking on a bench with a “No Smoking” sign on it. Beth is edgy. But back to Carter. Beth loves him immediately because he’s not afraid to swear at a dying parent and has Little Rip Energy. Rip doesn’t care for him initially, but at least he doesn’t brand this child with a hot iron. Yet.

A Preview of Episode 3, “All I See Is You”

Heading into the next episode on Sunday, there are so many unanswered questions. Chief among them: does Beth make Hamburger Helper with chicken or tuna? Does Jamie tell his real dad to stop being so creepy? Do Beth and Rip decide to let an adopted child sleep in an actual bed?

But the biggest question of who ordered the hit on the Duttons also lingers. The main candidates are, of course, Market Equities, Jamie Dutton, and Chief Thomas Rainwater (or more likely his fixer, Angela Blue Thunder, who is all about that chaotic energy). Or it could be the California bikers who were so thoroughly embarrassed by John Dutton and Rip forcing them to dig their own graves back in Season 3. Or, a popular fan theory: it’s Malcolm Beck (Neil McDonough), who was technically never seen dead, and who is a man known to have connections to the militia. On the other hand—and I hope you are sitting down for this—it may be a new big bad. That’s my pitch, because none of the heretofore “antagonists” really make sense as the puppet masters of this attempted Dutton smothering. There simply wasn’t enough time between the Big Development Meeting at the end of Season 3 and these extremely violent and coordinated attacks!

Now, here are a few other predictions for the coming week.

Unknown: Times Jimmy Says the Wrong Thing

This version of Jimmy seems to be missing some of his previous luster. All the light seemed to go out of him when John Dutton berated him with sparse, cowboy chagrin. The thing about Jimmy is that he’s the audience’s eyes and ears in this show, a basically nice enough guy thrown into a baptism of increasingly ridiculous circumstances. After three seasons of his coworkers (friends) hazing him continuously for being bad at his job, Jimmy might have reached a point where he has to evolve from lovable goof into a version of himself that doesn’t make John Dutton sad. Elsewhere, Jimmy will definitely have a difficult time explaining why he has to go to an entirely new ranch—in Texas!—to his girlfriend Mia (Eden Brolin), who has always been extremely willing to tear Jimmy a new one. That should be a fun conversation.

0.5: Heartfelt Scenes Between Rip and Baby Rip

The ball is rolling, the bond is actualizing. At some point Rip is going to tell Carter all about the birds and the bees and the manly way to sweep a stable, all while they both act like tough dudes to each other. Maybe it’ll take more than one episode, but eventually there will be some sliver of love that prompts a breakthrough during which one or both of the adopted sons of the Yellowstone will recognize that they both exist as the platonic ideal of damaged softies looking for love in all the strangest places (mostly Montana). Beth will watch them interact with a half-smile, and then say something like, “Every living creature dies alone. I will bury you. Do you want whiskey?”

3: Times John Dutton Complains About Craft Beer

To celebrate John’s recovery from a ridiculous number of bullets, either Kayce or Beth will attempt to treat him to artisanal beer, and it won’t go well for any of them. Beers with German names in particular will raise John’s hackles. “What is a sour?” he might ask. “Why would you want this? Shouldn’t beer taste like beer?”

0: Flashback to 1883

It seems likely there is a narrative thread from 1883 that will assert itself eventually (the recently discovered skull), but it’s unlikely we’ll see Tim McGraw until we get a bit deeper in the season. That guy was probably too busy filming his Yellowstone spinoff to appear on Yellowstone every week.

0: Times Kayce Will Acknowledge That His Son Killed a Guy in a Clown Mask

Nah. Tate is on a path to being a soulful yet stoic killing machine—just like his dad. Dysfunction is inherited, didn’t you know? Hasn’t Yellowstone beaten this message into your brain yet?

3 (at least): Instances of PDA Between Teeter and Colby

Especially now that the affair between these two wildly secondary characters is out in the open. Getting stomped half to death by horses is the surest way to create a lasting romantic bond and they don’t care who knows it.

13: Times Beth Says Something Pithy and Nihilistic

This total is actually pretty low, but every legend has an off night.

Alex Siquig lives in Baltimore, drinks MD 20/20, and writes about things like Game of Thrones, the Willennium, and the life of Doug Funnie.