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Finding Your Monster: ‘Yellowstone’ by the Numbers, Week 3

Beth is finding common ground with the future version of herself (played by Jacki Weaver) while the Duttons begin to investigate Riggins

Paramount/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Big day at the Yellowstone. We’re moving toward something. You can feel the ground shifting under your cowboy boots. But it’s all just slightly blurred, blending into the vast horizon. What were the highlights of last week’s episode? If you can believe it, there were even more shots of horses performing horse tricks, this time set to a rousing Shane Smith banger. Jimmy attempted to write a letter to his one true love but failed, which is so Jimmy. Jamie’s real father, Garrett Randall (Will Patton), made the sentence “Cooking is one of the few guiltless joys in life” seem spooky and weird, though the undeniable truth of his words just proves the old saying: Even Machiavellian wife-murderers are right twice a day. Kayce walked in on Monica hand-bathing Tate. Isn’t he, like, 13 years old, you might ask? Probably, but he’s been through a lot. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions about bathing arrangements when someone’s been attacked by a rattlesnake, almost drowned in a river, abducted by a militia, and forced to shoot a clown to save his life in the span of just four seasons of television.

Also on the docket: Tensions boiled over in the Bunkhouse. Laramie had a few lines. Teeter made some sort of offal stew that divided opinion. Kayce and John continued their morning rides, and staring out at a beautiful vista, John said, “Our cemetery may be by the river, son, but make no mistake, this is our graveyard.” OK. That’s cool. That’s the sort of thing John Dutton says after his literal one cup of coffee.

Let’s jump into the numbers!

1,419: Miles Jimmy Had to Put Up With This Travis Dude

Note: The distance is based on where the fictional Yellowstone Ranch scenes are filmed and the location of the 6666, which is a real place. Hopefully it is populated with sweet cowboys who are nice or at least neutral to Jimmy.

The main thing the fourth season of Yellowstone has tried to get through our heads is the deep, abiding unpleasantness of cowboy Travis (showrunner Taylor Sheridan). Sure, he can do that impressive horse-spin trick, and he knows that Road House is a quality film, but man, what a downer. Every line he says is perfectly designed to bum me out, especially since the brunt of his lines the past two episodes have been entirely focused on making Jimmy feel bad.

“Winning or Learning” expands the mythology of Travis and tries to present a more nuanced side of the cowboy bully as he attempts to give Jimmy a pep talk that doesn’t take an explicitly cruel tenor. That’s all well and good, but this talk comes pretty deep into their journey, hundreds and hundreds of miles, and he’s still effortlessly patronizing to Jimmy (who didn’t ask to be there in the first place), whom he obviously doesn’t consider to be as real or valuable a person simply because Jimmy isn’t obsessed with horses the requisite amount. What an ordeal for actor Jefferson White, who does such fine work as Jimmy—and to whom I have personally paid hundreds of dollars for multiple Cameos during the pandemic—to find the pathos of Jimmy’s arc in the first half of this season, an arc that has largely amounted to some dickhead razzing him.

28th: Rip’s Brand-new Birthday

Beth often gets a bit frisky in the morning. When she doesn’t immediately convince Rip to bone down, she asks him when exactly his birthday is. He demurs, but she senses blood, and insists he reveal his astrological sign. Rip, almost embarrassed—or at least his version of embarrassment—admits to Beth that there is literally no proof of his existence. He has no driver’s license. No birth certificate. No social security number. Nothing of his past remains. His only purpose is to do whatever John and Beth say. Beth gives him a birthday he can call his own, instantly deciding it should be September 28. This means, of course, that Rip is now a Libra. Imaginative. Romantic. Diplomatic. He shares his new birthday with former NBA player Emeka Okafor, St. Vincent, Jeezy, and Hillary Duff. September 28 is also the day when most medieval sources agree that William the Conqueror landed in England, an event I’m sure Rip will have more opinions about as the season progresses.

41: The Age Jamie Was Before Owning Anything

Jamie, apparently 41 years old, looks at his recently purchased piece of land, and describes it as the first thing he’s owned. That’s typical rich-boy behavior. They usually just take other people’s stuff. Toothbrushes, pizza, etc.

2: The Door That “Common Ground” Is Behind

Beth and Caroline Warner meet at a hotel bar and share a more-fun-than-it-should-be conversation about how best to ruin/protect/protect-but-later-ruin John Dutton’s legacy. There is a palpable game-recognize-game vibe between Beth and this possible future version of Beth. Caroline’s soft-spoken yet emotionless lust for power is something of a funhouse-mirror version of Beth’s emotionally super-charged will to power. Caroline talks the talk in a way Beth understands, spitting bars, threatening to destroy her, and so on and so forth, but then switches gears, presenting a potential Door No. 2 option. She offers Beth a job at Market Equities, and instead of throwing whiskey into this carpetbagger’s face and saying something that is equal parts profound and nonsensical, Beth actually considers it. Tonelessly, Beth says to her, “You apply logic to your decisions with no emotion. I respect that.” It’s good to talk like an evil Vulcan during business meetings. It means they have a bond.

Beth leaves the bar after some pre-negotiations and Caroline stares after her, telling her weaselly subordinate that behind every milestone of human history stands a monster. “That’s our monster,” Caroline croons, gazing at Beth smoking outside, as she glows with that special pride you feel when you, uh, find your own monster.

20: Years Riggins Has Been Behind Bars

John Dutton brings Kayce, always his favorite child, into the circle of trust, revealing the mysterious mug shot of the assassination puppet-master, Riggins. But Riggins has been in jail for 20 years, which likely makes him another Big Bad MacGuffin, a human breadcrumb meant to smoke out their true enemy. John decides that his disappointing nerd son Jamie should look into this shady character, and he wants Kayce to look into Jamie. If Jamie hesitates or stalls or muddies the water, it’d be a clear indication he was involved in the attack.

After a riveting scene in which Jamie explains why the sinister Market Equities land grab is good, actually, Kayce stops by his older brother’s office. With his saddest eyes in tow, Kayce complains that Jamie wasn’t around for their dad, as Jamie argues that he was protecting everyone behind the scenes. Kayce wants to believe that. He asks Jamie to investigate this Riggins character, and when Jamie hears that it’s John himself who wants him to interview the potential assassin, Jamie is visibly touched, and agrees immediately. The semi-estranged brothers tell each other they love each other and they both seem to mean it. Distance seems to be chipped away. It’s a nice moment. Yes, Jamie is a journalist-killing worm, but still, you love to see him remember he once wasn’t.

1: Biological Father Who Knew Riggins

Jamie’s very brief investigation into Riggins quickly yields the big “Oh daaaaamn” moment of the episode: In a shocking twist none of us saw coming, Jamie’s father, the blood-curdling Garrett Randall, was at one point Riggins’s cellmate in prison. Hmm. Could it be a coincidence?!

2: Roads in Life

“You have no future. None.”

This is Rip’s idea of the sort of tough love that Carter needs as he’s trying to fall asleep in the hellish Big Sky prison he’s stumbled onto. On the one hand, it’s understandable; he did really want a cowboy shirt, which is, after all, unforgivable. Still, it feels as though Rip has lost the script a little re: Carter, even if, yes, it’s clear the Dutton family brain trust believes treating someone like shit will always pay off in the long run. Carter’s not exactly being flayed by Ramsay Bolton, but the scenes in which he’s depressed and looking very much like a tortured child are piling up in a very Theon circa Season 3 of Game of Thrones sort of way. He’s (again, without torture) becoming Reek, albeit a Reek who gets to the stables first in the morning.

Anyway, back to the roads in life, which is the centerpiece to this episode’s “bonding” moment between Rip and Carter. The first of life’s roads, according to Rip is “winning or learning” (learning is a clever euphemism for not winning) and the second road is “losing all the way to the fucking grave.” OK, yes, one of those roads is not as good as the other. We should all keep that in mind.

1: Sam Elliott References

Travis, the horrible cowboy guy we discussed earlier, mentions how cool Sam Elliott is in a fleeting moment when he is not berating Jimmy. This means, of course, that the real Sam Elliott exists in the Yellowstone universe, which is confusing, because Sam Elliott is set to play Shea Brennan, one of the protagonists of the Yellowstone period-piece spinoff 1883. That seems like a conflict of interest, or at least an indication of a Yellowstone multiverse.

0: “Hunger Songs” Walker Knows

As the Bunkhouse crew prepares to munch on Teeter’s controversial culinary concoction, Colby seems set on abstaining entirely, partially due to his hesitancy to show Teeter any sort of approval and partially because he doesn’t seem too fond of offal. (Are these cowboys or babies?) He then asks the resident bard, Walker, “You know any hunger songs?” Walker responds, and I quote, “No.” It’s a small moment, and also an unimportant one. Did they mean songs about food in general or something more specific, like Irish rebel ballads about the hunger strikes? We may never know. And yet Walker’s admission leads to a food-related domino effect that results in old Lloyd being unceremoniously knocked out. See below!

2.5: Times Rip Decks His Future Best Man

Yellowstone knows drama. A coordinated slaughter of militia members in one episode, and now, something even more savage: an extended sequence of ranch hands arguing about where they should wrangle and administer medicine to cattle afflicted by pink eye. This is what the heartland craves!

Walker, still emotional from admitting he doesn’t know any “hunger songs,” offers Lloyd, his rival for Laramie’s affections, a bowl of stew as a peace offering. It’s soon clear there will be no peace and the two go at it, both getting in good “licks” (cowboy slang) before Rip arrives in the Bunkhouse, none too pleased at having been interrupted just as he was about to yell at Carter again. Rip takes out his anger on Lloyd (whom he just asked to be his best man), punching his dear friend and comrade of decades twice and (this next part counts as the 0.5) hurling him across a table before he collapses in a broken, embarrassed old-man heap. “There’s no fighting on this ranch,” Rip growls to Walker. Nope, nothing so uncouth or gauche—this ranch is more about killing people every few episodes, branding your employees for life with a hot iron, and flipping the fuck out when horses spin around.

1: Somewhat Awkward Father-Daughter Conversations

Beth returns to the ranch to find John drowning his sorrows with a glass of whiskey because none of his adult children want to stay in his cowboy castle forever. He seems genuinely confused why no one wants to live their entire lives on a compound that seems to be one of the major nodes of heavily armed violence in the state. How many seasons before literal ninjas attack the Bunkhouse? When will Logan Roy try to buy the ranch as a sort of aesthetically pleasing prison for Connor?

Anyway, John is feeling a bit sorry for himself, and Beth deduces that what he needs is “some pussy.” John has the grace to be like “whaaaaaa” as Beth walks away. She’s going to get him a girlfriend. Cool stuff. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

A Preview of Episode 5, “Under a Blanket of Red”

16: Total Words Spoken by Criminal Mastermind Riggins

The trailer for Sunday night’s episode reveals that Jamie will get his interview with the mysterious and bald Riggins, but I have a sinking suspicion that Riggins will be relatively recalcitrant when it comes to revealing the master plan, perhaps to the point of obstinate silence. He’ll likely be super vague and unhelpful, and of course Jamie won’t push too hard, preferring in his own wormy way to prevaricate and delay long enough to find some impossible way to not completely betray either of his masters/dads. Which of course means he’ll lose both of them. Tragic. Hamlet stuff, probably. (I never read it!)

1: Times Garrett Randall Basically Confesses to Trying to Kill the Duttons

Jamie is both shrewd and deeply in denial. In his heart of hearts, the stunning revelation that his new daddy Garrett Randall shared a prison cell with Riggins is the reddest of red flags (or blankets) but also, seeing as how he and Garrett are sort of pals now and that’s all he ever wanted from John, he’ll do whatever he can to give him an out. At some point, Garrett Randall might even say, “Jamie, I straight-up tried to merc your family,” and Jamie will say, “No, Real Dad, there has to be another explanation!”

0: Animal Activist Talking Points the Duttons Are Sympathetic To

We’ve been anxiously waiting for Piper Perabo’s debut as Summer, an animal activist who journeys to Montana. Clearly, Summer has not watched much Yellowstone. Just thinking about any character (other than maybe Jimmy) on the show trying to engage in good faith with anyone who believes that “fur is murder” makes my head spin. Kayce will counter with pragmatism, John with tradition, Jamie with the law, Rip with a punch in the face, and Beth with a cutting quote from, I don’t know, Kierkegaard, maybe? Will these hyperaggressive PETA vegans be fleshed out as actual living and breathing characters or will they, much like the latte-sipping transplants or feckless California millionaires before them, be reduced to simpering caricatures? Only time will tell. Nah, I’m joking—they’re gonna be pointless goofballs for the good, upstanding Montana folk to stomp on.

8: Times Kayce Fires His Service Weapon

The episode’s title hints at violence, and it’s been a while (in Yellowstone years) since Kayce shot at anyone, so the safe bet is that some fool is about to be pumped full of Dutton lead. Kayce will also possibly shoot his gun in the air to disperse the animal activists from their peaceful protest, and maybe fire a couple of rounds at a black widow that is relatively close to Tate. It’s all on the table with Kayce.

1: Animal Activists About to Fall in Love With John Dutton

Beth weirdly promised that she would get her dad a girlfriend, and Piper Perabo shows up in the next episode? Ever heard about how opposites attract?! Look it up!

2: Roast Beef Sandwiches Mo Brings Plenty Steals From His Son (Again)

Yes, this already happened in a previous episode and there was an actual reason for it, but hear me out: Once you pop, you can’t stop. Maybe Mo has a new taste for deli meat larceny. I’m not saying it’s likely, but consider the twists and turns this show throws at you on a weekly basis. You can’t really count it out.

1: Times Beth Starts to Forgive Carter Before Reverting to Being Beth

This rapprochement is a long time coming, but it seems Yellowstone is going to stretch it out for maximum soapy prestige drama agony. However, a first step has to be taken, and the sooner Beth realizes that there’s a middle ground between being nice and pleasant to a literal orphan without wanting to adopt him as her son and, on the other end of the spectrum, treating him like a whipping boy, the better off everyone will be. I’m not what you’d call an expert on dealing with runaway children who are forced to live on a ranch with such aggressive, dark energy, but it seems like kindness is something Beth and Rip should consider.

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.