Six episodes into Yellowstone’s fourth season, it’s honestly surprising how relatively chill it’s been. That’s not to say there haven’t been individual moments that elicited some “uhhhhh whaaa” reactions, but in general, these episodes have been deliberate, steadfast, and satisfied to play the long game. And that’s okay because that’s just classic prestige television. Prestige television, as you’ll recall, is something that Yellowstone either sort of is or sort of aspires to be.
So, what happened last Sunday night? Summer Higgins (Piper Perabo) watched John Dutton (Kevin Costner, as you well know) be kind to a young calf. Beth wanted to ride a horse (for tricky, getting married reasons). Jamie came face-to-face with his future when he realized Beth is working for Market Equities. Gator the chef had no idea what “gluten” is. Jimmy’s abandoned lady friend Mia decided she was done hanging out with the sickos in the bunkhouse. There were multiple roping scenes. Calgary received some faint praise as a cool town that is nonetheless tainted because it is populated with nice Canadians.
Anyway, let’s get to the numbers.
1: Spare Yellowstone Ranch Baseball Caps
Jimmy’s baseball cap was whisked off his head by the vagaries of uh, wind, in the previous episode. This was just after he finally mounted up with his new colleagues and it seems unlikely that, in the middle of his perpetual trial by fire, he would turn around to scoop it up. Ergo, we must assume that Jimmy packed a spare “Yellowstone Ranch” baseball cap, because in this episode he’s still wearing one. Maybe it’s so that when he eventually earns his authentic Texas cowboy hat, the exchange will be a big, inspiring moment.
In general, the 6666 ranch seems a lot more chill than the Yellowstone. Sure, everyone razzes Jimmy in northwestern Texas drawls and nobody respects him at all and they all constantly tell him he sucks at being a cowboy. But they’re all mostly helpful and not the least bit sadistic. And most importantly, nobody at the ranch has used a hot iron to burn 6666 into Jimmy’s flesh. So that’s good!
1: Bottle of Milk As a Knife Deterrent
Imagine this nightmare scenario: You, a dutiful if somewhat incendiary daughter, are checking in on your dad when you see a half-dressed woman in his kitchen. What do you do? Give in to your darkness and immediately try to put her down with a sharp edge, right? Yes—if you are Beth Dutton, that is your course of action.
But let’s back up to the distant past of two episodes ago. Beth, model drunk and weird daughter, in a very off-putting way, promises her dad that she will get him some “pussy” to chill him out. Yuck, for a variety of reasons, but OK. So what explains the blinding hostility when she bumps into Summer after an obvious session of star-crossed boning? Why is her first instinct to grab a knife and proclaim herself as “the bitch about to stab you in the stomach”? On one hand, at least Summer has the wherewithal to … grab some milk? On the other hand, we all know the old saying: “Never bring a gallon of milk to a knife fight.” Or the other witticism that Beth drops: “I hope you die of ass cancer.”
2: Unsatisfying Breakfasts
Back to Jimmy and his thousand-miles-away subplot. After being visibly depressed, Jimmy is brusquely invited to breakfast with a fellow 6666 cowboy in the predawn gloom. As he sits to crunch and chew, he is quietly yet savagely admonished to take off his hat while indoors. This is a faux pas that cowboys in Texas take much more seriously than their Montana counterparts. Jimmy gets to take perhaps two nibbles of bacon before he is hurried along to his agonizing day pretending to be an actual cowboy. (Don’t be too stressed out, though: There are two more brief scenes of Jimmy eating later on.)
The other unsatisfying breakfast takes place back at the Yellowstone, slightly after Beth threatens to murder Summer. The topic of Summer’s veganism comes up and it comes up hard. Summer asks put-upon cook Gator if there’s anything to eat that didn’t have “a heartbeat yesterday,” which yikes, you aren’t talking to Marco Pierre White or Yotam Ottolenghi—this is Gator! She refuses pancakes because of gluten (Gator has never heard of gluten) and even denies orange juice unless it is non-GMO. She’s seriously going there. My advice: Read the room, Summer. You aren’t sticking to your convictions as much as being needlessly and dramatically obstinate about things. You are on a creepy ranch in Montana! Just stop being a weirdo and get out of there!
I guess this is how a certain percentage of the country thinks about anyone who doesn’t eat tomahawk steak four times a day, but it was still frustrating to watch.
2: Times the Realtor Has Taken the Dog to the Pound
Kayce and Monica are both ready to entertain the notion of making clean breaks from the past and forging a better, simplified life together. The first step is moving into a new house—but only Monica actually bothers to take the tour. The boys are enamored of other things: Kayce likes the view and the vibes and possibly the barn; Tate finds a stray dog on the property and immediately bonds with it, playing rudimentary fetch with the spirited canine. The real estate agent irritably mentions that she’s already taken that dog to the pound twice already (you are not an ally, lady), not realizing that the family is obviously permanently enamored of the pup!
6: Strings Smashed
Returning to this season’s most dispiriting, agonizing subplot, we check in on the seemingly avoidable drama at the bunkhouse. Lloyd, fresh from a roping tutorial with Carter—the runaway child who lives in a barn—returns to the bunkhouse to see all his former compatriots (and his crush Laramie) having a good ol’ time with the laconic bard/jailbird Walker. It takes Lloyd not even a minute to snatch Walker’s prized guitar away from him and smash it to splinters. As an attempt to outdo himself, Lloyd immediately steps to Walker and instead of doing something normal, he STABS HIM IN THE CHEST! Come on, man!
This leads to Walker and Lloyd forced into a makeshift Thunderdome for their respective futures. (I’m not sure it’s fair for a guy who got stabbed so recently to enter into a publicized death match, but hey, this is the Yellowstone!) Lloyd slightly gets the better of Walker, but the fracas ends when Rip enters the ring to pound Lloyd into submission. He then brutally breaks his hand. At least he told him that he loved him, which honestly, probably meant so much to Lloyd, even though his hand was a ruined, destroyed mess.
18: Horses Stolen
Kayce receives a call that is eventually revealed to be a report of a multiple horse theft on the Reservation. Once he arrives at the scene, Thomas Rainwater and Mo Brings Plenty are there waiting, letting him know that 18 horses were stolen from a single family that represents the tribe in rodeos and whatnot. When Kayce eventually meets the family, a familiar face reappears: It’s Avery, (Tanaya Beatty), the first lady ranch hand from way back in ye olde Season 1 and Season 2 days. In case you have memory problems, Avery seemed destined to eventually end up as Jimmy’s soulmate, and yet, as in life, destiny doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.
Kayce, all stoic and Western, tells Avery that “everybody wondered where you went,” and you get the feeling he is just quoting message boards and Reddit, as there never was a proper explanation for Avery’s abrupt disappearance midway through Season 2. In any case, there is a certain vibe in the ether, and Monica picks up on it. She picks up on it perhaps a bit too much because what the Monica character obviously needs are some “needlessly jealous wife” impulses.
Later, Kayce assures Monica that Avery isn’t his type, to which Tate interjects, “She sure was my type! She was one hot tamale!” So, yeah, that’s a little off-putting. Monica continues to stew over Kayce’s temerity talking to another woman (for roughly 30 seconds). She refers to Avery as “the little bitch in the tank top,” which opens up an entire new bag of Montana worms. How did Monica know Avery was wearing a tank top? She was wearing a flannel! I’ve put up with a lot on this show, but this is one plot hole too many.
250: Seconds Between Jamie Pointing a Gun at His Father to Breaking Down in His Arms
Poor Jamie. This guy was just not born to win. He’s the Indiana Pacers of absurdly wealthy Big Sky heirs. Recently crushed by the news that his biological father Garrett Randall 100 percent ordered the massive hit against his family, Jamie arrives back at his new property demanding a confession. He has a gun and he means business! Garrett (Will Patton, playing a creep) is calm as hell and not the least bit bothered that his son is pointing a gun at him and threatening to take him to jail. The scene goes about as well as you’d expect for Jamie: After rising up on his hind legs, Garrett’s silver tongue pulverizes his resolve. Even after Garrett admits to ordering the hit, Jamie still can’t bring himself to do anything besides ask, “What about right or wrong?”
This dramatic question only gives his estranged father the permission to unleash a monologue he’s definitely been practicing in front of the mirror all season. It’s a coldly articulate version of a Scooby-Doo-style “and I would have gotten away with it too!” admission. It’s so evil and logical that by the end of it, Jamie, the guy who intended to bring his dad to justice, is helplessly enveloped in his arms. This was the last best chance for Jamie to assert his Dutton-ness. He can still redeem himself, but not without paying the ultimate bullet price.
0: Girls in the Bunkhouse, Not Even Teeter
Lloyd and Walker punching each other every episode has led to some collateral damage. The bunkhouse—like so many well-heeled country clubs—is now officially NO GIRLS ALLOWED. John Dutton comes to the conclusion that “women” are at the heart of the issues in his servant’s quarters and thus lets Rip know that all the “non-men” gotta go. All of them. Even Teeter, who never did anything to warrant exile other than being amicably unintelligible. Is it a coincidence that the first lady ranch hand (Avery) returns just as the new generation is banished? I don’t know. I just got my booster shot. I can’t think straight.
16: Unfortunate Words
“I know what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be him.”
Carter, the sagest orphan on television, was a front-row witness to Lloyd and Walker’s vicious and muddy dogfight. In fact, Rip called him over to get a better view so he could learn something, as if two depressed cowboys pummeling each other for more than an hour was the Pythagorean theorem. Carter continues to watch after the hostilities slow, as John Dutton asks his two damaged workers, “Do we understand each other?” and they both respond with a sheepish “Yessir.”
Somehow, this absolutely inspires Carter and he actually says the above two sentences to one of the random cowboys. He’s talking about John Dutton—the cool guy who doesn’t say much and is grumpy most of the time and doesn’t understand the 21st century. Good plan, dude.
Let’s be clear: What Carter just watched that impressed him so much was a multimillionaire rancher forcing his employees to fight a gladiatorial match in front of their coworkers until they were beaten, broken, and docile. OK, Carter. OK. But in terms of narrative, it’s clear now that Carter will end up running the Yellowstone. Which, sure. Whatever. Makes sense!
A Preview of Episode 7, “Keep the Wolves Close”
During this weekly series, I’ve attempted to lace these previews with a sense of restraint, knowing that even at its most bombastic, Yellowstone is tethered to reality. This week (and only this week), I’m done with that. I’m going rogue. This is a show that works best when it really goes for it, and this season has been pretty slow and polite. It’s possible the last few episodes of the season will follow that quiet, prestige drama trajectory. But … hopefully they won’t?
8: Cows Jimmy Ropes
Like I said, we’re going big or we’re going home. We didn’t go through that Rocky montage of Jimmy practicing his roping chops for nothing. Come to think of it, we didn’t go through this entire story line for nothing. We demand Jimmy does something. We want to see him rope unrealistically well after an entire night of practicing! If we don’t see Jimmy at least connect cleanly a minimum of 16 times, we will riot.
1: Times Rip Admits He Loves British Mysteries
It’ll be a very quick moment, but someone will catch Rip zoning out to either Marcella, Grantchester, Foyle’s War, Dalziel and Pascoe, DCI Banks, Vera, or Happy Valley. He likes all that stuff. It is this procedural slate of programming that secretly keeps Rip and many middle-class British folks going.
3: Times Summer and Beth Realize They Are Kindred Spirits
This might never happen because Beth is so much more than just a character at this point, but I’m now thinking that Summer and Beth together might be an unstoppable force of blond lady belligerence. There has to be some endgame to Summer’s 11th-hour insertion into the action, and I think it has something to do with Market Equities and their discovery of that human skull. But even if that is way off base, isn’t it time Beth had a respectable opponent?
1: Times Thomas Rainwater Complains About His Lack of Screen Time This Season
He should be complaining. He’s John’s only actual adversary, non–Monster of the Week division. It still seems pretty likely Thomas goes hard in the last episode to set up whatever happens in Season 5, but sidelining him for so much of the action isn’t clever, it’s wasteful. Gil Birmingham is awesome. Get him in there. Let him go wild.
<2: Scenes Jamie Spends With His Child
Jamie’s baby (and baby mama) returning just as he was considering smoking his biological father is a classic soap opera twist. It’s a moment to pump the brakes on the absurdity of your world and take stock of all the good stuff. But also, well, we’ve seen only about 20 seconds of Jamie appreciating the fact that he is now a father. He’s still too busy to really give a damn about the nascent family living in his new house.
That said, there will, almost by television necessity, be a quick scene of Jamie looking at, and possibly even holding, his child. He may even say a few words to it. But he’s not really going to be too impressed. He has bigger fish to fry—that is to say, deciding if he’s cool with his biological father telling him point-blank that he will never stop trying to kill his family. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to change diapers!
¼: Kayce’s Perfect Family to Be Sacrificed
Sorry to get dour, but as that one greaser said to Ponyboy, nothing gold can stay. Someone has to go. With the addition of the dog, Kayce’s fractured and bruised family feels as blissful and ideal as possible. This is a guy who was shot multiple times by militia members just a handful of episodes ago, but things are looking up! And now with this new house, Kayce is living a life that creeps as close as possible to the white-picket-fence ideal. It’s an all-American unit. Tough husband, fiery wife, clown-killing son, and jubilant dog.
Something has to give. One of them at the very least won’t make it through this season. And I hate to say it, but chances are Monica or the dog will be the sacrifice the island demanded. Only the human males are safe, which is clearly an ideal that Yellowstone has spent multiple seasons reinforcing.
4: Episodes Left to Resolve This?
Seriously, are we at this point already? There are so few episodes left and yet I’m still wondering what this was all about. We should be in endgame territory, but what have we really learned? Shouldn’t there be a sense of propulsion? Something careening toward an outcome? Maybe there is. Maybe all will be revealed. What’s changed from the final episode of Season 3? John Dutton has had sex at least once; Jamie’s creepy dad unapologetically organized the hit; Beth adopted and then abandoned a child; Kayce might live in a cool house for three episodes. That’s cool and all, but has anything fundamentally changed from a season ago? Everyone hates Jamie slightly more?
Bring it home, Yellowstone. Bring it home.
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.