There are many stone-cold humiliating moments from “Keep the Wolves Close” but two stick out in my brain—and somehow, Jimmy jerking off a horse is only the second worst of them. We’ll get to the gold medalist of the Embarrassing Olympics in due time, but first let’s take stock of where we are as this season strolls to the finish line. Beth starts her new job at the evil company that is trying to destroy her family and is surprised to discover they are still evil and still trying to destroy her family. John Dutton tells a crowd of people that he will do anything to stop progress because progress is inherently bad. Lloyd gives up a prized belt buckle to acquire either a guitar or a gun from a pawn shop. (OK, it’s a guitar, and he and Walker bury the hatchet, which is normal, since it’s been an entire episode since the whole stabbing incident.) Rip and Beth are coerced into moving back in with John, who thinks it is proper for his adult children to be down the hall from him at any given moment. And as mentioned previously, Jimmy directs a horse penis into a pouch with a mixture of panic and moxie.
Much of the usual absurdity of this show has been relegated to the opening 15 minutes of this season’s first episode. But this is Yellowstone! We are clearly being lulled into a false sense of security. Thomas Rainwater has got to have something up his sleeve!
It’s almost a certainty that the various parts of this frayed, couscous-hating tapestry are about to slam together in a legendarily loud and nonsensical bonkers climax. It may well conclude with fewer bullets than the previous finale, but perhaps with bigger, less reversible consequences. Yes—I am saying that [redacted] Dutton is a goner.
136: Seconds of Cow-herding Cold Open
We begin this episode with a cold open sans dialogue or plot set to a Tim McGraw ballad. It’s just multiple stirring angles of cowboys herding cattle into a pen. This has to be metacommentary signaling Yellowstone’s awareness that life on most ranches is not centered on gunfights, sleazy land deals, and bunkhouse stabbings, but rather on actual work. The proposed spinoff about this serious ranch, 6666, will need to quickly manufacture some patented Taylor Sheridan–style drama because viewers expecting the violently kooky world of the Yellowstone won’t be tuning in week after week to watch B-roll of wrangling calves or competent cowboys with no personality other than waking up really early.
81: Cows Counted
Here is the direct counterpoint to the above paragraph, as the Yellowstone ranch hands take a break from their usual drama-filled lives to do a bit of actual work. It’s a less-than-raucous sequence of various hands moving heifers and steers from one point to another—the sort of stuff we stay up late for.
The recently dismissed Teeter (Jen Landon) forces her way into an audience with John Dutton and Rip after they both agree there were indeed 81 cows on the ranch. Teeter makes an impassioned plea not to be banished from the bunkhouse for the horrendous crime of being a woman. John is shocked when Teeter reveals that she wears “the brand,” as he never signed off on that particular bit of mutilation. Teeter’s relatively cogent argument forces John to rethink his knee-jerk anti-lady position and he grumbles and grunts his way to relative wokeness. In appreciation for (belatedly) speaking up on her behalf, Teeter hugs Rip. It’s a very sweet moment. No jokes here, just a nice little hug between two people who don’t mind being indentured servants on a cultish ranch.
3: Times Tate’s Dog Being Named “Dog” Is Mentioned
The running joke of the season seems to be that Tate’s new dog is referred to as “Dog.” This fun tidbit comes up three times this episode—the second of which occurs at the breakfast table, where Monica is still simmering in uncharacteristic jealous rage about Kayce’s nonexistent suitor Avery, whom she refers to as “Ms. Pouty Lips” despite Avery’s basically normal, non-pouty lips. This all feels like an assault on Monica’s core. She’s supposed to be a confident and intelligent woman, but her bitterness about Kayce talking very briefly and very politely to another woman while doing his job has pushed her into an uncomfortable place as the stereotypical nagging wife. Tate has to save the day by distracting Monica from her quiet fury by mentioning how the dog has no name but Dog! Shortly thereafter, Monica takes Tate’s breakfast away before he’s finished for the crime of saying this cool sentence: “I think that sucks pickled ass.”
15: More Horses Jimmy Has to “Jack Off”
This episode proves the old adage: “Jerk off a horse and an attractive woman standing nearby will offer to buy you dinner.” Maybe that’s more of a regional expression, but it bears fruit here, as Jimmy’s pluck and can-do attitude when it comes to letting horses get their rocks off in his proximity earns him the tentative affection of Emily (Kathryn Kelly), a vet tech at the 6666 Ranch. Jimmy is at first reluctant to betray Mia, but in the final analysis, not that reluctant. He’s lonely, it’s Texas, everyone constantly tells him he sucks at his job. He needs a silver lining. In any case, if you take one thing away from this episode, it should be that Jimmy masturbates a total of 16 horses, though 15 are unfortunately pleasured off-camera.
0-for-3: Beth’s Record With Assistants
Beth stomps into her new place of employment, Market Equities, with the boredom and coiled resentment of a person who has worked at Market Equities for more than zero hours. First, she’s rude and dismissive to the helpful receptionist, then downright sadistic to her assistant, whom she fires for the sin of being from Palo Alto? Perhaps she’s saving him from a violent end—as she accurately mentions, her assistants tend to perish violently. Yellowstone is largely a show about people treating other people like absolute shit and getting cheered on for it. But hey, that’s just Beth being Beth!
40: Years Through Which Jamie Has Not Learned to Be a Father or a Leader
As predicted, Jamie has exactly one scene interacting with his new child, a little peek-a-boo session on some grass as Christina, his baby mama, and Garrett Randall, his biological father, watch with a mixture of bemusement and boredom. Garrett then unleashes the next bit of his byzantine plan: He wants Christina to help Jamie become the next governor of Montana. “He looks like a governor,” Christina allows, mulling over the abrupt proposal of this supremely creepy man. And while, sure, maybe he does look like a governor—does he look like a governor of Montana? I don’t know about that. Governor of Vermont, maybe.
2: Montana Senators Despite, You Know, a Population of Barely Over 1 Million
Speaking of governors, Lynelle Perry (Wendy Moniz), John Dutton’s occasional lover and erstwhile ally, is planning for some reason to run for the United States Senate. She takes a walk with John and tries to convince him that D.C. is where she needs to be. She bemoans that Washington has lost the art of negotiation and the art of compromise (yes, these are both arts) and how a level-headed Montanan such as herself might change all that. In other words, her ambition is to become the next Kyrsten Sinema or Joe Manchin. She also mentions her willingness to endorse Jamie as governor, at which point John throws a taciturn fit, revealing once again his deep dislike and distrust for all things Jamie-related. He has a plan to stop this, a plan that amounts to being a Bad Dad.
4: Years Until the State Considers Carter a Man
Carter, the miserable street urchin conscripted to shovel horse shit and learn the intricacies of saddles, seeks forgiveness from Beth. He even brings her flowers, which Beth scoffs at disdainfully. But that abject rejection is probably still not the cruelest thing she manages to do in this episode. Beth, as you’ll recall, spurned Carter for half of this season because he thought the person who brought him into town to buy him things (Beth) wouldn’t freak out and cause a scene if he asked her to buy him things. Turns out he didn’t count on Beth’s vengeful, fickle, Nietzschean nature. Carter pleads with Beth for a ride into town so he can take his chances in foster care, concluding that life on the Yellowstone is unpleasant and depressing and not healthy for his soul. Beth doesn’t even mildly reconsider her tough love until Carter admits he doesn’t have any dreams or ambitions beyond staying alive.
15: Activists Protesting
Beth has a deeply cynical takedown of the pointlessness of caring about things that segues into a bro-down moment with vegan environmental activist Summer Higgins. You’ll recall that their last interaction began with Beth pulling a knife on her because, well, none of us are really sure why. At this point in the episode, Beth has realized it was a mistake to put any trust in Market Equities, thus she is already scheming for ways to destroy them. She looks at Summer with fresh eyes—no longer a random woman who had a sordid night with her dad, but now a potential weapon to use against her enemies. Beth divulges some semi-confidential development gossip about the artificial destination town Market Equities is planning to create in the “most fragile ecosystem of North America.” So, now we see why Piper Perabo is here: to become a pawn in Beth’s unending struggle to watch the world burn. Girl power, baby.
1st: Sight, Love At
Avery, the object of Monica’s irrational jealousy is, as it turns out, actually very into Kayce. So, OK, kudos to Monica for the unrequited horniness intuition. After Kayce and various others return the stolen horses to Avery and her family, Kayce is cornered by the lovelorn former ranch hand. Avery, in so many words, confesses her love-at-first-sight, thunderbolt moment. It’s a strangely vulnerable and sort of sad scene. Avery is well aware that Kayce is married, even before Kayce mentions how much he loves his wife like nine times during their short conversation. In his own stoic way, he tries to reassure her with the words, “Can’t be love. God wouldn’t let you love something that can’t love you back.” But Avery, already in a doomed mood, retorts “Yeah he would.”
I implore Taylor Sheridan to not let this be the end of this plotline, this “Monica was right to be jealous” scenario. This is a soap opera, right? Let Avery have a pop at the champ. The people demand it.
1: Moment That Will Push Jamie Over the Edge
The most savage moment of the season! Imagine being Jamie Dutton. You are the attorney general of Montana. You think you’re about to announce your campaign for the governorship. The sitting governor herself is going to introduce and endorse you. You descend the stairs to find your father, whose approval you’ve always sought but never managed to completely collect. He must be there to support you, despite your differences. Your sister, who hates you, is also there. But perhaps this is the beginning of a rapprochement. Jamie literally begins walking down the stairs all proud and full of purpose when Lynelle Perry announces she is endorsing John Dutton as the next governor of Montana. This scene is so brutal! Needlessly so! Why not politely warn Jamie of what is about to happen? Why the evil subterfuge?
Because they just want to humiliate Jamie! They want to tear him down, to put him in his place for not being an upstanding war criminal like Kayce or a brazen sociopath like Beth. That’s why, even in an episode when Jimmy is forced to handle the penises of 16 horses, Jamie Dutton wins the award of Biggest Loser. It’s a damn good thing he lives with a creepy guy who is determined to kill his family!
A Preview of Episode 8, “No Kindness for the Coward”
$48.53: The Bill for Jimmy’s Date With Emily
Jimmy and Emily will have a nice dinner at Applebee’s before moving to a dimly lit bar famous for its mechanical bull. Jimmy will definitely drink more than he should but somehow his Montana-style Cousin Greg charm will only endear him to Emily. The evening will end on the verge of their first kiss, at which point Mia will miraculously turn up with an engagement ring. A bar fight will break out between soldiers and sailors and Jimmy will end it by being the last man thrown off the mechanical bull. No kiss goodnight.
0.5: Rip and Beth Sex Scenes After They Move Back in With John
Things will get a little hot and heavy between Rip and Beth, but John Dutton will angrily pound on the door before they really get going and say something like, “My daddy didn’t storm the beaches of Normandy so you two could do the horizontal polka under my roof. Goodnight.” Rip and Beth will go to bed unfulfilled, both falling asleep to Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead respectively.
1: Bear Attack
Hey, it’s been a while, and Rip did mention an abundance of bear tracks and also warned Beth to drive to the lodge to avoid bears. That’s what we in the world of television call Chekhov’s Bear. As I’ve long (two episodes now) suspected, something grim is going to go down at Casa Kayce/Monica/Tate/Sunka the Dog. It’s too idyllic, and in lieu of a Parasite revelation of a basement dweller, a home invasion via bear is looking pretty good.
1: Return to the Pawn Shop
Walker, feeling a bit guilty about how the bloody feud all went down, will trade in his brand-new guitar to retrieve Lloyd’s special belt buckle. This will go on for several episodes and become a sort of violent, eternal, Gift of the Magi scenario.
2: Assistants Beth Berates
It seems highly unlikely that Beth will get through an entire episode without forcing her new subordinates to gaze into the abyss after they get her lunch order slightly wrong or take too many bathroom breaks. To Beth, any minuscule blunder or slight character flaw is an excuse to unload the full weight of her Existentialism CliffsNotes upon the hapless city-slickers who are forced to serve her.
0: Gubernatorial Debates
Sadly, there will almost definitely be no televised debate between John and Jamie Dutton. We’ll truly be missing out on some vividly clumsy Shakespearean estranged father and son dialogue. Jamie would easily skewer his father over policy and vision as an indifferent crowd looks on. John Dutton’s response would be to keep repeating his refrain of “Damn right I did it!” to thundering applause. Sorry, Jamie. You have to be popular or likable to win anything. Also, you did kill an innocent woman a couple of seasons ago, so whatever. The smart move is to just run to the mountains and atone for your sins, dude.
2: Thomas Rainwater Scenes
Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) is, for all intents and purposes, the true big bad of the show. That’s not to say he’s bad! He’s obviously less bad than the Dutton Mafia, but he’s diametrically opposed to John Dutton in a primal, essential sense. And yet, this season he’s been mostly relegated to sidekick duty, passing on documents, giving the occasional pep talk, and having a laugh with Kayce about Avery wanting to jump his earnest bones. He’s both a schemer and a dreamer and a worthy adversary to this completely mangled family at the heart of the show. But, and I’ve been harping on this for weeks now, I believe he’s being kept in reserve until the end of the season. He’ll make his next big move in the wake of the predestined failure of Garrett Randall.
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.