We made it, y’all: the penultimate episode of Season 4 of Yellowstone, strategically squirrelled between Christmas and New Year’s. This season has felt like a moment of mustering momentum of casual Yellowstone interest, as the zeitgeist and doom-scrollers finally caught up with the show’s already imposing ratings. The little show about Kevin Costner being grumpy and disappointed in his children has season by season solidified its base, and has now expanded outward into something bigger—something that will hopefully, like Carter in the bunkhouse, continue upping the absurd stakes each season.
All that’s to say, some stuff happened in this episode. The location of the best Salisbury steak in Montana is revealed. Mo Brings Plenty has a few wise lines that feel like callbacks to previous dialogue, possibly setting him up as the writer of this show’s fictional source material, Yellowstone: A Novel. We find out those rascals in the militia were responsible for last week’s hostage situation at the diner. (This militia has no chill.) Cows are once again publicly bullied by cowboys at great length as wistful country music plays. Emily asks Jimmy about his former (?) flame Mia as they hold each other in a post-coital haze, which is a strange but confident move. And while in earlier seasons Kayce would probably have shot more random people by this point of the season, the show has indicated its growing maturity, as Kayce did most of his shooting early on—now his biggest problems are stuff like figuring out how to talk to his son about his boner.
Let’s get to the numbers, people!
6: Times Carter Swears in the Morning
It’s hard to remember that just a few weeks ago, Carter was shivering in a tiny closet, ostensibly the ranch’s half-kidnapped Oliver Twist. His life had been reduced to shoveling horseshit and saddling horses for the opportunity to sleep in a cold, lonely stable because he had the audacity to irritate the famously level-headed Beth Dutton. Now that Carter, a child, has thrown himself at the mercy of Beth, an adult, he’s been welcomed back into civilization. Last week he even got to eat cake, and now John Dutton, who typically doesn’t take an interest in you unless you have a big “Y” imprinted somewhere on your chest, takes the recovering waif out for a morning ride. They get along well, despite John seeming personally affronted by Carter’s effortless gutter mouth.
The millionaire land baron and the random orphan hang out and talk about how every buffalo in the present day owes its life to the Dutton family, and also more somberly about the general infamy of all the non-Duttons of the Olden Days, the sorts of people who brutalized both the buffalo and the Native Americans who depended on them into near nonexistence. (Yellowstone’s spinoff prequel, 1883, is now streaming on Paramount+.) Carter opines “That’s not fair,” which is extremely true, but it’s still a less memorable line than his earlier shout of, “Ouch, my balls! Fuck!”
1: Coffee Mug Smashed
John returns from his bonding session with Carter and asks Beth for some coffee. He probably expects Beth to pour him some coffee, but Beth hurls the mug against the wall, shattering it. John stoically reveals his displeasure. Beth is very exasperated and annoyed that John went vigilante at the diner and put himself in danger, as she’s (understandably!) not quite over the experience of her dad getting shot up by a militia and having to care for him both while he was in a coma and during the long recovery that followed. This scene culminates with Beth ripping her shirt off to remind John of the price she paid during the meticulously coordinated attack on their family, that price being a deeply scarred back and also a tiny, Tyrion Lannister–esque scar on her face.
This all feels notable due to how Beth and John have largely remained affectionate allies operating with mutual respect throughout the ups and downs of all the various chaos of the past four seasons.
8:28 a.m.: The Moment Summer Calls John From Jail
Summer Higgins, our carpetbagging, vegan animal-rights femme fatale (played by Piper Perabo), rings John Dutton from jail. We saw her last episode getting smashed with a baton and otherwise manhandled by some SWAT team–looking law enforcement jerk. Summer is now in big, big, literally ludicrous amounts of trouble for protesting the planned airport in town and for “assaulting” cops. John, because he feels some amount of sympathy for her due to the fact they recently boned and because his daughter pulled a knife on her for no reason, visits her in jail to offer some advice and moral support. There, he learns she is somehow on the hook for a life sentence, which is ridiculous, because she is a blond white woman who loves animals! John’s not exactly happy about this hypothetical draconian punitive measure, but he still chastises Summer a bit—until she lets it slip that Beth, ol’ coffee-mug-smashing Beth, was the Lady Macbeth pulling the protest strings and thus, the person most directly responsible for her incarceration woes.
2: Bad Dads
Jamie Dutton remains a man without a country, but on the bright side (not really), at least he remains a man who has two entire dads. He’s running for governor of Montana against the cold dad who has always withheld his affection at all costs. Not a great dad! His other dad, though, doesn’t withhold affection in the slightest, but just so happened to murder his birth mother. This is a fact that Jamie accidentally forgot to reveal to Christina (Katherine Cunningham), both the mother of his child and his personal Karl Rove/Steve Bannon cutthroat political strategist. Using some incredible electoral instincts, she deduces that voters might not want to support a politician who is cool hanging out with the Uxoricidal Dad. Nope, folks in Montana tend to back the candidate who is in favor of low taxes, self-reliance, job creation, and most importantly, never forgiving the dude who killed your mom.
30 Years: Time Garrett Randall Spent in a Concrete Box
Speaking of the two bad dads, John Dutton hits the town to treat himself to some Salisbury steak and runs into his Creepier Counterpart Dad, Garrett Randall. Garrett, in his quiet, menacing way, makes the act of wanting to see a bird fly by the window in prison seem dirty. He spent 30 years in prison for his crime, which means he’s paid his debt and should be allowed to fight for Jamie’s affections and loyalty. John and Garrett’s proxy dad war over Jamie feels close to a conclusion, with John nearly promising to kill Garrett before gifting him a plate of Salisbury steak. And as we all know, gifting an enemy Salisbury steak is an old Montana message: it means “You’re for sure going to die in the next episode, Garrett.”
4: Times Kayce’s Seen the Wolf
Kayce takes the news that the wolf he’s been seeing around is not merely a wolf but his spiritual protector pretty well, and honestly, without much pushback. There comes a time in a guy’s life when you sort of start to assume a wolf has been protecting you, I guess. Thomas Rainwater, still extremely on the margins of this season’s proceedings—hasn’t he cared about casinos and power once?—goes on a somewhat unsolicited soliloquy about the deep and abiding symmetrical relationship between wolves and humans and how they are essentially opposite sides of the same apex predator coin. Frankly, and no offense to wolves, this feels like it gives wolves both too much and too little credit. Has a wolf ever been in a band as influential and banging as the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies? Has a wolf ever invaded Iraq over pretend weapons of mass destruction? I don’t know, but I very much doubt it. “You’re part wolf too,” Mo Brings Plenty tells Kayce, and this semi-quickly leads to Kayce agreeing to undergo Hanbleceya, a vision quest, because why the hell not? Four days with no food and no water. And hey, no talking to coyotes—they’re tricksters.
0: Scenes Featuring Avery
I guess they brought Avery back to give Monica something to be angry about for no reason for two episodes? That’s cool. That’s good writing.
7: Days Jimmy Is Supposed to Have Been Gone
Jimmy appears to have become—mostly off-screen, thankfully—a semi-competent cowboy. He managed to win Emily’s heart mostly with his jerking-off-horses acumen, and that confidence has worked wonders. He’s even started to adopt a quietly more macho vibe, jettisoning certain aspects of his hapless (but obviously sweet) persona. There’s a new inner peace threatening to consume this former backward-cap Tool fan who kept falling off his horse. Even Travis (Taylor Sheridan), who belittled Jimmy for their entire trip from Montana to Texas, has gained a grudging respect for Jimmy, or at least a willingness to interact with him as a fellow human being. This just goes to show you how various old-timers babbling about what it means to be cowboys can goad a man (again, mostly off-screen) into an extremely difficult and specific success.
The bad news, of course, is that nothing cowboy gold can cowboy stay. Jimmy is being sent back to the Yellowstone, apparently now a finished product, and this means his brand-new relationship is all but over. Jimmy tells Emily to “wait for him” and she’s like, OK, sure. I’m sure everything will work out, especially after Jimmy sees his Montana sidepiece again. If there’s one lesson that Yellowstone has taught me, it’s that being a cowboy is very hard, but the other lesson I will take to the grave is that it never works out for Jimmy.
1: Bottle of Wine at the Dining Room Table
Not a great episode for Beth, at least when it comes to maintaining her status as “least disappointing Dutton child.” John brusquely calls her into the dining room for an un-fun dinner, at which point Rip and Carter abandon her to go see what kind of wild shenanigans the bunkhouse boys are up to.
Clutching a glass of red wine, John rips into his only daughter, bold in the face of Beth’s scary “Come at me, bro!” defensive stance. John chastises her for using Summer, desperately trying to convey that even though he has killed people and occasionally mutilates his employees, he’s still one of the good guys, and by extension his family can’t behave without some sense of morality. Beth, in true Beth fashion, is all like, “There is no morality here. None. There is keep the kingdom, or lose the kingdom.” Which, yeah, of course, Beth views walking down the street or buying a Diet Coke as a matter of kill or be killed. Beth will do whatever it takes to crush anyone who briefly irritates her! That’s the Beth Promise. She doesn’t care. Victory at all costs, burn the crops, salt the earth, make it hurt, sorry ’bout it.
Over his big glass of Malbec or maybe pinot, John admonishes her, “We don’t kill sheep. We kill wolves.” I’m not sure he’s aware that his favorite son is doing a wolf-related vision quest. In any case, things get super-heated and he is ultimately forced to let her know that she’s disappointed him. This knocks her down several dozen pegs. And after John practically begged Beth to move into the house barely two episodes ago so he wouldn’t be lonely and have to eat dinner by himself, he heavily implies that maybe she should find a different creepy compound to live in.
Triple: The Poker Bet
Meanwhile, Rip and Carter are having a good old time in the bunkhouse fleecing the hands at cards. Carter is apparently a degenerate gambler, a tiny Doc Holliday, and he triples the bet much to the chagrin of the cowboys/servants who didn’t expect to be hustled by the guttersnipe who shovels the horse shit. Carter then endears himself to the guys by making fun of Teeter’s accent, which is something of a rite of passage for every person who has ever met Teeter.
Beth, shaken from her rare dressing down from John, looks for Rip in the bunkhouse, but instead she catches the eye of her one-time sort of flame, the sweaty but nonetheless sensitive and sensual troubadour Walker. Beth asks Walker to play her a sad song, so, in a development that will surely have no repercussions for anyone involved, the two of them retreat to a barn and share an out-of-left-field intimate musical moment. Beth allows herself to briefly drop her Nietzschean mask and get uncomfortably vulnerable in Walker’s strumming presence. She’s very much feeling the music as he sings to her, physically quivering with emotion. It’s not the Beth we’re used to.
Rip (of course!) walks outside looking for his lady love and spies a context-less version of Beth and Walker vibing hard alone in the dark. Neither Walker nor Beth seem to notice Rip, nor the quiet heartbreak that blooms over his bluff, soulful face.
Walker has made cheating death a part-time job during his time on the show, and I applaud his unwillingness to even consider not doing the most dangerous possible thing at all times—that is to say, not making Rip want to throw him off the side of a mountain into a pit of bodies.
“YOLO,” croons Walker, soulfully, deep into the 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.