Yellowstone Recap: Already at War
Season 5 Episode 2 Editor’s Rating3 stars ***
Photo: Paramount Network “The Sting of Wisdom” marked the first time I was reminded of House of Cards while watching this show. Is Yellowstone turning from a soapy, violent western into a soapy, violent political drama? For now, it’s a nice change of pace. While this episode isn’t the most thrilling one ever — and some story lines are still idling — there’s reason to think season five will do a decent job threading the plot more tightly than last season.
As in the premiere, we’re primarily spending time with John, Beth, Jamie, and Lynelle. Off the bat, we get the impression John has no idea what he’s doing; he has meetings scheduled with groups and people he knows nothing about. None of this politicking and favor trading appeals to a guy who’s always prided himself on being a man of honor. He’s more interested in what he came here to do in the first place: cancel the lease on the airport. It’s no surprise he fires his party-nominated chief of staff and hires his own daughter in his first week as governor.
All of John’s ideas put him in danger of getting sued for breach of contract, but he goes through with the executive order to pull the funding anyway. Then he dips his toes into “playing the game” when he meets with two Park County commissioners and gives them his word they’ll still be in office in two years, securing their help in denying a request to rezone. He’s even considering a conservation easement for the ranch, which could take away their ability to sell the land forever. It’s a surprising idea and another hint that, despite all the good news with John’s rise to power, everyone knows his control of the ranch is on borrowed time.
All of this works well enough, but I have to say Beth is increasingly becoming a real nuisance to watch. She should be the best character on the show — she’s certainly the most watchable — but Taylor Sheridan can’t stop giving her the same two scenes in every episode: taunting Jamie in his office and telling off some stranger at a bar. There’s really no purpose at all for the latter scene in this episode, in which Beth rattles off a formulaic monologue about this liberal-arts professor who probably fucks co-eds and probably teaches about wealth inequality despite his own inflated paycheck and blah blah blah. (Just once, I want one of these people to say, “No, actually, that’s not true at all.”) As predicted, the guy says “fuck you” and slinks away. It’s a classic strawman created just so Beth has someone to verbally annihilate, but five seasons in, it’s really losing its novelty.
In general, Yellowstone keeps Beth at the top too often; I’d like to see someone who can actually, genuinely challenge her. In fact, this would be a perfect time for Jamie to fight back and wriggle out from Beth’s control, either getting his revenge or somehow convincing her to make an alliance with him. The stasis in their relationship is becoming one of Yellowstone’s biggest liabilities, and while I think they work well as advisers to John this season, I don’t want to see them locked in this dynamic forever. I have to think the show is setting up some sort of breaking point with this — there are 12 episodes left in this season, and I really don’t want to hear Beth still forcing him to call her “ma’am” in the finale.
The other obvious choice of a new opponent for Beth is Sarah Atwood (Dawn Olivieri), whom Warner is bringing on to help Market Equities. Atwood immediately reads as a new Beth, yet another “badass female character” right out of the Sheridan playbook: beautiful, sexually confident, quick on her feet, and a little cold. She picks up on Jamie as a good starting target, and I’m sure he’ll be putty in her hands. We also check in with the other party involved: Chief Rainwater, who’s back at square one with John killing all the developments. His inability to prevent John from gaining power has provoked the ire of Angela Blue Thunder, the tribal lawyer who was missing from season four, though it’s still hard to tell whose side she’s on in a Dutton–versus–Market Equities fight.
There’s one small and intriguing subplot about a pack of wolves that Ryan and Colby are tasked with hunting to protect the cattle. It turns out the wolves they kill are tagged with GPS collars from the park, meaning it was illegal to hunt them. Rip helps them hide the evidence, tying the collars to branches and throwing them in the river. But judging by one of the branches sticking — and that ominous music — it’s likely this isn’t a problem that will go away completely.
It’s a bit of a goofy story, and from the little research I’ve done, I’m doubtful this would be as gravely serious in real life. But I actually like the regional specificity of this story anyway, and I like how the threat of the truth coming out links a low-key rancher story with the high-stakes political drama in the main story line.
The outlier to all of this, of course, is Kayce. It’s been a pattern for a while now that Kayce, Monica, and Tate are off in their own world, and while that worked fine in season four, I’m starting to feel a little antsy. For one, I can’t tell what exactly Kayce’s current relationship with his father is like — was he really too busy with work to show up to any of John’s celebrations last episode, and do he and John interact at all in the hospital? It’s also just becoming repetitive to see Monica and Tate go through various traumas, especially with the unnecessary opening showing the crash’s aftermath in more detail. In my recap of an early episode last season, I mentioned that Monica and Tate hadn’t been up to much “besides lying in bed completely miserable and traumatized,” and pretty much nothing has changed a season later. New season, new trauma.
Still, this subplot does have its touching moments, particularly revolving around Tate’s genuine excitement to have a little brother. I’m still not sure what Kayce’s vision about seeing “the end of us” indicates for the road ahead, but for now, he’s not letting it tell him what to do. And Monica’s request to bury her son at the ranch is a nice way of setting up a reintegration into the larger Dutton story.
Season five isn’t off to as exciting a start as it could be, but it’s setting up intriguing ideas. And Yellowstone tends to be strongest when it explores the ways a massive ranch like the Dutton’s functions as an ecosystem with someone as powerful and remote as the governor making decisions that trickle down to the natural world itself.
The Last Roundup
• Carter Corner: Carter gets the rare privilege of riding John’s horse to keep him strong. But when the horse steps in a hole, Rip has to put it down. Poor Carter.
• Not quite sure what to make of the flashback of a young Rip and John sabotaging the construction equipment of a team whose pesticide is killing John’s cattle. They also knock out the foreman and shoot him with his own spray, this season’s first act of jarring violence. I suppose it’s just to show how far John will go to protect the ranch, like the conservation easement.
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