This Yellowstone review contains spoilers.
Yellowstone Season 5 Episode 3
It was only a week ago when our review of the first two episodes of Yellowstone season 5 deemed this season “deliberately paced” or even “superfluous” – these are diplomatic ways of saying that the double-sized premiere of the show felt slow, and even repeated story beats audiences saw in season 4 at times. Yet, there was always faith. Faith in the show. Faith that with some slower moments will come excitement. Faith in Taylor Sheridan’s writing.
Surprisingly, Sheridan, who typically hooks viewers almost immediately, is going for a slow burn to unveil the secrets of this season’s story. There were plenty of things happening in episode 1 and 2, but nothing to really talk about. Yes, John (Kevin Costner) is now governor, but that was almost a forgone conclusion. Yes, Jamie (Wes Bentley) and Beth (Kelly Reilly) still hate one another, but again, this is nothing new. We even had a moment of real tragedy with Kayce (Luke Grimes) and Monica (Kelsey Asbille) losing their newly-born son, but tragedy is nothing new to that branch of the Dutton family tree, and the two characters, while passionately in love with one another, have always had a strained relationship.
“Tall Drink of Water,” however, gives us some great character-driven moments, but unlike the first two episodes, these moments feel different. These feel powerful. These feel compelling. These feel like they are really going to pay off and truly change things in the world of Yellowstone.
To give one more clear example of how episodes 1 and 2 were a little superfluous at times, one of the biggest moments in the history of this show – John’s election – was introduced last week, and it felt joyless. It felt empty. This week, Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) and his trusted advisor, Mo (Mo Brings Plenty) are already discussing how John should step down as Governor… and they’re right, he should. John’s already achieved what he wanted to do, he’s already completely messed up the plans of Market Equities and the corporate wolves who subtextually hunt his land, much like the subplot of the real wolves that have been hunting the Yellowstone Ranch’s cattle. The show itself is already calling out the redundancy of John being in this position, so its continuance already feels unjustified or forced. As a fan of the show, it’s hard to cheer for something like that.
However, “Tall Drink of Water” feels like a reminder of why we all became fans of this show. Yes, it is just as character driven as the first two episodes, but that feeling of purposefulness that was lacking in last weeks’ premiere is absolutely overflowing in this week’s episode.
This hour opens with another flashback to the young days of Rip (young Rip played by Kyle Red Silverstein) who is side by side with younger John (Josh Lucas) trying to get to the bottom of the wolf problem they had three decades ago. Josh Lucas in this episode really seems to have found his footing when emanating the younger version of the character Costner has built, and in this teaser before the opening credits, the powerful, grizzled and dangerous John audiences have come to respect is shown in his prime. This is refreshing to see as the older John is typically a godfather-like figure for the most part, never truly getting his own hands dirty, and these early scenes with John served as a great reminder of who the man really is.
Later, we join the heart of the show, the Yellowstone Ranch hands, as they prepare for an honest days’ work, with some perhaps more honest than others. Walker unsuccessfully tries to hide the return of his barrel-racing-bunny, Laramie (Hassie Harrison) as the two are caught in the shower together. Meanwhile, the man of the hour is the avuncular veteran, Lloyd (Forrie J. Smith), as the gang tease him about his birthday and how old he actually is.
Yellowstone fans got some great ranch hand moments in the premiere, but it was strange how those moments, as fun as they were, still rang a bit hollow. Perhaps it was because of how utterly unsurprising it was that John won the election, but that entire gubernatorial party in the premiere felt flat. This episode, however, is a great reminder of the fraternity of the bunkhouse. How that branded “Y” on everyone’s chest makes them a bizarre but bonded family, and just like any family, they’re going to ridicule each other incessantly.
One refreshing story thread that has been thoroughly enjoyable in these first three seasons has been Ryan’s (Ian Bohen) push into the limelight a little more. His flirtatious affair with one of the party-goers in the premiere was a moment fans haven’t seen yet for the character. In this episode, Ryan gets to reunite fairly quickly with Abby (Lainey Wilson) and this is a relationship that should excite viewers of the show. It will undoubtedly be a hectic ton of fun to see Bohen get more to do within the show, and as a result, get to see Ryan finally develop more as a character. As of right now, Ryan is knee deep in two of the more interesting season five story threads. Bohen stole the scene on more than one occasion in this episode, and admittedly, made this reviewer laugh so unexpectedly at one point, a beverage was literally spit out.
Kayce and Monica’s story remains the dramatic core of this early season, and Asbille in this episode gives an absolutely gut-wrenching performance in the short minutes she is on screen, but it seems Sheridan does not wish to focus on their loss too much, too early. Grimes, who is arguably the most versatile actor in the show (likely because Sheridan gives him so much within the script to work with) mirrored his on-screen wife in terms of pain and turmoil, and they continue to be a couple that anyone with a heart should root for. The scenes between Grimes and Costner as father and son are always so genuine, and the respect they have for each other is palpable. As much as their exchange this week was brief and heavy, these moments of familiar connection are what drive the show, and it was somewhat refreshing to see in this episode.
“Tall Drink of Water”, however, belongs to Beth. Kelly Reilly, a fan favorite (inexplicably at times) reminds even the strongest of cynics why Beth is not beyond redemption. Her subplot this episode reveals the qualities we’re allowed to admire about Beth without feeling like guilty sociopaths – She’s fiercely intelligent and loyal. Beth early in the episode also shares an exchange with her father, as they briefly reminisce about her mother. Beth was already on her way to Salt Lake City for some business affairs, but this accidental guilt-trip that John lays on her was a rare and beautiful moment of vulnerability for Beth’s character. She was reminded of what she once took from her family, especially her father when she accidentally contributed to her mother’s death, and as much as she tries to hide it with pragmatism and dating advice, she can’t help but shed a tear. Those tears seem to motivate her even further to conclude her business and deal Market Equities a massive blow.
This is the episode that perhaps should have been one of the halves of the premiere. Beth’s story specifically is linked to story beats that really advanced the overall arc this season. The way she’s wounded Market Equities might mean Caroline Warner (Jackie Weaver) is out of the picture now that Beth killed their development project. The introduction of Sarah Atwood (Dawn Olivieri) and the reintroduction of Sheriff Bill Ramsey (Rob Kirkland) spells real trouble for at least two of the Dutton children; Jamie and Beth, and both due to their pride and rashfulness.
Granted, we were only two episodes in, but it wasn’t until this third episode that the excitement was reignited. In “Tall Drink of Water” there were moments of true joy, real connection and deep sadness. There was a return to entrenched investment in the characters, and genuine intrigue as to what comes next. In short, the faith has been restored.
New episodes of Yellowstone season 5 premiere Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Paramount Network in the U.S. and the day after on Paramount+ in the U.K.