This Yellowstone review contains spoilers.
Yellowstone Season 5 Episode 5
It has been a little harder to decipher exactly what Yellowstone co-creator Taylor Sheridan is going for this season. Usually, Sheridan wears his subtext as proudly as the cowboy hat he’s often seen wearing. Part of the massive popularity of his shows is that almost all of his characters tell the audience how they feel, (some even prognosticate their own death in the form of a voiceover), and that plainspoken sincerity and clarity is what fans have come to love.
When looking at the first handful of episodes this season, there has yet to be the same forthright approach to the storytelling, it’s been more of a cowboy-like saunter through events. Some of those events have pushed the plot forward, but only just enough, and so there’s a deliberate amble as characters remember the past, or talk about the future, without truly doing anything in the present.
Yet, like a beam of sunlight over the Montana mountains, it finally became much clearer that this might in fact, be the point of the season. Episode 5, “Watch ‘Em Ride Away” opens with yet another flashback to the Dutton ranch, as we see a younger Beth (Kylie Rogers) say goodbye to her father (Josh Lucas) and a young Rip (Kyle Red Silverstein) before they journey off to attend the land, but not before giving her previous cowboy “dance partner” the cold shoulder, toying with yet another man’s emotions, of course. Yet, this isn’t the first time this season Beth (Kelly Reilly) has reminisced about her youth, or what she might have put Rip (Cole Hauser) through when they were younger.
We’ve also had more than a taste of what younger John was like in his prime. This has been a consistent treat this season as Lucas in each episode seems to get more and more comfortable with wearing the John Dutton suit. It has grown on him much like the impressive mustache John sported decades ago, and his particular emanation of what older John (Kevin Costner) and his whisky-soaked idiolect sounds like shows how carefully Lucas has studied Costner’s performance.
While it may not yet be clear as to why we keep getting scenes of younger John, there have been countless scenes this season where Sheridan has pointed out what life used to be like. In almost every episode, we’ve seen the Yellowstone crew lend a hand to a neighboring ranch, buy a fellow cowboy a drink, or in today’s episode, bring in every day-worker in the state to help out. No doubt, these are real ranchers or cowboys used in the show, (as Sheridan has often done), and it is undoubtedly that he is trying to say this show is done merely playing cowboy, and that it’s time to actually show cowboys.
John even says “Nobody knows what the hell we do any more, and it’s time we remind them” as a clear statement to everyone watching about this forgotten piece of Americana that Sheridan lives and breathes. This could be because, rumor has it, this may be the penultimate season of Yellowstone, and so, perhaps Sheridan is already feeling nostalgic. Or perhaps, he’s showing his fans exactly how this show is going to end. His constant story threads of how ranchers are a dying breed, or how fires wipe out entire swaths of nature, or how much of this world is moving too damn fast could very well be the point of an otherwise meandering season.
If that’s the case, then Sheridan’s writing is perhaps more effective than previously given credit for in our previous reviews, but it could still be argued that his writing has certainly been stronger. As the entire Dutton family and the crew prepare to wrangle the Yellowstone cattle, the biggest subject of contention around the ranch is how Summer (Piper Parabo) has returned to John’s house, his legal guardianship, and even his bed. It was an already fairly convenient story thread to get John to grant a pardon to Summer using his governorship, but Sheridan’s writing surrounding Summer in this episode was particularly obvious.
Beth has been her usual charming self this entire season, and because of that, there have been several rivalries either ignited or reunited surrounding the Dutton’s only daughter. In this episode, her hatred for Summer comes to a head in a much needed fight scene between the two characters. There is palpable tension between the two women, perhaps because of their ideologies, perhaps because of their different levels of fondness for John, but regardless, their scrap is the highlight of “Watch ‘Em Ride Away”. Yet Sheridan’s set-up to the fight is about as subtle as Beth’s right-hook. The very first time we see Summer this episode, she interacts with Yellowstone’s adopted stray, Carter (Finn Little) and outright mocks the kid when he brings up God. The bizarre political divide that Sheridan has reinforced this season grows even more unambiguous when he gets the show’s most liberal character to mock a child for simply believing in God. Regardless of political stance, this particular scoff seems so out of pocket, it is an obvious attempt to stoke the fires.
Fans of the show must realize how intentionally antagonistic Summer is in this episode. So much so, it became forced and borderline unnatural. Never before was she this purposefully rude or ignorant, even mocking another fan-favorite, Gator (Gabriel Guilbeau). While her political or dietary views may differ, prior to this episode Summer has always tried to address both sides of the spectrum, which is what made her relationship with John so interesting. It seemed that since Sheridan had made up his mind that there had to be a fight, he hurriedly threw gasoline onto the flames to force combustion.
There was another instance of absolutely awful and inconsistent transparent dialogue when Clara (Lilli Kay) sees John talking to Kayce (Luke Grimes) when Kayce and his family have come to stay at the ranch and eventually drive cattle. Clara tries to clarify that Kayce is John’s youngest son, to which John replies “That’s my only son” – a clear shot at Jamie (Wes Bentley). The absolute disdain and disrespect that John shows in that moment was not only such a terribly forced piece of dialogue to merely vilify Jamie and push him away further, but it was, as mentioned, very inconsistent. In the season 4 finale, John was in tears worried that Beth had killed Jamie. He admitted that Jamie might be a failure in his eyes, but that he still loves his adopted son. For John to suddenly renounce Jamie so callously, again, seemed absolutely forced.
While the episode certainly has great moments – Kayce dealing with his pain as a father after losing his newborn son, or the continuing affinity for Clara as she becomes a trusted member of the inner-circle, otherwise, this episode perfectly embodies the most obvious deficiency of the entire season thus far. It had memorable moments, but they were mere moments. It didn’t even necessarily push things forward, it was merely a series of bookmarks – set pieces that are a placeholder until things get much more interesting.
Set pieces such as the family having an awkward dinner, but everything returns to sitcom-like normalcy at the end and everyone’s made peace. Jamie’s torrid and undoubtedly stupid affair with Claire (Dawn Olivieri) seems to have reached “two-night stand” status, rather than merely one. Monica (Kelsey Asbille) heals a little bit more, and becomes closer with Kayce. And, as the sun rises, the ranchers go to work. Everything is simply baby steps. The entire episode feels like merely a normal work day where the audience got up, brushed our teeth, drank a hot caffeinated beverage and snuck out the door not trying to wake our spouse.
Sheridan, as such a capable, dynamic writer has proven far too often that this first half of the season is him merely tip-toeing out the front door, allowing us to stay comfortable and sleep through the alarm. He wants the audience to reminisce, to chuckle, and to simply move on to the next day at work, which is what we’ve been doing for five episodes now. Whether this means the season will one day jolt us out of the early morning slumber remains to be seen, but with only two episodes before the show goes on hiatus, Yellowstone has hit the snooze button a few too many times.
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.