This Yellowstone review contains spoilers.
Yellowstone Season 5 Episode 6
Last week it finally became clear what this rather aimless and slow-paced season of Yellowstone has been all about. Taylor Sheridan, who has written every word this season so far, is preparing a eulogy to read when the cowboy way of life is dead and gone. Don’t be fooled either, the death rattle is already being heard, it’s simply that Sheridan wants to put a megaphone in front of it so it quakes anyone within earshot.
The problem being, most of his audience has already heard the rattle, at least five times already this season.
“Cigarettes, Whiskey, a Meadow and You” begins as you’d expect, with the Montana skyline as a section of the Dutton family including John (Kevin Costner), Beth (Kelly Reilly), and Rip (Cole Hauser) catch the sunrise over the mountains preparing for the round up and eventual branding of their cattle. Beth momentarily ruins the moment for her father, but then waxes country-girl-poetic as she tells Rip what her perfect piece of paradise would look like.
The episode is immediately juxtaposed with the world of politics literally buzzing overhead in the form of military choppers arriving on the reservation. Mo (Mo Brings Plenty) and his family have their peaceful breakfast interrupted, as Mo springs into action to see what the helicopters are there for. As he calls Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) both men realize that there is a massive plan afoot, as the President of the United States is visiting Broken Rock. Rainwater quickly deduces that it is the fiery upstart Angela Blue Thunder (Q’orianka Kilcher), still out for his head, that has somehow managed to summon the president to endorse Martin (Christian Wassana) for Chairman.
There are a few great takeaways from this particular subplot. It gives Mo, a fan-favorite, the opportunity to stretch his legs a little, as both the character and an actor. He doesn’t often get a chance to show anything but that reserved calm stoicism, but his scenes were a great reminder of how much he cares for his community, and his role within it. Birmingham’s patience and stoicism is always a pleasure to watch as well, so it will be interesting to see where Rainwater ends up in the latter half of this season, but so far, the conflict between he and Angela is quite monotonous, and that mainly lands on her shoulders.
While Angela represents yet another Yellowstone female character with more testicular fortitude than their male counterparts, the motivation for her hatred towards Rainwater has yet to be developed into anything worthwhile. It’s surface level, it seems – she merely wants him out of the position because she feels it’s time for a change, and that he hasn’t held up his promises to the community, but the way she goes about it seems unnaturally melodramatic. Sheridan has written moments of political intrigue (light on the intrigue) this season, and Kilcher’s threatening and breathy whisper of a delivery on every line she reads doesn’t help make this subplot feel more serious or worthwhile, it merely reminds the audience how much it’s being forced.
To mirror Rainwater’s position, we then join Jamie (Wes Bentley) and Sarah (Dawn Olivieri), still in bed together, both literally and in their uneasy professional alliance. This reviewer can honestly attest without even a hint of irony, that this storyline has, by leaps and bounds, left every other thread in the dust this season. Bentley’s consistent performance in the few scenes he gets in every episode has been the reason to tune in every week. With the addition of Sarah Atwood’s dark and sexy presence, this strange pairing has created a team of antagonists worth cheering for. Much like Angela trying to destroy Rainwater, these young(er) upstarts seem like they could actually bring John and Beth and the entire Dutton empire down, and their story has created the most drama so far.
What’s extremely intriguing about this storyline especially, is it’s seemingly the only one that could go in dozens of different directions. Jamie may finally have been pushed too far, and will become a full-fledged villain, putting an end to John and ending Beth’s constant abuse. Or he may be playing Sarah, and will end up protecting the ranch. Sarah may of course, do the job she is being paid for and destroy the Duttons, and that includes adding another painful memory to Jamie’s already full tank. How Bentley and Olivieri are able to play both sides of these morally-gray characters is absolutely tantalizing, especially considering the sympathy Bentley has been able to build at times with Jamie.
There has been another bright light illuminating this otherwise murky season, and that is Sheridan leaning on some of the side-characters a little more, and giving certain actors opportunities they haven’t often had in the previous four seasons. One of the early highlights has been the resurgence of Monica (Kelsey Asbille). Monica and Kayce (Luke Grimes) have had an absolutely tragic start to season 5, but their love continues to shine through, and in fact, the partnership and trust between the two actors has made for some genuine heartfelt moments throughout. Even the most adamant Monica hater has to admit she’s become more important to the story, and even more important to the family this season. Episode four, “Horses in Heaven” had an absolutely sensational scene between Monica and John which showed just how much respect the patriarch has for Monica, despite the mixed feelings the character may get from the fanbase.
Monica in “Cigarettes, Whiskey, a Meadow and You” once again shimmers, as she begins to explain her relationship with the family. Is it complicated? Absolutely, but she addresses how the two hardest Dutton-nuts to crack in Beth and John have come to respect her. She admits to Summer (Piper Perabo) that the family could easily hate her for taking Kayce away from the family and the ranch – but they don’t because they know how much love she has for Kayce. This was a scene that could have been used dozens of episodes ago to defend yet another misunderstood character, but the sincerity in Asbille’s humility could make anyone fall in love with Monica at this point, despite what you may have thought of her before.
The rest of the episode is unmistakingly beautiful, but the entire season is playing out much like the Cormac McCarthy classic No Country for Old Men. Powerful men, well past the prime of their lives, continuously talk about how the world is changing too quickly. Sheridan’s script and Stephen Kay’s direction of this episode plays out in a series of Montana gift shop postcards, squeezing every drop out of the yellow-watercolor-sunset used in every other sequence.
Sadness does hit the trail when Emmett (played by Western legend Buck Taylor) passes away over night before the Dutton crew can come home with the herd. This was a death that fans have been theorizing about ever since last week’s teaser for this episode, and while it didn’t have the major impact a main cast member’s death would have, it reinforced the predominant theme of the season. As mentioned, Sheridan has been constantly reminding the audience how this way of life is dying, and to show a character who embodied that life peacefully pass in the night is a silent and strangely perfect reminder of that message.
Yet the major concern for this season remains as constant as that central message – this season has really gone nowhere in half a dozen episodes. Major story beats, or any beats that could have become major, have either been brushed aside or resolved way too quickly. For this season to be as impactful as previous seasons, hopefully all the cattle have been herded into next week’s pasture, or this show may be going the same way Emmett did, peacefully, quietly and unexpectedly.
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.