The following contains spoilers for season 4 episode 1 of Yellowstone.
After a year-plus wait, during which time we left John Dutton bleeding on the roadside, Kayce taking fire in his office, and Beth in the wake of a bomb blast, Yellowstone season 4 premiered last night, providing answers—who survived, who died, and who (maybe) did the killing.
The season premiere picks up in real time following the Dutton ambush. John, half conscious and able to write a description of his attacker’s truck with his own blood, sees Rip pull up in his truck. Kayce taking fire from shooters at his office door, throws a flash grenade and kills his attackers. He then phones Rip who conveys the description of the truck; Kayce sets out with the sheriff and livestock officers. Beth emerges burned but alive from the offices of Schwartz & Meyer where she had previously been disposed after a buying battle with Market Equities, a firm hell bent on acquiring the Dutton ranch.
Back at the ranch, Kayce tells Monica to go to the bunkhouse. Monica and Tate make to leave the cabin but are attacked by a masked man. While Monica struggles—and sustains probably more than one concussion (isn’t she still recovering from brain injury?)—Tate shoots the attacker. The two escape to the bunkhouse where chaos is unfolding: another attacker’s body lies on the ground, Jimmy is incapacitated after having attempted to ride a horse, and Walker is shooting at someone. Later, we learn that Rip’s cabin has also been torched.
Outside the Yellowstone, Kayce pursues John’s attackers, inadvisably t-boning the van at an intersection. A gun battle ensues and each of the attackers—an apparent armed militia—is killed. Kayce then collapses on the roadside (perhaps a dying Dutton motif for the season; watch out for roadsides) having been shot. His fate is left unknown.
After the title sequence, we find a Dutton ancestor riding with two boys across their recently acquired land. (The scene takes place ten years after the titular time of the upcoming Yellowstone prequel series, Y: 1883.) The Duttons come across an encampment of Montana tribal natives who have left the reservation in order to bury an elder’s father on the land. After confronting them, the current Dutton patriarch allows the tribe to perform their burial and gives them one cattle for food. The agreement perhaps anticipates the growing alliance between John Dutton and Chief Thomas Rainwater, which had evolved in the wake of development plans by Market Equities. Perhaps the flashback will become a recurring storyline throughout the season, foreshadowing tension between Dutton and Rainwater.
Back to the present
John Dutton awakes in a hospital having been in a coma. (Beth says the doctors told her he would never wake up.) Some time has passed, as Dutton wears a beard. We learn nothing of the outcome of the Dutton attack.
Outside the hospital, Beth meets a 14-year-old boy named Carter, whose father is also in the hospital, dying of heroin addiction. Beth enacts her typical deductive stranger hazing, but the kid reminds her of a young Rip and she follows him back into the hospital to watch him say goodbye to his father: see you in hell, he says. Beth, who we learned last season is unable to bear children, an outcome that has both shaped her antagonistic relationship with Jamie—who made this decision after Beth became pregnant with Rip’s child—and thwarted her desire to rewrite her failed relationship with her own mother, appears protective of Carter.
At the reservation, a man playing poker at the casino intimates that he knows what happened to the Duttons—he arranged “the party.” Mo abducts him for interrogation on orders of Rainwater, dragging him through a field by a horse to ascertain the names of his co-conspirators; he reasons whoever is coming after the Duttons will eventually come after his own tribe. These scenes serve to absolve Rainwater from complicity with the Dutton attack. They want to find the attackers as much as the Duttons do.
John Dutton leaves the hospital, passing Jimmy on the physical therapy floor; he has suffered a spinal cord injury and can barely make use of his fingers, though he is able to sit. Back at the ranch John refuses hospice care and gets back to work. He meets Kayce (who also survived his roadside shooting). Kayce is also tight lip about the outcome of the attack, though he says he killed all the attackers.
Beth visits Jamie, still active attorney general, blaming him for the Dutton attack and vowing to kill him. She then engages in another round of deductive stranger hazing in a bar before returning home to Rip. Rip leaves in the morning to do something “bad.”
Rip finds Roarke, a hedge fund manager and stockholder for Market Equities, fishing in a river. Rip jostles a cooler containing a snake, opens the container, and flings it at Roarke who is bit, stumbles out of the stream, and then collapses.
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