Major spoilers follow for Yellowstone episodes 1 and 2. Turn back now if you’re not caught up.
It’s been over a year since we first saw all hell unleashed on the Dutton family with a series of co-ordinated attacks, and director Taylor Sheridan pulled us right back into the drama with the season premiere.
We found John Dutton (Kevin Costner) by the side of the road just moments after men with automatic rifles had filled him with bullets. Right-hand man Rip (Cole Hauser) found his blood-caked body and bundled him into his car before heading to the hospital. But first he noted the message scrawled in the dirt that described the vehicle the perpetrators were driving.
The first fifteen minutes were pure carnage, an action-packed extension of the season 3 finale. And, while viewers learned which of their favorite characters were still alive, it was hard to say for how long, with targeted attacks continuing over at the Yellowstone Dutton ranch.
We returned to Kayce making good on his Navy SEAL training by efficiently dispatching armed intruders using only a handgun, before heading north to intercept John’s attackers on the highway. Backed by police, what followed was an epic shootout in which every perpetrator was left dead on the ground. But Kayce also found himself critically wounded after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds.
At the Schwartz and Meyer office, Beth emerged from the smouldering ruins: scorched, disoriented, but otherwise okay. She’s a survivor! And, as she casually murdered a cigarette on the sidewalk, you could tell she’d annihilate whoever plotted these attempted assassinations.
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Meanwhile, Kayce had repeatedly urged his wife Monica (Kelsey Asbille) to get to the Bunkhouse. But before she could leave, she was knocked to the ground by a masked man, and the two of them desperately wrestled over a nearby gun. Luckily, her son Tate was handy with a firearm, and delivered a fatal shot to the assailant’s stomach just in time.
When they finally reached the Bunkhouse, we discovered that no one was safe from the violence levelled against the Duttons. And, although Jimmy lay unconscious, Walker, Colby, and Teeter had overpowered their attackers, leaving one hanging by their neck in stark evidence of their dedication to the ranch.
After all that commotion, a flashback transported us to snow covered Montana circa 1893. This time jump ushered in a calmer, more contemplative mood as James Dutton (Tim McGaw) and his two children convened with a group of Native Americans. An English-speaking member of the tribe explained that they wished to bury one of their dead here, on the sacred land where he was born.
James conceded, being sympathetic to their plight, and offered them food to eat. But it was clear that their scarcity was a result of settlers like the Duttons taking over their native home. While James noted he didn’t steal the land personally, the tribal leader countered that it “doesn’t matter. Still got took.”
This 100-year jump, before we returned to the present day – which was actually two months after the opening scene – felt a bit jarring, because we never returned to this time period in either one of the opening episodes. However, it did expand on the Dutton’s early relationship with the tribe of Broken Rock Reservation, while this moment later proves integral to episode 2’s Market Equities development drama.
When John awoke at the hospital, we realized he was clueless to the scale of attacks on the ranch. And, quickly becoming overwhelmed, the doctors choose to sedate him, which elicited another angry outburst from Beth.
As she puffed a cigarette outside the hospital, we were introduced to 14-year-old Carter, played by new cast member Finn Little. He seemed hardened enough by life to be unfazed by her characteristic hostility: after enquiring what happened to her face, she retorted, “what happened to yours, you insensitive little f—k.” Charming. Might this be the start of a beautiful friendship?
He later confided that his dad was dying of heroin abuse, and she took a sort of grizzled pity on him, figuring him as a young Rip – an orphan faced with a series of terrible life choices. She was invited to accompany him bid farewell to his brain-dead father – whose final words were an angry lament at having been left utterly alone – and it was sweet to see her more maternal instincts kick in.
Although answers were not forthcoming, Sheridan and director Stephan Kay treated us to the enticing possibility of finding out who put the smack-down on the Duttons. A big-mouthed gambler at The Painted Horse Casino intimated that he acted as the middleman, saying “I’m just a party planner, baby. I just put people together.”
He drew the attention of bodyguard Mo, who dragged him into a back room. The mouthy bigot was revealed to be Chester Spears: a former army man who had a litany of felonies to his name. Chief Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) stressed the importance of finding out who’d gone after the Dutton’s land, because, he said, “they’ll be coming after ours next.” Cue Chester being roped up and dragged over rough terrain by a horse, until Mo managed to extract some pertinent information from him. Unfortunately, that was kept from the audience.
Meanwhile, John was discharged from the hospital. Having endured two months in a bed, he was eager to get back to running the ranch, and took exasperated glee in firing his condescendingly perky nurse. Out on the porch with Beth, he nervously spied a camouflaged figure hoisting a rifle, only to realize it was Kayce primed for another ambush. Kayce thought they’d killed everyone that came after them, but John reminded him that “you haven’t got anything until you get the sender.” At this point, it’s pure speculation who he/she/they could be.
At 45 minutes in, we came to scorned son Jamie, whose entrance felt a bit belated by then, the Montana Attorney General on the telephone to real-estate mogul Roarke when Beth arrived to reignite their ongoing sibling drama.
She soon became volatile, accusing Jamie of conspiring to kill John, Kayce, and herself. The accusation was met with apparent disbelief, sowing doubt as to whether Jamie was involved at all. Yet Beth is so convinced that she threatens to kill him herself, rather than “farm it out like you, you f—ing coward.”
There’s one shock in store that we never saw coming. While Roarke, the Market Equities rep, engages in some peaceful fly fishing, Rip appears on the riverbank enquiring if the cooler he’s holding belongs to him. No.
Yet Rip keeps walking and strides into the river. Before Roarke can protest, he’s flung a riled-up rattlesnake at his face and Roarke is dead from the wound in no time.
Perhaps Rip suspected his involvement with the violent attacks on his wife-to-be. Not that he needed an additional motive, after Roarke hired Wade to hurt Yellowstone ranchers Teeter and Colby.
With Roarke out of the picture, how will this affect Market Equities plan to acquire the Dutton’s land? While the show feels like it’s parsing out the drama right now, it’s clearly setting season 4 up for something big.
Elsewhere, Jamie was eyeing up 10,000 acres of land, which he emphatically stated was for him and not for the Yellowstone. Biological father Garrett Randall (Will Patton) was surveying the property with him, imparting his own ideas about how to manage it. While father and son have grown closer since their first fraught meeting, where will Jamie’s allegiances lie when it matters?
It’s clear that Jamie’s upbringing with the Duttons has shaped him significantly – he baulks at the suggestion of a ranch without horses – but John has repeatedly pushed him aside. Meanwhile, Garrett advised him to be his own man and stop living in John’s shadow. But that doesn’t mean Jamie should blindly follow his lead, either.
Compared to the season debut, follow-up ‘Phantom Pain’ was fairly restrained. John rode up into the Montana mountains against all medical advice, where Kayce found him luxuriating in the healing waters. It offered a tender moment between father and son – until talk turned to their enemies.
Did Kayce think Jamie ordered the hit? Not likely, he said. Jamie only leased the land rather than sold it, which he believed he did “to keep the ranch together, and he did that for you.” Plus, the Montana Free Militia had their own motives for targeting the Duttons.
Kayce’s defence of his beleaguered brother was pretty touching. But, as we heard from Chester in episode 1, someone hired an outside party to do their dirty work. Either way, John was certain about how to proceed with the remaining militiamen: “We’re going to kill every one of ‘em.”
One of the highlights was the introduction of new Market Equities CEO Caroline Warner (played by Jacki Weaver). She commanded authority from her first meeting with Ellis Steele, reminding him that “I am the constant your time adjusts to” when he fails to pre-empt her early arrival. More diplomatic than former CEO Willa Hayes, although no less relentless, she advocated a different approach to getting her way: rather than stoking people’s fear, “feed their greed” instead.
Additionally, it was interesting to note that Ellis dismissed the violence against the Duttons as “unrelated to our conflict with them.” Are Market Equities above cold-blooded murder? Warner, however, didn’t quite agree.
Prompted by the discovery of Native American artefacts, the CEO hoped to grease Rainwater’s palm and speedily resume construction of their airport. Rather than coercion or flattery, she made a bold proposal. Market Equities would rescind the “cease and desist” order and not only let Rainwater build his new casino, but would fund it entirely. There were just two conditions: create an establishment catering to the uber-rich – “a destination unto itself” – and quit delaying “the thing that will deliver your customers.”
Next, Travis (Taylor Sheridan) rocked up at the Yellowstone at John’s request, introducing a new sub-plot that’ll pave the way for the planned spin-off Yellowstone: 6666. After his close-encounter with the Grim Reaper, John is concerned about the ranch’s legacy and determination to expand the Yellowstone brand – despite the crippling cost.
So, he hired Travis to breed the finest horses and take them on the road. “He puts the whore in horse trainer” Rip joked, “[but] if he’s riding for the Y, he’ll be true to it.” We later discovered that Jimmy (Jefferson White) would be joining him too. Having reneged on his promise to John and now barely able to move after a horse riding accident, he was instructed to go with Travis to “where cowboying was invented”: Texas!
By now, everyone should know better than to threaten Beth. The wily financier had an “eventful” meeting with her ex-boss Bob, who had fired her last season when Willa Hayes threatened to pull her company’s stock. And before their feet were under the table, she’d flung a glass of Tito’s at her former colleague and fired off a few withering retorts.
Bob reminded her not to “pick a fight with the bigger bear”, given that Schwartz and Meyer owned half the land north of Yellowstone. She was quick to correct him that they “co-own the land. Gotta read the fine print.” Outsmarted again, it turned out her employers hadn’t the leverage to manipulate her. Subsequently, she leaned her scarred face in close to Bob’s and said, “I’m the bigger bear.” Gulp. We didn’t doubt that for a second.
John’s fiery daughter left a lasting impression on the kid from the hospital too, who we first saw in episode 1. Returning home, she discovered the Sherriff’s car in her driveway and Carter in the back seat, having told him that Beth was his legal guardian. She was pretty taken-aback. But the poor kid looked so forlorn and no one predicted a happy end of the road he was headed down.
So, when Rip came home to a supper of Hamburger Helper…made with, err, tuna…Beth casually announced that, well, “the kid sure likes it”, much to his bemusement, before subtly guilting him into having Carter stay…which backfired spectacularly. Rip brusquely threw the kid out, before deciding that actually, it was safer to escort the little criminal into town the next morning.
And when morning came, Carter was bitter at not being given a chance, which led Rip to unceremoniously turfing him out on the side of the road. Watching the boy disappear in the rear-view mirror, however, the big lug finally yielded: doing a literal U-turn and offering Carter, not a “chance” per se, but a job on the ranch as a stall cleaner.
This had to be run by John first, who, although acknowledging the boy’s tough life circumstances – being orphaned like Rip at an early age – said “maybe” to hiring him. But he was endeared by Carter’s candid reply that his father was currently “Polluting the earth they buried him in.” That just might be the darndest, most Western thing we’ve ever heard.
Over the episode, Carter’s presence gradually evokes the latent nurturing tendencies of both Beth and Rip. At the Bunkhouse, Rip prepared to leave Carter with the other ranch hands, but silently deciding the environment wasn’t really fitting – hot with booze, sex and swearing – so he unobtrusively led him back out the door. It was a small but significant gesture, evidence of burgeoning paternal concern.
Back at the foreman’s ranch, the three of them sat at the table eating Hamburger Helper…with actual hamburger this time! There was a deep sense of contentment, and we’re given a glimpse into the gentler side of Beth’s often-abrasive personality. “This makes you happy, don’t it?” Rip wryly observed, and Beth agreed. Helping to raise Carter and provide him with a stable home, like John did for Rip, perhaps means she’ll start to heal from her own past wounds.
Episode 1 provided a pretty momentous return to the series, providing a full 15 minutes of high-octane action and suspense before the opening credits rolled. It also left John, Jimmy and Kayce’s lives in the balance.
The Duttons were diminished but not beaten, however, and by the beginning of episode 2 John and family were back in the saddle. As a result, our expectations for the season 4 premiere didn’t meet the high-stakes set by last season’s daring finale. Yellowstone made a quick recoveryand all their enemies have done is poke the bear.
Meanwhile, we’re gagging for answers as to who ordered the attacks on the Duttons, but writer Sheridan is enigmatically dragging them out. That’s a little frustrating. But we can expect greater drama and misfortune to be wrung from that uncertainly later on, such as Beth’s blinkered belief that her brother ordered the hit and her pledge to kill him.
After the enjoyable intensity of the debut episode, episode 2 ‘Phantom Pain’ felt, well…unexceptional. The pace was slower, though perhaps necessary to set up new storylines, and a sub-plot about Travis studding horses for the Yellowstone seemed perfunctory (setting up the planned Yellowstone: 6666 spin-off).
But, even when Travis and the Bunkhouse crew are just kicking back bantering, they remain excellent, charismatic company.
An episode highlight was the introduction of Jacki Weaver as CEO Caroline Warner, with the character possessing an enigmatically indomitable air. We can’t wait to see if she succeeds at smooth talking the Duttons into submission, or if she’ll end up butting heads with Beth.
Much of episode 2 focused on Carter’s introduction to Beth and Rip’s lives. Considering the pain they’ve endured and Beth’s inability to bear children, it was heartening to see them sit together contentedly over dinner at the end of the episode. It’s a dynamic that looks set to reveal a softer side to Beth and her hard-headed partner – that, or it’ll invoke the wrath of their parental instincts.
Overall, the two-episode opener provided an enjoyable return to Yellowstone, whose slow developments will hopefully yield greater drama later on in the season.
Yellowstone season 4 trivia
- This is the first season of the show to be shot entirely (almost entirely) in Montana. Yellowstone was previously filmed across 20 locations in Utah, while the Chief Joseph Ranch in Darby, Montana, doubles as the Duttons’ stunning homestead.
- Series creator Taylor Sheridan reprised his role as horse trader Travis, returning to Yellowstone for the first time since his character turning up with a bunch of North Texas rodeo sharks in season 2 episode 5.
- The Tiger Rattlesnake used to kill Roarke in episode 1 is the most dangerous variety of rattlesnake. It’s unlikely to have killed the character, however, or that he would have succumbed to the wound so fast.
- Finn Little, who plays the young Carter, has an impressive filmography despite only being 15. He starred in Netflix series Tidelands in 2018 and recently played opposite Angelina Jolie in Warner Brothers’ Those Who Wish Me Dead.
- The opening episodes gesture towards two spin-off series planned for Paramount Plus: the upcoming prequel series 1883: A Yellowstone Origin Story, which charts the Dutton’s journey to Montana, and Yellowstone: 6666, based on the infamous Four Sixes Ranch in Texas and where “world-class cowboys are born and made.”
- Recognise the actress playing Caroline Warner? That’s Jacki Weaver, the Academy Award-nominated actress of crime-drama Animal Kingdom and Silver Linings Playbook.
New episodes of Yellowstone debut on the Paramount Network every Sunday at 8PM ET.
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