“Going Back to Cali” unexpectedly morphs into a cringe-comedy, but it also works as an ominous sign of things to come, as John declares his summer break is over.
This recap of Yellowstone season 3, episode 4, “Going Back to Cali”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Of all the things you might have been expecting from “Going Back to Cali”, this week’s episode of Yellowstone, it unexpectedly morphing into a romantic comedy probably wasn’t one. And yet here we are. Of course, Taylor Sheridan’s fan-favorite neo-Western has always had shades of relationship drama in amongst its macho posturing and ornery get-off-my-lawn cowboy disputes, but never so much in such close proximity. Once or twice, Yellowstone season 3, episode 4 becomes an outright cringe comedy.
This will split audiences, I think, but I didn’t mind it for the most part since I’m so fond of the characters and Sheridan’s writing. But take Jimmy, as an example. It turned out he survived his rodeo accident, and the episode opens with John reading his litany of injuries from a very John Dutton notebook, one assumes backed by the hide of his own cow or something since that’s just the kind of thing he’d do. Jimmy has a broken back and a pulverized hip among some other injuries, but the whole thing’s played for laughs and on his way out John happily insists he’ll cover the bill. Nobody mentions why there isn’t any insurance for these kinds of contingencies, which is fine since we wouldn’t have been treated to that funny scene if there was (“We’re supposed to bring you back to the hospital if you experience any nausea or confusion. I asked if there are other symptoms since nauseous and confused is your natural state of being.”)
Then Mia arrives. She has just decided she’s Jimmy’s girlfriend now, which is probably a good decision since when she spies him having his catheter removed she asks a nurse to confirm if his manhood is swollen – that’s just the way God made that one, apparently. Later she mounts him to consummate their relationship at great risk of his paralysis, which isn’t as romantic as the show seems to think but is still pretty funny all the same.
There’s a lot of this in “Going Back to Cali”, for some reason. Kayce and Monica have reached a new stage in their relationship where they can’t stop boning everywhere, including right out in the open when Tate has just run off into the woods moments before – anyone remember when he got kidnapped? – and with wolves watching on. Easily the most leaden line in the episode is when Kayce catches the same wolf watching them again, and picks up his rifle to kill it, believing it’s studying them to gauge how they’ll react when it starts feasting on the cattle. “Don’t stop lovin’ me to kill something,” Monica coos, and Kayce listens. Let’s hope he isn’t relying on steak to fuel all this sexual energy.
Even John gets in on this action – well, not this action, that’d be weird, but some of his own. Governor Perry motors up to the remote summer camp to tell Kayce that he’ll be filling Jamie’s role as livestock commissioner once Jamie is promoted to attorney general, which is all part of a plan for the Duttons to make life extremely difficult for the venture capitalists who’re eyeing up their land. But while she’s there she can’t help but spend the night with John and his old-school let’s-get-in-the-tent look. “I have to leave first thing in the morning,” she insists. “How about second?” he replies. About as smooth as gravel can get. In the morning, both John and Kayce sheepishly leave their tents and say good morning to each other before being summoned back inside. Breakfast will be late.
The real romance is happening on Rip’s porch, though. It’s difficult to take any of the show’s other relationships seriously when they’re held up against this one, which is touching and complex in a really genuinely romantic way. Rip and Beth get two such scenes in “Going Back to Cali”. In the first, Beth accidently asks Rip to call her “wife” after he expresses how much he likes it when she calls him “baby”, and she immediately panics about having ruined what they have. In the second, Rip is characteristically unfazed, just happy to have her there on that porch. Even when Beth tearfully explains that she can’t have children, he chuckles that the world doesn’t need another generation of him. Whatever she thinks she can’t give him, doesn’t matter. Her simply being there when he gets home is enough. It’s going to be incredibly traumatic when Sheridan destroys all this.
And, of course, he will. Yellowstone season 3, episode 4, in amongst the cringe-comedy, makes room for some ominous hints of things to come and a throwback sequence that feels like a transplant from the first season. It’s Chief Rainwater, who the show has suddenly remembered exists, who gets to do most of the speechifying this week. Unsurprisingly, it’s the Dutton ranchers who get to have some old-school Yellowstone fun with a motorcycle club who’re having a picnic on private property. When the bikers are firmly asked to move along, it all kicks off, and Rip drives his truck straight through their parked bikes, telling their leader that if he returns to the land he’ll bury him on it.
It’s a classic bit of business, but it gets better. Lloyd knows the bikers will be back to reclaim their hogs and take some revenge, and when they return that night, with jerry cans full of petrol to burn the field, they’re greeted by John himself, as well as Rip and Kayce, all armed. He throws the interlopers some shovels. “The man said if you didn’t leave, we’d bury you here. And you didn’t leave. We keep our word in this valley.” After the bikers have dug their own graves at gunpoint, John lets them go, back to Cali just like the title, his point very much made. But he also declares his summer is over now. When Kayce asks if they should fill in the graves, John tells him not to. They’ll find someone to put in them before long.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.