“Cowboys and Dreamers” might be too relaxed for its own good, but it still includes some winning western moments and the promise of what’s to come.
This recap of Yellowstone season 3, episode 5, “Cowboys and Dreamers”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
At some point while watching “Cowboys and Dreamers”, I realized that I was enjoying it so much that I’d forgotten to write any notes. I think that sometimes the show’s creator and writer Taylor Sheridan has the same problem with plot. Everything that happens in Yellowstone, from the soapy character melodrama to the chest-puffing macho philosophizing and everything in-between, is such vintage Sheridan material that he can have a whole episode, like this one, in which almost nothing of consequence actually happens, and the show doesn’t feel any worse off for it.
On some level, though, this is a bit of a problem. Throughout this third season, there has been a recurring gag about John Dutton trying to avoid answering his phone, and he brings it up again when Chief Thomas Rainwater arrives at the ranch to talk strategy with him. It’s a reminder that we’re a ways into the season now and we still, aside from a reliably smug Roarke Morris – more on him later – and the vague threat of venture capitalism, don’t really have an antagonist. John has spent the first four episodes actively avoiding the season’s central conflict. When he and Chief Rainwater, who hasn’t been seen doing much either, both eventually decide to let their personal “genies” handle it, it almost plays like a joke.
John’s genie is Beth, and he’s right that she can’t be put back into the bottle – although, since she seems to be rapidly spiralling into an old pattern of hard-drinking hell-raising, perhaps that’s less true than he thinks. Either way, Yellowstone season 3, episode 5 opens with a flashback designed, I think, to explain why Beth hates Jamie so much. When she was a teenager, she got pregnant by Rip, and out of fear turned to Jamie for help in getting a quiet abortion at a reservation clinic. But that service came with mandatory sterilization – a fact that Jamie kept from her, presumably until after the fact. It’s an egregious violation of trust and works both to make Beth more sympathetic and Jamie more villainous, especially since his only job in “Cowboys and Dreamers” is to flex the muscles of his new attorney general’s office.
Beth’s inability to have children is deeply troubling her in this season, though it never seems to have been brought up before; it has basically taken the place of her mother’s death as the motivation for her behavior. Perhaps this is a consequence of her becoming more serious with Rip, or perhaps it’s just a contrivance. But the plot still requires Beth to be a cutthroat businesswoman, or as she puts it the tornado to Roarke’s trailer park, so those two aspects of her character seem a bit fractious now. We’re supposed to enjoy her maturation into a more complicated woman whose desire to settle down is constantly undermined by her inability to start a family of her own in a culture that values family above all else, but we’re also supposed to delight in her tanking Roarke’s company stock and not-so-subtly threatening him with hitmen. The two sides chafe a little, even if Beth’s conversation with Roarke is a clear highlight of the episode.
Another is, believe it or not, Kayce’s first day as livestock commissioner. It’s a job we know he didn’t want, so it’s only fitting that his first act is to break probate law by auctioning off the horses of a breeder who has committed suicide after being foreclosed on by the bank. The whole thing’s on-trend thematically but also a great deal of pure Yellowstone fun, since it amounts to the ranchers barrelling down a mountainside on horseback to terrify the mares onto Dutton land so they can be sold. Kayce’s able to raise enough dough that the dead man’s wife and kids will be better off, even if his widow insists he can rot where he fell for being a coward. “Cowboys and dreamers”, she laments, “Why I only love cowboys and dreamers I will never understand.” This is proper Western business, and Yellowstone can always use more of it.
The main thing I took from Yellowstone season 3, episode 5 is that there’s even more trouble on the horizon. Once again while out and about, Rip runs into random trouble – this time some cowboys who’ve led buffalo onto the land, seemingly for no reason. There’s a great bit in which the younger imposter tries to sass Rip and ends up getting socked in the mouth and tossed back over the fence, but the older cowboy clearly has a history with John. There’s clearly more to this story than meets the eye, and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of these two. Hopefully, it’s a problem John can be bothered to deal with.
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