Yellowstone eases us into the fifth season with a character-driven double-bill that isn’t exactly high drama but promises bigger things to come.
This recap of Yellowstone season 5, episode 1, “One Hundred Years is Nothing”, and Yellowstone season 5, episode 2, “The Sting of Wisdom”, contains spoilers.
Say what you will about Yellowstone, but only a show operating at the very peak of its power and popularity could devote the first two episodes of its fifth – and apparently penultimate – season to the kind of steady, character-driven drama that takes up the vast majority of “One Hundred Years is Nothing” and “The Sting of Wisdom”. Some stuff happens, obviously, and a lot of it will probably be important, to the individuals involved if not necessarily the overarching plot mechanics. But there weren’t any shootouts, murders, bears, or sweat-induced doom-laden visions. At the end of the second episode, nothing is especially different from how it was at the start of the first.
This should be a criticism, really, but these characters are so familiar to us down, so well-drawn and well-embodied, that their backstories and relationship dynamics and unbridled spite are all part of the fun. Some shows are written so well that they remind you how badly written most shows are. Yellowstone has its moments of silliness, but it’s also often a pleasure just to sit down with these characters and listen to them bicker. And if one thing has become clear already this season, it’s that there’s a lot to bicker about.
Things pick up around eight months after the fourth season finale, a time jump that isn’t especially obvious aside from Monica now being very heavily pregnant and Carter having aged like a president, despite being played by the same actor. John Dutton hasn’t aged like a president, but you have to imagine he will, since he has officially begun his first – and, he insists, only – four-year term as Montana’s governor. There’s a lot to talk about here, so let’s crack on.
Yellowstone season 5, episodes 1 & 2 recap:
“One Hundred Years is Nothing”
For what it’s worth, John never wanted to be Governor in the first place, but Jamie was far too much of a liability, and with everyone from Chief Rainwater to Market Equities knocking on the door of the Dutton ranch, the only realistic option was to install the patriarch in a position of power so he can break all kinds of laws and preserve the family’s acres. He immediately plans to cut all funding to Market Equities’ investments and developments in the area, which his office can’t technically do without major legal pushback, but since he and Beth have evidence of Jamie committing patricide, they can strongarm him into just doing what he’s told and creating enough judiciary logjams that nothing gets built anyway, least of all on Dutton land.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think treating Jamie this way is an especially good idea. At least with John, it’s a pragmatic thing. For Beth, she relishes torturing Jamie at any given opportunity, and there’s just no way he’s going to put up with it without scheming. His obvious dejection doesn’t go unnoticed by Caroline Warner and Ellis Steele, and later by Sarah Atwood, the corporate shark – and clear direct antagonist for Beth – that is introduced later to operate on their behalf.
It’s hard to empathize with Beth. She’s often presented as a sympathetic figure, a woman at war with herself after never having been able to process her various traumas, but she’s just so awful and mean-spirited that she’s basically a villain. Her relationship with Rip, which is strengthened here in the premiere with a brief flashback of her being awful to him when they were younger and then apologizing for those years of mistreatment in the present day, is intended to humanize her further. Sheridan and co. are clearly intending to foreground this relationship in the fifth season, and it seems very much to me like we’re setting up a major death – probably Rip’s, honestly, which would be a shame since he’s my favorite character. But if you think Beth is unhinged now, can you imagine what she’ll be like after losing her husband?
A lot of “One Hundred Years is Nothing” is about John awkwardly settling into his new role. He must be sworn in, give speeches, and interact with people he can’t stand. He immediately fills his first week full of hilarious Montana-first policies, like hiking up taxes for non-residents. A party is even thrown for him back at the ranch, which is awkward for everyone, especially the cowboys who keep things running over there. Rip, watching from a nearby hillside, thinks this is the beginning of the end. He’s probably right.
This is all fun in that very specific Yellowstone way, but it’s not exactly dramatic, so in his usual way, Sheridan delivers on big drama out of nowhere to close out the episode. While Kayce is chasing stolen horses at the Canadian border, Monica seems to be going into labor. She calls him and tells him she needs to get to the hospital, so he sends an ambulance out to meet her and sets off himself, but Monica and Tate set off on their own, and in the midst of another cramp, they’re blindsided and T-boned. The episode ends with Tate telling John that his baby brother is dead and that Kayce and Monica intended to call him John.
“The Sting of Wisdom”
The grief of the above development hangs over Yellowstone season 5, episode 2 in a tangible way, but it also makes Kayce’s sweat-lodge vision far more relevant than it needs to be. I can’t believe we’re treating this as a serious plot device, but here we are. Needless to say, the loss of poor, unborn baby John is sad, but it’s only a portent of Dutton family doom if we let it be. And on that note, does Sheridan have any idea what to do with Monica at this point beyond having her cartoonishly stumble into one personal calamity after another?
The bad omens continue elsewhere. Carter, while on a cowboy crash course, accidentally breaks his arm and the leg of John Dutton’s horse, which Rip has to shoot. This isn’t the only wildlife-related bad sign, either. The Yellowstone ranchers find a cow that has been eaten by wolves but – it’s strongly implied – killed by something else, and when Ryan and Colby go out that night to get rid of the offending wolves, they accidentally – because they’re using thermal scopes – shoot down some collared ones that are protected by the Yellowstone National Park. This is a big no-no for conservationists so Rip orders the collars to be floated downstream on the river lest John’s first term be irrevocably tainted. The final show of the episode is of one of the collars hung up on a log, though I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be a cliffhanger or not? I suppose the idea was to send the GPS collars floating miles away from Dutton land, and since that hasn’t happened, there’s now going to be an investigation into why the collars and not the wolves have turned up near the Yellowstone.
Elsewhere, John continues to be a hysterically inept politician. He immediately fires his chief of staff and appoints Beth to that role, and then completely cuts all the funding to Market Equities development projects despite this being in breach of contract. While he assures some movers and shakers that he has plans for new revenue streams that’ll offset the loss of tourist income from the planned developments, and reminds them that they probably didn’t need all those additional tax dollars anyway, it’s basically impossible to figure out what John’s long game is here. In the first episode, he said quite openly that every decision he plans to make is for the benefit of the ranch, which makes sense, but he also says here that he plans to put the land into a conversation easement that’ll completely prohibit not just development on it but the parceling off and selling of it, even among the family. That course of action means that the Duttons might not be able to retain control of their own ranch, which after four seasons and a spin-off completely devoted to the idea of the Duttons and the ranch being completely inextricable from one another, doesn’t seem like an especially good idea.
Still, I’m sure John knows what he’s doing.
Do you have any thoughts on Yellowstone season 5, episodes 1 & 2? Let us know in the comments.