Yellowstone Season 5 returns with a terrific second episode that leans on the series’ strengths rather than forced shock and awe.
As John (Kevin Costner) learns the ins and outs of his role as Governor of Montana, which requires far more political maneuvering than he initially thought, Rip (Cole Hauser) and the Bunkhouse gang get caught up in some heavy-duty drama involving wolves and gopher holes.
Meanwhile, Beth (Kelly Reilly) tightens her grip around Jamie’s neck; Chief Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) feels the heat from his people, and Monica (Kelsey Asbille) and Kayce (Luke Grimes) deal with their latest tragedy.
RELATED: Yellowstone Season 5 Episode 1 Review, Thoughts, and Theories
What Worked in Yellowstone Season 5 Episode 2
- John as Governor is perhaps the greatest thing to happen to TV since Walter White decided to cook meth. His new job is laden with so much bullshit that he can’t keep track of his daily schedule. “For f**k’s sake, Clara, if it has the work alliance in the name, cancel it,” John orders his assistant. Later, he calls in his Chief of Staff, introduces him to Beth, and then fires his ass. “Beth, you’re my new Chief of Staff,” he growls. Even Beth is shocked, which doesn’t happen that often. John begrudgingly took this position, but he should have known what the duties of Governor entailed. “You need favors,” Lynelle Perry (Wendy Moniz) tells him. “And to get those, you have to give favors.” Four years suddenly seems like a long time. Then again, John might get ousted long before his allotted time runs out. Every move he makes pisses off someone somewhere — he cancels the planned airport, raises taxes on non-residents, then promises to put his ranch in a conservation easement. “It’s all about the ranch,” John reminds a bewildered Beth and Jamie (Wes Bentley). John, you see, is not in this for money, fame, or glory. He doesn’t care if he loses his property; he just doesn’t want to see it bulldozed for a hotel.
- John Dutton, my friends, is why Yellowstone is a great show. For all the shootouts, murders, lies, and deceptions, Taylor Sheridan’s drama works best when it’s about characters making tough decisions. In many ways, John is invulnerable to his enemies because he lacks ambition. Like the Terminator, he can’t be bargained with, he can’t be reasoned with, he doesn’t feel pity, remorse, or fear, and he absolutely will not stop … EVER, until his ranch is secure. The only way to stop John is to burn his world to the ground, which I can see a certain begrudged son doing soon.
- Jamie has lost everything. Has there ever been a more pathetic character on a TV show? Jamie will have his vengeance in this life or the next, and you can be sure his retribution will be swift. “Your political career was over the moment you chose your father over mine,” Beth reminds him. She’s playing a dangerous game and pushing an intelligent, hopeless man closer to the edge. Will he jump or fight back?
- Also: I forgot Jamie wasn’t John’s real son! Look, I binge-watched the entire series over the summer. There was a lot to take in.
- Jamie’s predicament may get a kick in the right direction. Sarah Atwood (Dawn Olivieri), who comes across as Beth sans a conscience (if that makes any sense), arrives on the scene to assess Jackie Weaver’s situation. Her eyes turn to a television monitor where Jamie mopes next to John. “I’m going to start with him,” she purrs. Then, when Jackie goes ballistic on her crew, Sarah quips: “I love it when she gets real mad. It means I’m going to make a lot of money.” Clearly, this ain’t her first rodeo, but we’ve seen this tough talk before, and that guy died via snake-projected-from-cooler. Maybe Sarah is different, but as I said last week, the worry is that each new enemy becomes increasingly cartoonish as to drown the show in cheesy hokum. The Duttons have survived everything thrown at them. Will Sarah prove more formidable?
- Back at the ranch, Rip orders Carter (Finn Little) to saddle up John’s horse and ride with the Bunkhouse crew to the pasture. The last we saw, Carter was schooling his fellow cowboys and bonding with his new dad. Their relationship has reverted to Stage 1, with Rip treating the kid like a stray dog. Matters get worse when Carter’s horse shatters its legs in a gopher hole, a moment that occurs after the kid turns heads with his herding abilities. Rip kills the horse, then angrily sends a weeping Carter back to the ranch. That was tough to watch.
- During Carter’s bit, the Bunkhouse crew also happens upon a cow corpse decimated by wolves. Ryan (Ian Bohen) and Colby (Denim Richards) stay behind to kill the predators, which they accomplish using thermal imaging under darkness. Unfortunately, we learn the wolves came from the park outfitted with tags that track their every move. Killing them = bad news for everyone. “These wolves have f*****g Facebook pages. People walk around in t-shirts with their pictures on them,” Ryan snaps. Eventually, Rip arrives and orders them to tie the collars onto some logs and toss them into the river. The collars typically fall off in the current, but this is Yellowstone. So, naturally, one of the logs gets stuck in the foliage along the riverbed. Not good.
- I love this plot; it feels grounded and real. I’ve said many times that enough drama naturally arises from the problems in and around the ranch to keep the show compelling.
- Finally, there’s a terrific scene where Beth chops a flirtatious man’s balls off just for kicks. I usually hate the overused dress-down trope — where a character reveals everything about another character based on a few physical details — but in this case, Beth (and, by extension, Kelly Reilly) is so much fun to watch that I didn’t mind. She notes that the man is a divorced professor from Northwestern who retreated to the wilderness to teach Zumba and overpriced college courses. “So, you run up the house prices here, and you f— the middle classes in two states. Bravo, you f—ing hypocrite.” And critics wonder why Middle America loves this show.
What Didn’t Work in Yellowstone Season 5 Episode 2
- I’m going to gripe on this all season: Kayce and Monica are about as exciting as a couple of rocks. Sure, they’ve had their high points but too often endure comically over-the-top hardships. We’re only two episodes in, and Monica has already lost a child and slipped into another deep depression. At least Tate (Brecken Merrill) isn’t living under the bed this time. At this point, our power couple is so far removed from the main action that they feel like intruders whenever the show cuts to their storyline. Kayce should go back to helping his pop, while Monica (who has only been happy for about 10% of this show) should dump the self-pity and join Beth on her crusade to rid the world of assholes. Who says no?
- A flashback reveals young John Dutton (Josh Lucas) getting back at a phone line installer for contaminating the water. While superbly executed and creepy as all get out, the sequence disrupts the episode’s flow. Josh Lucas looks nothing like Kevin Costner.
- Chief Thomas continues to serve as little more than a sideline spectator. They better not kill this guy before he can do … something! I suspect he respects what John tries to do, even if John’s actions hurt his casino and business prospects.
MVP: Beth, who lights up the episode in typical Beth fashion. After her silly, melodramatic romance with Rip bogged down the latter portion of Season 4, it was nice to see Beth go full-on wrath of the titans again. She slices through Jamie and that guy at the bar, reworks John’s schedule into something coherent, and still has time to sip some whiskey and show Rip a good time. She’s amazing.
Best Line: “God didn’t add extra daylight to Tuesday, Carter. Let’s go, man, get his f—ing saddle. Let’s move this along!” (Rip to Carter before their ride together.)
What Happens Next: Hard to say. There are a lot of political machinations at play here, and I’m not exactly sure which way they’re spinning. John could make many enemies in his bid to keep his ranch — desperate enemies with a lot to lose. I also think he’s mishandling Jamie, who might choose to blow the whole enterprise to hell rather than endure another four years of Beth. The dog tags will prove significant. Someone will look up the data and see a period when the wolves were idle on John’s land and put two-and-two together. This could get ugly.
Final Thoughts: Aside from a few minor bumps, this was an exceptional Yellowstone episode. Great character drama, captivating plotlines, a few sprinkles of Beth, and enough political intrigue to hold my attention from scene to scene. Let’s keep it moving, people!
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 9 equates to “Excellent.” Entertainment that reaches this level is at the top of its type. The gold standard that every creator aims to reach.
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