Major spoilers follow for Yellowstone episodes 1 to 4. Turn back now if you’re not caught up.
There was something inert about last week’s episode of Yellowstone. Low-stakes scenes played out with almost no impact on the wider story as a whole, while potentially explosive encounters and revelations came and went in a brief and perfunctory manner. It was a bit like Teeter’s inedible sounding “Sum Bits”: a dish that included every part of the cow, eyeballs and all; a lumpy stew of storylines that didn’t quite mesh into an appetising whole.
Part of the problem was repetition. We were instantly reunited with Travis and Jimmy on the road, showcasing top-quality horses in a bid to create a lucrative revenue stream for the Yellowstone and provide John Dutton with an enduring legacy. Even the song that the incompatible duo had departed the ranch to last episode, All I See Is You by Shane Smith and the Saints, played over the soundtrack again, but this time without the emotional weight of Mia and Jimmy’s poignant farewell.
Dramatically speaking, the episode began at a trot and didn’t pick up the pace. Jimmy looked on in awe as Travis displayed his riding prowess, executing all kinds of spectacular tricks while the up-tempo chorus of All I See Is You played and judges murmured appreciatively. It conveyed Jimmy’s yearning to be up there on horseback himself, and his love of the rodeo lifestyle. But it didn’t feel like much more than pure cowboying spectacle and wasn’t anything we hadn’t already seen multiple times in season 4.
About this episode
– Episode 4 (of 10), ‘Winning or Learning’
– Written by Taylor Sheridan
– Directed by Guy Ferland
It’s understandable that Sheridan wants to establish the new life that awaits Jimmy in Texas: an intense whirlwind of horse shows and rodeos at the Four Sixes ranch and which will be the focus of the Yellowstone 6666 spin-off. But it would have been more satisfying to see Jimmy in some more high-stakes scrapes.
Every time the possibility that Jimmy might land himself in a compromising situation – for example, his impromptu decision to mail cheques for insane amounts of money back to the Dutton ranch without being certain of the address, or offering to take the wheel of a top-of-the-line trailer with irreplaceable cargo late at night – nothing happened. John received the cheques and Travis and Jimmy arrived in Texas incident-free.
Meanwhile, the post-introduction scene was nearly a verbatim re-tread of the one in episode 3, and the obsessive interest about whether 14-year-old Carter was first to the stables every morning continued (it’s the third such interaction between Dutton Snr. and Carter in as many episodes). Finally, he was! But that didn’t stop Rip treating him like dirt throughout the episode. Let’s just hope this fascinating detail becomes relevant to the story at some point.
And there was Kayce waiting for his father again before riding to “the rock”: a beautiful spot whose history was bound up with pivotal moments in John’s life. It was here that his father had died, where he’d proposed to his wife Evelyn, and also where he’d – regretfully – buried her ring. “Our cemetery might be by the river, son,” he lamented, “but make no mistake: this is our graveyard.”
Talk turned to business and John handed Kayce the information on T. Riggins. Currently incarcerated at Deer Lodge prison, Riggins had passed on the order to hit the Dutton family to ex-con Chester Spears. But the question on our and Kayce’s lips – given that no one recognised the men involved in hiring the militia – was, well, who ordered the hit? We got a tentative answer later on in the episode.
John asked his son to speak to Jamie to arrange an interview between Kayce, Riggins, and the Sheriff. He wouldn’t approach Jamie himself though because – quelle surprise! – he remained suspicious of his involvement. While John remains happy to exploit Jamie’s position for utilitarian purposes, his attitude is generally one of indifference.
Jamie hadn’t featured much so far this season, but that all looks to change. We first found him gazing over the expansive clearing that was now officially his, alongside his biological father Garrett. It was as reminder of Jamie’s attempt to distance himself from the Duttons and step out of John’s shadow to become his own man. “I’m 41-years-old and this is the first thing I ever owned.” He murmured appreciatively. “I. Own. It.”
Funnily, it felt like Jamie had been standing in that exact spot since we last saw him two episodes ago, because we returned to him in the same location, still awe-struck by his new acquisition. He was wearing a different tie, though, so we’re guessing time had moved on…
The scene emphasized the growing bond between Jamie and Garrett, the biological father he’d recently reunited with, who had finally taken on a parental role. Jamie clearly felt in his debt, thanking him for the courage to break free from his family. This led to a rather mawkish exchange – “you always had the strength, son. I just helped you to find it” – particularly as Garrett was jailed for killing his birth mother. But the growing sense of obligation and affection being depicted could lead to some emotionally conflicted scenes in the near future, as became clear later.
Market Equities CEO Caroline Warner met Beth, the company’s sworn enemy, for the very first time. We would have expected this encounter to offer dramatic fireworks; instead, it felt a bit lukewarm – even with all the F–bombs that were being dropped. What became evident was that these two women had a frosty kind of mutual respect for each other, both sharing a single-minded, ruthless determination.
Caroline (played with easy authority by Jacki Weaver) gave Beth her options: come after Market Equities again and prepare for “the fight of your f—king life”. Alternatively, work for them as a corporate raider and help them develop “a destination town in every valley.” Beth would consider it, but only on one condition: cede controlling interest in Schwartz & Meyer over to her. Then she could have her revenge on her ex-employer Bob Schwartz, who’d betrayed her trust by firing her last season. Hell hath no fury like a Beth scorned.
Ellis Steele, who’d been verbally maligned by Beth, didn’t think it wise to work with someone with such a volatile personality. Yet Caroline saw the utility in her simmering rage and planned to harness it to their benefit. As she wryly noted after Beth had left, “behind every milestone of human history stands a monster. And that’s our monster.”
It was an interesting summation of Beth’s character, framing her like a bitter child of Frankenstein. In addition to her molten-lava temper and misanthropic contempt, the confrontational and violent aspects of her character were etched on her body. As she stood outside smoking a cigarette, we saw no self-conscious attempt to obscure the scars that mar her back. Rather, she proudly displays her wounds like tattoos, a warning that she’s not to be messed with.
Directly after this, Kayce visited Jamie’s office. Ostensibly their first meeting since the attacks, Kayce guardedly asked why he hadn’t called or visited once. Jamie reasoned that getting in touch would have looked like collusion, given that, as he explained, he’d used his position to provide John with police protection during his 2-month convalescence, while also preventing an investigation into the murders that occurred on the ranch, “in self-defence.” So, it finally looked as if Jamie was clear of all suspicion.
Oh – a warm feeling! – we were validated in our previous recap when Jamie told Kayce he’d been entirely out of his jurisdiction when he pursued and gunned down their father’s attackers. “There is what’s just”, he said, “and there’s the law. The two are not the same.” This sequence also alerted us that the warrants John had asked Kayce to get from Jamie couldn’t have been issued, because this was obviously the first time the siblings had spoken in months. That was significant because it meant the retaliation enacted on the militia last episode was just another example of lawless vigilante justice carried out by the Duttons.
Jamie’s devotion to his adoptive family was self-evident, but especially when Kayce told him that John had requested his involvement setting up an interview between himself and the incarcerated Riggins. “Of course I’ll do it” he said, barely hesitating. However, Kayce may have been exploiting Jamie’s need for his father’s approval to guarantee his help, because…well, John never explicitly asked for Jamie to be present at the interview!
What became certain was that Jamie’s loyalties were going to be sorely tested this season. He clearly still felt an affectionate bond to the Dutton clan, with the exception of his vindictive sister Beth. A saccharine exchange of “I love you’s” was proof of this as they parted ways, and it recalled the moment between Jamie and Garrett at the start of the episode.
Why was this important? Well, when Jamie was finally handed the prison record of the mysterious Riggins, he scanned the list of his previous cellmates and a familiar name jumped out at him – Garrett Randall! It looked like his biological father was an acquittance of Riggins, who in all likelihood had been approached to help him kill Dutton patriarch John and his offspring.
It was a revelation, though not quite a surprise: Garrett was never not a suspect. After all, he did share his dubious Machiavellian wisdom with Jamie at the end of season 3, exclaiming that Yellowstone was an empire and you can only take empires by killing the king. Eek!
This left Jamie in an extremely compromising position. If he revealed Garrett’s potential involvement, then the father he’s just gotten to know will undoubtedly be killed. Jamie will find himself guilty by association, and that means saying bye-bye to the last ounce of goodwill he has with the Duttons.
Will he destroy the evidence? Or will he confront Garrett himself over his unconscionable actions? This is one plot point from which we expect Taylor Sheridan to wring some serious dramatic mileage.
However, the revelation got pretty cursory treatment during the episode, and was obscured by half-a-dozen other storylines. The bad-feeling between Lloyd and Walker finally erupted into a bunkhouse brawl, with Rip barging in to break it up, and a distracted Mia, stung by the departure of Jimmy, announced to Laramie she’d be hauling ass out of Yellowstone the following morning.
Meanwhile, Kayce did right by his family and took his wife and son to stay with their Grandpa Felix at the Broken Rock Reservation. It was a move greeted with great relief by Monica after the traumatising home invasion in episode 1, and should help mend the rift between her and her husband. John, however, watched them depart with hurt in his eyes. Kayce would be returning regularly, he said. But their relocation might mean viewers will get greater insight into Monica’s family life on the reservation this season.
Finally, Travis dropped Jimmy off at the Four Sixes early in the morning, telling him he’d need all the luck he could get to survive at the infamous ranch. A whole new horizon was opening up for Jimmy – literally and metaphorically – as he headed to the back of the ranch to meet Doc, dwarfed by corals and land that stretched on as far as the eye could see.
After the focused, melancholy drama of “All I See Is You”, episode 4 felt overstretched and poorly paced. There were too many disparate storylines being set up for there to be much actual conflict during the episode’s 50-minute runtime. It wasn’t helped by a sense of déjà vu in the opening scenes, some of which imitated elements almost verbatim from the last two episodes.
Subsequently, the excess of minor plots with inconsequential outcomes muted the impact of moments that should have been explosive. Yes, Caroline Warner proved a worthy foil for the Beth, but we still don’t know what makes her tick and their first encounter felt coolly transactional. Then the big revelation that Garrett “probably” organized the hit on the Duttons was dealt with perfunctorily, in a matter of minutes.
Now that Taylor Sheridan has laid the groundwork for the next few instalments, we can expect less navel-gazing and a lot more riveting drama from episode 5, enticingly titled “Under a Blanket of Red”: particularly about Jamie’s recent discovery, which is bound to leave him terribly conflicted over his family loyalties.
Yellowstone season 4 trivia
- While Jimmy and Travis bonded, Travis mentioned his favorite film was cult classic Road House (1989) starring Sam Elliott. Well, it turns out Sam Elliott will be part of the Yellowstone universe, with a lead role in the upcoming spin-off series 1883 as Shea Brennan, a tough-as-nails cowboy.
- The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed a a continuity gaff during the brawl in the bunkhouse. When Rip enters to break up the fight, Lloyd’s shirt it unbuttoned. But by the time he’s strutted over to mete out a beating of his own, Lloyd’s shirt has magically been buttoned back up.
- “Hands on the Wheel” by Country and Western legend Willie Nelson is the first Nelson song to grace an episode of Yellowstone, and accompanies the final scene of Jimmy arriving to begin his new life at the Four Sixes ranch.
- Actor Forrie J. Smith, who plays long-serving ranch-hand Lloyd, actually worked the rodeo circuit in real life. Look closely and you’ll see personal effects from this time in his life above Lloyd’s bed in the bunkhouse.
- This is the first episode filmed on location at the famous Four Sixes ranch in Texas. And in May 2021, a buyer group represented by Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan purchased the ranch at an estimated cost of $350 million.
New episodes of Yellowstone debut on the Paramount Network every Sunday at 8PM ET.