SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of Sunday night’s Season 4 premiere of Paramount Network’s Yellowstone.
The close of Season 3 of Paramount’s wildly popular Yellowstone left major questions about the viability of the Dutton Clan and their sprawling ranch. John Dutton (Kevin Costner) was shot up and left for dead by a roadside, as a slug hitting the cell phone in his shirt pocket was the only thing that kept his heart beating; daughter Beth (Kelly Reilly) was cleaning out her office after being fired when the windows shattered onto the street after her assistant opened a box with a bomb packed in it. And Kayce (Luke Grimes) was last seen overturning his desk and returning fire as gunmen sprayed automatic weapon fire in his direction.
And the list of suspects was great: Could it have been black sheep son Jamie at the prodding of his murderous biological father Garrett (Will Patton)? Chief Rainwater (Gil Birmingham), who backed Dutton in numerous skirmishes, but covets his ranch? Or Market Equities, the huge financial enterprise bent on building an airport and turning the grounds of Yellowstone into a tourist destination, by using legal maneuvers like eminent domain? And what about Jimmy, the affable cowboy nursing wounds from the rodeo who, shamed by his barrel-racing girlfriend about being branded Dutton property, mounts an unruly horse and is promptly thrown and rendered unconscious.
Well, there is a notable death in the two-hour premiere episode that aired on the Paramount Network, but the corpse was not a Dutton. It’s the Time Equities exec and fly fishing nut Roarke, played by Lost‘s Josh Holloway. He is visited in the river by Rip (Cole Hauser) who comes holding a cooler. After crowding the fisherman asking if the cooler was his, Rip shakes it, opens the top and tosses a giant snake toward Roarke. Bitten in the face, he’s soon down on the ground and foaming at the mouth. And once again, the Duttons show what happens when someone messes with the family’s stranglehold on the ranch.
Everyone else is more or less intact. Beth emerges from her firebombed office in shock and unable to hear, her back a raw mess from the blast. Rip finds John Dutton, who scrawled the vehicle carrying his would-be assassins in his own blood on the roadside. While Rip rushes his boss to the hospital, Kayce, the former elite soldier who made quick work of his attackers, takes that information and sets out with local law to find the shooters. Kayce is nearly killed in the ensuring shootout and so are all of the bad guys in the van. A near tragedy is averted as killers infiltrate the Dutton ranch and try to murder Kayce’s wife Monica (Kelsey Asbille) and their son Tate (Breckin Merrill), with the latter proving to be a lethal shot.
The question of who shot John Dutton isn’t fully solved, but there are clues. After Rainwater’s main security and right-hand man (Mo Brings Plenty) overhears a drunken gambler berate a Native American croupier and boast that he was partly responsible for the family ambush, the loudmouth is sequestered for a short and lethal interrogation. If Rainwater was behind the attack, he would have known who did it.
Beth, back horribly scarred, returns with more fire than ever. She confronts brother Jamie, says she knows he was behind the killings, and that in time she will murder him, herself. Then she confronts her former boss/benefactor Bob Schwartz (Michael Nouri) and makes it clear things are far from over between them and he made a terrible mistake cutting her loose when the Duttons were in need. Jamie, meanwhile, plans to buy land of his own, coaxed by his father. And Beth finds an unlikely connection with a child she watches say goodbye to his heroin-overdosed father. Might he become the child she is unable to conceive because of the abortion brother Jamie drove her to receive at a clinic for Native Americans that unbeknownst to her made it impossible to have children someday? Which is the reason she detests Jamie. The troubled youth Carter (Finn Little) will have to go a long way to win over Beth’s husband to be Rip, but he can see in the youth a lot of himself and his own redemption when he wandered into Yellowstone as a youth covered in blood from crushing his father’s skull with a skillet after the drunk murdered young Rip’s family.
Noteworthy to the how going forward is the introduction of Jacki Weaver, who plays Market Equities CEO Caroline Warner. She radiates the sweetness of your grandmother, but shows she has the sharp fangs of that snake that dispatched her predecessor, as she tries to bait Rainwater by paying for a magnificent casino he’ll own that will bring the upscale clients running to properties carved out of the Dutton ranch. Weaver showed those fangs in the film Animal Kingdom and they are surely sharp.
What’s equally interesting is a flashback featuring a beneficent James Dutton, who confronts a group of Native Americans who are on his land and off the nearby reservation, asking him if they can bury their patriarch on the grounds. This is a tease for 1883, the Taylor Sheridan-created prequel series that is into production and will begin airing on Paramount+ before year’s end.
As for Jimmy Hurdstrom (Jefferson White)? He’s a mess and most of his scenes involve physical therapy, and the looming prospect of having broken a promise to John Dutton he was done rodeo riding. It will become clear he has earned his way off the Yellowstone ranch, but not out of reach of Taylor Sheridan. There will be a spinoff series involving a sprawling ranch in Texas, where the Duttons will be going into the show horse business.
Finally, who caused the mayhem on the Dutton family. Kasey has the most plausible suspects: the clan has wreaked havoc on local militia groups, especially when his son was kidnapped as part of the Beck Brothers’ attempt to wrest control of the ranch. It becomes clear from a conversation between Kasey and his recovering father John, they believe the killing attempts were revenge, plain and simple. It is also clear this radical group will soon go the way of everyone else who tries to wrest control of the picturesque Dutton Ranch: cowboy justice is just up the road. But the Dutton family bears some heavy scars, helping patriarch John keep a promise he made to his father to never let go of the ranch. Is it worth it?
The 2-hour and 20-minute premiere indicates there is a lot more storytelling coming from Sheridan, who’s also about to introduce the Jeremy Renner series Mayor of Kingstown. Sheridan will be holding much of the streaming service’s fortunes on his broad shoulders and he certainly is taking on a lot. If all that wasn’t enough, it seems clear that his occasional portrayal of the cocky horse trainer Travis Wheatley might turn into a more regular role on the spinoff series.
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