SPOILER ALERTS: Don’t read further if you don’t want to know the contents of Season 3 finale.
If the Dutton Family running the gauntlet of the Beck Brothers and their hired militia of extremist rapists and kidnappers from Season Two wasn’t lethal enough, the close of Yellowstone’s third season brought some of the most shocking developments that co-creator Taylor Sheridan has scripted thus far.
A mystery also was created for what will be an eagerly awaited fourth season: who shot John Dutton (Kevin Costner)? And is he still alive, and for that matter his daughter Beth (Kelly Reilly), whose office was firebombed with her in it. And for that matter Kayce Dutton, last seen overturning his desk for protection as gunmen entered his office.
This was a well woven build to a chaotic climax that once again revolved around the Duttons hanging on for dear life to the largest ranch in Montana. The episode before tonight’s finale ended with two bad cowboys hired by Market Equities’ Roarke (Josh Holloway) being chased down by the Dutton posse for nearly killing two Dutton ranch hands. One cowboy falling off his horse and dying, and another being hung after revealing who hired him, and having the “Y” brand cut off his chest in a hunk. And then John Dutton telling son Kayce about their enemies, “You can’t reason with evil, son. Evil wants what it wants and won’t stop until it has won or you kill it. To kill it is to be meaner than evil.” And then the challenge is “that you can be meaner than evil and still love your family and still enjoy a sunrise.”
It seemed that the Duttons might face a dilemma similar to the Byrde Family in Ozark – can you keep the wolves from your door without become the wolves, but that isn’t how the finale unfolded. It became clear early there were players on this board far more evil than the Duttons realized.
First, a series of subplots: black sheep son Jamie (Wes Bentley), bonded quickly with his newly found murderous father Garrett (Will Patton). Jamie becomes a quick study under his father, who reminds him that “You’re a Randall and killing is our only gift,” this after describing in graphic detail how he found the infant Jamie – starving and sucking on a discarded crack pipe while his mother was prostituting herself for more drugs, and then killed his wife and Jamie’s mother because the boy had his best chance at a life.
Jamie expresses his frustration over having built the Yellowstone ranch into a vibrant business, but not being part of its succession plans. “Yellowstone ain’t a ranch, it’s an empire and empire’s you take,” said Garrett. When Jamie asks how, Garrett says simply, “You kill the king.”
Next we see the honorable tribal leader Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham), who has become an ally of mutual convenience to the Duttons, being counseled by a ruthless advisor who warns he will never get back the Yellowstone Ranch lands for their people unless he stops propping up the Duttons and, yes, kill the king. Rainwater doesn’t reject her out of hand.
The other possible assassins were the most obvious. They work for Market Equities, the ruthless company bent on stripping away the Dutton land. All of them come for a key meeting to decide whether this billion dollar company will get to gut Dutton’s ranch to build an airport, homes and retail outlets in the middle of his unspoiled paradise. And then Market Equities Willa Hayes (Karen Pittman) is shown a viral report that she has been accused of “workplace misconduct,” and as she leaves the office, Roarke’s identity is revealed to John Dutton who had earlier learned from Rip that was the man who hired the two bad hombres who’d been haunting the Duttons’ livestock and were dispatched end of last episode.
Roarke goes mano a mano in mocking Dutton’s retort that it’s his land to sell and he ain’t selling. Dutton whispers to him, “You think you’re winning this game? You don’t even know the goddam rules. But don’t worry. I’m gonna teach ‘em to you.”
Son Jamie, who has been completely disrespectful to his father, pulls a total blindside backstab by declaring that he in fact holds power of attorney, not his sister Beth, and he will approve the sale because it is the only way the ranch won’t be condemned through eminent domain. When state governor and sometimes John Dutton bed partner (Wendy Moniz-Grillo) tells Jamie that someday his father will realize he was acting in John Dutton’s best interest, he gives her his patented haunted look and says that isn’t true. He’s done this for himself and that’s who Jamie will serves from now on. He appears to be his biological father’s son after all.
A short meeting between Market Equities’ Hayes and Roarke ups the ante when she, reeling from the false accusations of workplace impropriety, tells him this is no longer a land deal in Montana, but an oil well takeover in Yemen. She gives him license to take the gloves off. The disarming avid fisherman schtick he displayed earlier this season is gone. This guy is a stone killer.
And then the mayhem begins.
Beth is clearing out her office when her assistant brings in a box addressed to Beth. When she says it’s a box within a box, Beth screams for her not to open it. Too late and the resulting explosion blows out the windows, and onto the street.
Kayce, whom powerful cattlemen have just implored to run for governor, is lulled from any complacency when gunmen enter his office and begin firing. He turns over his desk and ducks behind it but we can’t see if he survived the assault.
Finally, John Dutton is shot several times by a passing van as he helps a motorist and her son with their flat tire. They shoot the woman, and Dutton is left to ponder a lack of cell service, which clearly he has helped not make possible in his quest to keep the land around him pristine. In a stroke of luck, it looks like what would have been a lethal shot was absorbed by his cell phone.
There was other interplay with the Dutton ranch hands, but right now what matters was the finale ending with Dutton incapacitated and struggling to breathe, with the lifesaving Rip (Cole Hauser) nowhere in sight.
In a prior scene, Rip actually dug up the decomposing corpse of his mother, murdered by her husband when the boy was a teen, because he wanted to preserve her memory by giving Beth her wedding ring. An unusual moment creepy but touching and the whole courtship between Rip and Beth – two tough and fractured people who together make a whole – was one of the most touching story lines during the season.
All of this was forgotten when the carnage happened. Unable to reach anyone, Rip called Jamie, who coldly advised him to not call him again. There is going to be some major payback, with lives on the line and the fate of the Dutton ranch at risk. We’ve seen the ruthlessness Rip is capable of when he needs to protect his surrogate father, and his future wife. Despite being shot, he tore apart with his two hands the thugs who tried to rape and murder her last season, leaving little left. Wait till he finds out his beloved has been bombed in her office.
And if Kayce has a breath left in him, the former soldier will drop the aw shucks pleasantries and go back to being the lethal killer, skills he has showed throughout the series and especially last season when the Beck Brothers kidnapped and terrorized his young son Tate.
How long until Season 4? Next June? Arrgh. It will be worth the wait. How the TV Academy keeps snubbing this hit show, and these performances and superb writing at Emmy time is perhaps the biggest lingering mystery of all.