At the end of Yellowstone’s third season, the situation didn’t look great for the Duttons. One or more of their many enemies had orchestrated a multi-pronged shooting and bombing attack, delivering what were meant to be killing blows to John, Kayce, and Beth. Even if they survived, where would they stand? Beth was on the outs with her bosses at Schwartz & Meyer. Kayce had been winning respect as Livestock Commissioner, but was losing his connection with his wife and son. And thanks to the perpetually (and justifiably) embittered Jamie’s cooperation with the predatory venture capitalists at Market Equities, John seemed certain to lose a big chunk of the Yellowstone spread to the state, which would then sell it off to resort property developers.
But because this is Yellowstone—where the Duttons rarely suffer any lasting consequences—it didn’t take long for nearly all of last year’s cliffhangers to resolve in the family’s favor. No Dutton died. Kayce decided to renew his bond with Monica and Tate by heading back into her home territory, among Montana’s Indigenous community. Jamie used government resources to keep his adoptive family safe, and also confided in Kayce that he was trying to save as much of the Yellowstone ranch as he could.
And Beth? Well, Beth—as always—has had the weirdest arc since last year’s finale. After Rip tossed a poisonous snake at her biggest Market Equities rival, Roarke (you are missed, Josh Holloway), she implausibly got hired by the company’s big boss, Caroline (you are welcome anytime, Jacki Weaver), who allowed Beth to get revenge against the Schwartz & Meyer honchos. Meanwhile, she sort of adopted an orphaned ragamuffin named Carter and she sort of convinced her dad to avoid complete annihilation by agreeing to open up the Yellowstone just a little bit to outsiders.
Beth being Beth, nearly every one of these new developments quickly—and often inexplicably—went awry. She cruelly pushed Carter away after he was insufficiently obedient. She enraged John by manipulating his new love interest Summer (Piper Perabo) into getting arrested at an environmental protest. And in this week’s season four finale, “Grass On The Streets And Weeds On The Rooftops,” she gets fired from Market Equities due to all of her Summer shenanigans—complete with a promise from Caroline that the company is going to renege on their past arrangements and “rape your land to death.”
We need to reckon with Beth, both because “Grass On The Streets” is very Beth-centric and because whether or not casual Yellowstone viewers stick with this crazy show often comes down to whether or not they can handle Beth’s whole deal. And I should say straight out: The success or failure of any Beth-related storyline has only a little to do with Kelly Reilly’s performance, which is consistently electrifying… even when her character is doing and saying things that don’t make any damn sense. But the entertainment value of Beth’s chaos is mitigated by the general ludicrousness of who she’s reputed to be and why she seems to get away with everything.
In this week’s Yellowstone, for example, all the drama of her dust-up with John—which just last week had him essentially kicking her out of his life—is corrected before the opening credits. Beth starts packing, Rip tells her he will cut her off completely if she leaves, she patches things up with John and… that’s it. Before long, Beth and Rip are getting married on the ranch, with John watching proudly.
Then there’s Beth’s “big fix” in this episode, which involves her usual go-to tactic: sexualized bullying. When she finds out that Jamie’s biological father, Garrett, was responsible for last season’s finale-ending Dutton-hunt—and that Jamie has known this for a while—she threatens Jamie with prison, warning, “You’ll probably commit suicide after your first rape.” She makes it seem like his only option is to kill Garrett… which Jamie does. And then when he’s trying to ditch the body, she snaps a picture of him, for blackmail purposes.
This is what Yellowstone does. Sometimes it has interesting things to say about the American frontier legacy and modern land-management; and sometimes it’s overheated and kind of dopey. The pulpiness is a major part of what this show is—and quite often, it’s wild enough to keep its audience hooked.
My main complaint isn’t so much that Yellowstone routinely defaults to violence and melodrama, but that all this amped-up action rarely leads anywhere. In Jamie’s case, every time it looks like he’s about to betray the Duttons and pose a real challenge to their dominance of Montana politics and business, Beth and/or John kicks him around a little bit and forces him back into the fold. It would appear that this is just happened again. Jamie, whether he wants to be or not, is back to being a loyal Dutton.
And that’s really the only major development in this finale. Kayce spends the episode out in the wilderness enduring an extreme tribal ritual, plagued by visions of his military service and his late brother. Jimmy comes back to Yellowstone, impresses everyone with the cowboy skills (and the fiancée) he picked up at the 6666 ranch; and then has another emotional goodbye. Summer faces a law-and-order judge who sentences her to over a decade in prison, to send a message to activists who destroy property—but then John convinces him to reduce that sentence to a few months.
Compared to last season’s big cliffhanger, this finale is fairly uneventful. It sets up the next season to be… well, pretty much like seasons one through three. The Duttons will still be squabbling with each other, but will also still be pulling in more or less the same direction, to keep the ranch and its employees safe from the rapidly encroaching outside world, represented by the ruthless and monied on one side and the preservationists on the other. (Here’s hoping that at least Chief Thomas Rainwater, Monica Dutton, and the show’s other Indigenous characters will be more than just a narrative footnote next year.)
All of this said, my reaction to Yellowstone’s fourth season finale is much the same as my reaction to any other episode. I was frustrated sometimes and baffled sometimes. But this hour-plus was rarely boring—and often memorable.
For me, the highlight was the quietly heated conversation between John and the judge, Mitch, as they chatted about how Montana is changing and whether it’s their responsibility as old-timers to push back hard or to find some compromise with the rising generation. There was one strikingly poignant moment in particular, where John admitted to Mitch that he doesn’t think human society as we know it will last another 100 years. Soon, he insisted, we’ll be gone and God will start over. (“If he has the stomach for it.”)
It’s that kind of frankness and direct confrontation (nothing passive-aggressive) that distinguishes Taylor Sheridan’s writing. It’s something Yellowstone has—even at its clumsiest—that many other prestige dramas don’t.
So no, this wasn’t the show’s best season; and this finale fizzled more than it sizzled. But when it comes to Yellowstone, sometimes it’s best to adopt Carter’s attitude, when he asks John to go riding with him. John briefly wonders what’s the point to riding; and Carter says that riding itself is the point. (“It’s just fun,” he says.) Someday no one will ride any more, according to Rip. But so long as it’s still an option and we’re getting something out of it, may as well saddle up.
Season grade: B-