In the four years since its premiere, Taylor Sheridan‘s Yellowstone has become an entity in and of itself, a hit series that spawned not only a successful spinoff in this year’s 1883 but a verifiable television universe now with a sequel show, 1923, to follow next month. Like the fictional family whose domain exists over significant swaths of Montana, Sheridan has solidified a true TV empire that rivals the likes of Succession, Dallas, House of the Dragon, or any other series you can name that revolves around a dynasty.


It would be fair to anticipate that adding more Dutton-centric stories onto the pile could have an adverse effect on the flagship show — and that when it comes to putting an expansion on the house Sheridan built, quantity might not equal quality. To further that point, the last season of Yellowstone was a bit of a narrative mess, with the dust settling from the Season 3 finale’s explosive cliffhanger in such a way that felt as if the series was merely limping along until its next daring decision. With its incoming fifth season, Yellowstone could either be primed to seriously shake things up for the Duttons or keep trotting at the same pace — and the two-episode premiere is full of potential for either direction.

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Image via Paramount Network


Season 5 of Yellowstone kicks off with John Dutton (Kevin Costner) in his biggest position of power yet — the family patriarch and ranch owner has been elected Governor of Montana, but as we’ve already seen, it’s a spiteful chess move primarily made to deny adopted son Jamie (Wes Bentley) his political aspirations, and all in the name of perceived transgressions. The irony of the situation is that John doesn’t even seem to want to be governor, and if the trajectory of the show has proven anything to date it’s that he has never had much patience for playing the game that’s required. Dubbing himself the rock that progress breaks itself against was more than a clever metaphor. John elects to make decisions during his first weeks in office that not only betray his chafing beneath the yoke of new authority but demonstrate that his aim isn’t to be democratic in the slightest; not only does he swiftly fire his appointed chief of staff and promote daughter Beth (Kelly Reilly) in his place, but he cancels many pre-scheduled appearances solely on the basis of personal benefit.

It’s a testament to Costner’s performance in the role that John can still remain a compelling character on-screen, but there are also believable limits to how far his worst trait — his stubbornness — can endure. It’s a quality that his on-again, off-again love interest and departing governor Lynelle Perry (Wendy Moniz) calls him out on. The voters may have rallied behind him as a way to protect Montana from outsiders, especially ones like Market Equities who are intent on razing Yellowstone Dutton Ranch to the ground, but that doesn’t mean John can just run the highest office in the state as he does his home. The season does automatically improve itself by surrounding the new governor with voices who are informed enough to point out the risks in his decision-making, even if there’s a sneaking feeling that John will only entertain them for a moment before doing what he was planning on from the beginning. Meanwhile, the family’s choice to bring Jamie back into the fold — albeit under blackmailing conditions — might have created a more tense détente, but it also lends itself to some of the most dynamic scenes in Season 5’s premiere, including a Jamie-Beth face-off that reminds you just how good Bentley and Reilly are when they’re put in a room alone together.

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Image via Paramount


Consistently solid performances aside, there is the nagging question of just how immune the Duttons can remain to any obstacles that arise. Since Lee’s (Dave Annable) death all the way back in Season 1, the main family has always been well-protected from being on the chopping block, but the same can’t necessarily be said for those around them, the supporting characters who face harrowing circumstances to lend just enough stakes to the world. It doesn’t take long to notice that tragedy, when it happens, is really only left of center, with the show’s core cast capable of surviving every threat that’s leveraged in their direction. It’s these types of storytelling decisions that begin to feel repetitive and lead to some plots simply running in place — neither going forward nor backward and only succeeding at feeling reminiscent of what came before. The joyous reveal that youngest Dutton son Kayce (Luke Grimes) and his wife Monica (Kelsey Asbille) were expecting a baby at the end of Season 4 felt like the show was finally establishing them in exciting new territory, but the new season frustratingly withdraws from that domestic stability in a way that calls back to the most tumultuous time in their marriage.

In fact, the one couple that is as rock solid as ever is Beth and loyal ranch hand Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser); several months out from their spontaneous front yard finale wedding, they’re living in somewhat intermittent bliss thanks to Beth’s increasingly demanding schedule working for her father. That means it’s been primarily up to Rip to keep an eye on their not-quite-adopted son Carter, and the show finds an amusing way to nod at the fact that Finn Little definitely hit puberty between seasons, leading to the young actor sprouting up to a height practically on par with Costner himself. Beyond the obvious growth spurt, though, Carter faces more responsibility now that he’s been upgraded from stall cleaner to cowboy-in-training, but that also amounts to some tough lessons to be learned in the process. It’s likely too soon to tell whether their new roles as parental figures have softened Beth and Rip’s hardened edges, but it might come as more of a surprise that they’re the most grounded and emotionally stable duo of the new season thus far — even if Beth still manages to get in her favorite pastime via a scathing takedown of some out-of-town chump.

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Image via Paramount Network


Scenes like that could be interpreted as fun callbacks to early episodes, but they could just as easily represent another possibility, one that signals that Yellowstone is starting to lose steam. As entertaining as it is (and always will be) to watch Reilly verbally eviscerate a man in a bar, are these and other patterns a sign that the series is butting up against its own self-imposed boundaries? The show does remain compulsively watchable in spite of its intensely varying stakes — there’s as much weight placed on the battle for Montana real estate or corporate land pollution as there is the unexpected death of a horse. The central cast itself is as strong as they’ve ever been, but there are also hints of Sheridan pulling from at least one tired character archetype in Season 5 newcomer Sarah Atwood (Dawn Olivieri), who mostly feels designed to fill the carnivorous, alpha female role that early-series Beth once held as Market Equities tasks her with honing in on one particular Dutton.

All those quandaries aside, it’s early yet, and this is only the beginning of a season that will be split into two parts, meaning it’ll be an even longer wait to see how all of these emerging plots play out. What remains to be seen as of now is whether Yellowstone‘s latest outing will be able to develop into its most ambitious one to date, one that sinks its teeth into us and refuses to let go, or if it’ll break by fighting against its own progress — the type of wild, dynamic storytelling that this series’ best version of itself has successfully embraced in the past.

Rating: B

Yellowstone Season 5 premieres with its first two episodes on November 13, with subsequent episodes released weekly every Sunday on Paramount Network.

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