Finally, John Dutton (Kevin Costner) is really in charge. Yellowstone's patriarch has never not had the last word on every single decision made on and around the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, but in Season 5, he's been elected governor. Now, he's got power over all the land in the whole state of Montana, and that's precisely all he cares about: the land. Who gives two hoots about education? Not John Dutton. Tourism? Forget about it. You can take your airport and your resort and shove it up your you-know-what. Just leave John and his land in peace. This is a man who became governor for one reason and one reason only and seems to have forgotten that there are other issues in the state aside from land ownership, to the point where even his most loyal spawn is beginning to question whether this was a good idea.
After four seasons of manipulation, scheming, and wrestling with power over Montana's relatively untouched beauty, John Dutton is now calling the shots, with Beth (Kelly Reilly) running the show behind him. His intentions are clear in the two-part premiere of Season 5, which debuts Nov. 13 on Paramount Network. He's simply going to cancel all the things that threaten his peace, no matter what contracts he breaks or people he pisses off. Costner continues to play John as a wise, comforting, grumpy grandfather, but this time, now that it's more than just his own ranch at stake, his decisions feel dangerously unwise. This power feels particularly precarious, both because of how many people he's angered and because there's not much further up John can go without moving Yellowstone to Washington, D.C. Something's going to fall, and it's going to be ugly, especially considering how many enemies are analyzing every single move John and his messy family make.
The stakes are also raised back at the ranch, where both bunkhouse hijinks and legitimate crimes now reflect back on the governor, and those hijinks (and crimes) are quick to arise. The ranch hands have not changed their ways, despite John's new gig, which makes for some of the best scenes in these premiere episodes. That said, Beth remains the show's best character, and while she may be a married woman whose daddy is a governor, she's the same old Beth, still making decisions that should get her in big trouble but probably won't, because she's too damn charming.
The muddiest part of this season is bound to be its most basic premise: that John Dutton is a governor whose only platform is land. Yellowstone has always managed to be strangely apolitical, despite all appearances of a staunchly right-wing show. There is no mention of party anywhere, even as John runs in and wins the governor race. Apparently, in this world, Montana's two parties are Land and Anti-Land. It's been easy enough for Yellowstone to deal with politics in this weirdly neutral way for the past four seasons, but now the main character is literally the governor. Can this show remain apolitical while dealing so directly with politics? Is there a message to be unscrambled here about horses and land transcending party lines? It's not clear yet, and it may never become clear, and that might be OK. The plans for this airport/resort/casino monstrosity have gotten so monotonous that it's hard to mind any storyline that shakes up the show.
Luckily, all the regular nonsense that Yellowstone is known and celebrated for remains. Rip (Cole Hauser) and Beth are still deeply, dramatically in love. Kayce (Luke Grimes) and Monica (Kelsey Asbille) still can't catch a break. The cattle are being threatened by wolves, Rip gets to do a lot of yelling at his employees, there are still many horses, and my eyes still glaze over whenever anyone from Market Equities yells about the airport. It's still Yellowstone, but John just wears a lot more ties, and I guess it's hard to complain about that.
Premieres: Sunday, Nov. 13 at 8/7c on Paramount Network
Who's in it: Kevin Costner, Kelly Reilly, Cole Hauser, Wes Bentley, Luke Grimes, Gil Birmingham
Who's behind it: Taylor Sheridan
For fans of: Dallas, Sons of Anarchy, the first four seasons of Yellowstone
How many episodes we watched: 2