Last week, I wrote about Yellowstone’s tendency to cram half a dozen stories into one episode. That technique can work well if the stories are satisfying and complete, as in “Winning or Learning.” But “Under a Blanket of Red” is an even more scattered episode of Yellowstone than usual, one that introduces a number of new character stories but can’t commit to following through on any of them. It’s a paradox: Almost nothing seems to happen in this episode, and yet it still feels like it’s doing too much.
Take John Dutton, our ostensible protagonist, whose reclusiveness following the attempt on his life has suggested an interesting internal conflict for him this season. One son is dead, another he hasn’t talked to in months, and now the third is spending time away from the ranch. With Kayce and his family back on the reservation, John no longer has enough distractions to keep his loneliness at bay; if Beth’s filthy suggestion last week was any hint, this is the time for John to consider whether he always wants to sleep alone.
Enter Summer Higgins, a protester at the Montana Livestock Association who takes issue with the “state-sponsored police force that protects industrialized animal farming and the mass murder of millions of animals every year.” So far, Summer is a character straight from the Taylor Sheridan playbook: generically liberal, needlessly aggressive, and out of touch, with no consistent political agenda besides defeating the rich old white man and his way of life. John relishes pointing out to her that no matter how ethical she thinks her diet is, animals were killed in making her food. He suggests that snakes, mice, and worms killed in field-plowing aren’t any different from slaughtering cattle; Summer’s just sensitive to how cute the animals are.
He has her arrested (completely by the book, as the sheriff clarifies), then later pays her bail and offers her a tour of the ranch, clearly coming from a place of loneliness. Their drive, at least, allows for some nuance: John proves to Summer that he does see the way the world is, acknowledging that “there will come a time when Earth sheds us like dead skin, and it will be our own fault.”
That’s about it so far, though, so if Summer is being positioned as a love interest for John, it might take a while. At this point, John has taught Summer more about his way of life than she’s taught him about hers. I’m curious if he’ll eventually come around to her thinking in any regard or if he’ll remain entrenched in his beliefs the way he has for most of the show.
But as is so often the case in Yellowstone, everything happens slowly except when Sheridan is itchy for some movement. We see Tate smiling and eating again after a few days in the sweat lodge; Monica finds a nice house in Pryor so she and Kayce can live without a father on either side hanging around all the time; and Beth drives to Salt Lake City just to look Bob in the eye when she fires him. (Caroline Warner acquiesced to her demand for controlling interest in Schwartz & Meyer offscreen, so Beth has taken the job at Market Equities.)
The most consequential plot movement in “Under a Blanket of Red” happens in Jamie’s story. As Kayce requested, he meets with Terrell Riggins, the man who set up the Dutton hits from prison. Jamie offers him immunity in exchange for intel, and Riggins seems to confirm the obvious: Garrett Randall, Jamie’s biological father, was behind the whole thing. (What are the chances Riggins winds up murdered in prison sometime soon and Jamie helps cover it up?)
But when Jamie gets back to Garrett’s house, he’s ambushed before he can confront him. Yep, folks, it’s the long-delayed return of Christina, Jamie’s assistant–love interest whom we last saw in season two, demanding he get his priorities straight if he wanted to be part of his son’s life. She is pleased with his new job and estrangement from John, but once again, we’ll have to wait longer to see what this means in the grand scheme of things and to get a clear read on Garrett.
The saving grace, as is so often the case in this show, is the details. The warmth in John’s relationships with Kayce and Beth has been one of the nicest parts of the past couple seasons. I enjoy his frank discussion with Beth about the impossibility of finding solace and the necessity of seeing the world as it is. Later, when John mentions he’s struggling with his conscience, Beth drops a funny gem: “I’d offer advice, Dad, but I’ve never been in that situation.”
And even though the scenes at the Four Sixes Ranch feel like a different show (because eventually they will be), there are some lovely moments there. Friendly Texan cowboy Ross (Barry Corbin) has a revealing conversation with Jimmy, explaining that ranching is “art without an audience until the day you die. And then after you’re dead, you don’t have an audience either.” And Jimmy later meets the real-life horse-training legend Buster Welch without realizing it.
These isolated moments and low-key stories have their charms, even without a greater purpose. But we’re now halfway through the fourth season of Yellowstone, and it’s hard to feel much momentum. I’m okay with tuning in each week to watch some short stories play out, but “Under a Blanket of Red” feels like reading just the first few pages.
The Last Roundup
• Rip is really holding a grudge about the fight Lloyd started with Walker, but to be fair, Lloyd’s still being a baby about it. I thought his final moment in the last episode was a breakthrough, but in this episode, he’s back to staring down Walker, even watching as he and Laramie have sex outside. I do like the nice camaraderie he’s developing with Carter, though.
• Does anybody else keep thinking we’ve seen Jimmy for the last time on this show? I totally thought the final scene of the last episode was his final scene on this show. What exactly is this plot setting up for the spinoff, and what could make a better (temporary) ending for Jimmy than last week?