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‘Yellowstone’ Midseason Finale Recap: Catching Up With the Cowboys

Get excited for the second half of everyone’s favorite Western with our cheat sheet

spinner image A wide shot at the exterior of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch
Roger Snider/Paramount Network

Kevin Costner’s modern Western smash Yellowstone concluded the first half of Season 5 on Jan. 1. As its burgeoning fan base eagerly awaits the season’s final episodes, arriving this summer, it’s time to take stock of our favorite two-fisted Montana ranchers and where their personal dramas stand now.

Young Rip Wheeler (Kyle Red Silverstein): In a flashback, he bashes in a cowpoke’s noggin with a rock for making a crude sexual comment about the recipient of Rip’s first kiss, Young Beth Dutton (Kylie Rogers). He deposits the dead offender in “the train station” —  actually a lightly trafficked, unregulated patch of land at the Montana-Wyoming border, a place where the Dutton clan traditionally dumps its murder victims. It has become, as John Dutton will admit in due course, “a trash can for everyone who’s attacked us.” Rip is about to learn that the first rule of the train station is “We don’t talk about the train station.”

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Young John Dutton (Josh Lucas): He makes him an offer he can’t refuse: Declare undying loyalty to the ranch and its secrets or — as John’s top hand Lloyd (Forrest Smith) explains in the nicest possible way — end up in the trash can himself. The mark of loyalty is literally that — the Yellowstone Ranch “Y” logo sizzled into your chest with a branding iron. If you “ride for the brand,” as Young John explains, “you will have a home until the day you die, or this ranch is no more. Now that is something worth fighting for.”

Adult Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser): Still loyal after all these years, Rip uncomplainingly starts migrating the herd to a remote plain in the Texas Panhandle, ducking the brucellosis outbreak that’s killing bison and threatening the cattle. (Their relationship still hot as a branding iron, he and Beth do not neglect to plan her first nuptial visit, however.) Rip’s miscue in having a pair of wolves shot on the ranch is still reverberating in the local news, so it’s not a bad time for the bunkhouse boss to beat a retreat from the authorities’ reach.

Jimmy (Jefferson White): The beloved ranch hand — who’s been long gone from Yellowstone (with John’s blessings) and now rides for the Four Sixes Ranch down in Texas — returns. He’s so besotted with his new spouse Emily (Kathryn Kelly) that he’ll skip breakfast for a sweet morning tryst with the wisecracking veterinarian of his dreams. As White explains in one of the charmingly low-key backstage extras posted on the show’s site, Jimmy is plenty happy now. And Paramount+ will be happy if you tune into his forthcoming Yellowstone spin-off series 6666 (and, of course, to the current Yellowstone prequels 1883 and 1923).

Kayce Dutton (Luke Grimes): Since Rip is absent and daddy John (Kevin Costner) is distracted as the ever-more-imperiled Montana governor, Kayce faces a change in lifestyle. John, in a bonding moment with Kayce’s wife, the revitalized Monica (Kelsey Asbille), enlists her to convince Kayce to take over running the ranch. That means moving to the ranch’s East Camp and leaving behind their current home with its sadly unused child’s bedroom. Why doesn’t John ask his son instead of his daughter-in-law? As John indicates in an aside to Monica, it’s she who wears the pants in the marriage.

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spinner image Luke Grimes, Cole Hauser and Kevin Costner talking together out on the ranch in Yellowstone
(Left to right) Luke Grimes as Kayce Dutton, Cole Hauser as Rip Wheeler and Kevin Costner as John Dutton.
Paramount Network

John Dutton (Kevin Costner): He seemed to have skated past a love triangle involving sometime casual lover Lynelle Perry (Wendy Moniz) and manacled-to-the-ranch activist Summer Higgins (Piper Perabo), and looked momentarily secure in taking management prerogatives more suited to a king than a governor. But his angrily ambitious son Jamie (Wes Bentley) and Market Equities backroom operative Sarah Atwood (Dawn Olivieri) full-on plot not just his political demise but perhaps — and this is a reveal that serves as the cliffhanger for all episodes to come — his physical demise, too. Not that John isn’t prepared to meet force with force: He counsels gubernatorial aide Clara (Lilli Kay) that the way to answer mortal threats is with “menace.” As we watch Beth fully realize the family history that she — curiously — only just discovered from Jamie, we see a previously unseen emotional schism cracking open between daughter and father.

spinner image Wes Bentley in Yellowstone
Wes Bentley stars as Jamie Dutton.
Roger Snider/Paramount Network

Jamie Dutton (Wes Bentley): In a deftly edited sequence of intercut moments, we see him as attorney general delivering a special emergency-session speech to a willing assembly calling for John’s impeachment, while John takes the stage at a press conference staged by Lynelle and Chief Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham). They’re quite eloquently opposing a pair of pipelines the feds have authorized to cut right through the Broken Rock reservation. But as always, Jamie has a conspiracy afoot. We used to think Beth had him checkmated with an old photo of him dumping his nefarious biological dad’s body at —  yes, the train station — but we soon learn differently. Jamie will blow the whistle on those decades of secret revenge homicides.

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Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly): Beth and Portland activist Summer engage in an almost sitcom-style bit of repartee, with Beth zinging her for liking Scotch, having hairy armpits and obeying John’s order to stay indoors because she’s under house arrest. “When you forsake feminism, you go all in,” snipes Beth. “You're almost Amish.” But after this lighthearted moment, Beth bashes her way into the connubial retreat of Jamie and Sarah, bashes him over the head with a rock for good measure, and calls scantily clad Sarah an “expensive hooker” and sarcastically asks, “Enjoying your marionette?” Sarah purrs back, “Every inch of him.”

“She’s a monster. She always has been,” says Jamie in the aftermath, adding with calm assurance: “I think she’ll try to have me killed.” Displaying her own lethal calm, Sarah adopts Jamie’s idea that, in response, it’s time to be “playing offense” — which may include threats not just to John but also to the so-far unstoppable Beth. Sarah knows some “professionals” who have their own means of taking out a foe and getting away with it, and vows, “I will meet with them.”

Her ruthlessness tees up what promises to be quite a rip-snorting second arc of Season 5 this summer.

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