Viewers around the world were on the edge of their seats when “Yellowstone” made its highly anticipated return this past November. The show picks up after the wild conclusion to its previous season, which left the fate of many of its prominent characters in seemingly perpetual question. In fact, the opening episode of “Yellowstone” Season 4 garnered a whopping 8 million viewers across the United States. Upon initial release, it topped the most-watched episodes of television mainstays like “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead.”
The stage for such record-breaking views was set with nearly every central character’s health being in question at the beginning of the season. The audience was adequately primed for “Yellowstone” creator Taylor Sheridan to take his scenic cowboy drama to new heights. So, did Sheridan deliver? With 10 episodes of content to bear, let’s take a look at where the show’s creators excelled and where they could’ve done better.
The Evocative Soundtrack
While not central to the plot, the most pleasant thing about “Yellowstone” is how well the soundtrack fits with its characters’ actions and the gorgeous natural backdrop that rural Montana provides. Season 4 certainly did not disappoint in the music department. Tim McGraw’s “The Cowboy in Me” perfectly accentuated Jimmy’s experiences in Texas. Cody Johnson’s “Dear Rodeo” added the depth necessary to understand Jimmy’s struggles with rodeoing. At the end of Episode 5, Zach Bryan’s “Flying or Crying” felt perfect for riding off into the sunset.
And these are just a few examples. But, in short, “Yellowstone” has a valid claim for the best-sounding TV show on the air right now. The film crew seems to have a real knack for knowing what song is needed to evoke the characters’ feelings. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when one of the show’s most prominent characters is a talented musician in his own right. So, the sounds are fantastic and are arguably the best component of the show. What about the writing?
The Storytelling in “Yellowstone”
For starters, we all deserve a more carefully written Beth Dutton in the coming seasons. Beth, loved by fans for her damaged-yet-strong nature and quick wit, became a caricature of what she once was with cringy one-liners that seem almost forced. This is best exemplified when Beth walks into her kitchen and unexpectedly meets Summer, a younger woman who slept with her father the night before.
After getting past the initial surprise and learning Summer was a guest, Beth says, “Dad, if you’re going to hire a hooker, would you please let me get you a good one?” Later in the scene, Beth tells Summer that she hopes she gets “ass cancer” and dies, causing Summer to leave. Again, this is a stranger, and her only crime here is enjoying breakfast with Beth’s father. This instance isn’t the only time that Beth’s signature rigidness manifests itself. Throughout Season 4, Beth endures a rocky relationship with an orphaned pre-teen, who she takes in after meeting him at a hospital when visiting her comatose father.
In the season’s finale, the boy slips up. He calls Beth “mama,” unknowingly triggering her insecurities about her infertility and role in her own mother’s death. Although Beth knows he is unaware of these facts, she coldly reminds him that she isn’t his mother, reflecting the unfairness of Beth’s own life. The only person she ever seems capable of having healthy conversations with is her now-husband, Rip. Now happily married, Beth dreams about living somewhere other than Yellowstone for the remainder of their days.
Sure, “Yellowstone” may be using Beth’s sweeter moments toward Rip to symbolize just how much of a calming effect the cowboy has on her. However, Beth’s utter callousness toward everyone else, including orphans, isn’t necessary to accentuate that point.
Another Dutton that could probably benefit from stronger writing is Jamie, who is bordering on becoming Reek from “Game of Thrones.” Much like Reek, Jamie finds out that his biological ties have caused a serious conflict with the family that raised him for much of his life. Jamie confronts his biological father with a gun after discovering that he was the man responsible for the hit on the entire Dutton family. Despite being angry enough to point a gun at his father, Jamie switches sides about five minutes after his father explains that the Duttons have it out for him.
After being cornered by Beth and realizing that his father murdering his mother may not play well in the press, Jamie kills his father George and Lennie style in the Season 4 finale. Like Reek with the Boltons, Jamie is now a pawn for the Duttons to “use” whenever they please instead of being an actual character with depth like he was previously.
“Yellowstone” had an opportunity to turn Jamie’s crossroads between his two families into a chance for him to finally find his identity. Instead, it left him with even less of one. But that’s not to say the show didn’t excel in multiple other areas throughout its fourth season. Kayce was finally given some much-needed depth as a character. Throughout Season 4, we were given insight into Kayce’s past as a soldier and a look at how his brother’s death in the show’s pilot episode affected him.
All in all, Season 4 of “Yellowstone” shouldn’t be classified as a disappointment. However, fans should undoubtedly want more out of the monumental Paramount+ show. Fans were taken on an aesthetically pleasing trip through Montana with an elite-level soundtrack to boot. However, they should expect more from the show’s writers for its upcoming fifth season.