Let it rip: Why Cole Hauser's Rip Wheeler is the best character on Yellowstone
In the first three seasons of Paramount Network’s smash hit Yellowstone, there has likely been no one more ready to save your sweet behind at a moment’s notice than the ace in the Dutton family’s pocket: lead brute and ranch hand Rip Wheeler, played by veteran TV and film actor Cole Hauser (Dazed and Confused, Good Will Hunting). Without Rip — not to mention his impeccable facial hair upkeep, and brooding poses against the sunset — the Duttons likely would've already lost their precious Yellowstone ranch. The family he’s protecting has a Pandora's box of childhood trauma, betrayals, and power-hungry tactics that’s ready to burst at the seams. Sure, most of the time Rip can hold guard, but the upcoming season 4 isn’t going to be so nice to the Duttons.
In season 3, Rip becomes a fiancée dead set on taking what’s his. He has been hot on the trail of one of the season's villains (this time Wade, played by Boots Sutherland), and as we saw when the Beck brothers attacked Beth (Kelly Reilly) in season 2, Rip is a quiet but deadly force. What's changed from one season to another is Rip's poise under pressure, letting his actions mean more by doing less. No one leaves the rubble of the season 3 finale better than Rip, who goes to his mother's grave to pick up a wedding ring she wants to give Beth amid the mass chaos around him. Rip is what we’d like to think a real-life hero is, and that is why he is the most dynamic and compelling character on Yellowstone right now.
To get here, Rip has been on a long and winding road that has often crossed paths with Wes Bentley as Jamie Dutton, who gives Hauser a run of his money in season 3 as the show's MVP — especially given Jamie’s own deeply tragic history with Kevin Costner's John.
Keep in mind, Jamie and Rip were both adopted by John as young kids. But, it’s only Rip who completely buys into John’s winner-take-all mentality that’s needed at the ranch. In the season 2 finale, John leaves Rip the house and, essentially, his blessing to be with his daughter Beth, too. Meanwhile, Jamie has been chasing his own tail in an existential crisis that’s still going on today. That is a lot of baggage even for a Tinder bio.
A major plus for Rip is that he’s a grade-A charmer. Probably no one knows that more than Reilly, who has been Hauser’s main scene partner as Rip’s love interest. He and Beth have known each other since they were kids, and as they got older, the secrets they kept from one another became a sort of love language between them. In the season 3 finale, Beth and Rip wax poetic to each other about their dirty deeds: Rip has killed men on behalf of John — Beth knows that; Beth has fought tooth and nail to keep her dad’s land by any means necessary — Rip knows that. But Beth wants Rip to swear he'll never keep another secret. “We don’t get those,” she says. The conversation gets deep, but also a bit sensual. Rip and Beth nearly seem on the verge of a makeout at a moment when real stakes are on the line. But who’s to judge another person’s kink? “In season 3, you get to see further into their hearts and how they feel about each other,” Hauser told EW at a SAG-AFTRA panel leading into the latest season, which debuted back in June. “Kelly and I really worked hard in making sure it’s dynamic and smart. But also, there’s these really playful moments between us.”
The show's legion of fans hasn't held back on sharing their love of the character, either. On Instagram, the Yellowstone account posted a photo of Rip gazing out into the wilderness with the caption, “No matter the question, Rip Wheeler is always the answer.” User @civicdriver81 couldn't agree more: “Rip gets s— done. Certainly the epitome of loyalty to those he calls family and devotion to the woman he loves. As much as I love the banter between Rip and Beth, I love the dynamic between Rip and Jimmy. There is something so heart warming, but heart breaking as well.”
Jimmy (Jefferson White) is an ex-criminal with a heart of gold whose taken on a bigger role over the years, especially as Rip has taken him under his wing. In fact, Rip brands Jimmy on the way into the bunkhouse, and later tapes him to a horse and pushes him into the idea of becoming a barrel racer. Jimmy and Rip's relationship marks the beginning of the next cycle of power in Yellowstone ranch's history, one that started but likely will not end with John in the picture.
Rip is the soul of the Yellowstone ranch. While some might argue that Yellowstone ranch itself — a huge point of contention throughout the series — is the show's most important "character," it's really Rip who keeps the bleeding heart of rehabilitation and retribution alive on the expansive piece of land today.
Hauser, keep letting it Rip.