Yellowstone recap: 'Tis the branding season
Episode 5 of Yellowstone's fifth season introduces viewers to branding season, that most wonderful time of year when the Duttons must run their cattle down from the mountains and round them up to be marked.
John (Kevin Costner) is celebrating the occasion by trading his figurative political hat for his literal cowboy one, working from the ranch for the week it'll take to complete the annual task. As such, he's ordered his assistant Clara (Lilli Kay) to move his meetings to his home and invite the press to the branding. He wants to make it a publicized, community event to remind the state of Montana what the Dutton's are actually all about.
However he's got to deal with Beth (Kelly Reilly) first, and she's unsurprisingly armed with a drink and cigarette, ready to argue about the arrival of John's fling, Summer (Piper Perabo). John justifies allowing the animal activist to ride out her remaining prison sentence on the ranch, insisting he'll need her expertise in fending off the pesky environmentalists. Beth strongly disagrees, suggesting he's literally sleeping with the enemy – an unwise act that will come back to bite him.
Meanwhile, Kayce (Luke Grimes) is sobbing and petting his dog on his porch when Monica (Kelsey Asbille,) who seems to have found some emotional stability following the burial ceremony for her son, comes to comfort him. On top of telling her husband to keep his livestock commissioner post, she informs him they've been invited to the big Dutton branding event. She's craving a break from the recent hand they've been dealt and wants to attend.
At the ranch, Beth's pushing to join Rip (Cole Hauser) and the cowboys for the cattle-wrangling trip up the mountain. He warns it'll be a brutal couple of days roughing it in the wilderness, but she's down. Carter is excited to saddle-up for the trek as well. John also invites Summer, who's not at all interested in participating in a trip that'll ultimately lead to bovines becoming hamburgers.
A quick detour from the Dutton ranch brings us to Jamie's (Wes Bentley) office, where Sarah Atwood (Dawn Olivieri) is (characteristically) up to no good. Jamie tells her their bathroom-stall tryst was an unprofessional mistake, to which she responds by unbuttoning her dress down the front. She tells him he'd need to recuse himself from representing Montana against Market Equities due to their "relationship," but he claims the state would use outside council anyway.
But back to the Duttons — John insists his family and friends enjoy dinner together, which means putting Beth and Summer at the same supper table. Beth prepares for the gathering — which also includes Kayce and his family, Rip, Carter, and John's assistant Clara — by downing two rather large glasses of vodka.
The alcohol doesn't help, made obvious when Beth ends up calling Summer a "hooker" before the first course is even served. Things escalate quickly when a massive platter of game meat, including dove, are set on the table before Summer. "You're serving the "f---ing bird of peace for dinner?" she says in horror.
Beth invites her new vegan nemesis outside, where the two throw verbal zingers and violent punches in equal measure. John thinks they should get it out of their systems, but Rip disagrees. He breaks up the brawl, scolds them both for acting like children, then suggests they settle it by taking turns trading brutal blows to the face until one bows out.
Summer relents first, but Rip suggests they still need to figure out how to get along given they'll be living under the same roof for sometime. The two work it out and return to the dinner table – badly bruised and bloodied – not so much as friends, but rivals that agree to respect each other's differences.
John's still disgusted by their behavior, so he excuses everyone else from the dining room and goes to fetch the first aid kit. Summer and Beth stay behind, feasting through their physical pain – the latter even spits out a tooth between bites.
Following the dysfunctional family dinner, John and Rip enjoy drinks by the fire. Rip listens while Dutton waxes poetically about power, family, and the cowards that rule the world. In talking about his children, he subtly refers to Jamie as the one he "regrets." He seems particularly down on his adopted son this episode, as earlier he also refers to Kayce as his "only" son.
Everyone's back at the table bright and early the next morning. In stark contrast to the previous night's meal, the group eats in complete silence as they fuel up for the cattle run. Outside, nearly everyone – from the bunkhouse crew and Clara to Carter, Tate, and Beth – saddle up for the difficult trip. Summer stays behind, so Beth kindly advises her to use the time to explore the ranch and educate herself about the Dutton's and their coveted stretch of Montana.
Monica remains at the ranch as well, but not before Kayce makes a playful comment about them trying for another baby when he returns. Atop his steed, John warns everyone of the "cold backs and empty stomachs" in their future, before offering a smirk and a "Yeehaw!" He clearly loves playing cowboy more than politician.
As everyone rides off toward the mountains, a smiling Summer turns to a crying Monica. But her streaming tears are fueled by love: "If it doesn't make you cry to watch your family ride away, you probably shouldn't have one."
It's a peaceful, almost happy ending for a series whose episodes typically conclude with some sort of simmering conflict or nail-biting cliffhanger. Of course, the aptly titled "Watch 'Em Ride Away" is surely just setting the stage for the turmoil and tragedy that'll undoubtedly return like a stampede next week.
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