The fact that the Nov. 13 Season 5 premiere of “Yellowstone” is one of the most eagerly awaited TV events of the season is a testimony both to the show’s flair for melodramatic storytelling, and a sign of how the series has moved to the center of a complicated cultural conversation.
(“Yellowstone” Season 5 will premiere with a two-hour episode Sunday, Nov. 13, on the Paramount Network. You can stream Seasons 1-4 on Peacock. Don’t have cable? You can watch Season 5 episodes streaming live on Philo, which offers a free trial; and on fubo TV, which also offers a free trial.
Since the show, which stars Kevin Costner as the patriarch of a vast ranch in Montana, premiered in June 2018, it’s become the most popular series on cable TV. Though “Yellowstone” airs new episodes on the relatively obscure Paramount Network, the show has roped in new fans thanks to streaming (past seasons are available on Peacock).
Some credit the rising profile of “Yellowstone” to viewers who discovered it during the pandemic, and who swooned from their couches at the sight of the show’s Montana locations, all snow-topped mountains, tall trees, and unspoiled valleys.
But “Yellowstone” has also been caught up in the seemingly unavoidable political and social divisions that define our present moment. Some conservatives have praised the show for focusing on rural people, and applaud it for its attacks on big city-interlopers, environmental activists and government overreach.
Meanwhile, many liberals dismiss “Yellowstone” as a conveyer belt for old-fashioned ideas about heroic white guys winning the west, and a saga that gives short shrift to its Native American characters and other people of color.
Related: Confused about where to see ‘Yellowstone?’: Here’s how to watch new and past seasons
The Season 5 premiere is the latest example of the show’s retro-style approach, in which real men settle disputes with fists and firearms, and women can be tough but also, gosh darn it, pretty. Co-creator Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the back-to-back episodes that serve as the season’s kickoff, picks up the many threads left dangling at the end of Season 4.
Costner’s John Dutton has won the office of governor of Montana. Being the government-resisting maverick he is, Dutton didn’t want to enter politics, but as he comes right out and says, he did it to keep his ranch intact. Dutton has no time for the usual political dealmaking folderol, announcing, “I fight for what’s right, and I don’t really care who supports me.”
Dutton’s cabinet mainly seems to consist of his daughter, Beth (Kelly Reilly), who is more than willing to be ruthless to protect her family’s interests, along with Jamie (Wes Bentley), Dutton’s adopted son. As we saw at the end of Season 4, Beth schemed to have Jamie shoot and kill his birth father, who had orchestrated an attempted hit on the Duttons. Beth photographed Jamie in the act of disposing of his dead dad’s body, so now Jamie has to do whatever she – and John – tell him to do.
Meanwhile, Beth and Rip (Cole Hauser), foreman at Dutton’s Yellowstone ranch, are getting used to actually being married. Another Dutton son, Kayce (Luke Grimes), still seems troubled by the vision he had during a Native American ceremony, even as Kayce’s wife, Monica (Kelsey Asbille), is close to giving birth to the couple’s second son.
Sheridan, whose credits include writing the movies “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” has become hotter than a campfire thanks to the success of “Yellowstone.” He created the “Yellowstone” prequel series, “1883,” for Paramount+ and is also the creator of, among myriad other projects, “1923,” another “Yellowstone” prequel, which stars Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren and is coming to Paramount+ in December.
In the Season 5 premiere, Sheridan draws on his well-broken-in “Yellowstone” playbook, giving a variety of characters moments to be funny (the crew at the ranch bunkhouse), sassy (Beth’s withering putdowns of those who displease her) or warm (Rip’s sympathetic understanding of Beth).
But Sheridan also indulges in a few too many speeches from John, whose agenda includes not just his own self-interest, but a populist message that can sound a lot like what some political leaders are preaching.
Montana isn’t a rich man’s playground, says John, who is, by the way, apparently quite rich himself. John declares that Montana is not a haven for people from New York or California, who want to escape the pollution, traffic and mismanagement of their home states.
John’s speechifying is less interesting than the rare occasions in which Sheridan allows the character some vulnerability, as in a scene where the patriarch regards his squabbling offspring and says it would break his late wife’s heart to see what a mess John has made of the family.
The rest of the sprawling cast get some brief turns to remind us they exist, including Gil Birmingham as Thomas Rainwater, leader of the Broken Rock Indian Reservation, and guest star Jacki Weaver as Caroline Warner, CEO of the company that wants to build a humongous development on pristine Montana land, and who is such a dastardly villain she practically twirls a mustache.
If the Season 5 premiere of “Yellowstone” doesn’t exactly soar, it does serve up “Dallas”-style drama, juicy performances (particularly by Reilly) and gorgeous scenery. HBO may have shows about dragons, but “Yellowstone” includes a chase on horseback, which is a lot more thrilling than hearing pundits argue about the show and what it says – or doesn’t – about America’s culture wars.
More of our coverage:
When does ‘Yellowstone’ Season 5 premiere? How to watch Seasons 1-4 before the return
‘Yellowstone’ renewed for Season 5, with Kevin Costner and main cast returning
— Kristi Turnquist
503-221-8227; email@example.com; @Kristiturnquist
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