How can Yellowstone be so brilliant when it has no story?

Yellowstone has been running on good vibes only for the last two seasons, and yet it's still one of the best TV series - here's how Taylor Sheridan succeeded.

Cole Hauser as Rip Wheeler, Kevin Costner as John Dutton, Kelly Reilly as Beth Dutton in Yellowstone

When I first heard about Yellowstone, I will admit I scoffed at the idea of a cowboy soap opera. I expected cringe dialogue, overly-dramatic storylines, and guys just riding around on horses for no particular reason. And, guess what? I was absolutely right. But, I love it.

Yellowstone is, truly, a phenomenon you can only understand once you have watched it. The Yellowstone cast are not particularly great actors, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t entertaining and very, very likeable. The Yellowstone timeline itself is littered with discrepancies and plot holes, but that’s all part of the charm.

In fact, since the explosive finale of season 3 back in 2020, Yellowstone has actually abandoned the idea of a plot entirely, and yet, it remains one of the best drama series around. The reason for this is simple – Yellowstone, frankly, has immaculate vibes, and sometimes that’s enough.

Let’s rewind back to that season 3 finale, which is actually one of the best Yellowstone episodes of all time. Spoiler alert: the culmination of that episode sees John Dutton shot by the roadside, Beth Dutton blown up by a mystery package at work, and Kayce Dutton faced with a barrage of masked gunmen. This should be the end of the Dutton family, but they all miraculously survive.

Now, you’d think this blistering storyline would lead to great things for season 4 and beyond, right? Well, you’d be wrong. From there on out, the Taylor Sheridan TV series lets plot take a backseat, and instead turns its focus largely to the simple things in life, like country music and cattle branding.

The fact that Jamie Dutton’s biological father ordered the hit on the family is revealed and wrapped up pretty swiftly in season 4, meaning there is a pretty glaring absence of any kind of antagonist for season 5. Jamie eventually takes up that mantle as we head into Yellowstone season 5 part 2, but he is such a pathetic little man that he barely even feels worth worrying about.

Aside from Jamie jumping into bed with the enemy, quite literally, and discussing the merits of dominating the beef industry with Sarah Atwood, very little else happens throughout the course of the 18 episodes we get in season 4 and 5. John embodies this notion perfectly, when he reluctantly becomes Governor of Montana and makes it clear he intends to stand in the way of progress, preferring to keep the state exactly how it is.

In a wonderful reflection of a series which is essentially treading water, John spends most of his time as Governor branding cattle, riding into the mountains, and stuffing his face with delicious food. And I can’t blame him at all. If I was a Yellowstone character, I would do exactly the same thing.

Kayce Dutton, Clara, and John Dutton in Yellowstone season 5 episode 6

An episode of Yellowstone can be derailed entirely if there is a rodeo to attend, with viewers treated to a good ten minute montage of all the action. It’s amazing how many cattle need to be branded, and you’d be a fool to think that the audience only needs to see this happen once. No, Sheridan will show us this process numerous times each season.

Maybe it’s because I have no experience of Montana life, but I’m amazed at how often there is a country music star dropping by to provide the backdrop for a cowboy party. Not that I’m complaining. It’s all part of the picture Sheridan is painting with this, his televisual masterpiece. To be honest, I fear that if he were to meddle with the formula and flesh out his plots further, the magic would be lost entirely, and he would simply make a mess.

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Yellowstone, in these latter seasons, is such a simple, soothing, and charming experience. Its warm, rustic vistas combine with good people, good music, and pure, unadulterated good vibes. This is best represented in season 5 episode 6 – titled Cigarettes, Whiskey, a Meadow and You – as the Dutton clan and their buddies enjoy what seems to be the perfect day.

We spend the majority of the episode on the Dutton Ranch and its surrounding acres of beautiful land, as the characters discuss how much they love what they do and how privileged they are to do it in such a stunning setting. It is this episode where the ‘cowboy mind virus’ truly got me. My goal in life now is to wake up at the crack of dawn, saddle up, and ride out into the mountains with my pals.

Cole Hauser as Rip Wheeler and Kelly Reilly as Beth Dutton in Yellowstone season 5 episode 6

I’m going to conclude by saying something that feels like it belongs on our list of the best John Dutton quotes: Life doesn’t follow a script, and we never know what each day will bring, so why not do the things you enjoy and surround yourself with the people you love? It seems Taylor Sheridan buys into that mantra, and he’s got the most popular show on television because of it.

For more from the Duttons, here’s our guide to the Yellowstone 1923 season 2 release date and the Yellowstone 6666 release date. You may also be curious which five Yellowstone characters are most likely to die in the final season, or what will happen if Taylor Sheridan can’t bring Kevin Costner back.