On Sunday night’s “Yellowstone,” Beth Dutton got into a fight. That’s certainly nothing new for the Taylor Sheridan-created character. What is new is how this week’s fight played into how the series has treated Beth and the other women on the show this season. In Episode 5, “Watch ‘Em Ride Away,” Beth’s anger and animosity toward Summer Higgins (Piper Perabo) come to a head. It also led to a lot of eye-rolling from many of those viewing it because the series itself seems to be getting annoyed with Beth and, out of ideas, is attempting to drastically change the character.
Right now, Beth is being retconned from fiery avenging angel to confused, emotional mess — and that doesn’t work. Take Beth’s problems with environmental activist Higgins. Summer decried everything Yellowstone was about but, equally crucial, she caught the eye of Yellowstone patriarch John Dutton (Kevin Costner), which really pissed Beth off. With Summer currently residing in the main house on house arrest, it was only a matter of time before the two came to blows.
We’ve seen many a Yellowstone ranch fight and this one just felt…weird. Beth has always had the upper hand in any fight. Even when she was in situations where she could die, like in Season 1 when a group of thugs broke into her office, killed her assistant, and threatened to sexually assault her, she always possessed a sense of control. The battle between her and Summer is fueled purely by emotion, much of which has nothing to do with Summer. As this season has reiterated over the last five weeks: Beth’s going through it. She’s been reminiscing about the past and generally trying to find something passing for a purpose (because therapy isn’t an option, apparently).
There’s a clear desire to soften her this season. Flashbacks from her past have led her to question her teenage decisions, and discovering Jamie’s (Wes Bentley) secret love child brought up painful reminders of her forced sterilization. But what’s unknown is why we are changing up the character now. Is it because now that she’s married to Rip (Cole Hauser), she can’t be the free-wheeling woman she once was? Before Beth, the only married woman we saw on “Yellowstone” was Monica (Kelsey Asbille), and she’s a lightning rod for trauma. And we certainly know little after five seasons about Dutton matriarch Evelyn (Gretchen Mol) and her marriage to John.
For Beth this season, the writers clearly want to show growth, but the motivation behind it is ill-defined. Why is it now that Beth Dutton gets a conscience? A key reason the Beth/Summer fight rubbed the wrong way is how everything gets resolved. The pair fight, only for Rip to come out like a fatherly disciplinarian and chastise Beth for….being who she is? Sure, she’s hot-tempered and isn’t a great role model for her ward, Carter (Finn Little). But this is how Beth’s always been! Why is this surprising to Rip? By the end of the episode, Beth and Summer apparently came to something passing for understanding for reasons that seemed to stem purely from the fact that Rip made them feel bad. If these two decide to band together going forward, the show needs to illustrate why other than “they beat the crap out of each other once.”
But Rip is his own issue: Maybe if Rip and Beth had an actual conversation about how Beth’s personal changes and fear are affecting their marriage, it would narratively make more sense. Or allow Rip to show how and why he’s changed since marrying Beth. Instead, all this subsequent drama comes after Beth asked Rip if she could go on a branding trip with him. When Rip told her he didn’t think she’d be interested or that it was for her, Beth gave him a snarky answer, only for him to reply that she should “put crazy aside.”
Rip feels like he’s trying to assert himself in a dominating way over his wife when part of their love for each other is that he supposedly loves her for who she is. Her decisions now feel less motivated by her as a character and more by a screenwriter trying to figure out what to do with her next. If their marriage vows mean Beth’s going to have to obey, we’ve got a problem.
“Yellowstone” airs Sunday nights on Paramount Network.