It’s been a disappointing Yellowstone season thus far. Season 4 promised lots of rolling heads, and while we’ve gotten a number of fist fights and shootouts, their consequences haven’t been fully felt: the attack on the Duttons remains mostly unaddressed, and the reservation’s interest in that menace also seems to have waned. In place of the larger threats to the Yellowstone and the Dutton family, we’ve mostly seen interpersonal drama and melodramatic tensions between minor characters. The characters we’ve come to love have also soured, over-performing their roles in a drama series that—so far—is heading nowhere.
Fans, however, are theorizing that we’re only setting the table for future showdowns. In episode 6 (recap here), the showdown between Lloyd and Walker finally went off. But it was in the aftermath of the fight that had fans reeling: after Rip stepped in to end the fight, he walked off up the hill, trailed by this comment from Carter—“I know what I want to be when I grow up. Him.”
Carter had become more friendly with Lloyd over the last two episodes, when Lloyd compared the two of them to outcasts and showed Carter how to rope. Carter, however, seemed to lose respect for Lloyd, who he felt was mischaracterizing his own situation. After Rip beat down Lloyd, Carter seemed to have a revelation: if the choice is between the alpha and the beta, Carter wants to be alpha. Carter wants to be like Rip, not like Lloyd.
Why the series is spending time on this relationship, fans are theorizing, is to set up another generational clash, this one between the series’ young sons, Carter and Tate.
We’re not sure how likely this matchup will be, but we have to respect the theory. Here’s how it might play out.
Will Carter vs. Tate Be a Thing?
First, we have to remember the “rivalry” between Rip and Kayce. Both men have silently competed for John’s fatherly approval. While Rip worked hard and remained loyal, Kayce has had a more prodigal son arc, disobeying John, marrying a woman from the reservation, moving out, shirking ranch life, etc. Still, Kayce will always be John’s son, a fact that it seems has irked Rip. The tension exploded in a performative fistfight for alpha status in season 2, when Kayce was asked to take Rip’s job.
That storyline more or less fizzled out and Kayce and Rip have become closer to strong-headed brothers than enemies. Still, there seems to be some alpha tension there.
That man’s world—with all its prideful violence—has also trickled down to the next generation. Both Tate and Carter have flirted with becoming a cowboy, both looking up to their respective father figures as the exemplar. Sartorially, they share the same colors as their father figures—Tate often in lighter colors (wearing a beige cowboy hat) and Carter in black. Any fan of wild west cinema understands the imagery: the lighter cowboy hat usually corresponds to the heroic, the pure; the dark cowboy hat implies the anti-hero, and, sometimes, the villain.
Even if Tate and Carter don’t square off, both their rites of passage will likely coincide, if only thematically. Their coming-of-age stories will occur simultaneously and perhaps lead them into opposite directions—and opposite loyalties.
These loyalties highlight what has been the basic tension of the series—and one found entirely in the character of Kayce—since the very first episode.
For years, the series has clumsily set up a showdown between Rainwater and John, the two largest power players in the Montana land game—at least, before Market Equities became the enemy of each’s enemy, making Rainwater and John awkward friends. (We’ve yet to see the friction in that partnership, or even that partnership at all. We thought that conflict would include Beth and Angela Blue Thunder. That rivalry also hasn’t materialized.)
The absence of this antagonism has been a real issue this season, with only Garrett Randall standing against John. His opposition, however, has been less agricultural than existential: he wants John dead; he doesn’t seem to care much about the land.
Anticipating a matchup between Carter and Tate appropriately transfers some of the previous generation’s battles into a more complex space. Neither Carter (only adopted into the Dutton family) nor Tate (whose loyalties are split between the reservation and the ranch) has a specific dog in the fight. Still, they lean the way of their father figures: Carter is all in with Rip and John, while Tate walks the same narrow line as Kayce—both a rancher and an inhabitant of the reservation. (Tate, however, has tribal blood, making his loyalties more complicated.)
However likely this future antagonism, its possibility underscores a lot of what we’ve been missing—namely the tension of the first seasons between the politics of the reservation (controlled by Rainwater) and the politics of the state (controlled by the Duttons). Kayce has always been the character caught in between. That Kayce seems to be over this dilemma has always felt strange to us. Perhaps it is a product of wanting to prolong the series, and so extend Kayce’s character.
Whatever it is, it’s left the series in a less interesting place than where it was in seasons 1 and 2. Maybe Tate and Carter can add something deeper back into the mix. It can’t be less interesting than whatever the hell is happening in the bunkhouse—or in Texas.
Josh St. Clair
Joshua St Clair is an editorial assistant at Men’s Health Magazine.
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