Yellowstone season 5 episode 6: living the cowboy life

Ian Bohen in Yellowstone
Ian Bohen in Yellowstone (Image credit: Paramount Network)

NOTE: this post contains spoilers for Yellowstone season 5 episode 6, "Cigarettes, Whiskey, a Meadow and You."

All throughout Yellowstone, John Dutton (Kevin Costner) has made it clear that in addition to the land, he is fighting for his way of life. We've seen bits and pieces of that throughout the series and even previously in Yellowstone season 5, but episode 6, "Cigarettes, Whiskey, a Meadow and You" was the clearest example to date of what that means for the Dutton family.

It all starts off with the idyllic image of the cowboys riding with a gorgeous sunrise at their backs. John asks Beth (Kelly Reilly) what could be more beautiful, but she basically says it's no big deal, much to her father's chagrin. Rip (Cole Hauser) can only laugh, but Beth says the view of the valley and mountains is too much to truly comprehend, what she finds truly beautiful is something smaller that she can feel like is her own.

Meanwhile, on the reservation, military helicopters swoop in, causing Mo (Mo Brings Plenty) to chase after them and investigate what is going on. It turns out the military is just part of the group of people who are showing up, so has the secret service, which can only mean one thing — the president is coming for an event. The big problem, however, is that Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) had no idea it was taking place.

We then check in with Jamie (Wes Bentley), who is waking up with Sarah Atwood (Dawn Olivieri) in his bed. Jamie believes Sarah is up to something, but he just can't put his finger on it. After some deflecting, she says she wants to help Jamie become governor so he can reapprove the airport and this time do it with a contract that can't be so easily dismantled. However, she doesn't want to have to wait four years for John's term to be over, so they're going to have to find a way to get John out of office. Jamie looks like he is all in for this plan.

Back on the ranch, Summer (Piper Perabo) goes exploring and talks with Monica (Kelsey Asbille), who gives her the lowdown on Beth, some of the Dutton family dynamics and how their way of life is actually more sustainable and natural than living in cities. Summer gets to be on the other end of a lecture this time. Later, Summer makes her way to the Dutton cemetery, where Monica again shows up to give her a lesson — they have given everything to this land, so if she wants to understand them, there's no better place to look.

It's then time to start wrangling some cattle. It's a fun sequence where everyone is having a blast — even Beth has a smile on her face, teasing Rip that he is not ever allowed to call this work. John and Kayce (Luke Grimes) have a nice chat; John says they could bottle this moment up and sell it, but Kayce thinks anyone who truly knows what it means is already doing it.

Rainwater is having less fun. This whole event was organized by Angela Blue Thunder (Q’orianka Kilcher), who apparently works for the president's administration, all with the purpose of making Rainwater look bad and give support to the person she aims to replace him with. Rainwater recognizes he is beat this round, but you have to think he has some more moves up his sleeve to counter this rising tide against him (probably one of the subjects he'll be discussing with John in their promised meeting).

After the cattle are rounded up and grazing, Rip takes Beth away for a surprise. He found a meadow that has remained pretty much untouched, the kind of place that Beth talked about at the top of the episode. She loves it and says all she needs in life is cigarettes, whiskey, this meadow and Rip.

John, meanwhile, gets ready to call it a night with his friend Emmett (Buck Taylor), with the two elder cowboys talking about how it was a perfect day. The next morning, Emmett doesn't wake up. However, John refuses to be sad about it, saying it's exactly the kind of death every cowboy dreams of — peacefully on the trail. However, he does want to get back in time to be the one to break the news to Emmett's wife. Him consoling her is picked up by news cameras there for the branding event.

That clip makes its way onto the evening news, which Jamie and Sarah are watching. Jamie says John could fall into manure and come out smelling like roses, admitting he is tough to beat in a fair fight. Sarah responds that the key is to beat him before he even gets to the fight. Just what does she have in mind?

The only other bits in the episode are scenes at the branding, with the cowboys having a good time (Ryan continues to flirt with Lainey Wilson's character, Walker sings and Carter learns to dance), while John is finding himself in a bit of love triangle between Summer and Senator Lynelle Perry (Wendy Moniz).

"Cigarettes, Whiskey, A Meadow and You" feels on par with most of the Yellowstone season 5 episodes so far — a few fun character moments, the show selling its overall philosophy and breadcrumbs of plot. But, as we head into the halfway point of this 14 episode season, Yellowstone is playing it slow. Is the payoff going to be big enough?

New episodes of Yellowstone air on Sundays on Paramount Network in the US, Mondays on Paramount Plus in the UK.

Yellowstone season 5 recaps

Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.