What did Beth see on the horizon at the end of Yellowstone Season 5, Episode 4? Let’s break down that ending.
After one hell of a day, Episode 4, “Horses in heaven” wraps up with Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly) sitting alone on the Yellowstone’s front porch. Unwilling to start her next day sober, she cracks open a bottle of Tito’s and takes a drink to compliment the cigarette she’s already smoking before the crack of dawn. As she does, we’re treated to a close-up of her eyes taking in something over the horizon.
Beth looks out to the land beyond her father’s immense ranch and out into the mountains of Montana. There, Episode 4’s final scene shows a sight that’s been burned into all our minds over the last several years: thick smoke billowing out from a wildfire.
This is no small, contained fire, either. The mountains are highlighted with the sort of bright red halo that only comes from the intense heat of an immense wildfire. What on earth has caused this blaze? And where did it come from so suddenly?
If you’re recalling wildfires as a topic of discussion earlier in Yellowstone, you’re not wrong. Yet there’s nothing else to it other than fleeting mentions of wildfires as a fact of life, which they very much are in Montana and all of the American West.
We may not know the cause of this fire, but chances are this will factor into Episode 5. What we do know is how symbolic this wildfire is, regardless of origin. In short: The world is on fire, and it’s coming for the Duttons.
The Duttons’ World is On Fire in ‘Yellowstone’ Season 5. The Cause? Environmentalism
If we hear nothing else of this wildfire, it at least forewarned what is to come. It’s the perfect allegory, too, as Season 5 continues to revolve around the clashing – and marriage – of environmentalism and ranching.
Through flashbacks with a young John Dutton (Josh Lucas), we’ve seen how these two worlds can be as separate as they are whole. From construction crews dumping “EPA-approved chemicals” on nearby land for a cellphone tower and wiping out his cattle and every living thing, to the re-introduction of wolves to Montana in 1995 and the direct impact on ranchers’ livelihoods, these glimpses into the past deeply impact what it means to be John Dutton (a’la Kevin Costner) in the 2020s.
In many ways, as hard as he’s tried to fight it, John’s entire life has led to him becoming Governor of Montana and taking a stand on these issues. But life is never easy for a Dutton, and Yellowstone Season 5 is proof that things must get worse before they get even a little bit better. Especially for Beth and John.
But John, at least, will have some help in navigating his troubles to come, and how wildly different the environmentalist landscape is in this decade. Help from an old enemy-turned-friend-turned-lover.
Will Summer Higgins Be the Duttons’ Saving Grace or Downfall?
Not only is activist Summer Higgins (Piper Perabo) back in the picture, but she’ll become the Environmental Advisor to Governor John, too. And he’s going to need her. Throughout Yellowstone Season 5, the Duttons are ramping up to face their biggest threat yet: the killing of Yellowstone National Park wolves on their ranch.
Nothing says “the world is going to eat you” quite like a wildfire. And Beth spotting one over the horizon as a new day dawns is about as thick a metaphor as they come.
Of course, it’s worth remembering that the Dutton cowboys responsible for killing said GPS-collared wolves did so without intent of “murdering” protected wildlife. But the consequences remain the same. And those consequences will likely spell the end of the governor, his ranch, and the John Dutton legacy at large.
For one, if (or when, we should say) the public finds out that Dutton cowboys have “murdered” national park wolves, there will be no escape. After all, “These wolves have f***ing Facebook pages!” Ryan (Ian Bohen) exclaimed to Colby (Denim Richards) after the initial incident.
Wolves Come for the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch Once More
This plotline directly mirrors Yellowstone National Park wolf conservation today. The park’s wolves are not only protected by federal and state law, but they’re held in high-esteem by-and-large as a great American conservation success story. If someone were to kill these wolves in reality, the public outcry would be severe, to say the least.
There would be no outcome but damnation for whoever killed these wolves. No more political good will, no more private partnerships; only ostracizing. One could even say this is what the wolves of the wild have been planning for the Duttons all along: a wildfire.
Wolves have been omnipresent throughout Yellowstone from the get-go. From the frequent encounters and vision quest of Kayce Dutton (Luke Grimes), to a drunk Beth charging into a feeding pack, the gray wolf has been more symbolic of the Duttons’s future than anything else in the show’s canon. And Season 5 has it all coming to a head.
“If it’s done on the governor’s land, it’s him throwing it in the face of the law,” Ian Bohen offers of the story arc. “It’s a betrayal of his office. It’s horrific if he allowed that to happen. Which is what his enemies are going to try and make it look like.”
Sure sounds like a spreading wildfire to me. For more on how this is all unraveling so far, be sure to check out our ‘Yellowstone’ Season 5: Why Those Dead Wolves are So Important Moving Forward next.