In case there’s any confusion over the matter, Danny Masterson is in every episode of “The Ranch” Season 4. Despite a highly-publicized controversy that ended in the series regular being fired from Netflix’s Emmy-winning sitcom, that decision took place after filming had been completed on “Part 4.” The new episodes that were released Friday, December 15 are just like the first three seasons: Masterson, as the older brother, Jameson “Rooster” Bennett, is heavily integrated into every half-hour installment.
So fans have a choice to make: Watch “The Ranch” and try to overcome the building rage of watching an alleged rapist goof around or skip 10 episodes and pick the show back up once Masterson is gone for real.
For many, this isn’t much of a choice. With so many truly excellent TV shows out there, “The Ranch” isn’t exactly at the top of many Netflix subscribers’ must-see list. Most reviews have been harsh (including IndieWire’s), so one more reason not to watch is a redundancy.
But while “The Ranch” isn’t cracking any Top 10 lists in 2017 (literally zero), it has slowly but surely built up a reputation for being very, very good at one thing: Sam Elliott’s story. Beau Bennett is the family patriarch and a classic father archetype at that: He’s often scowling, quick to mock his effeminate sons, and sports a set of masculine ideals that would make Ron Swanson proud — well, except for the conservative stuff.
More importantly, he’s a tragic figure in a classic comedy. Beau’s story is filled with pain, as he struggles in a slowly dying profession and mourns a marriage that’s reached its end. He stands out thanks to the honesty with which Elliott portrays him and the surprising amount of pathos established in his story. Critics have taken note, and fans are certainly engaging with Beau’s life, if not the series overall.
All this is to say there are lots of reasons why people would have good reason to watch, whether they would describe themselves as fans or merely interested parties with nothing better to binge this weekend. For those with the desire to resist; with the moral fortitude to say, “No, I will not support an accused rapist, even though I want to watch his show”; with the interest to have read this far in the story, here’s the truth:
“The Ranch” Season 4 isn’t very good. It’s a minor, but noticeable, step down in quality from previous entries no matter how high or low you graded those. Elliott’s storyline, in particular, is less interested in the profound uncertainty dogging Beau in prior seasons, and creators Jim Patterson and Don Reo focus on the aging ranchhand’s love life more than anything else.
That being said, it needn’t be said that things still happen in “Part 4.” Important plot points exist that viewers will need to be aware of if they decide to re-engage for Season 5 (which Netflix has not officially given the go-ahead to just yet). So we wrote them down for you. Those who caved and watched the new episodes can reflect on what they just saw, but the following recap is primarily for those curious few who want to know what happens without spending five hours with Danny Masterson.
No, There Is No Acknowledgement of Danny Masterson’s Termination
It may have been irrational to expect a cue card to pop up at the start of the season saying, “As a result of ongoing discussions that may or may not have to do with multiple rape and sexual assault allegations, Danny Masterson has been written off ‘The Ranch.’ Out of respect for the hard work done by everyone else involved with the series, we present these episodes as they were shot and crafted, including Masterson’s performance, which proved too integral to the story to be removed.”
Still, considering how soon the season was released after his termination, some folks may have expected some form of acknowledgment as to why Masterson’s name and face are all over the new episodes. Let this article be your missing cue card.
There’s No Easy Way Out for His Character, Either
“The Ranch” “Part 4” ends on a cliffhanger involving Masterson’s Rooster and his younger brother, Colt (Ashton Kutcher). After spending most of the season going back and forth with their dad about whether or not to buy the neighboring ranch, the two brothers go behind Beau’s back, sign the papers, and become the new owners of “The Bennett Brothers Ranch.”
They were only able to do it because Beau gave Rooster power of attorney. At the end of Episode 8, the eldest Bennett has a heart attack and spends the finale out of town getting an angioplasty. His absence allows the brothers to buy the ranch without his permission, but the only reason they go through with it is because they were about to land a huge payday. (A natural gas company wanted to run a pipeline through their land, but more on that later.) In the waning seconds of the season, the money falls through and the boys are left with a ranch they can’t afford and a father who’s going to be extra pissed off when he gets home.
What does this mean for Rooster? Given the often blunt story transitions in “The Ranch,” any number of reasons could be used to explain Masterson’s sudden absence next season:
- Beau kills Rooster for buying the ranch without his permission, and Season 5 picks up during the trial.
- Rooster flees Colorado in fear of his father and goes into hiding. Later, the family finds out he died after joining a cult and getting sacrificed by the female members.
- Masterson is recast with… Luke Wilson? Reid Scott? Seth Green? All three appeared on “That 70’s Show,” so “The Ranch’s” heritage would remain intact. Plus, Rooster says his charm is “85 percent beard,” so throw some hair on a famous face and no one will even notice.
None of these are all that graceful. A time jump seems like the easiest option, really. Picking up immediately after Season 4 ends would mean Rooster has to be around, whereas replacing him with a cousin or long-lost sister (Rachel Bilson, perhaps?) could be easier if we start in three or so months later.
The Big Twist with Beau
As alluded to above, Beau doesn’t have quite as much to do in Season 4. He’s still a regular presence, but his biggest development is limited to a heart attack later in the season. He has a few solid scenes with his neighbor, Mr. Peterson (played by “70’s Show” alum Kurtwood Smith), as the two settle decades-old feuds and acknowledge the looming presence of death is moving ever closer.
But mainly Beau comes to realize how much he loves Joanne, played by Kathy Baker. Though she left to be with her family in Arizona at the end of last season, Joanne returns in Season 4. Beau is seeing someone else, but he can’t shake Joanne and the two get back together.
At season’s end, both Joanne and Beau’s ex-wife, Maggie (Debra Winger), are by his bedside in the hospital. He seems to love both, and Maggie is shown to have a lingering attraction, affection, or general interest in Beau, but she repeatedly pushes him to Joanne and Beau seems happy to abide.
Whether or not it sticks — along with Beau’s post-heart attack interest in travel and foreign food — we shall see, but Beau’s biggest challenge will be surviving his next heart attack, which seems inevitable given what his sons did while he was gone.
The Sneaky Progressive Agenda
Whether it’s by encouraging an old ranch hand like Beau to explore his feelings or gently pushing a pro-choice mentality, “The Ranch” consistently introduces a progressive belief or two within its conservative story. This year’s argument is a little less obvious, but perhaps more thoughtful than normal: Season 4 discusses the pros and cons of natural gas pipelines.
The plot is prominent throughout the 10 episodes. It starts when Beau, Colt, and Rooster are offered a contract from a natural gas company looking to run a pipeline over their land. At first, Beau is against it: He loves the land and doesn’t want to do anything to put it at risk. But the money proves too enticing, and the group comes around to letting it happen.
That is, until Maggie comes home and has her say in the matter. Though she can’t convince them to change their minds, she gets herself arrested protesting the pipeline and spends the ride back educating her family on the finer points of the argument.
Like a lot of plot points, it’s not fully realized. The pro and con arguments are rendered moot when the protests stop the pipeline from being built, and the biggest takeaway for the family is, “Shit, we just lost a ton of money.”
Additional Details That May or May Not Prove Vital
- Colt and Abby (Elisha Cuthbert) get engaged at a Thomas Rhett concert in Episode 2. Colt proposes after getting thrown in the drunk tank while trying to get Rhett to invite him on stage, so he can propose during the concert.
- After taking over his mom’s bar last season, Rooster gets busted for serving underage patrons. When she finds out, Maggie takes the bar back and Rooster goes back to working on the ranch.
- Rooster and Mary (Megyn Price) break up. Basically, she realizes he’s just a fun time and not someone she’s in love with anymore. He quickly starts sleeping with other women, including a geologist sent by the company building the pipeline, even though she can’t figure out why she likes him. (Neither can we.)
- There’s another semi-cliffhanger to end Season 4: After her school gets shut down in town, Abby (Elisha Cuthbert) moves to Denver to start a new teaching job — and she doesn’t say goodbye to Colt.