The WGA strike has added more complications to an already fraught situation.
According to Entertainment Tonight, Kevin Costner definitely won’t be returning to Yellowstone after Season 5. But that still leaves unanswered the burning question: Will he return for the final Season 5 episodes yet to be filmed?
Costner currently is caught up with directing the second chapter his long-cherished dream project — Horizon: An American Saga, a four-movie Western epic now shooting in Utah. (He’s also dealing with a deeply personal problem, his recently announced marital breakup and impending divorce.) And while some might argue that his first loyalty should be to Yellowstone, the phenomenally popular series that has boosted his stock and restored his clout enormously, it’s entirely possible that, even with Oscars and Emmys for Dances with Wolves and Hatfields & McCoys on his mantlepiece, Costner figures that, at age 68 in the youth-obsessed entertainment industry, he might never again be in a better position to turn his Horizon dreams into reality.
But could Yellowstone wrap up Season 5 without him?
You may recall that, in the midseason finale that Paramount Network aired last Jan. 1, Costner’s John Dutton discussed with his daughter Beth the possibility that they might have to take drastic action — and maybe even plant another corpse in Wyoming — if Jamie escalates his campaign to have John impeached as governor. “He will use everything he knows to destroy you,” Beth said. “He has made it clear.” John’s response: “I believe he has.” But he didn’t appear quite ready to have Jamie sent to The Train Station. At least, not yet.
Meanwhile, Jamie and his good friend Sarah Atwood considered their own options in the internecine warfare, with Jamie indicating he was finally ready to “play offense,” and Sarah proposing a way for him to maintain plausible deniability if John were to meet with an untimely demise. See, she knows people who can, ahem, neutralize problems. “It’ll look like a heart attack,” Sarah said. “Or a car accident.”
What happens next? Well, that depends. Theoretically, series producer/co-creator Taylor Sheridan could start the second half of Season 5 with John Dutton’s funeral, and take it from there. Costner might continue to pop up in flashbacks — which actually would be repurposed footage from earlier episodes — while the Yellowstone saga continues. You may remember that something similar happened a few years back with the Dallas reboot, when Larry Hagman died unexpectedly during the production of Season 2, and the writers scrambled to use footage and dialogue snippets from previous episodes to sustain the illusion that J.R. Ewing was alive long enough for them to kill off the character.
But here’s the rub: There wasn’t a WGA strike going on when the Dallas scripters had to drastically rework their storyline. Writers are on strike now, and there’s no telling when the work stoppage will end. And until it does, there presumably can be no rewrites of any scripts already prepared for Season 5 of Yellowstone.
Of course, that’s assuming Sheridan and his creative collaborators do indeed have scripts ready for all the remaining Season 5 episodes. If they don’t, then it might not matter if Costner returns or not. Even if he can squeeze in a few weeks of filming during breaks from Horizon — which, as far as we know, Costner and co-writer John Baird finished writing quite a while ago — we still may be waiting a long time for production of Yellowstone to resume.
So what happens if the WGA strike ends quickly? Your guess is as good as ours. Watch this space for further developments.