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Yellowstone Viewers Are On The Lookout For Summer Higgins In Season 5

Season 5 of Taylor Sheridan's behemoth of a contemporary western, "Yellowstone," debuted on Paramount Network this week, and to the surprise of no one, it's already sparking lively discussion, intense debate, and a litany of fan theories regarding what the series has in store for viewers (via Reddit). While the two-hour premiere reveals some information (e.g., Kevin Costner's John Dutton won his uniquely motivated race for governor off-screen, Kelsey Asbille's Monica suffers yet another tragedy on-screen, and Kelly Reilly's Beth still really, really doesn't like her adopted brother, Wes Bentley's Jamie) it left plenty of loose threads for the season to tie-up or leave hanging for Season 6.

A character from Season 4 is among those loose threads, and since fans have been debating her fate for months now (via Reddit), it's no surprise her absence — and what it might mean — was of frequent note in the "Yellowstone" Season 5 subreddit. While the actor behind the recently introduced foil has shed some light on what's to come, the specifics of her return and potential storyline remain as unclear as ever.

Whatever happened to Summer?

In Season 4, Episode 5, titled "Under a Blanket of Red," a group of protestors (technically, environmentalists, though they're portrayed more as people who just thinking killing animals is mean) ruin John Dutton's day. The leader of the pack, Piper Perabo's Summer Higgins, is arrested after getting into a scuffle during the protest, quickly bailed out and seduced by John (as evidenced by the fact that she's wearing his shirt, and nothing else, after spending a night at the ranch) and later, ends up in jail again after being manipulated by Beth, who doesn't like that her Dad had sex. To make an example out of Summer, the judge sentences her to some serious prison time — a fate even the all powerful John Dutton couldn't make go away entirely. 

Of course, this was before he was governor (and had the ability to hand out pardons or commute sentences). According to Perabo, Season 5 has more in store for the couple. "The love story is kicking into gear," she said at a pre-show for The 28th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards pre-show following Season 4, adding "We're turning up the heat. It's been a hard couple of years, let's turn up the heat for a minute" (per Entertainment Weekly). What that means, exactly (and what the fan response will be) remains to be seen, but one thing's for certain: Summer's return could prove divisive. 

Should Summer be a series staple?

The fact that her first name, Summer (a far too easy "hippie" character name), and her last name, Higgins (a far too obvious reference to the main drag in Missoula, MT, a university town and one of the state's most liberal pockets, per The New York Times), are such transparent and silly character statements is bad enough. The fact that, despite being a life-long environmentalist and vegan, she appears to know very little about the opposition to her own cause (as one fan on Reddit pointed out), is even worse. But that low-hanging fruit is nothing compared to her very reason for existing in the show. Like most of the women in "Yellowstone" — with the occasional and increasingly cartoonish exception of Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly) — Summer exists solely to flesh out and serve as a sounding board for a male counterpart (in this case, John Dutton). 

She is, at most, a gesture. Though she's given a few lines of stereotypical Feminist Dialogue about breasts, she's mostly there to listen and be moved by John's point of view, so that anyone in the audience who might also oppose his motivations or politics can also be moved by them. "Yellowstone" wants you to know that ranchers live with the land, not on it (and understand Green Conservatism), so that when John Dutton murders people to hold on to his way of life and his enormous plot of stolen land, it's a little easier to get behind. 

Summer's return can go one of two ways

The show's interest in educating its more liberal viewers on the conservative case for environmentalism (as explained by Deseret News) would and could be admirable, were it not so thoroughly unsubtle, and so obviously tied to the series' need to keep as many viewers as possible (open to) rooting for the Duttons. 

Positing Summer as a viable love interest for Costner's character — without giving her any sort of inner world, complexity, dimension, or degree of intelligence about her own beliefs — wouldn't just be contrived and clumsy from a narrative standpoint, it would also serve to further indebt the series to its increasingly right-wing fanbase (via TV Guide). If that's the goal, then maybe "turning up the heat" for the couple while keeping Summer as a trope makes sense. But if Sheridan wants to remain baffled and amused by the accusation that "Yellowstone" is a red-state show, then Summer's return will have to be accompanied by some much stronger character development. 

As an actor, Perabo is more than capable of portraying a fully developed human being. What's more, giving her a storyline other than "naive, vegan damsel in distress" could help "Yellowstone" push back against the increasingly warranted critique (see: this Reddit thread, and the she-wolf, sexpot, or victim archetypes that run rampant in the show) that it struggles to imbue its female characters with any degree of depth, realism, or actual strength and agency.