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The ending written for Danny Masterson’s character on “The Ranch” is disgraceful. Offscreen, two women who accused the actor of rape are calling out Netflix for airing his remaining episodes at all, while onscreen, his character, Rooster Bennett, has been given an open-ended goodbye allowing for his return should the powers that be allow it. If one of these weren’t true — if the accusers were satisfied with the streaming giant’s response to their accusations, or if the series itself definitively ended Rooster’s storyline — then, perhaps, it would feel like viewers could move on from this controversy and go back to enjoying the unusually dark and sporadically funny multi-cam sitcom sans its problematic star.
But as things stand immediately following Part 5’s release, there’s really no other word for it: The ending of Part 5 is disappointing. Last December, Masterson’s front-facing termination implied belief in the accusers, but the onscreen results — including his character’s “last” scene, but also the unnerving inevitability that Masterson is most likely profiting from every episode as both an actor and executive producer — are, at least, an implicit backing of the accused.
This may please some of “The Ranch” faithful; those who defend Masterson and, more importantly, want their favorite TV show to proceed unaltered. But it’s a slap in the face to anyone trying to appreciate the hard work of the cast and crew without worrying that they, too, are supporting an accused rapist, as well as a snub of the #MeToo movement’s efforts overall.
What Happens to Rooster
Rooster does two things of note in Season 2: He steals a generator in order to save the farm from a wildfire, and he sleeps with his ex-girlfriend, Mary (Megyn Price), even though she’s dating someone else. The former point, a felony, ends up biting his brother in the ass — Colt, played by Ashton Kutcher, tries to return it and gets busted by the cops — and doesn’t really affect Rooster at all. The latter point is what leads to his exit, temporary or otherwise.
Mary’s current boyfriend is her ex-husband. He’s a very bad man who’s been to prison and is sent into jealous fits whenever he sees Mary with another man. This doesn’t stop Mary or Rooster from hooking up, nor does it cause Mary to break up with Nick (Josh Burrow) until he’s become very well acquainted with Rooster. At first, he tells Rooster to stay away from Mary — or else. Then, he breaks into Rooster’s home and warns him again to back away. This leads to Mary finally cutting ties with Nick, but, of course, that doesn’t mean he’s through with Rooster.
In the final scene of the final episode, Nick again breaks into Rooster’s cabin. This time, he tells him to leave town and disappear or else he’ll “just disappear.” When Nick pulls out a gun, Rooster realizes what he means by the latter threat and picks up the bag Nick packed for him to head out. Before he does, Nick tells him not to tell anyone or else he’ll come after Rooster’s family. With that, Rooster walks out the door, and the season ends.
Why It’s Not Only Bad Storytelling, but Bad Business
This, by all accounts, is the end for Rooster. Masterson was still shooting episodes when he was fired, but the upcoming Part 6 will not feature the actor. Per Netflix’s statement in December, he was “written out of the show,” and December 4 “was his last day” on “The Ranch.”
Yet the ending paradoxically provides zero closure for the character and plenty of ways for his return. For fans oblivious of what’s happened with Masterson off-screen, there’s no reason to expect the above scene to be his last. After he walked out of the door, he could’ve gone to the cops, or his dad, or his brother and asked for help; he could’ve gone on the run, and when his family inevitably finds out what happened to him — which, they would because Colt, Mary, and her daughter all know how crazy Nick has been acting — he’d be able to return to the ranch. There’s simply no way the gun-toting, redneck folks in this show would tolerate a threat like that made to their kin.
OK, so maybe something is going to happen in the first episode of Part 6 to explain Rooster’s absence: Perhaps Nick actually kills him, or Rooster got arrested at the border and thrown in jail for God knows what reason. (The writers already implied Colt is wanted in Mexico and California, so why not Rooster?) If that’s the case, great — that’s pretty final (death more so than jail, but imprisonment is still better than aimlessly wandering the country) — but that plot point should’ve been included this season. Given the series’ penchant for ending seasons with cliffhangers that are fairly quickly resolved in the following season, it’s not unreasonable for anyone to expect Rooster back in the family’s good graces come Episode 1 of Part 6.
As is, it just feels like the producers are stalling for time, hoping the accusations against Masterson are proven false and he can come back from a half-season vacation. That’s a bad decision creatively, as even Kristen Bell’s husband won’t shield anyone from the upcoming awkward narrative transition between Part 5 and Part 6. (Dax Shepard is joining the cast as a former soldier named Luke Matthews.)
But it’s also bad business: In the past, Netflix has been swift in cutting ties with accused and confirmed sexual harassers like Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. It even spent a considerable sum to halt production, reshoot, and rewrite the final season of “House of Cards.” (Deciding to make Season 6 the final season of “Cards” was also quite definitive.) But the company’s handling of accusations against Masterson already took longer than expected, and now it appears like the writers — and thus the company backing their content — are keeping their options open for Masterson’s possible return.
This takes away from any artistic accomplishment to be gleaned from “The Ranch” — which, historically, hasn’t been much, but goddamnit, how I wish this piece was just about Sam Elliott’s incredible performance in Part 5 — and it also tarnishes the sheer entertainment value of a series primarily meant to provide just that. But more importantly, in the #MeToo era and beyond, words are not enough when it comes to supporting victims of abuse. Actions matter. While it’s important that Masterson has been fired, that value is greatly diminished when his departure appears temporary; as though it’ll be OK for him to return once people calm down.
Now is not the time to be calm. Now is a time to be outraged, and this decision deserves such outrage.