‘The Ranch’ Part 6 Deals With Tearful Transitions as Major Cast Member Leaves

Netflix’s “The Ranch” returns for the second half of its third season, titled “Part 6,” grappling with a common occurrence these days, the sudden departure of a cast member due to public scandal. Following allegations of sexual assault, Danny Masterson was quickly let go by the streaming service. But unlike the huge narrative gap “House of Cards” was left to deal with following the firing of Kevin Spacey, the first half of this season of “The Ranch” closed with the perfect segue way into a somber season opener dealing with the pain of loss. That might sound strange for a sitcom, but “The Ranch” has always been a little more than a mere laugh-generator.

If you may recall, the previous “Part 5” ended with Rooster Bennett (Masterson) being threatened by Nick (Josh Burrow) over Rooster fooling around with his ex, Mary (Megyn Price). After Nick aimed a weapon and threatened to kill the entire Bennett family, Rooster split town. Now the season returns with Colt Bennett (Ashton Kutcher) demanding to know where Rooster is and placing the blame squarely on Nick and Mary. Even after Billy (Ethan Suplee) makes the trip out to the family’s ranch to investigate, Colt can’t help it and confronts Nick, escalating the situation to a real fight. The elder Bennett, Beau (Sam Elliott), suspects something bad has happened but Colt is convinced Rooster faked his own disappearance to get Nick off his trail. When Rooster’s motorcycle is found in the rain at the bottom of a cliff, the answer to his fate becomes more obvious, but Colt refuses to accept it. Maggie (Debra Winger) comes back home to face the inevitable while Abby (Elisha Cuthbert) joins Colt in the search for clues. But even she knows he will have to face reality.

“Part 6” intelligently makes the transition into a new story landscape without Rooster. Because “Part 5” ended with Rooster facing a jealous ex threatening him with death (literally), the series is able to stretch out his departure into something quite tragic. The first few episodes are concerned with Colt demanding answers, dangerously gripping his hunting rifle as he warns Beau he will continue to threaten Nick until he confesses. This show has always skirted melodrama even as it dabbles with family sitcom. There is humor in “Part 6,” but because Masterson’s departure was so sudden, and over such an uncomfortable reason, it casts a dark cloud over everything. In a way the storyline has been made fit for reality. The Bennetts had finally gotten their ranch back and with Colt and Abby expecting a baby all seemed great. But Rooster and Mary’s exploits turned everyone’s world upside down.

As “The Ranch” faces a challenge in its structure, this also lends it the opportunity for some of its most powerful moments. When Mary breaks down to Beau and Maggie, confessing she does feel guilty for what’s happened, or Colt going out to hunt for a wolf in the rain, certain Rooster will be back soon to hear the tale, it’s all done in a way that feels touching and heartbreaking. Ashton Kutcher’s best moment this season is when Maggie confronts him over his denial over Rooster’s fate, and Kutcher breaks down with helpless rage. Sam Elliott is also given a chance here to explore his own character’s sensitive side as he tries, frustrated, to bring Colt back to reality. Eventually there is a memorial service that is a beautifully done send off for Rooster’s character. Colt will also find a package on his porch that seals the whole storyline with a moving sensibility.

But not to be outdone by Masterson’s departure, Netflix has decided to introduce a new character, Luke (Dax Shepard), a drunken relative of the Bennetts. It turns out he is Colt’s first cousin, the son of Beau’s brother Greg. At first Luke is one of those typical, rowdy relatives thrown into sitcoms to liven up the mood, and it does work. A veteran, Luke also has a slight case of PTSD. But eventually everyone comes together and Luke assures the show can keep going without Rooster.

“The Ranch” remains a rugged good time, this time around in “Part 6” offering more heartbreak and pain. But as with life, new characters now show up, toughen up and keep it all flowing. The motto seems to be, the show must go on.

The Ranch” Part 6 premieres Dec. 7 on Netflix.