The Duttons of Yellowstone: Why I Care About this Dysfunctional TV Family

Disclaimer: I will not be talking about the white privilege of the Dutton clan, although for those commenting about barely any Black people on the ranch, the latest statistics show only 4.8% of cowboys are Black/African American (compared to 20-25% in the Old West days).  Nor will I talk about the current Dutton wealth/owning a ridiculously enormous amount of land.  This blog was sparked by a friend asking me why I like Beth so much, and so, below is my sideline analysis of the family dynamics of the present day Duttons and their psyche. (Rip and Monica are referenced but not part of this analysis….even though they are my favorite two good guys in the “family tree” …even with all the illegal things Rip has done)

John is the patriarch of the present-day Dutton family, battling “outside forces” trying to dismantle his family and land.  After watching 1883 and 1923, I see John carrying on the Dutton legacy of protecting the people around them, loving the land and animals, surviving through nature while adapting to technology advances when necessary, and only using power to ensure family and land are safe.  That last part really matters, as I will touch upon later when discussing Jamie’s perspective of John.  I do not see John, nor any of the “patriarchs” in each spinoff series as wanting power. It’s not greed or a need for control just to control. I see John as taking on roles as livestock commissioner or governor in order to protect his land and family…and the natural resources he grew up learning to love.  If it was about giving the land back to the Indigenous Americans, I totally would on the side of the indigenous people.  Yet that isn’t what is going on, and as we see the seasons progress, John and Thomas Rainwater partner up when the land is threatened.  I also see how accepting John is to those in need of “family” – and that is carried on by Beth and Rip.  Do I like the “train station” part of the Dutton culture…not at all.  But I accept it as part of TV fiction in the same way as The Sopranos or The Blacklist or even General Hospital, and I didn’t see most of the deaths as premeditated or with the Duttons instigating things first.  

John is not the kind to show his love in words – so much like how I hold sacred the two presents my maternal grandfather gave me and the one time he signed “I love you” standing in his driveway in his robe one morning, I value the times John said ”I need you” to the remaining three kids after Lee is buried and “I love you” to Beth …. and saying how sorry he was that Beth didn’t know he was a safe place to turn to in the past.  John definitely has gotten hardened with life and the loss of his wife, as he fully admits when saying how embarrassed his wife would be seeing how messed up he made the family.  His lack of showing love probably impacts Jamie most, given Jamie needs constant recognition and support so if it’s not there, Jamie sees it as not being loved.  John had expectations for Jamie that weren’t met and John is disappointed (as he said) but still loved him.  John’s respect for Monica burying her son in her nation’s tradition, and then opening up to Monica in a way he knew she needed to start on the path in healing (although one never fully heals with such a loss) were other signs of how much he cares for those around him.  I won’t get into the stupid ratings grab to bring in Piper Perabo as Summer…. I blame that relationship on the writers and not on John as a character.  And wasn’t surprised at all when he let Beth and Summer go outside to work things out… totally a Dutton kind of thing to get out any emotions in a brawl, even if not something I agree with. 

Kayce (the youngest sibling) is the most stable and moral of the family – which is probably why this is one of the shortest sections of any of the Duttons.  He is just as loyal to the family as Beth, and will kill when needed, yet in many ways he is the outlier.  He married Monica and lived on the reservation.  His quiet, constant, presence enabled the residents of the reservation to respect him.  He has dealt with so much in war and back home, yet he holds it in and is there for others.  He will do anything for Monica and Tate, even if that means giving up certain abilities to protect the community/land.  It was no surprise to see Kayce lying on the hospital bed with Monica. That’s how deep their love is.  No question he has serious PTSD issues from the war, which I suspect are like Spencer (in 1923) after Spencer’s deployment in WWI… although I don’t know what those issues are for either one of them except the one story Kayce shared about having to kill a wife and child when the father was using them as a shield.  I know Kayce was estranged from his dad after getting Monica pregnant and marrying her, although after Season 1 it’s tough to see the extent of that estrangement given how quiet Kayce is overall – and how he will do anything for both his and Monica’s families.  Yet even though Kayce is quiet, he also can be open with what he is thinking/feeling.  I cannot imagine how he is still processing killing Monica’s brother even if it was in self-defense as Robert unjustly shot Kayce’s brother Lee.  Kayce reminds me of other fictional characters who are trained to kill with ease yet are gentle and compassionate in their souls. 

Beth (third born) is probably the most complex, most damaged, character in the series.  Total transparency, I hated when she took a photo of Jamie dumping his biological father’s body at the end of the Season 4 finale.  And I don’t like her verbal cruelty to Jamie in the beginning of Season 5, especially the constant use of “my father” instead of “our father”.  That doesn’t negate how much empathy I have for her and see the hurt she carries inside from life.  She is the child that wants love and support but didn’t fully get it.  Her mother didn’t hate her but was hard on her in order to “toughen” her for being in a world dominated by men.  Moreover, her mother’s death was a huge traumatic event that Beth can’t get pass… how would you feel if the last words from your mother were to go get help to “undo what you done”.  Beth has so much guilt for her mother’s death (which WAS an accident) and it doesn’t help that Jamie blamed her too.  Beth knows her father loves her, but feels he looked to the boys to be the leaders of the family.  Yet she is loyal to family to no end.  She will do anything to protect her family, and while she may seem like a city girl, she will protect the ranch and land until she’s dead, because that’s how she was raised. The ranch IS part of the family.  

Beth has never been able to get over the sterilization that happened when getting an abortion as a teen. She had every right to be furious at Jamie for not telling her, and thus not giving her a choice to decide to proceed with the abortion or not. We see that point blank in Season 5 Episode 4 when she finds out Jamie has a child when Jamie is driving her home from jail, and she says “you cut out my womb and God gave you a boy” – and subsequently starts to beat on Jamie.  

She may appear like she never wants a family of her own, but in my view that’s likely because of the hurt she carries knowing she can never conceive on her own again.  Not everyone can move on from that.  Yet we see how much she cares.  It made me cringe in Season 4, episode 8 when she stopped in her tracks and we see her face, her silence, as she takes the breath before telling Carter never to call her “Momma” again.  That made me hurt for both Beth and Carter.  We know she cares about Carter, is bringing him into the “family” as is Dutton tradition, yet she is battling her PTSD of never having biological kids with the thought of Carter seeing her as a mother figure.  Her walls are up high and she is terrified to let someone in.  We see her vulnerability crying next to Walker in the barn, and I totally understand Rip leaving her alone, letting her have that moment.  We saw that PTSD earlier in Season 1 episode 5 as well when, already in a vulnerable state after a bad night, she goes into another room and screams after walking in the house and hearing John read a book to Tate about how babies are conceived. 

We see her care in Season 3 when she uses her Dutton privilege to protect Monica at the racist clothing store.  And speaking of Monica, I love how Monica directly says to Beth in Season 5, Episode 7, “why are you so mean?”  And then I love how Beth shows a bit of vulnerability when instead of doing a one liner when Monica says it’s cruel, Beth says “That is why I don’t do it to you”.  Then the best part, when Monica responds that she (Monica) doesn’t need to be treated differently just because she lost a baby, Beth responds by saying yes you do.  Beth understands the loss of a baby and lets Monica knows that – and so I see pure sincerity when Beth says she means it when she says she is sorry to Monica.  If you read interviews with the actors, Kelly Reilly who plays Beth says she thinks Beth sees a deep goodness in Monica that she doesn’t see in herself. 

An online article says Beth has the same personality as I do, ENTJ.   In that article, which also references her zodiac sign being Cancer, it states Beth is “highly rational and has a talent for reaching her goals. Charismatic and ambitious, she is a natural leader. With unmatched confidence and drive, she will keep going until she achieves what she set out to do. …. Beth embraces challenges. It keeps things interesting for people of this personality type.”  And that Beth is “rational and inventive which makes her exceptionally talented at solving problems. Despite being logical and realistic, ENTJs are imaginative and they love considering different possibilities.  Beth highly values people who can challenge her intellectually and, as an extrovert, she loves a lively debate about abstract topics.” 

So yes, take away the swear words and the fact I stopped fighting in elementary school, and I totally feel a connection to Beth (not that I wouldn’t love to be in a bar fight if I could – just have kept that safety lock on my whole life). 

Jamie is the most needy and vulnerable of the family, and I don’t mean needy in a bad way.  He just needs constant affirmation which just isn’t in the Dutton blood.  We see the on-going rivalry (hatred) between Jamie and Beth throughout6 Season 1 (verbal and physical), yet we see his needy side when Jamie still turns to her for advice (Season 2 episode 3).  He is influenced by outside voices who try to build him up while tearing down the rest of the family, because he craves that affirmation.   I so wish he had embraced John when he found out he was adopted, but no, he went the opposite direction. He never can see the love John has for him as a son, because John is not vocal when it comes to love. That is fed into by Jamie’s misperception that John loved Lee and Kayce more.  Jamie even comments to Kayce in Season 1 that everyone would do anything for Kayce, inferring Kayce is the golden child.  Also in Season 1, John says something that is so positive about Jamie yet likely is forgotten…when Jamie said Beth should go back to Salt Lake City because Jamie can do anything Beth can do, John replies that no, Jamie cannot do everything Beth does, because Jamie can never be evil (which Beth can be). We really need a separate discussion of what evil means in the context of this show given all the threats and killings by different characters, e.g., Jamie’s impulsive killing of the reporter.

Jamie has no idea how far-reaching Beth’s abortion was.  He has no idea that John’s run for governor wasn’t out of hate for Jamie (there is no hate) but because of John’s love for the ranch and feeling that was the only way to protect it.  Jamie is misguided when he says what John loves more than anything is power.  John could care less about power. But like the generations of Duttons before, John will do whatever is needed to protect the land, and most of the time that means being in authority positions to ensure no one gets to the ranch, or land in general.  Jamie was only three months old when his biological father killed his mother and went to prison, so the Duttons really are the only family he knew.  It’s interesting when you hear comments about him wanting to just be a rancher and feeling forced to be a lawyer to please his dad (John) since I don’t think I have seen the adult Jamie ever ride a horse (outside of stock photos from the cast’s “cowboy camp”).  Jamie never let his family know he had a son even though he interacted with them on a regular basis after John was elected.   We see how easy it is to manipulate him, as Sarah Atwood uses her seduction to get in his bed in order to get in his head.  The brief moments with his biological father were cringe worthy as Jamie was constantly told lies about his biological mother’s murder and that John never cared about him – even though John didn’t finch when taking him in as a baby.  Being disappointed that your child didn’t do what you wanted them to do doesn’t mean you don’t love them… it’s totally the wrong way to parent especially when the child is someone as vulnerable as Jamie, but again, it doesn’t mean the love isn’t there.  

Can we go back to Jamie’s vulnerability and outside voices? I agree when an article commented how Jaime’s goals and intentions shift based on the last person he talked to.  His biological father put a hit on the Dutton family, which is the basis of Season 4, but when Jamie is ready to arrest him, Garrett Randall tells Jamie how bad John is/that John doesn’t love Jamie.  We have no idea exactly how the Duttons knew Garrett’s wife before she married Garrett, but there definitely is a lot of resentment and hatred toward the Duttons, which Garrett feeds into Jamie’s questionable mind.  Then we have Sarah Atwood who not only seduces Jamie to get him against the Duttons but feeds into taking them out for good.  Given we saw Jamie murder two people already, it’s not beyond reason to agree with the plan to take out John and Beth.  Christina, Jamie’s former campaign manager and mother of his son did similar things talking negatively about the Duttons while trying to get Jamie in power. And when Jamie quit the campaign, and later picked the Duttons over starting a family of his own, Christina left him. 

Jamie always turns back to his family: it will be interesting to see if Sarah’s manipulation is strong enough this time to actually kill John and Beth, of if Jamie will come back to the ranch again…assuming Beth doesn’t get Jamie killed first. 

I could take time to rewatch the series and expand on above, but for now I will just close with a quote from the surrogate son, Rip: I see things in people, and I feel like if I can touch it, even if the rest of the person is rotten, I can take that good thing and make it part of me.

I definitely can’t wait to see how things play out in the second half of Season 5!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s