The landmark series has finally returned. The first half of the explosive extended fifth season of "Yellowstone" has begun on Paramount. Starring Kevin Costner as the lead role of John Dutton and written by the modern Western scribe Taylor Sheridan, "Yellowstone" continues to shock and awe as the tensions in Montana’s Paradise Valley rise and the plot thickens. This highly exaggerated version of Montana seen on "Yellowstone" continues to spark support and acclaim from its ever-growing audience, and there’s no doubt that Costner’s consistent performance as John Dutton has something to do with that.
Of course, John Dutton himself is a mixed bag — a character with so many shades of gray that black and white seem to hardly even apply. That said, most of the patriarch’s questionable actions can be seen as either positives or negatives depending on your vantagepoint, but one thing is abundantly clear — it doesn’t pay to mess with John Dutton. Over the course of four seasons, going on five, the head Dutton has proven himself a formidable foe, one who will do just about anything to protect his family and his livelihood.
Though he isn’t the most likeable of the "Yellowstone" characters, John Dutton has had some pretty great moments. With so many to choose from, here are the seven best and seven worst John Dutton moments on "Yellowstone" thus far.
Best: That opening scene
The opening moments of any television series are meant to set the tone for what follows. They can be meaningful, powerful, and introduce us to our lead character in a dynamic way. "Yellowstone" fits that description. The very first episode of "Yellowstone" begins with a carwreck, but it’s so much more than that. A massive semi-truck has been toppled, and the Yellowstone Ranch’s horse trailer has been punctured. In a moment of mercy, John Dutton executes his own horse after a tearful goodbye. It’s a heartbreaking moment, but one that makes it clear the lengths Dutton is willing to go.
We later learn that this wreck may have been an assassination attempt by one of John’s many enemies, but that doesn’t make much of a difference. This memorable moment makes it abundantly clear that John Dutton doesn’t play games, and that he’s willing to let go of the things (and people) that he loves when he has no other choice. In fact, this scene almost serves as a type of foreshadowing for what would later happen to his firstborn son Lee, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
If Costner and company know how to do anything, it’s set the stage for an incredible Western showdown. While there was no rival gunslinger here, "Yellowstone" manages to make itself memorable before its opening moments have concluded.
Worst: Kicking Kayce out
Near the end of the show’s second season, John Dutton is forced to reveal the ugly truth behind his rocky relationship with his youngest son Kayce. These two have been butting heads since long before "Yellowstone" even started, and after two seasons of speculation we finally learned why — and it’s worse than we thought. Despite having branded Kayce when he was young, John turned his back on his son when he got a woman pregnant and intended to get married. Obviously, that young woman was Kayce’s wife Monica.
When explaining this to Monica, John shares that he tried to get Kayce to take her to an abortion clinic and terminate the pregnancy. Ignoring his father’s wishes, Kayce ended up marrying Monica as the two of them went on to raise Tate on the Broken Rock Indian Reservation. Eventually, John comes around to both Monica and Tate, and works hard to build a relationship with his grandson. Though, given the circumstances surrounding Tate’s birth, Kayce doesn’t owe his father much of anything.
Over time, John works to rebuild his relationship with his son. Although it takes a while, John eventually lets Kayce and his family go as they move on to start their own life elsewhere, away from the Yellowstone. Even still, kicking is son out for giving him a grandchild is pretty heartless.
Best: His promise to his father
The Yellowstone Ranch has been in the Dutton family for over five generations. While the prequel series "1883" covers the origins of the Dutton clan in Montana (before the "Last Best Place" was even a state), there are still plenty of Duttons between the late 1800s and the 21st century. A native Montanan, John Dutton prides himself on his family’s 100-plus-year history with the land, and fights for it tooth and nail whenever outsiders encroach on it.
While John Dutton Sr. is living his last days, his son — who, yes, is actually John Dutton III — promises his dying father that he will never sell the land, and that he will do everything within his power to keep it within the family. This promise is the driving force behind all of John’s actions throughout "Yellowstone," and is the ultimate reason why he fights so hard to protect the Montana way of life from those would bring "progress" to the Western state.
Yes, John’s promise to his dying dad is noble in and of itself, but what’s more impressive are the lengths that the Dutton patriarch goes to keep the Yellowstone in their family name. No doubt, after all this time, he’s honored his vow to his father, even if it’s cost him dearly along the way.
Worst: Getting Lee killed
Besides Jamie, Beth, and Kayce, do you remember that John had another son? No, we’re not talking about his surrogate son Rip Wheeler, rather, we’re talking about Lee Dutton, the firstborn son to John and his late wife Evelyn. Lee hasn’t shown up much on the show — in fact, the series often forgets about him entirely, especially in flashbacks — but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have an impact. After being groomed to take over the ranch for years, Lee is tragically killed in the very first episode.
While John doesn’t pull the trigger on his own son, he might as well have. John sends Lee and the Livestock Agents into the Broken Rock Indian Reservation to reclaim lost cattle. While the herd was rightfully Dutton’s, the trespass results in his firstborn’s death. Had John tried to work out the cattle dispute through different channels — including simple negotiations with Chief Thomas Rainwater — there’s no doubt that his son would still be alive today. Considering how many times John Dutton has been shot and lived to tell, you’d think a younger buck like Lee might’ve lived.
Though Lee hasn’t been mentioned much since the series began, he appears in a vision to Kayce that reminds the audience that the "Yellowstone" family did have another member at one point in time. Had John Dutton not been so hot-headed, Lee might’ve lived on and taken over the Yellowstone himself.
Best: Taking Rip in
Though John loses his firstborn to senseless violence, he gains another son years prior when he takes in a teenage Rip Wheeler. This teenage Rip is a bit rambunctious and has a massive chip on his shoulder — one that will be broken by the time the Yellowstone gets through with him. A tough kid with a tough life, Rip’s circumstances drastically improve after he kills his own father and John lets him stay in the bunkhouse. After working for John for decades, Rip’s come out on top as the biggest ranch hand of them all.
Sure, John Dutton doesn’t outright adopt Rip the way he adopts Jamie, but he sees the cowboy as something of a son. By bringing him onto the ranch, he gives the young boy a chance to turn his life around — not unlike what he and Beth do for the young Carter in the present. Had John not played "Good Samaritan" with Rip back then, he wouldn’t have his toughest cowboy enforcer to rough up the competition and save his daughter when she’s in a pinch — not that Beth often needs saving.
Admittedly, John Dutton’s motives aren’t always pure, but his desire to give Rip a better life seems to be one made of genuine compassion rather than manipulation. Though, that doesn’t mean manipulation doesn’t eventually become a factor…
Worst: Nearly getting killed by his own pride
Throughout the entire first season, John Dutton stares down his impending doom as he battles cancer. Thinking he doesn’t have much time left to live, he does everything within his power to make the Yellowstone — and his children — ready for a world without him. Even though his firstborn Lee dies, John still sees Kayce, Jaime, and Beth as his eventual beneficiaries and hopes to fight every oppositional force — be they the Confederated Tribes of Broken Rock or greedy California land developers — to maintain control of their family’s land.
At the beginning of Season 2, it looks as if John’s cancer has finally gotten the better of him. After ignoring his doctors and keeping his condition a secret, it finally gets the best of him. He collapses in front of his ranch hands and, by a miracle, discovers that he never had cancer at all — his collapse is the result of a burst ulcer. John’s own pride has not only nearly killed him but caused him to make dozens of rash and impulsive decisions that cost others their lives, including his own son.
Upon recognizing that he’s now going to live, he states that he realizes that since he won’t die, he’s "gotta face all the decisions [he’s] made." Not only is his near-death experience one of his worst moments on the series, but John Dutton’s inability to take the advice of others continues to get him in trouble throughout the show.
Best: John confronts the bikers
There are countless moments on "Yellowstone" that could easily be labeled as "badass," but one of the absolute best has to be when John Dutton confronts a group of bikers who mess with his Yellowstone Ranch crew. After the California-based biker gang set up their makeshift camp on Dutton land, they get into a huge fight with Rip Wheeler and his fellow ranch hands. That night, the bikers return to set fire to the Duttons’ land, only to arrive to find John Dutton himself waiting for them.
Rather than simply kill his prey, Dutton forces the men to dig their own graves, with Rip, Kayce, and the gang holding the trespassers at gunpoint. After digging 6 feet deep, John gives them a choice — leave Montana forever or not at all. Naturally, they choose to hightail it back to California and depart from the Yellowstone forever. Of course, the Dutton patriarch leaves the graves in the event that they decide to return, though that doesn’t seem too likely.
For a man as accustomed to violence as John Dutton, this moment of pure restraint — dare we say, mercy — proves that he’s grown quite a bit since "Yellowstone" started, but more than anything, it just reminds us that this cowboy means business.
Worst: Running against Jamie for governor
While John Dutton becoming governor of Montana might’ve been the best thing for the state in the long run, it’s one of the worst things John ever does to his son Jamie. After turning his son onto political power, John sees an ambitious streak in Jamie that eventually gets him to the capitol. With his expert knowledge of the law, Jamie is always one of the Duttons’ most valuable assets, that is, until John steps in to do the job himself.
Though John is right not to trust Jamie with such power — he’s been known to kill in order to keep it — John stepping in to run for governor, with the blessing of Senator Lynelle Perry no less, is one of the biggest slaps in the face that the Dutton patriarch has ever given to his adopted son. Especially since Jamie didn’t see this one coming. What John does with this power remains to be seen, but between his usurping from his son and Beth’s constant bullying of Jamie, it stands to reason that this’ll eventually go poorly.
Though there are very real reasons why John Dutton makes a better leader for Montana than his son, the truth remains that he took over the political race in the shadiest way possible. Without so much as a warning, John strips Jamie of all his hopes and dreams, and that’s just a bit cruel.
Best: Giving Rip a home
For all the times that John Dutton has treated his sons poorly, he’s treated his surrogate son Rip Wheeler even better. Sure, Rip has it tough and he doesn’t get to experience the same "cushy" benefits that Lee, Jamie, Beth, and Kayce all do growing up, but he has a roof and four walls, which is all he could’ve hoped for at the time. Rip earns all he has, and even if it isn’t much, it’s his own. So, when John writes him a letter giving him his own home on the Yellowstone Ranch, there’s not much more Rip could ask for.
This home is the start of a new life for Rip as he soon invites Beth in and the two of them decide to get married. Though the home itself doesn’t last, the sentiment remains the same. After his home is destroyed, Rip and Beth move into the main Dutton house and Rip finally gets a taste of that cushy life he’s always been so close to. And after John walks Beth down the aisle, the head Dutton finally gets to claim Rip as a son.
Sure, John Dutton is a hardened man and a force to be reckoned with, but he can be kindhearted, too. No doubt, like many of us, John has always had a soft spot for Rip, and it’s a Hallmark moment like this that makes "Yellowstone" just a bit brighter.
Worst: Letting Tate out alone
Of all the mistakes that John Dutton makes on "Yellowstone," this might be one of the hardest to watch. After teaching his grandson Tate how to ranch and take care of their family’s horses, John lets the young boy wander out in the middle of the night to check on a horse, resulting in his abduction. In retaliation for resisting their plans for the Dutton land, the Beck brothers hire a militia to kidnap Tate and hold him hostage until John Dutton surrenders his family’s livelihood.
Though John, Kayce, and the Dutton crew get Tate back, the boy suffers from some serious PTSD that contributes to his family’s departure from the Yellowstone Ranch. Beyond the long-term effects on Tate, this act would be irresponsible anyhow as there are countless wild animals — including bears and wolves — who could’ve wandered their way onto the property in the middle of the night. John might’ve thought that he was giving Tate more agency; in truth, he was risking his life.
John and Tate haven’t spent a ton of time together since these events, and it’s understandable why. Though, given that Kayce and Monica name Tate’s baby brother — who only lived an extra hour after his birth — "John" means that they must’ve forgiven the patriarch for some of his most grievous wrongs, including this one.
Best: John threatens tourists
Okay, fine, calling this one of John Dutton’s "best" moments is a stretch, but it’s definitely one of his funniest.
No matter how hard John Dutton tries to scare off those who encroach on his land, there will always be people who try to claim it for their own — or, at the very least, try to get him to share it. This Season 1 moment pits John against a group of international tourists who show up on his property to watch a bear. Not only do they actively pass through a fence, but they stand close to the wild animal, taking pictures and dubiously assume the bear is friendly.
In a world where tourists are beaten up or bloodied by wild bison and bears in America’s first National Park every now and then, "Yellowstone" makes the point to comment on this phenomenon as John chases the tourists out. They resist him at first, with one of the tourists making a case that it’s wrong for one man to own all the land. The logical or moral merits of this argument are rendered inconsequential as John Dutton shouts, "This is America! We don’t share land here" and fires off a few rounds, prompting the tourists to flee in mortal terror.
Viewers who aren’t inclined to be generous might read this scene as John Dutton behaving like a Yosemite Sam-type maniac and reinforcing some ugly stereotypes about folks from "flyover states." However, even if we can’t say for sure, isn’t it possible the bear was about to attack? Maybe by threatening their lives, John Dutton saved those people from the bear? Maybe he’s something of a hero after all?
Worst: Lying to Jamie about his parentage
Of all the shady secrets that John Dutton keeps, none are more damaging or damning than the truth behind his son Jamie’s parentage. Though he raises his adopted son as his own and claims to have loved him the same, at the end of the day, John Dutton is not Jamie’s father, biologically speaking. Instead, Jamie’s father is a man named Garrett Randall — a murderer who kills his own wife. It’s a pretty tragic story, and probably why John takes Jamie in the first place, hoping to give the young child a better life and home.
But, in true Dutton fashion, rather than explaining to his son the origins of his birth and family history — and why he adopted him in the first place — John hides the truth like a puppet master. No wonder that Jamie betrays his family and turns to Randall for help in furthering his political career. John’s lie eventually leads to some pretty harsh consequences, namely Randall’s hit order on the Dutton clan, which nearly results in the entire family being wiped off the map. Even John is in critical condition for a time.
Since this incident, John continues to claim love for his adopted son, and tries desperately to keep the peace between Jamie and Beth, and also keep Jamie in line. Admittedly, John’s treatment of Jamie throughout the series isn’t too great, but it’s this lie that nearly destroys their entire family.
Best: Saving the diner patrons
While some have rightfully criticized John Dutton and Rip Wheeler’s "go in guns blazing" attitude, there’s no doubt that it comes in handy now and again. When meeting Sheriff Donnie Haskell at a local diner, these two recognize that the restaurant is being held up by a group of robbers. Thankfully, this small-town crime gang isn’t much of a match for John and Rip as they make their way inside and take all of them out, even saving all the diner patrons who had been taken hostages. Unfortunately, there was one innocent casualty in the crossfire, as Sheriff Haskell doesn’t make it out alive.
In Haskell’s final moments, John calls his daughter to let them say a tearful goodbye as the sheriff dies in John’s arms. It’s a heartbreaking moment, but reminds us that, at the end of the day, John regards family as the most important thing. Though John’s actions here may have been a bit reckless, the fact that he and Rip are able to not only take down the criminals involved but save most of those in the diner is something to be celebrated, even if the sheriff is killed in the line of duty.
Of all the Western showdowns on "Yellowstone," this one may be the most well-intentioned, at least as far as the Duttons are concerned. It may have taken him a while, but John’s working his way towards being a respectable man.
Worst: Getting involved with Summer
In "Yellowstone" Season 4, John gets involved with an animal rights activist named Summer Higgins, and while it may change her perspective on ranching, it doesn’t do her many favors in the long run. In the process of John showing Summer his experience of ranching, they became intimately involved. Summer even stays the night with John in the main house, which only leads to more trouble within the Dutton family.
You see, Summer is around the same age as John’s daughter Beth, not to mention his other children, making their relationship a bit unorthodox. This causes some pretty heavy tension between Beth and John, ultimately resulting in the Dutton daughter using Summer as a pawn in her war against the power-hungry firm Market Equities. This results in Summer’s incarceration and a pretty long prison sentence along with it.
Had John not engaged with Summer in the first place, or just ignored her activism, she’d have never wound up in prison and would be much better off. Of course, John has his own needs and wants met, and so Summer quickly becomes another casualty of the Dutton family’s never-ending struggles.