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Rules John Dutton Has To Follow In Every Yellowstone Episode

Yellowstone is a show that thinks a lot about tradition. The soapy Paramount Network series from creator Taylor Sheridan takes traditional Western themes of family, masculinity, and manifesting one's destiny and explores them in a modern context — though, it walks a fine line between traditionalism and modernity. The show uses a lot of Western and primetime soap opera tropes in interesting ways. Many of the struggles between the cowboys and Native Americans play out in conference rooms instead of in shootouts (though there are plenty of shootouts, too). And while the family dysfunction is highly dramatic, it's still grounded in real emotions thanks to the cast's excellent performances. 

Since Yellowstone is bound to traditions of both the American West and classic television, there are certain rules it follows. The episodes have a beginning, a middle, and an end; it's a serialized show, but every episode stands on its own. And the characters follow strict codes of behavior that are morally dubious yet consistent. And no character is more consistent than John Dutton (Kevin Costner), the family patriarch and owner of the Yellowstone Ranch. Here are the rules that he has to follow in every episode of Yellowstone

Dutton has to alter the plot

Dutton is Yellowstone's most important character, and is played by a major movie star. Yet he doesn't have that much screen time proportionate to how important he is. According to Taylor Sheridan, this is by design.

"Whenever John Dutton is present, I want the moment to feel special," Sheridan told Deadline. "I want it to feel important. I don't care to watch him brush his teeth. I don't need that man to be ordinary for me. I need him to be human, but not ordinary, and I don't ever want it to become ordinary to see Kevin Costner on television. I want it to feel remarkable. Even though this is obviously a story of his world through his lens, I want you to know the whole world so that you can see the impact that his character has on all of them. But you have to be shrewd, and very careful with that sports car. You don't want to drive it all the time. Because then it's just...a car, you know? If you ever get in a Ferrari and you forget you just got in a Ferrari, you might as well not have a Ferrari. I try to make the moments that I write for him feel worthy of an Oscar winner, and I don't ever want to put him in an unimportant situation. John Dutton doesn't move plot. He alters the plot, and so I try to be very reverent with the situations that I put that character in."

An example of Dutton altering the plot would be paying Jimmy's (Jefferson White) medical bills after his rodeo accident in season 3. Jimmy could have died, but Dutton saved him, and now Jimmy is in his debt. Jimmy's story was changed forever after his encounter with John Dutton.

Dutton has to drop some quotable wisdom

When Dutton speaks, people listen — mostly because his stature of being wealthy and powerful gives him the influence to control their fates. They listen because his voice is so unique that it demands attention. And they listen because, more often than not, he's dropping some pearls of hard-earned wisdom. Sheridan writes every episode, and he knows how to craft some memorable dialogue.

Dutton talks about preserving his ranch in cowboy capitalist pull quotes. "From my great-great-grandfather, to my wife, and my oldest son, when a tree grows on my ranch, I know exactly what fed it, and that's the best we can hope for because nothing we do is for today," he said in season 1. "Last long enough for your children to continue the cycle, and maybe, just maybe, the land is still there when a tree sprouts from you."

He literally made up his own business dictionary: "Leverage is knowing if someone had all the money in the world, this is what they would buy." And Dutton outlined his philosophy in a conversation with business rival Dan Jenkins (Danny Huston) in season 2, when the carpetbagger from California said he had as much right as anyone to try to seek his fortune in Montana. "No one has a right. You have to take the right," Dutton answered. "Or stop it from being taken from you."

This sort of dialogue is consistently present (and flawlessly delivered by Costner) in every single episode of Yellowstone.

Dutton has to wear a cowboy hat

Like any good character, John Dutton has a uniform. There are certain things he always wears: a tan or black cowboy hat, a warm jacket, a quilted vest, a well-worn pair of jeans. And since he's such a rich man, he always looks the part of a wealthy outdoorsman.

His wardrobe was designed by Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth Carter, who went from Black Panther to Yellowstone. "I was really tired after Black Panther," Carter told Gold Derby. "I really did not want to get back to work, but I thought I'd take the opportunity to talk to [Taylor Sheridan]. So he called me at home [and] we had the best conversation for two hours. He was just telling me about how the West was different, how cowboys aren't the same, how it's not some old idea, how it's a new idea, how they wear their clothes very hip-hop at times and they evoke a lot of modern fashion, which I found hard to believe at the time, but then it made sense," said Carter. She continued: "Just his commitment to storytelling, we had such a great conversation, I was inspired and I said, 'OK, I'll do it.' I went from one month of finishing Black Panther to starting a series, which I don't recommend!"

She custom-made much of Costner's wardrobe, like Dutton's signature orange-and-beige puffer coat. And for stuff that had to be authentic, she found vintage Ralph Lauren jeans and Carhartt jackets. "A good one that's worn in is worth its weight in gold," Carter said of old Carhartt.

If you want to dress like John Dutton, New American Leather makes clothes inspired by what's worn on Yellowstone.

Dutton has to deal with someone trying to take his ranch

In season 2, Dutton summed up his whole worldview in one sentence when he told his daughter Beth (Kelly Reilly), "It's the one constant in life: You build something worth having, someone's gonna try to take it." The whole show is centered on him protecting his ranch from those who want to take it.

People who have tried to come for John Dutton's land include everyone from real estate developers Dan Jenkins and the Beck brothers, to Malcolm (Neal McDonough) and Teal (Terry Serpico) — who collectively went too far in their ruthless business dealings and hired neo-Nazis to kidnap Dutton's grandson, so Dutton and his Yellowstone crew killed them all. Native American tribal leader Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) also wants to reclaim the land he believes rightfully belongs to his tribe, and which he wants to later develop into a casino complex to bring prosperity to his people. 

Finally, venture capitalist Roarke Morris (Josh Holloway), wants to take Dutton's land and build an airport on it. Morris has enlisted government help to try and take the land through eminent domain, and may even have tried to assassinate Dutton and his kids Beth and Kayce (Luke Grimes) — though we'll have to wait until season 4 to be sure of who was behind that. 

Dutton's obsession with protecting his ranch and his legacy is all-consuming, and sometimes leads to him making illogical and otherwise emotional business decisions — like turning down an above-market offer for the land in season 3. Dutton's devotion to his land is what Yellowstone is all about, and it drives every episode.