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The Ending Of Yellowstone Season 1 Explained

As Tolstoy tells us: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

The Dutton family, protagonists and anti-heroes of the Paramount Network's hit Western series "Yellowstone," certainly have their own way of going about their unhappiness, one aimed in tone if not in specifics roughly at the level of the Corleones of "The Godfather" or King Lear and his daughters in Shakespeare's tragedy. The show's first season introduced audiences to ruthless patriarch John Dutton (Kevin Costner), who's trying to hold his family and his family legacy in the form of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, the nation's largest. But all through the first season, audiences have seen how his power and influence is waning. The politicians he once manipulated are standing up to him. The rivals he once scared off are nipping around the edges of the ranch. Even his own body is breaking down, ravaged by cancer.

Season 1 of "Yellowstone" lays out the conflicts that would continue all the way to the present, as fans eagerly await the premiere of Season 4. It's about power and the different ways to wield it, and greed and the different ways to appease it. But most of all (Vin Diesel-voice), it's about family, and how where we come from can continue to influence our actions and our motivations, even when we might prefer to break free of them. 

Where does Season 1 leave the Dutton family?

The Dutton family is an atom, with John at its center and his children revolving around him like electrons in their different orbitals. Each of the events in the show, the greed, the violence, the political and economic machinations, provides a jolt of energy to this structure that threatens to change their positions. Each time one of them is brought closer to him, or pushed farther away, the repercussions of that change are readily observable in the outside world.

Going into the finale of Season 1, it's Beth (Kelly Reilly) who's sitting closest to her father. She is the one helping him from a legal and financial standpoint battle the takeover being plotted by Dan Jenkins (Danny Huston) and Chief Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham), who want to take land belonging to the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch for a casino and ancillary developments.

Meanwhile prodigal son Kayce (Luke Grimes) is falling back closer to the family center. After he falls out with his wife Monica (Kelsey Asbille) as she was recovering from surgery for a subdural hematoma, he moves off Broken Rock Reservation and back to the ranch, refusing his father's offer of preferential treatment to instead move into the bunkhouse as a common cowboy.

But as Kayce returns to the fold, Jamie (Wes Bentley) finds himself drifting further away. His father opposes his run for Attorney General of Montana, but Jamie refuses to exit the race, and instead agrees to give an interview for a story he's been told will be damaging to his father.

What do the Dutton family's struggles mean on Yellowstone season 1?

"Yellowstone" is about what happens when the center can no longer hold. John tells himself he wants to keep the ranch intact for the sake of his children, and his children, or at least the ones on his side at this particular moment in the show, want to help him keep the ranch together for his sake, and that of his legacy. No one seems to question that perhaps all the stress and conflict, the violence and intimidation, the maneuvering and the politicking, might not be worth it in the end. Instead Beth plans to fight off the lawsuits threatening the ranch's integrity while Kayce joins Rip (Cole Hauser) and some hands in intimidating Jenkins and extracting information about his plans by stringing him up from a tree.

The ranch is like Everest; it has to be held together, because it's there. Nobody makes an entire television series about the second- or third-largest ranch in the country. John and his kids are making hard choices, but at the end of the first season, those choices seem to be leading them to a place where none of them are happy, and where the family is shattered. John tells Beth what matters is that they have a place to come back to, but it's unclear whether either of them believe they will. Are they fighting to save the ranch for the sake of the future? Or of the past?