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John Dutton's Most Terrible Act In Yellowstone Season 1

It has been several years since John Dutton (Kevin Costner) and his larger-than-life presence first stomped their way into the homes of television audiences everywhere on "Yellowstone." In that time, the polarizing ranch owner has presented as everything from a cowboy vigilante and anti-hero to a straight-up murderer, and it's become increasingly difficult to keep track of all his terrible acts. In-world, at least, much of what John does — like so much of what our most beloved criminal patriarchs do — is in the name of protecting his family and legacy. In the inaugural season of "Yellowstone," however, it becomes clear that John is more concerned with the idea of his name and his legacy than he is with any of its flesh-and-blood manifestations.

In Season 1, John's childish insistence on controlling the lives of his adult offspring as a means of protecting his "legacy" (read: himself) is taken to the extreme. He's already manipulated his son Kayce (Luke Grimes) into coming back into the toxic family fold from which he'd previously elected to free himself, managed to get his son Lee (Dave Annable) killed, and forced his daughter to move home. On top of that, the employee his most treats "like a son" (Cole Hauser's Rip) is little more than a glorified henchman. But it's what John does to the man he'll later refer to as his "biggest disappointment" that stands as his most pathetic and unjustifiable act from Season 1.

John Dutton's Season 1 hissy fit was hard to watch

In Episode 8, "The Unraveling: Pt 1," John decides he's not going to "let" his son Jamie (Wes Bentley) run for attorney general, despite the fact that Jamie was originally only running to help John gain a foothold in state government. It may be easy to chock several of John's violent acts up to his desire to protect his family and their way of life, or to see them as displays of some obsolete but admirable "Cowboy Code of Justice." His lashing out at his son in Season 1, however, is neither. When John breaks the news to Jamie (over his head, along with a few fatherly punches), it's in the form of a distinctly uncowboy-like temper tantrum. Importantly, it isn't because Jamie has proven himself untrustworthy, or because he's done anything that might prompt John to doubt his abilities. Instead, it's because — for less than a full forty-eight hours, and for the first time in his approval-seeking life — Jamie wasn't available to take a phone call from John.  

That's right: when John Dutton decides his son needs both a beating and his hard-earned dream ripped out from underneath him, it's because he missed a few phone calls from Dad. Surely, these phone calls must have been important. Surely, Jamie's missing them must have resulted in some horrible outcome for the Yellowstone Ranch ...

Nope! Rip got in some legal trouble with a bear, as one does, and John needed Jamie to be a lawyer for him. That's it. That's the reason John turned his heretofore pathetically devoted son against him, threw him on the ground, and kicked him out of the family and off the ranch.

Fans had a hard time understanding John's hatred toward his son

The gap between Jamie's actions and John's reaction to them did not go unnoticed by fans. As u/Alpha702 noted on the series' subreddit, Jamie "does everything for the family name and John disowned him for missing a phone call." What's more, the user added, "they figured it out without Jamie anyway." User u/7ruby18 agreed, calling John's overreaction a result of his "control freak attitude about the people and (events) around him," and later pointed out that Jamie "became a lawyer because John wanted it. John wanted him to run for office, so he did. He wanted him to be Livestock Commissioner, so he became that. He wanted him to become AG, so he did. Jamie's only mistake was not answering John's calls." Another fan, u/JustBeeeeKind, added, "I actually feel sorry for everyone who loves John ..." 

John believes he's justified in coming down on Jamie because he's only ever acted in his own self-interest. "What have you done for me?" he asks Jamie, "besides help build the empire you stand to inherit?" To be clear, this is exactly what John has groomed him to do, and when Jamie later betrays John, it's difficult not to root for him. In Season 2, when Jamie ultimately comes crawling back after murdering a reporter in a panicked effort to protect his poisonous father, the true extent of John's unrelenting abuse is revealed. 

Frankly, there's nothing particularly "cowboy" about being a psychological terrorist toward your own children, and this is what makes John's treatment of Jamie in Season 1 so unjustifiably despicable.