- John Dutton is dying and his main mission in Season 1 of Yellowstone is to save the Dutton ranch and bring his family together to preserve their heritage.
- Kayce returns to the Yellowstone after the death of his brother, Lee, and allows his anger to consume him as he fights to protect the ranch for his son’s future.
- Jamie switches sides and runs for attorney general, but his campaign gets in the way of his Yellowstone duties, leading him to make a decision that could destroy his father’s legacy.
While longtime fans of Yellowstone await the show’s return on streaming for the second half of its fifth and final season, new audiences have had the pleasure of discovering the series for the first time via CBS, which is committed to airing the neo-Western in its entirety. Because of a weird streaming deal that was made before the advent of Paramount+, the Taylor Sheridan-created series is only available for streaming on Peacock, so the show’s new life on network television only makes the Dutton empire all the stronger.
With the Season 2 CBS premiere coming on Sunday, October 29, it’s time to take a deeper look at Yellowstone‘s first season and reflect on where the Duttons have been before we get to where they’re going next. Don’t worry, for those who are experiencing Yellowstone for the very first time, we’ll be avoiding spoilers for future seasons, focusing our efforts solely on Season 1.
John Dutton Has Only One Mission in ‘Yellowstone’ Season 1: Save the Ranch
Over the course of the first season, we learn that John Dutton (Kevin Costner), the patriarch of the Dutton family and a local Montana Livestock Commissioner, is dying. Supposedly, John has a form of colon cancer (according to “The Long Black Train”), and it’s with that knowledge that he decides now is the time to bring all his children together to preserve their family heritage. So, in the wake of a cattle dispute (and a near-death experience), John calls Beth (Kelly Reilly) back from Salt Lake City and attempts to corral his youngest son Kayce (Luke Grimes) from the local Broken Rock Indian Reservation, where he lives with his wife Monica (Kelsey Asbille) and son Tate (Brecken Merrill).
Over the course of the first season, John does everything he can to defend his ranch from outsiders. This includes the likes of greedy land developer Dan Jenkins (Danny Huston) and Broken Rock’s tribal leader Chief Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham), who both what his land–which is about the size of Rhode Island–for their own purposes. As John fights “everyone,” he does his best to reunite and hold his family together.
Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. As wranglers become suspicious of illegal activity, the sheriff pokes around at John’s right-hand man Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser), and his son Jamie (Wes Bentley) becomes conflicted by his own political career (more on that later), John feels particularly cornered. Despite being at death’s door, John refuses any further treatment. For him, dying for the sake of his ancestral land is one of the most important things he could do with his life, though he isn’t ready to give up the ghost just yet.
Kayce Has Come Back Into the Fold in ‘Yellowstone’ Season 1, and It’s Cost Him Everything
As John’s youngest son, Kayce has something of a chip on his shoulder, and for good reason. Back when Kayce and Monica first got together and got pregnant, John tried to convince Kayce to force Monica to have an abortion. As a result, Kayce packed his bags and walked away from the Dutton Ranch (but not before John branded his son), seemingly forever. But life has a funny way of bringing people back together, and in Kayce’s case, he returns to the Yellowstone after the death of his older brother Lee (Dave Annable).
Wanting a relationship with his grandson, John convinces Kayce to let him see Tate regularly, but after Monica is attacked and ends up in the hospital, everything changes. It’s here that Kayce tells her how her brother Robert (Jeremiah Bitsui) was killed, that he had killed Lee and would’ve killed Kayce had he not shot first. Realizing that being around John and the Duttons is poisoning her family, Monica tells Kayce that her job as a mother is to protect Tate from those who might hurt him, and that includes Kayce and his father.
As a result, Kayce comes back to the Yellowstone as he has nowhere else to turn. After years of distancing himself from the brand and the violence that comes with it, Kayce gives in entirely to his anger and allows himself to cut loose when it comes to protecting the Dutton Ranch. “The only thing I’ve got left is to make a future for my son,” Kayce tells his father in the Season 1 finale. “This is the only thing I’ve got to give him. I know what you need.”
Jamie Gets Himself in Political Hot Water in ‘Yellowstone’ Season 1
But Kayce isn’t the only Dutton boy who has switched sides throughout the first season. When we first meet Jamie, he works tirelessly to keep the Dutton Ranch out of any legal trouble and fights to keep his father’s name from being sullied. This all changes when Beth comes back home, and given their historic rivalry, Jamie has a hard time seeing his place in the family with her around. “I’ve come to do what you couldn’t,” Beth tells her brother in the series premiere, “Daybreak.”
But throughout the first season, Jamie finally considers a life for himself beyond just the ranch. After Governor Lynelle Perry (Wendy Moniz) sees the potential in him, she convinces Jamie to run for attorney general, with the potential for him to be governor himself one day. At first, John is supportive of his son’s political ambitions, so long as they suit the ranch nicely, but after Jamie’s campaign gets in the way of his Yellowstone duties, John orders him to drop out of the race. Finally becoming his own man, Jamie refuses, getting himself kicked out, cut off the payroll, and entirely omitted from being a beneficiary on the land trust John has Beth put together.
While on the campaign trail, Jamie is introduced to Sarah Nguyen (Michaela Conlin), an undercover New York reporter who wants to expose the criminal element of John Dutton’s ranching empire and hopes to use Jamie as a source. He weighs the decision for a while before concluding that this is his only option. “The only way to protect my father’s legacy is to destroy the man,” Jamie says in the finale, willing to give the interview that will completely destroy his father.
Beth and Rip Dance Around What They Really Want in ‘Yellowstone’ Season 1
On the other side of the equation is Beth, who, as John puts it, “can be evil.” That’s the reason he sent for his daughter in the first place, is so that she can do the dirty work that no one else will. She does, of course, like nobody you’ve ever seen, and eventually, she sets her sights on her father’s rival Dan Jenkins. After first toying with Jenkins’ emotions and appetites, John strikes by rerouting the water source that once ran to the land where Jenkins had planned a land development.
But battling corporate stooges isn’t the only thing Beth does with her time. Throughout the first season, Beth and Rip begin to rekindle the spark they once shared before she left the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch all those years ago. After some on-again, off-again intimate moments, it’s clear that Rip wants something more for their relationship, but Beth isn’t quite there yet. Their game of will-they, won’t-they is interrupted by the arrival of new convict-turned-ranch hand Walker (Ryan Bingham), who Beth gets intimate with in the season finale, much to Rip’s dismay.
In the final scene of the season, Beth admits to her father that she’s not doing all of his dirty work because she loves the ranch. In fact, she’s going to sell plenty of the things he’s grown accustomed to — like the family dining room table he so often dreams of. Rather, she’s doing it all for him. It certainly puts a strange new spin on the saying “daddy’s little girl.”
‘Yellowstone’ Season 1’s Antagonists Have Different Ideas for the Dutton Land
Yellowstone‘s first season features two primary antagonists: Thomas Rainwater and Dan Jenkins. Each of these men wants the Dutton land for their own reasons. For Rainwater, he wants the land to go back to his people and be absorbed into the Broken Rock Indian Reservation — at least, that’s what he tells people. More than once though, he implies that he just wants the land, and it’s his personal disdain for John Dutton (especially after he’s arrested early on) that adds real fuel to the fire.
On the other side of the equation is Jenkins, who wants to build a new settlement in Paradise Valley, Montana, one that includes a massive development project (with an airport) that would basically make it the new Park City. Although Jenkins may seem somewhat incompetent at times, the season finale reveals that he’s the one responsible for John’s near-death encounter in the opening scene of the show. “It was a convenient opportunity,” he admits after Kayce, Rip, and some other cowboys string him up.
The season ends with Jenkins being left to hang for his crimes, but not before he sets the wheels in motion for a partnership between himself and Rainwater. Between the two of them, they’ve decided that the best use of the land is to build a casino on the edge of John’s property line, using the encroaching tourists and potential state revenue to force the Duttons off their land. No wonder Kayce left him hanging from a tree.
Jimmy Goes From Criminal to Branded Ranchhand in ‘Yellowstone’ Season 1
One character who is introduced later on in the pilot is Jimmy Hurdstrom (Jefferson White), a former thief and drug cook who is taken in by John Dutton after his grandfather asks for a favor. Immediately given the Yellowstone brand by Rip, Jimmy is sort of the punching bag of the group of ranchers early on, though those who mess with the young greenhorn soon realize their mistake. One such individual is even taken by Lloyd Pierce (Forrie J. Smith) to the “train station,” which just means that he’s never heard from again.
Over the course of the season, Jimmy becomes a bit more competent at the ranching thing, and after learning to ride a horse properly he starts to earn his keep. By the end of the season, Jimmy is a part of Kayce and Rip’s lynch mob who string Dan Jenkins up on the Yellowstone and leave him to die hanging. One thing’s for certain though, this cowboy has a long way to go before he’s fully accepted as a member of the Dutton crew, even if he’s been entrusted with a brand of his own.