John Dutton is the main character of , but that doesn't prevent him from being the show's villain. Exploring morally complex antagonists has become a trend in television following and , and while John Dutton does have some convincing justifications that can make viewers root for him and the Yellowstone Ranch, there are scenes that should serve as important reminders for the type of person he is. John Dutton has a code and moral boundaries that distinguish him from someone like Walter White, but he still has his fair share of problems.
John's relationships with his children are primary indicators of the man he has the capacity to be. While he expresses warmth to certain people, and clearly has affection for them, it's clear that he hasn't been a consistent parent since the passing of his wife. His life is consumed with the constant battle for the Yellowstone Ranch, and by, he's showing no signs of letting up. This is the hill he intends to die on, and even after the many sacrifices that have been made for it, he persists.
In season 4, Beth tasks Summer Higgins with inciting a protest, resulting in Summer being sentenced to prison time. John is furious when he finds out, telling Beth that it's against the family's moral code to do such a thing to someone who isn't their enemy and kicks her out. While Beth was wrong to use Summer like that, the situation is emblematic of their toxic relationship. John is typically ignorant of the dirty and cruel methods Beth uses, but when it results in his love interest being imprisoned, he's extremely hard on her. Beth is absolutely crushed when her father expresses his disappointment.
John and Kayce have a complicated relationship, particularly in the first season when Kayce is living off of the ranch. At the end of season 2, John reveals why it is that he and Kayce had such a strain between them because he had told Kayce to bring Monica to an abortion clinic when she got pregnant with Tate. Instead, Kayce married Monica, and the two went to raise Tate away from the ranch. Instead of supporting Kayce, John turned his back on him, and it took years for him to rebuild his relationship with his son and grandson.
After a feud over Laramie grows between Lloyd and Walker in season 4, John decides it's best to remove the women from the Bunkhouse. Teeter, in particular, had done nothing wrong and had even been branded, making the decision a complete betrayal to her. Teeter shows her fondness and dedication for the ranch, resulting in John changing his mind. However, the issue with the situation is that John blamed the issue on the presence of women, rather than holding the men responsible for their own actions.
season 3 sees Jamie discover the existence of his biological father, Garrett Randle. He approaches his father in anger about the matter, and John explains that he hid the information from Jamie to keep him away from Garrett, a convicted murderer, and because the Duttons were his real family. The problem is that John has admitted that he doesn't love Jamie the way he loves his biological children, and has been frequently physically abusive and emotionally distant with Jamie. Lying to Jamie about his parentage was an effort to hold him to a false sense of loyalty.
To make matters even worse with Jamie, John hits him with a major slap to the face in season 4 when he steps in to take Jamie's endorsement to run for governor himself. Jamie is invited, expecting to give his speech announcing his run for the position, when it turns out John is the candidate that Senator Lynelle Perry is planning to endorse instead. Rather than telling Jamie he was planning to do this, he crushes his son instead, by letting him find out at the last minute and embarrassing himself.
While this isn't exactly one scene, it's something that has happened multiple times in . John Dutton uses his branded bunkhouse cowboys, particularly Rip, to murder people and hide their bodies. He's used his position of political power to get away with killing his enemies on multiple occasions. While he may be running a legal business, the bodies he's been piling up essentially make him a crime boss.
John Dutton's children in the particularly Beth, live their lives in his orbit, trying to defend him and his ideals. This makes it all the more selfish when he does something reckless. In season 4, John Dutton and Rip witness a random diner hold-up with four gunmen. John doesn't need to get involved, but he runs in to play the hero and saves the day. This sort of behavior is common with him, as he'll frequently ignore doctor's orders or involve himself in dangerous or violent situations. This behavior is dismissive and ignorant of how much effort his children put in to protect him, as pointed out by Beth in season 4.
In John Dutton's announcement that he'll run for Governor, he makes it clear that he is against progress. While on one hand, his stance of protecting the natural world against big corporations may seem noble, the issue is that he has more land than any man should own. The Duttons violently took this land from Indigenous Americans in the late 1800s, an idea the series explores with the Broken Rock Reservation. Rather than help provide land for the members of this tribe, he holds 800,000 acres for himself and those who work for him.
Lee Dutton was John's firstborn son and was killed in the first episode of the show. This is a detail the characters of the show seem to have forgotten, as he's barely been mentioned since his death. Lee dies in a shootout after John sends him to reclaim cattle in a dispute with the Broken Rock Indian Reservation. While this wasn't directly John's fault, utilizing his son as a soldier isn't ideal, and John doesn't really seem to learn from this mistake, constantly sending Kayce out to the front lines throughout the series.
John Dutton has mentioned multiple times that he's broke and that the ranch has been financially suffering. offers John a $500 million deal for the land, with the intent of turning it into an Airport. While it would be horrifying to turn that beautiful land into an airport, John is never going to get a better deal than that. If it was just him going down with the ship, it may have been noble to hold on to his land and go out fighting, but he'll, unfortunately, be bringing his family down with him.