Beth Dutton - Our New Archetype
If you haven't yet watched Yellowstone, you need to. Beth Dutton shows us what it means to emerge from the trauma of patriarchal oppression. Warning: spoiler alert.
A few months ago, my eldest daughter told me she watched Yellowstone on Neon because “… there's this brilliant character who smokes and drinks and just doesn't give a fuck about what people think” Knowing that my daughter sees truth and beauty in unlikely places, I took this as a strong recommendation, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I recognised Beth Dutton in the first episode and was instantly mesmerised by her. Her seeming trajectory toward self-destruction is fascinating, and it's anyone's guess how that might eventuate. The speed with which she infuriates and humiliates those that stand in her way probably puts assassination at the top of the list, followed closely by lung cancer or liver failure.
The character development that follows through four episodes is nothing short of genius. During the series, the earliest experience in Beth's life that the audience is privy to includes the confiscation of her uterus. Her older brother’s botched attempt to help her access an abortion leads to him consenting to a complete hysterectomy. The distillation of patriarchal harm inherent in this action is mind-blowing and helps us better understand Beth's hate. Although she understands it perfectly, “I am the rock therapists break themselves against,” she says knowingly during one particularly brilliant scene.
Throughout the four seasons, Beth's devotion to her father’s goal to retain their family ranch is unwavering. It is as though ‘whatever my father wants’ is tattooed on her heart, and she will commit any manner of evil to achieve it. She never tries to dismantle this perceived expectation. Instead, it becomes her sole purpose in life, and strangely I admire her commitment. It is as though her ability to love has too much damage to transcend but finds an unimpeded outlet in her father and later her lover Rip, and she lets it roar ferociously through.
There are attempts on Beth's life, but it is always a hired hit man, never the person who wants her dead. This theme is one of the many clues to Beth's innate strength and, ultimately, her resilience because she turns up to do her own dirty work whenever possible. Contemplating this makes us realise that no matter how much trauma a woman endures, fundamental integrity and a loftier morality, regardless slightly warped, can be maintained if not honed.
One of the hired assassins makes a very poor choice and attempts to rape Beth before he tries to kill her. She renders him impotent with her insults, weakening his control and ultimately leading to his violent demise. While this screams a fundamental flaw inherent in the patriarchal manifesto, it also sets the scene for Beth to demonstrate that feminine power is as dirty as it needs to be.
This example deconstructs the puritanical ‘white wedding dress’ values assigned to women and insisted upon as proof that we've taken our fairer sex status seriously. During the unceremonious herding up to the ivory tower, women were denied keys to the door of their armoury. A sacred space that doesn't contain men's weapons but rather the knowledge of women. We have missed crucial training that has enabled the patriarchy centuries of unopposed reign. It has meant that we haven’t had everything we needed in our attempt to rise above the ‘ways of men’.
Enter Beth Dutton, damaged enough to have no fear for her own life. Yet everything that doesn't kill Beth makes her stronger, and so many things should kill her, but as she explains to her father, “If a meteor strikes earth tonight…it’s me and the cockroaches runnin’ this motherfucker tomorrow.” However, the harrowing events that leave her body permanently scarred seem to herald the emergence of a purified female archetype, reborn to withstand the trials and tribulations of our times. And during this alchemy, we witness a softening. It begins as a small white ember at the centre of her red hot rage, expanding throughout her love story and inadvertent mothering to eventually purify her hate.
The beginning of the first episode of season four, when Beth exits the building where a bomb has just exploded, shows how tough she is. Hearing obliterated during the blast, her dress and the skin of her back burned away, she stops someone and asks them for a cigarette. The eventual scarring that results makes no difference to what she chooses to wear; she brandishes the evidence of her injuries as proof that she will keep showing up regardless of the attempts to stop her. We then soften our gaze when we see her back during scenes of intimacy where her healthy sexuality banishes any shame that could have crept in with disfigurement.
Missing the point is an understatement to declare Beth Dutton broken; she is our only hope. Beth is a hero because she isn’t trying to be one, teaching us that shamelessness is our next best superpower. She shows us that we can survive, but we must be brave in different ways if we are to save the things we love. And none of this has to happen at the cost of the feminine; our core tenets of love and nurturing might look different navigating our uncertain future, but they are still the source of our power.
Hello , this is Kelly . I play Beth on the show . Someone sent me this . I’m so blown away by what you have written . Thank you . For seeing her . For understanding her . For writing about her .
She is everything you say and playing her is an honor
Best , Kelly
Do you have an Instagram account ? I could repost it if you do . I’m sure the fans of the show would love to read this .
This is such a brilliant insight into a character that so many people just see on the surface. I have felt for four years the strength, pain, and fierce love that guide this complex character. Thank you for writing something that I could never have said so adroitly ..but understand completely