This 1883 review contains spoilers.
1883 Episode 8
In most of Taylor Sheridan’s shows, he has done well to pace out the story, with thrills coming at regular intervals, paired with the occasional “character building” episode to ultimately push story arcs towards the season’s conclusion. Episode 8 of 1883’s premiere season “The Weep of Surrender” is entirely a character building episode. Which fans, like myself, should definitely appreciate as it’s the secret to the richness of the fan-favorite characters of 1883 and Yellowstone.
In last weeks’ episode, we were introduced to the chiseled Native American alpha, Sam, who very quickly caught the eye of Elsa after the death of her first love, Ennis. While Shae, Thomas, the Duttons and the Immigrants begin to rebuild after the fierce storm in the last episode, Sam helps the group search for their missing cattle. This allows Elsa and Sam to get to know each other even more as he (as most men who fall for her) seems to love and encourage her free spirit. The two even bond over hunting buffalo, and Elsa, who seems to be able to roll with anything, gets her first kill and takes yet another step to confirming she is the real survivor of the Dutton clan. As much as fans may embrace the strong nature of Dutton women that can be found in Elsa, her mother, Margaret laments how much she’s losing her daughter more and more.
There are larger issues to be discussed though, as Shae, Thomas, James and Charlie Goodnight (played by Sheridan) run through the groups’ options. Things always seem to get even more desperate with every step they take, and now, with provisions destroyed, and several wagons lost in the tornado, Shae admits defeat, even slightly. He and Charlie agree that Denver, not Oregon may be the best bet for survival, which seems to trigger something in James. He refuses to allow Shae to make that decision for the immigrants, and tells him he has to offer them the choice; to push on to Oklahoma in even harsher conditions, or play it safe in Denver.
It’s one of the better character moments for James, who in typical Dutton fashion, is more than often laconic. He chooses his words very carefully, and in this moment of passion, we see what drives him and families like him throughout American history to make this push across an unforgiving country. In short, we see the Dutton in him, and those moments are too few and far between compared to what we get from his ancestor John in Yellowstone.
In fact, the episode is loaded with amazingly well-written character moments. Margaret tells Elsa that she will never stand in the way of James when she sees this fire in him. That he has a journey, or as she calls it a “map in his head” that no one can prevent him from completing. It’s one of the better links between this generation of Dutton and the Yellowstone generation, as we see the seeds of why all Duttons are creatures of destiny and drive.
The best aspect of this episode is we saw a major shift in leadership, possibly even changing the dynamic of the show for the remaining two episodes. James, while opinionated, so far has remained quiet, but with Shae shortchanging the immigrants in James’ eyes, he had enough, and steps up to take charge and lead the immigrants to perhaps glory (or perhaps more suffering). As always Sam Elliott’s acting is superb, as was the writing in the scene where he graciously accepts that James is the man to lead them. Shae acknowledges everyone trusts James, and that might just be enough to lead them to the promised land. This is a much needed moment in the show to give James Dutton a chance to be the leader of men we know him to be.
In one of the more enjoyable fireside chats between James and Margaret, they also joke about how quickly Elsa is in love again. When James mocks his daughter’s fickle heart saying “She’s going to fall in love with every man she meets until one of them sticks”, he’s also saying what the audience is thinking. While there have been moments of 1883 that have seemed rushed, (and perhaps this romance with Sam is yet another one of those moments), what I admire about Sheridan’s writing in this episode, is that he acknowledges that pace in a very tongue-and-cheek manner.
Yet the circumstances of the last two episodes have hit the audience like the aforementioned tornado. Charlie Goodnight comes in and leaves as quickly as the twister. Sam and Elsa fall for each other in the blink of an eye, and with the romance reaching yet another peak in this week’s episode with their betrothal and exclamation of their undying love, I was left wondering how that story can possibly conclude this season. It would be great to see Isabel May as Elsa given more time to develop the character at a more believable pace, because she is the voice of the show (quite literally when she narrates). Yet with Elsa following her family, leaving her beloved Sam behind, it seems like another moment to let a beautiful storyline drift away with no real closure. Sheridan has been guilty of that in the past, with several plot holes remaining unanswered in Yellowstone’s four seasons thus far.
Ultimately, it remains to be seen how rushed it feels further down the line, predominantly depending on whether the show will have another season, and the story will continue. With only two episodes left this season, it will be interesting to see how many of those questions remain unanswered.