Despite its connection to Yellowstone and promos leading into the 1883 premiere, how this story would unfold was somewhat of a mystery.
And if there’s anything we knew going into 1883, the Duttons are not weak.
Capitalizing on the strength of the Dutton women by focusing the story on Elsa Dutton offers a uniquely fresh, female perspective.
I do not know what Texas means, but to me, it means magic.
Through voiceovers, Elsa captures the magic of their adventure, sprinkles in a little wide-eyed romance, and experiences the hellish aspects of their journey with youthful clarity.
That’s important because the adults have already been through hell and back. Jaded and fighting ghosts, their pasts color the present.
Those difficulties fold beautifully in the sacrifice and courage needed to forge a new path into uncivilized territory.
From the Duttons to Shea and Thomas to the immigrants they’re accompanying to Oregon, everyone hopes to have a better future than what they’ve left behind.
That doesn’t mean that everyone is prepared for the enormity of what lies ahead, and it looks like that aspect will drive the story forward.
James Dutton fought in the Civil War for the Union. Not everyone who fought in that war did so because of what it stood for. Tim McGraw believes that James was one of those men, possibly fighting out of a sense of duty and honor that he later came to regret.
Standing above his fellow soldiers, all dead on the field around him, James must have felt the weight of their misguided attempt to hold onto a way of life that wasn’t worth living anymore.
The scene was made more powerful with McGraw’s good friend Tom Hanks. Showing how compassionately James was treated, even if only for a minute, sent a nice message about forgiveness, understanding, and moving on.
Shea and Thomas also fought together, if on the opposite side from James. When Shea said a final goodbye to his family, he considered joining them.
The nature of his friendship with Thomas gave Shea what he needed in that moment and pulled him away from the brink with his simple words. Thomas didn’t make a big deal out of what Shea was experiencing, and that’s what his friend needed.
For regular people, even traveling by train wasn’t easy. It was cramped and loud and probably stank to high heaven, too.
Our first encounter with Margaret Dutton found the mama bear beating the tar out of a man who was flirting with Elsa, but Margaret also allowed her sister to do the same to Elsa for disrespecting her mother.
Claire and her daughter were miserable to the point of unbearable, but Claire had lost six children and her husband. That’s not an excuse to be so rotten to others and shower them with your unhappiness, but it’s easy to imagine how difficult their losses were nonetheless.
Elsa was almost raped before they even got on the road. Some of the immigrants were sent to die alone after being found with smallpox. Nothing about the upcoming journey promised it would be easy.
Shea and Thomas offered a bit of merriment as they tried to explain the dangers of their travels to their non-English speaking charges.
Shea: Do not drink water from the ground. When we can, we will choose a latrine away from the water source.
Josef: What is a latrine?
Shea: Powder room. Water closet. Thomas, help me.
Shea: What in the hell is a toilet?
Thomas: It’s French for shitter.
Shea: When’d you learn French?
Thomas: Don’t know French. I know the French word for shitter.
Shea: How do you know the French word for shitter?
Thomas: I used to fuck a gal from France.
Shea: Fine. That’s all you had to say. You don’t need to get angry about it.
And Elsa found beauty in any moment she could, which reminded us of the wonders of the wide-open expanse and the freedom that was within their grasp.
Freedom is riding wild over the untammed land with no notion that any moment exists beyond the one you are living.
Still, nothing prepared us for how quickly the journey would bring misery and death. Bandits roam the countryside, and dealing with them takes a lot of skill. Everyone is skeptical of others while on the road, whether they’re known or unknown.
Margaret: They were rough, and they were rude, and they were lookin’ for it. Still, I can’t say they started it.
James: Doesn’t matter who started it.
Margaret: I’m just sayin’ that I’m not sure there’s justice in it.
James: I believe in you, and I believe in that boy, and I believe in our daughter. That’s all. Justice don’t factor into it.
The ramifications of Claire’s actions with the group that came upon their camp were easy to foresee, but that didn’t make it easy to watch.
And just like that, horror steps from the shadows and our freedom is gone.
It was like the icing on the cake of the beginning of their trip, but there’s little doubt that it will be rough going as they continue to make their way north.
The premiere opened with a raid of some sort leaving Elsa with an arrow through the gut. During her poetic voiceovers, she mentions dreams and nightmares, but that event seemed beyond something she’d imagine.
And precedent from what we’ve seen of 1883 on Yellowstone suggests that we will, from time to time, see what’s to come for the Duttons on their way to and after settling in Montana.
A show can live and die by its cast, and 1883 scores very high marks in that department.
Sam Elliott is synonymous with the American West in our minds, but Shea Brennan is so much more than a cowboy. He’s cynical and hopeful at the same time, both wanting to scream in frustration at how poorly prepared the immigrants are for the journey but also wanting to ensure they get the best possible outcome.
Thomas represents something that was missing from portrayals of the west for too long.
There is a rich history of black men and women who moved west. LaMonica Garrett teared up talking about how much it means to him to be a part of this production, and that shows in his portrayal.
You don’t think I hauled 40 gallons of water up those stairs just to get clean. I want you.
James and Margaret Dutton are dream roles for husband and wife actors McGraw and Faith Hill. Their comfort with each other translates well on screen, giving the Duttons are realistic relationship with each other and as mother and father to their children.
Margaret: Look after your brother.
Elsa: I will.
Margaret: Yes, mam.
Elsa: I said I will.
Margaret: I know what you said. What you didn’t say was yes, mam.
Elsa: Women don’t say that to each other.
Margaret: Oh, so you’re a woman now?
Elsa: Far enough.
Margaret [to James] That child.
James: She ain’t wrong.
Margaret: So you’re ready for her to start courtin’?
James: [chuckles] Not a chance.
Isabel May is adorable. She shows strength and vulnerability as Elsa. And Audie Rick as John Dutton, Sr. is one of the cutest little boys I’ve ever seen. They’re normal kids in extraordinary circumstances, which makes their experiences more believable.
Too often, we forget what it took to create the world we live in now, but 1883 promises to expose how it happened in all of its glory without pulling away from the risks, danger, and mistakes made along the way.
What did you think about the premiere? Do you like the female voice, especially if you’re a Beth Dutton fan?
Please share your thoughts with us in the comments.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.
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