Episode 1 of 1883 begins in the Great Plains. Or, as our first bit of narration so eloquently puts it – Hell. For those unaware, 1883 is a prequel series to the wildly popular Yellowstone, depicting the rise of the Dutton family long before they operated the largest ranch in the US.
Our first scenes open with Elsa, who steps up and looks out at the devastation before her, shell-shocked as her carriage is reduced to a burning wreckage. Indians swarm the area. Elsa comes at them with a gun in a blind rage.
The echoes of this attack soon cast us back through time to Shea Brennon. He heads inside his house, struggling to hold back his tears as his family have succumbed to the horrors of smallpox. This deadly disease has ravaged his home and with little other choice, he burns it all to the ground.
Now, Shea happens to be a Captain and after flirting with the idea of committing suicide, Shea heads out with his partner Thomas for a big job. En-route they notice bandits attempting to take out a carriage. The farmer aboard (whom we soon find out is James Dutton) holds his own and fends them off.
James arrives in Fort Worth, deep in the heart of Texas. He’s meeting his family there, much to the warnings of various vendors. It’s a dog eat dog world here and he’s implored to make sure he knows how to use a gun when trouble shows up. And it doesn’t take long before a pickpocket takes off with his wallet.
James immediately establishes himself, shooting the pickpocket in the back and taking his wallet back. The townsfolk meanwhile are enraged and immediately string him up for this crime.
Now, Shea and Thomas watch all of this unfold from afar, eventually heading in to warn a whole caravan off travelers that this journey is going to be dangerous. Very few of them speak English but for a translator by the name of Josef.
Shea encourages him to sell their oxen and exchange them for horses. Shea is shocked at their lack of preparation – and even more so when he finds out they don’t have any guns either. This job we heard about comes from moving these guys 2000 miles and after seeing how ill-prepared they are, Shea wants to renegotiate a new fee. It’s going to be more than 200 per family – and they need extra protection for the journey. They certainly won’t be ready in the morning.
Remember James’s family? Well, they’re riding on the train and happen to include Elsa, the woman we saw from the opening of the chapter. James has another son, John, and they’re riding along with James’s sister Claire and his niece Mary. They arrive in town on a train, but Claire is certainly disapproving of Elsa’s “disobedience”, heading off to a different carriage and naively walking into an unnerving encounter with a businessman who talks sweetly to her.
Meanwhile, Shea and Thomas catch up with James at the bar. He’s going to continue heading up North, but Shea and Thomas decide they should collaborate and ride together. Now, Shea is haunted by the memories of his past involving his wife Helen. One of the whores talks a big game, understanding Shea’s troubles and deciding he should call her Helen instead. Well, she gets a shove and a threat for her troubles.
Back at the motel, a drunk man arrives and breaks into Elsa’s room. He immediately notices Elsa and tries to rape her. Thankfully, James arrives and immediately shoots the man dead.
This is enough for James to make his choice and join up with Shea and Thomas, deciding to ride with them. Shea and the others check every single traveler for smallpox before they go though. Unfortunately one of the men and his family have the pox and he needs to leave town. If he doesn’t, it could spread everywhere.
With this cleared up, at least for now, Shea, Thomas and James make plans for camp as they prepare to leave.
The Episode Review
Yellowstone’s prequel, 1883, gets off to a great start here with an absolutely enthralling opening chapter. The visuals are gorgeous, the score beautifully composed and the narration works so well to break up this slow burn western drama.
The dual focus, shifting between Shea and James, works nicely to showcase how these two opposing forces come together, with some great acting and a solid story line.
With another episode released today (thank you Paramount!) we thankfully don’t have to wait too long before finding out what happens next!