Episode 4 of 1883 Season 1 begins with Elsa reflecting on their journey so far. The further west they travel, the more the rules and customs they’ve been bound by become a burden. This is the Wild West after all, and Elsa quickly realizes she’s not dressed appropriately for it. So naturally she trades gold for some trousers and begins to dress the part.
The large, unforgiving river continues to be the big obstacle here, and our lead group – Shea, Thomas, Josef, Grady, and James – all discuss crossing and what sacrifices that may entail.
James agrees to help ferry people across, agreeing to wait until the water heats up in order to make an easier passage. When Shea calls James a farmer, he immediately curses him out and reminds him that’s not what he is. The thing is, talking back is becoming contagious with others in the group starting to follow suit. This is something Shea is quick to point out to Thomas in confidence.
The other important point here stems from the crossing itself. Once everyone crosses the river there’s no way back. While Shea admits the unknown is what scares him, Thomas is quick to put that into perspective, pointing out he’s never been whipped like Thomas has. Now THAT is worth fearing.
James decides to move the wagon across the water in the dead of night, ahead of everyone else. He heads out to tell Elsa, but while she’s singing, Ennis shows and kisses her. Unfortunately this happens right in the view of James.
Things are tense, especially when he rides up to them. Taking Elsa aside, she admits that she likes him. For James that’s fine, given he’s treating her like an adult. Margaret though? Well, that’s a whole different ballgame. Something that Elsa will need to tell her mother herself.
The water is deep and Margaret is worried (although she claims not to be), especially when she sees James struggling to control his horse and make it to the other side. When the time comes, she does manage to move the wagon across without any complications – but they’re experienced travelers. The others? Not so much, and that’s where the worry stems.
Shea’s ghosts soon come to haunt him that night. He’s back in the heat of battle, watching as numerous comrades are shot down; cannonballs whiz overhead and deadly clouds of dust are a constant reminder of the devastation war can cause. When Shea bolts upright in the middle of the night, breathing heavily and calling out, Thomas comments how he hasn’t seen this before from him.
With James already on the other side of the river, he speaks to Shea from the other side of the river and promises to help them all pass. The thing is, the river has risen overnight and Shea tells the others that they need to unload any unessential gear to make thee crossing.
Shea was quite clear that they travel light, and upon finding unnecessary gear in all their wagons, he’s livid. In fact, he leaves the riders with an ultimatum – unload what’s not needed or Shea will burn their wagons to the ground.
In the wake of this, the ground is left covered with relics of all kind; tables, chairs, cabinets and musical instruments.
Elsa soon shows up with Ennis and Wade in their absence, marveling at this wooden graveyard. When she happens upon the piano, Ennis encourages her to play like she used to. So naturally she plays Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven.
As this plays, we cut back to the river as we see snippets of the harsh, perilous journey across the deep river. Elsa continues to play, struggling to hold back sobs. Following this song, they continue on, crossing the river where a lowly wagon, trinkets and dead bodies show the significant struggle it’s been to cross. This has been a difficult journey, and the longer it goes on the more our characters realize that the land will never love them back.
The Episode Review
God, the music in 1883 is so good and partly why this show works so well. That musical motif, the familiar medley that’s played throughout the series, is used perfectly in a number of different scenarios.
The minor strings used during the crossing, accentuating the tension and how difficult this journey is, works so well. By comparison, the quiet, understated strings while Elsa and Ennis are kissing under the moonlight shows the other side of this expansive soundtrack.
That’s to say nothing of Shea’s dreams, which complete mutes the music and allows the visuals to do the talking.
In terms of story, 1883’s is just as endearing as its musical one. It may be slow but it’s absolutely enthralling from start to finish. Every part of this show has been brought to life with beauty; from the long, establishing shots of the landscape to the perfect camera work during crucial bits of dialogue.
Ultimately, 1883 is one of the best shows on TV right now. It’s a beautiful, tranquil, thought provoking slice of western drama that’s turning into an absolute must-watch this year.