‘1883’ Delivers All-Star Cameos and Two Devastating Deaths in Episode 2 [Spoiler Alert]
You can't accuse 1883 of letting off the throttle in its second episode. Season 1, Episode 2 of the new Yellowstone prequel offered a kitchen-sink approach to cinematic television, kicking off with a superstar cameo and wrapping with the deaths of two family members that we just did not see coming.
Episode 2 opens in 1862, and it gives us a glimpse of the roots of James Dutton's (Tim McGraw) anger and darkness. He served in the Civil War on the Confederate side, and the scene shows him having survived the Battle of Antietam, which was the single bloodiest day of the war. He's on the losing side, and there's an affecting scene as Tom Hanks, playing a Union general, tries vainly to comfort him after both men have clearly seen and lost too much.
Dutton's daughter, Elsa (Isabel May) tells us in voiceover that her father went on to serve three years in a Union prison camp and came home weighing 97 lbs., and he was never to speak of his experiences again to anyone, even crossing the street to avoid acknowledging men he had know during that time.
The action comes thick and fast in Episode 2, as the wagon train of inexperienced immigrants, women and children comes under attack just as soon as the men (and Elsa) go off for a few hours to round up some wild horses. A group of men ride up, clearly with some ill intent, and when Claire (Dawn Olivieri) tries to step up and warn them, her bitter and high-minded tone only serves to worsen the situation — especially when she throws rocks at the men and commands, "Begone."
Margaret Dutton (Faith Hill) saves the day by brandishing a shotgun, and we learn that although they do not have guns, the immigrant group are not as pacifist as we might have thought when they start hurling rocks at the would-be bandits, appearing to drive them to retreat. But that proves short-lived when the men ride back through camp, spraying bullets in every direction and killing several. Hill plays one of her pivotal scenes as Margaret initially can't locate her son, John (Audie Rick) in the confusion that follows, but it turns out that he's fine after she delivers a gut-wrenching scream that stays with the viewer long after.
Claire's daughter, Mary Abel (Emma Malouff) has not fared so well. She is among those who died in the attack, and when Elsa makes it back to camp and tells Claire how sorry she is, her existing bitterness boils over as she hisses, "Are you? You don't even know what that word means. But you're gonna learn. All of you are gonna learn."
1883 then introduces Billy Bob Thornton in the role of Marshal Jim Courtright, who is based on a real historical character. He was basically a gunman who shot his way into a position in law enforcement so he could get businesses to pay protection money, and the scene that follows plays out one of the classic tropes of the Western genre as Courtright, Dutton, Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott), Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) and more swagger down the street in a line, headed for the saloon, where they administer a shocking dose of barroom justice to the men responsible for the killings.
But that's still not enough drama and action for one episode. Claire decides to take her own life, and viewers get to see the roots of her moralistic, self-righteous anger and bitterness as she reveals that she's lost no less than seven children in addition to her husband.
"What do I have left to live for?" she demands of James. "I am done kneeling. I am ready to lay down."
Claire offers James the most bitter of parting words before shooting herself in the head, leaving the Dutton family on this journey West to just the core unit of James, Margaret, Elsa and John. He stays behind to bury her body as the episode ends, and surprisingly, he's joined by Brennan. Viewers are reminded of Brennan's own pain and loss when he remarks, "I admire her courage."
Episode 2 makes it clear that Taylor Sheridan is continuing his practice of taking any character off the board at any time in 1883. Now that two actual family members have died, is anybody safe? What other big-name cameos might lie ahead? Just how many men will James end up killing? And how long will it be until Elsa ends up in some romantic entanglement with one of the cowboys who are along for the ride?
1883 returns every Sunday via Paramount+.
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