Much like how 1883 opens on a pivotal moment in Dutton family history, showcasing the animalistic strength of the Dutton women, 1923 begins with its matriarch Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren) at the bottom of a barrel, struggling to protect the family's hard-fought land. Unlike Elsa Dutton (Isabel May), who, in the 1883 cold open, ended up impaled by an arrow, Cara comes out of the situation victorious. But, as May's voice-over reveals, tragedy awaits the Dutton family, with only one of James Dutton's children anticipated to live long enough to see their children grow and survive what the 20th century hurled at them. The question is, will that be John Dutton Sr. (James Badge Dale) or his brother Spencer (Brandon Sklenar)? Fans of the flagship series that started the franchise, Yellowstone, may have something to say about that. But it's all about the journey, not the destination, right?
Here, Metacritic breaks down the most shocking moments of the 1923 series premiere.
Jacob Dutton's (Harrison Ford) cattle is dying. The drought is killing all grass, but on top of that, the sheep grazing what's left are responsible for the death of even more of Jacob's cows. Loudmouth Banner Creighton (Game of Thrones' Jerome Flynn) seems to personify the sheepherders that hold grudge against Jacob Dutton, who owns an entire mountain range. Creighton makes himself a lifelong enemy of the Duttons when he not just ignores the borders of the Dutton land but breaks the fence to let his sheep feed on Dutton's grass, despite Jacob's threats. When the Duttons bring their cattle higher up the mountain to feed them, they discover the sheep are already there. This will not end peacefully.
The introduction to the boarding school that assimilates Native Americans into western civilization is nothing short of brutal, demonstrating the type of abuse that was typical in church-run schools at the time. A vindictive Sister Mary (Jennifer Ehle) uses corporal punishment to penalize her student for not showing her the kind of respect she warrants. But as Sister Mary's treatment pushes student Teonna (Aminah Nieves) over the edge, precipitating an attack on her teacher, we see just how sadistic this school can be. Headmaster Father Renaud (Sebastian Roché) beats both teacher and student into submission, a strategy that for Sister Mary and Teonna will likely result in very different outcomes. Since Teonna and her friends have not heard from any of their graduating classmates since they left, she suspects the only way out alive is to escape the institution.
When John Sr.'s son Jack (Darren Mann) tells his fiancé Elizabeth (Michelle Randolph) that they are going to have to postpone their wedding by a week or two in order to save the Dutton cattle from famine, she takes it hard — hard enough to go tell him what he can go consummate his impending marriage with. What we learn is that Elizabeth is highly educated in all ways but the life of a farmer (which is ironic, since her father works for Jacob Dutton). Cara gives the bride-to-be a little talking to, saying many more anniversaries and events will go by without her husband due to the needs of the cattle, but in return Elizabeth can have the kind of freedom that other people cannot conceive. Elizabeth, dizzy with love, goes ahead and chooses Jack and the cattle rancher's life, despite the postponement of their nuptials.
Spencer Dutton, Jacob's other nephew, is exorcising his trauma from World War I in Africa, where he hunts wild animals to satisfy his craving for danger. His PTSD emerges periodically, thus far putting others in peril more than himself, but it feels like the tables are about to turn. That is, if Spencer survives the leopard lunging at him in the episode cliffhanger. Will this be an early answer to the foreshadowing at the beginning of the episode?
1923 streams new episodes Sundays