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‘1883’: Paramount Plus Concludes Season One of ‘Yellowstone’ Prequel

Written By | Mar 6, 2022
1883, Yellowstone, Paramount Plus

Video screen capture from Paramount Plus series “1883,” Episode 10.

WASHINGTON — The Paramount Plus network recently streamed Episode 10 of “1883.” The network’s new Western series serves as the prequel to their ongoing smash hit series  “Yellowstone.” Fans of the new series will be pleased to know that, according to “Variety,” Paramount has renewed “1883” for a second season. Since 1905, “Variety” has proved the most authoritative and trusted source for news on the entertainment business news. So you can probably take its “1883” update news to the bank.

“1883”: The Paramount Plus prequel to its popular contemporary Western series “Yellowstone”

The production team of Paramount’s contemporary Western series, “Yellowstone,” is currently working on its 5th season episodes.”1883,” now green-lighted for Season 2, provides needed background material for “Yellowstone” while telling its own compelling story. Its largely A-list Hollywood cast includes Sam Elliott, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Billy Bob Thornton. It also stars Isabel May, LaMonica Garrett, Marc Rissmann, Audie Rick, Eric Nelsen and James Landry Hébert.

“1883” follows the origin story of “Yellowstone’s” Dutton family, whose ancestors embarked on their journey West through the Great Plains, destination Montana. In that still wild and untamed land, they strove to establish a new family homestead, now known as Dutton’s Yellowstone Ranch in the original series. “Yellowstone” revolves around the contemporary difficulty of maintaining and defending a vast family homestead against the encroachments of real estate moguls and the increasing sophistication and assertiveness of an adjacent Indian tribe. The historically focused “1883” series follows America’s westward expansion in the 19th century. Its story line focuses on earlier Americans’ pioneering mindset as they look to stake their claims on their own piece in the vastness of the American wilderness.

Shea Brennan and Thomas: The Wagon Master and his valued sidekick

“1883’s” first season opens with a sadly morbid scene. We first encounter Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott) as he grapples with a serious family tragedy. Both his wife and daughter lie dead in his prairie farm home, both felled by the still-rampant and often fatal disease of smallpox. Given that developing his homestead raising his family was the reason he’d fought — and nearly died — in America’s Civil War, his world has collapsed. So he opts to simply burn his house down, along with the remains of his disease-stricken family, nearly taking his own life with his Civil War-era sidearm.

Shea had served as a captain in the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war concluded, he went on to other jobs. He worked as a Pinkerton Agent, became a cowboy, and ended up as wagon master of a wagon train. His character is complex. But audiences came to love this wagon master. He possesses high moral values. Yet he can still defend himself and his values with both muscle and firepower.

In the Civil War, Shea Brennan once served as Union soldier Thomas’s (LaMonica Garrett) commanding officer. After constantly having had each other’s backs in the Civil War, the two chose to maintain a close relationship after the war. Indeed, Thomas (the only name we have for him) convinced Shea earlier not to end his own life. Later, the two travelled together to Fort Worth, Texas. There, they found work leading a wagon train of German immigrant settlers on their Westward trek.

Meet the Dutton Family

In Fort Worth we meet early Dutton family members James (Tim McGraw) and Margaret (Faith Hill) Dutton. James, like Shea, was also a Captain in the Civil War. But he fought in the Army of the opposition. Shea requests James Dutton’s help in leading the German immigrants of the wagon train west, offering money to do so. Given their service on opposite sides in the Civil War, the dynamics of their developing relationship provides another key element in the “1883” narrative.

We also encounter their two children, daughter Elsa (Isabel May) and young son John (Audie Rick), both born in Tennessee. A sweet, innocent girl of 18, Elsa rapidly captivates our hearts. As our Season 1 narrator, the ensuing events unfold from her point of view state of mind. As for young John, we know he will age into the role of John Dutton Senior in the “Yellowstone” series.

Innocent in some ways, Elsa embodies the free spirit of a wild child. At 18, she already feels her racing hormones, which arouse a burning desire to experience love and sex. This tendency become increasingly obvious, serving as an ongoing concern for her parents, who wish to keep her as a child just a little while longer. This certainly reminds us of another notable daughter in Paramount Plus’ still unfolding epic “Yellowstone.”

Positive reviews plus a few critical brickbats

In general, “1883” enjoyed outstanding reviews from critics and viewers alike. That said, some viewers and a few critics had issues with Season 1’s portrayal the first Duttons.

Early on, the series got blasted politically for its portrayal of James and Margaret Dutton as unashamedly western-style  gunslingers. In real life, both singer-actors actually came out some time ago as opposed to guns. But unfortunate analogies soon arose when Alec Baldwin — coincidentally also on record as anti-gun — allegedly shot a camerawoman by accident on the set of his now apparently canceled film “Rust.” Despite being “anti-gun.” The Baldwin scandal unfolded this past January as episodes of “1883” unfolded on Paramount Plus.

“1883’s” audience tended to overlook gun issue when it came to Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Both remain well-loved and respected as country music artists and experienced horse owners. Given the brutal realities of life in western America in the late 1800s, “1883’s” show runners decreed that every character in the series needed to know how to ride a horse and handle a firearm. Or be willing to learn. In the end, viewers seem to have given McGraw and Hill a pass on this issue. Acting and real-life don’t necessarily need to track together.

Other issues for “1883”

Another problem “1883” viewers have raised relates to the show’s timeline and math. Ditto the geographical realities in the path the show’s wagon train apparently followed.

In the show’s timeline, settlers were still fighting and getting killed by Indian tribes. Yet America’s actual historical timeline would seem to indicate this was not the case in the late 19th  century. In 1851 Congress had passed the Indian Appropriations Act that created the Indian reservation system, after which tribal attacks on settlers gradually became quite rare.

Need more evidence for this chronological glitch in the script of “1883”? This writer proudly owns a pair of pictures taken of Native Americans in 1849 by a great-great-uncle. This uncle traveled West as a journalist to chronicle the still-unfolding 1849 California Gold Rush and the related madness that ensued. The Indians in the picture clearly appear unarmed. Without any apparent malice, they were photographed looking directly at my uncle. And, no doubt, wondering why he chose to hide behind black box into which he poked his head to take the picture.

More post-1880 Wild West customs not always accurate

In “1883,” the sexually active Elsa takes up with a Comanche named Sam. This American Indian brave becomes her second lover in the series, after Elsa first lover, a cowboy, ends up shot and killed. Sam teaches her some Native American language and customs. But then he lets her go to find her way further West with her family, promising to join her again later.

Any historian familiar with the ways of Comanche tribes in that era knows this outcome would have been most unlikely. In the reality of the times, Sam would likely either have kept Elsa as his own, or might possibly have killed her for being white.

Many fans of “1883” and “Yellowstone” see numerous shared character traits parallels between Elsa Dutton and Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly) of “Yellowstone.” Both were/are women who knew/ know no societal or earthly bounds. Neither seem affected by fear. Not coincidentally, in the Dutton family tree, Elsa Dutton would have been Beth’s great-great-aunt.

In the 19th Century West, mortality could prove a sometime thing

Very few of those who started out West from Fort Worth concluded their “1883” journey. The vast majority of pioneers in this series succumbed due to drownings, tornadoes, rattlesnake bites, (likely spurious) Indian attacks and the predations of bandits. But statistically speaking, historians might regard this series of disastrous outcomes as highly unlikely. Most pioneers beginning such a journey probably survived it. In reality, the primary dangers to their survival? Hyperthermia or starvation. But in “1883,” the show’s writers hardly explored these two outcomes.

Another odd omission in this show? The biggest news of post-Civil War America unfolded in 1869. In that year, the late President Abraham Lincoln’s dream of a transcontinental railroad linking East with the West actually became a reality. So at the very least, a western-bound wagon train might well have navigated its way across America’s still-newish railroad tracks somewhere in southern Wyoming.

Many series fans took to social media to explore the likely route the “1883” wagon train followed. But those better-versed in 19th century history wondered why these pioneers just didn’t take the well-known Great Western Cattle Trail from Texas right up to Montana.

Map of “Great Western Cattle Trails” via Wikipedia. CC 0.0 license.

Did authentic Wild West language include plenty of F-bombs?

Did “1883’s” these rough and ready cowboys customarily drop “F-bombs” all over the fruited plain? Granted, the writers knew these rough and ready men likely cussed a blue streak. But perhaps the use of period-likely curse words might have seemed less questionable. (Showrunners for the late, great “Deadwood” series faced the same historical dilemma.

While the predecessor word to today’s F-bomb and its variants likely arose in the Middle Ages, one wonders whether the cowboys and pioneers of “1883” used it with any regularity around that time.

SPOILER ALERT! if you did not watch Season 1, Episode 10 of “1883,” STOP READING NOW

A final point of contention: Were the “1883” writers wise to kill off a primary character / protagonist-slash-narrator of their epic tale. Especially if they intended Season 1 as part of a continuing series. Whatever the case, that’s exactly what happens to Elsa Dutton after she get shot through by a Dakota warrior’s arrow previously dipped in excrement. And all over a misunderstanding.

At first, Elsa seems likely to bounce back from this injury. But, in an age where antibiotics did not exist, infection ultimately took her out in the end as she sat under a tree with her father in Paradise Valley, Montana. This locale will become the Dutton Family homestead in the series’ newly confirmed next season.

Final comments

While the acting and writing in “1883” proves generally superb, the creators should have hired both a historian and geographer to help them tell this story with greater historical accuracy. Additionally, news accounts on the web frequently discuss how the deaths of both Elsa and Shea left many fans “devastated” at the end of the first season. Upset might be a better word choice but, yes, it was not a happy ending. Yet frequently today, filmmakers and show runners seem to delight in dashing audience expectations. We need go no further than the critically and popularly hated finale to the otherwise greatly acclaimed “Game of Thrones” for the worst example of this tendency.

In “1883,” many found themselves perplexed about the meaning of Elsa’s final words to her father.

ELSA: “I understand it now.”

JAMES: “Understand what?”

ELSA: “I know what it is, and I’m not worried. I’m not worried, Daddy.”

Speculation? Elsa seems to have come to terms with her own mortality. A significant clue supporting this theory? Something she said earlier in the previous episode while alone with her father:

ELSA: “Want to know my greatest fear about dying? It’s being forgotten, and I can’t understand why because I won’t be here to know anyone forgot me.”

In other words, in the end, it really doesn’t matter if the world forgets us.

Who knows? Maybe Season 2 will open with Elsa waking up from a terrible nightmare. Similar to that notorious plot twist in the old “Dallas” TV series decades ago. Elsa’s fans can only hope.

Read more from Mark Schwendau.

About the author:

Mark Schwendau is a conservative Christian patriot and retired technology professor (CAD-CAM and web development). He prides himself on his critical thinking ability. Schwendau has had a long sideline of newspaper editorial writing where he used the byline, “bringing little known facts to people who want to see the truth. Mark is on alternative free speech social media platforms after lifetime bans from Facebook and Twitter and shadow bans from Instagram and Fox News commenting.

His website is www.IDrawIWrite.Tech

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Mark Schwendau

Mark Schwendau is a Christian conservative patriot and retired technology professor (CAD-CAM and web development) who prides himself on his critical thinking ability. Schwendau has had a long sideline of newspaper editorial writing where he used the byline, “- bringing little known facts to people who simply want to know the truth.” Mark is on alternative free speech social media platforms after lifetime bans from Facebook and Twitter and shadow bans from Instagram and Fox News commenting. His website is www.IDrawIWrite.Tech