‘1883’ Introduces New Duttons — What Do You Think of the ‘Yellowstone’ Prequel? (RECAP)

Tim McGraw as James, Isabel May as Elsa in 1883
Spoiler Alert
Emerson Miller/Paramount+


1883/Behind Us, A Cliff

Season 1 • Episode 1

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the first two episodes of 1883, “1883” and “Behind Us, A Cliff.”]

“The road west is filled with failures, but failure isn’t what drove him. It was a dream. And the dream was coming true,” Elsa (Isabel May) says of her father, James (Tim McGraw) in Taylor Sheridan’s new drama.

On Yellowstone, we’ve seen how successful the Duttons are in Montana. Now, on 1883, we’ll see their journey, with the family of John’s (Kevin Costner) great-grandfather James, his wife Margaret (Faith Hill), Elsa, and their son John (Audie Rick). But as the first two episodes show, it’s not going to be easy.

The guide for this journey is Shea (Sam Elliott), whom we meet after he loses his family to small pox and holds a gun under his chin. His right-hand man, Thomas (LaMonica Garrett), lets him decide his next move before the two set out, first seeing James as he takes care of bandits chasing his wagon, then when he shoots a man who stole his wallet in town. So is it any wonder that later, as they’re looking for men to protect the European immigrants they’re taking north, they zero in on James? But while he’s heading in the same direction, he turns them down; his focus is on his family.

Speaking of his family, they — Margaret and the kids, his sister Claire (Dawn Olivieri) and her daughter — arrive in Fort Worth by train. Immediately, we see that Elsa’s dreams reach beyond what’s expected of her. She wants to ride in the front of the train (versus the goal of having a home), and she jumps onto the platform once they arrive rather than waiting to reunite with her father. But it’s once the family has checked into a hotel that things take a turn. A drunk man enters Elsa and John’s room and attacks her. She tries to fight back, and fortunately, James comes to her rescue. “Anybody else want to f**k with my family?” James asks, gun out, as people come into hall.

LaMonica Garrett as Thomas, Sam Elliott as Shea in 1883

Emerson Miller/Paramount+

After that, James agrees to ride with the group heading north — which is a good thing, considering how utterly unprepared they are for the trek, as Thomas notes — though he doesn’t need to get paid. With Claire looking over the women, they check everyone for signs of small pox, sending one man and his wife out of town.

The Duttons, Shea, Thomas, and the group set up camp outside of town, as the first episode ends and the second begins. It’s then that 1883 flashes back to James among the bodies on the field in the Battle of Antietam in 1862, and a general, played by Tom Hanks (!), sits with him. “My father won’t speak of the war,” Elsa says in a voiceover. After three years in a Union prison, he came home weighing 97 pounds.

“Behind Us, A Cliff” divides its time between Shea, Thomas, James, Elsa — “How am I supposed to make her a lady when you keep treating her like a man?” Margaret asks, to which James replies, “many ladies in this world, pretty short on decent men” — and cowboys rounding up cattle for the journey and those left behind in the camp. It’s the latter group that suffers, when bandits arrive, and Claire’s words from the night before become reality: “This is not the dream. This is the nightmare.”

Dawn Olivieri as Claire, Faith Hill as Margaret in 1883

Emerson Miller/Paramount+

After a woman throws rocks their way, one of the men throws her to the ground. While Margaret tries to warn them off, the bandits soon begin shooting. When it’s over, among the dead, Margaret discovers soon after being relieved to find her son alive, is Claire’s daughter.

Upon returning, Shea, James, Thomas, and one of the European immigrants, Josef (Marc Rissmann) head into town to meet with Marshal Jim Courtright (Billy Bob Thornton). Jim gives James a badge before taking them to the saloon, where Josef points out the bandits. Jim, Shea, James, and Thomas quickly kill all of them, including one who’s not armed. With that, Jim warns everyone left that they can drink and dance but “there’s only one killer in Fort Worth, and that’s me.”

The next morning, as everyone’s packing up to leave, Claire refuses to leave her daughter’s grave. As she heartbreakingly asks her brother, what does she have left to live for? Her husband’s dead. She had seven children and buried them all. James leaves her, briefly, but after a conversation with Margaret, returns … only to witness her take her own life. Shea helps James dig her grave and admits he admired her courage. James doesn’t see it that way, but “yes, it was,” Shea says.

So what did you think of the Yellowstone prequel? Let us know in the poll below.

1883, Sundays, Paramount+