Recap of episode 9 of “1883”: what happened?
Yellowstone writer and creator Taylor Sheridan presented his next project, 1883, before it even begins, prefacing the show with a series of interwoven flashbacks to that earlier work. Before 1883 started, we already knew what was going to happen ten years later. The Duttons, led by James Dutton, would reach and colonize Montana. They would be four: James, Margaret, their son John and another son. One winter, they meet around a table set for four, and we notice the absence of James, who has gone to hunt down the thieves. But the family leaving Texas in 1883 included another member, Elsa, who in 1893 represents another absence. 1883 is really Elsa’s story, and both seem to be coming to an end.
Episode 9 follows a brutal part of the journey that saw the majority of the migrant wagons destroyed by a tornado. Now, as they cross the prairies of Wyoming, they are forced to ride horses. At the very beginning of the episode, Elsa notices how particularly cruel this land is, how winter is waiting in the mountains to bury them. His observations prefigure the most brutal episode to date, which leaves a dozen dead among the migrants and Elsa hit by an arrow in the liver. We may have just seen the reason for her absence in 1893, the reason for Margaret’s severity at the table: Elsa is going to die.
That said, there is no reason to think that Elsa can not to survive. Her absence in 1893 could simply be due to her age – she will be almost 30 by then and will probably be away from home. Perhaps she lives with Sam, alongside Kayce’s later flight from the family home in Yellowstone to live on the reservation with Monica.
But so far, things are not looking good.
Here’s how Episode 9 unfolded.
A slaughter is discovered
The denouement begins with a snakebite. A rattlesnake bites Risa’s horse and then Josef who jumps up to help her. The wagon train stops to help the two migrants.
Meanwhile, Shea, Thomas, and James encounter a native camp that has been overrun, leaving the women and children dead. The group agrees that they were attacked by outlaws who then took the horses. The warriors of the tribe, they conclude, must still be on the hunt.
Shea, however, realizes her mistake too late. The three of them, coming to the slaughter on horseback, have now left the tracks leading back to the wagon train. When the Warriors return, they will assume the wagon train killed their families. James says they should go to find and kill the thieves to avoid retaliation.
They tell the wagon train to stay put until they can get back – and explain to the returning War Tribe what happened. On Shea, Thomas, and James, on horseback, however, the Chief and many other migrants decide to head for a nearby military fort instead of waiting. Margaret and Elsa are forced to follow or be left alone and vulnerable. Margaret asks Elsa to put her dress back on so the men in the fort don’t think she’s somehow a defector. Elsa, however, feels like she’s betraying her new identity.
Meanwhile, Shea, Thomas and James find the thieves, who come up to meet them. They are dressed as deputy sheriffs and pretend to defend the settlers from the warriors of the tribe. When they realize the thieves killed the women and children to beat the men, Shea, Thomas and James kill all the thieves.
At this time, the returning tribesmen find out about the massacre of their family and set off to pursue the trail of the wagons. They find them and start attacking. The wagons circle in defense, but Elsa is caught outside on horseback and decides to pull several riders away from the others. As she gallops, the wagon train is attacked. Elsa is hit and falls off her horse.
A slaughter finds them
When Elsa wakes up, she sees several members of the slaughtered wagon train, including a woman pierced with arrows and scalped. (This scene was the series opener in the first episode, which means we’ve finally come full circle in the narrative.) Elsa runs to a body for a gun and kills one of the tribe horsemen. . Another shoots him with an arrow. Before she is killed, she screams the words Sam taught her, which stuns the leader of the tribe. Elsa then explains that James is hunting the real killers and the tribe is leaving.
Shea, Thomas, and James later encounter the tribe. James approaches to tell them where the bodies of the robbers are.
Back with the remaining wagons, Elsa’s wound is treated, though the severity of the injury isn’t apparent until later when James talks to her. He says the dangerous part is just beginning, when the wound gets infected. Elsa will know the infection has started, he says, when she feels signs of a fever.
Outside the carriage, James tells Margaret that Elsa is going to die. He says they have to accept this fact. If they go to the fort and look for medicine, she will still die, he says. He proposes that they don’t tell Elsa, but allow her to live out her final days in pieces – riding through the country, looking through her eyes in wonder.
The eyes – and the way one looks at them by temperament – have been a common motif in the series, with Margaret’s attempts to stem Elsa’s growing cynicism after Ennis’ death; James’ attempts to stem the hatred in Elsa’s eyes; and Shea’s attempts to rid them of her own grief and sadness. Elsa was the vehicle for all their desires, which are also the desires of a young American people: to be free, to remain innocent, to have no sin. (Whether we believe these things seems to be a question the series asks its viewers.)
James proclaims that they will no longer drive to Oregon; they will remain wherever they bury Elsa. Margaret then makes James promise that they will find a suitable place to bury him, that they will keep driving until they find him. (We know this place is Yellowstone.)
As the carriage leaves, Elsa swaps her dress for her riding clothes. When she looks into James’s eyes, she realizes she is going to die. We learn it once again through Elsa’s voiceover, a device we can’t yet read – if it’s a diary entry (but we haven’t seen her write) , or of a story told later (if it survives), or simply his thoughts made audible.
Another episode to discover.
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