1923 (Season 1), Episode 1: Known for writing films such as Hell or High Water & Wind River, Taylor Sheridan has made a name for himself in the western genre. It is not wrong to say that he is one of the key figures in its revival in recent times. 1923 is a new drama television series created by him, which is available on Paramount+. Starring Helen Mirren, Harrison Ford, Brandon Sklenar, Jerome Flynn, Darren Mann, and Michelle Randolph in the lead roles, the first episode is a promising start to the season. This series is a prequel to the Yellowstone series and serves as a sequel to the 1883 series.
1923 (Season 1) Episode 1 Recap
The episode is written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Ben Richardson. It begins with a man being gunned down by Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren). While he tries to guilt her of murdering him by the fear of God & heaven, she does not back up and shoots him dead. Through a voiceover, a woman narrates how violence has followed their family wherever they went, or when it did not, they seek it. Cut to and in an African jungle, Cara’s nephew – Spencer (Brandon Sklenar), shoots a lion that attacks him. Two locals come in and indicate that they have killed the same one that they were tracking, and they seem pleased by it.
The narrative shifts to an American ranch, where Jacob (Harrison Ford), Cara’s husband and the patriarch of Yellowstone ranch, looks at the grazing cattle with a few of them dead. When a companioning cowboy asks if they should take these wounded animals somewhere else, he has no answer for it. We then follow Jacob and his peers riding horses through their town, seeing a boxing game to reach a bar, where several church women protest against selling liquor – calling it a devil’s drink. He does not pay heed to their resistance, and they enter the bar.
A fellow man, probably a policeman, complains about sheep herders getting worked up often and not being able to control them. Jacob calls these herders bullies who whine about the consequences and the rules they broke. He then enters the local council office with these men, where a sheep herder named Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn, widely known for his role in Game of Thrones) presents a passionate plea for their community. Jacob sees the havoc it creates between them and their opposition. It gets silenced even after which Banner keeps asking for justice for his dead sheep.
Jacob sees it as the herders’ fault since their sheep were grazing on the lands these herders do not own. He rather suggests Banner sell some of them since there is not enough grass for them to graze for a while. They get enraged since they have no one to sell them to after the end of the war. While he understands their concerns, Jacob argues back, saying that his family had fought for the land they own, and he and his like are having the same issue with their cattle as he does. While the court is adjourned, Jacob’s goal is not to calm the sheepherders and seek a momentary win but to stop a bigger issue of ranch war from happening.
However, his verdict does not satisfy the sheepherders who argue against the cattlemen. Jacob finds it inadmissible since they were the ones who broke the rules, which is why the rule of equality does not apply to them. While Banner tries to shoot him, the policeman stops him from killing an agent of the state (Jacob). The council later discusses the impact of the end of the war on the cattle market. Jacob suggests waiting until the fall and then deciding, which the others do not agree with. When a member calls it a difficult year, Jacob mentions how there has never been an easy year for him since the time he has been there in 1894.
Back on the Yellowstone ranch, Cara sees Jack (Darren Mann), John Sr.’s son and great-nephew to her and Jacob, engaged in riding a horse. He is about to get married to Elizabeth Strafford (Michelle Randolph), whose father is also a ranch owner. On the other side, in a government residential boarding school, we meet a young Native American woman named Teona (Aminah Nieves). She is asked by sister Mary (Jennifer Ehle) about the recipe for soap, and with every minor error in her answer, she is punished. The sister shows no mercy to Teona and keeps hitting her even if the mistake is minor.
After the repeated attacks, Teona loses her calm and attacks back at the sister. She pins her down and keeps punching her repeatedly. So, they both are taken to Father Renaud (Sebastian Roché), who first disciplines the nun by hitting on her hand the same way she did to the student for something as inconsequential as a soap recipe. And then, he disciplines Teona by hitting her repeatedly on her rear end. Afterward, when they are supposed to clean themselves up, sister Mary sees the terrible wounds on Teona’s body. She threatens her not to repeat her mistake as she now understands the implication of misbehaving. She puts the blame on only Teona while being at fault herself.
After the day of labor and cleaning the floor, Teona finally goes to bed. A friend – Baapuxti (Leenah Robinson), then asks to see the injury and then suggests applying honey and cedar sap over it to heal it. Teona worries about their stay in this school, while Baapuxti notes that they have only one more year left to get through. Teona notes how they never receive any communication from the ones who left the school. As a result, she is worried about what their future holds for them.
Meanwhile, in the Yellowstone ranch, Jacob and others are planning to drive their cattle away on Wednesday, which happens to be the day of Jack’s wedding. He suggests postponing the wedding since the drive cannot be done, or the animals will die. Jacob goes in to speak with Cara about it and gets her approval for postponing. He then gives a green signal to Jack to speak with Elizabeth about it. However, this young woman does not agree with this proposal right away and gets dismayed since Jack seems to prefer the ranch over her. He tries to justify his decision, but she does not listen to his plea. After that, Cara takes the matter into her own hands and speaks with her. She manages to persuade this young lady by noting the life she is not marrying into and not just the person.
Since Elizabeth had a different upbringing and schooling, she is not privy to their way of life. After making her understand this reality on the ranch, she agrees to it. Cara drives Mary to meet her grand-nephew, and upon seeing Jack, she jumps from the cart and runs over to hug him. While her father thinks it unholy to engage in such an act before their marriage, Jacob sees it unorthodoxly and does not mind it. Later, at midnight, Banner cuts the fence to a ranch and lets their sheep graze since he does not want them to die due to the ranchers’ intimidation.
Meanwhile, Spencer reaches Nairobi by train but is caught up in a nightmare about his terrifying memories from World War I. Upon getting woken up by a local man, he points a gun at him due to the same nightmare. He then claims Nairobi is not his destination but just his final stop for the time being. You sense war’s effect on him, making him wander around without any clear goal or destination while chasing violence. He is there to keep British colonizers safe from the attack of wild animals. The officer plans to make the area clear so no human would be injured and bring sheep there as bait.
However, Spencer sees it wiser to let people stay where they are since they are the bait that these animals are coming for, not the sheep. He notes that once they taste something, they do not go back to eating something else. While they have a meal, Alexandra (Julia Schlaepfer), the wife of a British officer, gets mighty impressed by Spencer’s way of conduct against her own husband. He gulps down multiple cups of black coffee to keep himself awake. He then plans a way to gain control over the free leopard with two African men.
1923 (Season 1) Episode 1 Ending Explained
Early in the morning, Jacob and other ranchers start to take the cattle to the mountains while riding on their horses. Back at home, young Elizabeth is worried for their safety. Cara and Emma (Marley Shelton) try to console her while not being as emotional themselves, for they have seen the cowboys go out with the cattle far too many times to fear the unknown. Meanwhile, the riders take their cattle to higher ground. On a high cliff, Jack notices several sheep grazing on the land in front of him. He understands the break-in that has occurred on this ranch.
Back at Yellowstone ranch, Emma is worried since the men have not returned even after a week, as they had promised. Cara relives her stress and calms her by noting that it is cowboy’s nature to wonder while conveying an understanding of such a delay. She then writes a letter to her nephew, Spencer, about the status of his family, which has gone to other lands for their herd. She misses having him on the ranch and wonders why he does not return home. She feels it as a punishment for their nature but realizes that it is rather him seeking a part of himself that he lost during the brutal war that he fought.
Meanwhile, in Nairobi, the leopard attacks the British woman, who had come outside her tent just for a brief moment. Spencer finds it sitting on a tree and attacks it, after which the woman falls out of his snatch. He sees this woman filled with blood, and while lost in thought about the local man’s deduction about the leopard’s smart nature, he hears their calls, warning him about two other leopards running toward him. By the time he looks back, a leopard has already attacked him. The thrilling and infinitely scenic ride through these lands is conveyed within the first episode of 1923 while presenting enough exposition about the characters without being overt. It seems like a brilliant start to a series worth watching for its absorbing narration.