There’s death on this week’s 1883, which is like saying there are blasters on this week’s The Book of Boba Fett or bad choices on this week’s Euphoria: “Yeah,” you might say, “and…?”
But unlike everyone who’s kicked it in the Paramount+ series thus far – by getting crushed by a wagon wheel, drowning in the river or succumbing to a bite in the behind from a sneaky snake — we actually care about this week’s casualty. (And no, I’m not forgetting Margaret’s sourpuss sister. I said what I said.)
Sadly, it’s cowboy Ennis who goes to that great cattle drive in the sky. And the loss leaves a mark on Elsa that we’re able to see even before the episode ends. Read on to find out how it happens in “The Fangs of Freedom.”
‘AS FREE AS YOU’LL EVER BE’ | As the wagon train gets ever farther from civilization, life gets ever more dangerous. They’re now in territory frequented by bandits; Ennis warns Elsa not to go anywhere by herself. When Margaret swings by the herd, Elsa tells her mom that she and Ennis kissed. Mama Dutton isn’t pleased, but after Elsa and her giant heart-eyes announce that she might be in love, Margaret realizes it’s time for the talk. So the pair take a bath in the river and discuss how society has a lot of rules for women. “This trail?,” Margaret says, “It’s as free as you’ll ever be.” She advises Elsa to follow the rules in her heart, but she also would really be OK if Elsa and Ennis didn’t engage in any Oregon Trail-lovin’.
Meanwhile, Capt. Brennan and Thomas are dealing with two immediate threats to the group’s survival. The first: The Germans put all of their food in one wagon, and that was the wagon that got stuck in the river during the crossing. When Brennan berates Josef for that decision, he says it was necessary, because a few members of the group were stealing food. So he points them out, and Brennan is planning to watch Josef and the food thief duke it out. But James doesn’t have the patience, so he pistol-whips the man. Then Brennan throws the man’s money at him, calling it “a refund. Find your own way to Oregon,” he says. “You follow us, and I’ll kill you.”
Additionally, James grudgingly agrees to share some of his family’s provisions with the Germans, provided that Brennan hire a cook with his own wagon at the next town. Brennan agrees.
ELSA KNOWS WHAT SHE WANTS | The threat of bandits has James tell Elsa to sleep with the wagon that evening. So she does, but when she wakes in the middle of the night, she wraps a quilt around her shoulders and steps out into the darkness. Turns out, Ennis is nearby, grabbing a cool drink of water. She approaches him, drops her quilt, and pretty soon they’re going at it. At one point, she stops him and asks if he knows what he’s doing. He haltingly tells her that in Dodge City “I paid a woman to show me, but it didn’t work” because his body wouldn’t cooperate. It’s, uh, really ready to cooperate now. “I know what to do if you want me to do it,” he reassures her. She does.
When Margaret also wakes up, she quickly becomes aware of what’s going on — the lovebirds are basically in the middle of camp! — and she exhales, disappointed. She’s got some stern words for Elsa the next morning, but the teen is undeterred: She rides right up to Ennis and says, “If I have a baby, are you man enough to help raise it?” He’s taken aback by her forthrightness, but after he recovers from the shock, he smiles. “Hell yes I’m man enough!” he cries. “Doubt I’m that lucky, though.” She rides off in glee: “I’m gonna go tell Daddy… that we’re getting married!”
James takes the news of his daughter’s deflowering and possible engagement with grace and aplomb. Just kidding: He knocks Ennis off his horse, and only Elsa’s intervention stops him from beating the young man to a dusty pulp. But Ennis stands his ground, saying he loves her and nothing will stop him from being with her. “You say you love her, but you won’t ever love her like I do. That’s my heart you’re running off with,” James says, tears creeping into his voice. “You’d better cradle it like an egg.” Ennis promises that he will.
ENNIS’ END | Soon after, the wagons are on the move, and James is riding off with Brennan and Thomas. But why are Josef and his wife staying put? As a decoy for the bandits, who’ve already killed the Germans that Brennan jettisoned earlier in the episode. Josef and Mrs. Josef do a pretty good job of holding off the thieves, and when Brennan and his men show up, the bandits ride off. But they wind up heading straight for the wagons. Margaret instructs everyone in earshot to “Shoot ’em!” and she manages to take an impressive number of the robbers down herself.
But before the attack is over, Ennis takes a bullet in the chest and falls to the ground. “I loved her,” he whispers to James. “I don’t doubt it, son,” Papa Dutton says, suddenly the kid’s biggest fan. Elsa rides over and makes it to Ennis’ side just as he dies; it takes her a moment to process what’s happened, but then she’s screaming and sobbing over his body.
Only one of the thieves, the one who shot Ennis, survived. And when Elsa sees the man, she walks over and shoots him at point-blank range, three times. Then she returns to Ennis and lays down beside him, resting her head on his chest.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!