1923 Recap: Grade the Premiere of Yellowstone's Latest Prequel

1923, the newest Yellowstone prequel, picks up 40 years after the events of 1883. And though the Dutton family is doing considerably better from when we left it on the Oregon Trail, life is still a tiring, dusty, hard-won battle.

In a moment, we’ll want to know what you thought of the premiere. But first, let’s recap the highlights.

The hour opens with a scared man running from someone or something. A shot fired in his direction send him sprawling on the ground, and soon we see who fired it: A woman we’ll later learn is Cara Dutton (played by The Queen‘s Helen Mirren). He begs her to wait, telling her she’ll never get into Heaven if she kill shim. “What do you know about Heaven?” she wonders, and goes to finish him off but realizes too late that she needs to reload. While she does, he scrambles to shoot her, but she’s faster. She kills him, screams to the sky, then walks away.

“Violence has always haunted this family,” a voiceover informs us, and if you watched 1883, you’ll recognize the speaker as Elsa (aka Isabel May), who’s maybe piped in from the Great Beyond? She says violence followed the Duttons to America from Europe, “and where it doesn’t follow, we hunt it down. We seek it.”

1923-premiere-recap-season-1-episode-1-yellowstone-prequelAs she talks, the action jumps among a few seemingly unrelated scenes. We see a young, khaki-clad man in Africa who stands his ground as a lion rushes at him; he shoots the giant cat just as it leaps at him, much to the happiness of the man’s two companions, who’ve been helping him track the animal. Then we see Jacob Dutton (Star Wars’ Harrison Ford) on horseback, with a few other men also on horseback, surveying a field full of dead sheep, many covered in flies. It’s probably important to note that locusts also appear to be a problem; Jacob, his friends and their horses have the bugs on them and seem too weary to do anything about them.

WHAT HAPPENED TO JAMES, MARGARET & CO.? | Elsa gives us an update on the Dutton family of 1883, and — Spoiler Alert — it ain’t pretty. “My father had three children. Only one would live to see their own children grow,” she says. “Only one would carry the fate of this family through the Depression and every other hell the 20th century hurled at them.”

We know from 1883’s finale that she was the first of the kids to go. She had a brother, John, who was a little boy when the family settled in Montana. Regular Yellowstone viewers will remember that Spencer, James and Margaret’s third child, was born after the events of the prequel and first showed up in a Season 4 flashback.

“Upon my father’s death” — which we also saw in a Yellowstone flashback — “my mother wrote to his brother, begging that he bring his family to this wild land and save hers,” Elsa continues. “A year later, he arrived to find my mother frozen in a snow drift and two boys, half-starved and barely able to speak. He raised them as his own and took my father’s dream and made it into an empire. Then the empire crumbled.” Welp, now we know what happened to Margaret. Is it weird that I’m sad?

1923-premiere-recap-season-1-episode-1-yellowstone-prequel-SHEEP VS. COWS | Jacob and the men from the field ride into town, passing cars and wagons on the way. They pass a loud Prohibition for Montana group that harangues them as they enter the local soda shop. Jacob sits next to the sheriff (Scorpion‘s Robert Patrick) and orders a cola as they discuss how the sheep men run their herd across his land. He refers to the sheep men as “bullies worried about the consequences of the rules they broke,” and he doesn’t seem much more sympathetic when both he (as a commissioner of the Montana Livestock Association) and the sheriff are among those presiding over a hearing related to the high livestock-related tensions within the town.

A sheep herder named Banner Creighton (Game of Thrones’ Jerome Flynn) is really angry as about the dead sheep — who apparently were slaughtered — as things get underway. When Jacob points out that no one knows who killed the animals, Banner (who hails from Scotland) accuses a group of Irish farmers of doing it, and then a fight breaks out.

Sheriff McDowell stops the fisticuffs by shooting his gun in the air and yelling for everyone to cool it. The matter at hand soon becomes apparent: There’s limited grazing land for the sheep, but when they roam (or are driven) onto other people’s property, they ruin the grass for other animals, which basically guts the livelihood of the property owners (aka the lease holders). “Until it rains, there’ll be no grazing in the valley,” Jacob pronounces, advising Banner and his ilk to graze their sheep in the mountains and/or sell off some of their stock if they’ve got too many. “Sell ‘em to who?” the Scot scoffs, but Jacob is unmoved, saying they’ve all got to work together or they’ll be heading back to Britain in shambles. And when an unrelenting Banner yells that the Duttons have a ton of land, Jacob’s anger sparks. “I have what my family fought for. You wanna fight me for it, too?” he spits. “I didn’t think so. If you wanted more land, you should’ve leased more.” Then the gavel bangs, ending the meeting.

1923-premiere-recap-season-1-episode-1-yellowstone-prequelOutside, Creighton confronts Dutton. The locusts might’ve decimated the grass, but bears will eat the sheep if they graze in the mountains. The exchange nearly comes to blows, but Jake holds a gun to the sheep man’s neck, and then the sheriff breaks it up. Long story short? All of the herds need grass, and at yet another meeting of men in Stetsons, the Montana Livestock Association agrees to push everyone’s herds together, move ‘em up to a higher altitude and then have cowboys help keep the predators away.

Much later, under cover of night, we see Banner and his sheep men cut a barbed wire fence in order to let their flock pass onto someone’s private property and graze.

1923-premiere-recap-season-1-episode-1-yellowstone-prequel-NO MERCY | Let’s put a pin in that situation and go to a Catholic school in an isolated section of the plains. It’s a school for girls, and all of the students are Native American, but the nuns in charge are all white. One student answers flippantly when her teacher asks what soap is made of, and what starts with the girl getting her knuckles rapped with a ruler escalates quickly after the girl curses the nun in her language; the girl leaps at the nun and starts beating her, and chaos erupts.

Soon, both are bloody, bruised and standing before the head priest, Father Renaud (Supernatural‘s Sebastian Roche). When he susses out what happened, he mangles the nun’s hands while making her recite a Bible verse; the student is so traumatized to witness it, she cries out for him to stop. “You beat the child and yet she begs for mercy on your behalf,” he says, amused. “Perhaps she should be the teacher.” But before you start to think that there’s maybe justice in this place, he warns her that her lashing out will cause others to want to do so. Then he touches her face in a creepy manner, has her stand against his bookshelves and warns her, “I have compassion, but I have no mercy” as he beats her, too.

After a harrowing bathing scene in which the nuns give step-by-step washing instructions to a room full of naked students, the beaten girl, Teonna (newcomer Aminah Nieves) and her friend whisper to each other from their beds. Teonna’s friend says they only have one more year left at the school, then they can leave. Teonna points out that everyone they’ve known who’s left has never been heard from again, and she fears the worst. She is very serious as she whispers that they have to get out.

1923-premiere-recap-season-1-episode-1-yellowstone-prequelTHE WEDDING’LL HAVE TO WAIT | Back to the Duttons! Cara comes out of the family’s home to join a small group of people watching a ride atop a bucking horse. “Why danger gives men such pleasure, I’ll never understand,” she muses. Her great-nephew Jack (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina‘s Darren Mann) is the young man on the bronco, and we learn that he’s getting married to a rancher’s daughter in a week’s time. He’s also the son of Elsa’s brother, John Sr. Later that night, Jacob and the men ride back from town late, and his news about the cattle drive means that Jack’s wedding is going to have to be postponed. “Let me break it to the boss first, and then we’ll see what happens,” Jake advises.

The boss is, of course, Cara, who welcomes him when he slides into bed. She’s dismayed to hear about the postponement but says she’ll talk to the bride’s mother and get things sorted. “Wedding’s for the woman, Jake. If it were for men, we would have spat on our hands, and shook on it, and then you would’ve bent me over the first thing you could find that would hold our weight,” she quips. “Not far from how it happened,” he deadpans, making her laugh.

The next day, Jack breaks the news to his future wife Elizabeth (newcomer Michelle Randolph), who doesn’t take it well. So Cara sweeps in to smooth things over, gently informing the younger woman (who went East for school and therefore has been a bit insulated from the tough life of a ranch woman) that this is kinda how it is: “You have to want more than the boy. You have to want the life, too.” Elizabeth is definitely upset, but she’s also very much in love with Jack. “I don’t know the life, but I will learn it,” she vows. So they reset the wedding date to two weeks hence, and Elizabeth asks Cara to take her to see Jack, with whom she has a smooch-filled make-up.

The cattle drive, attended by Jacob, Jack and a bunch of other men from the ranch, starts the next day. Jack rides ahead and finds sheep grazing where the herds are heading, and then a man shoots at him.

ON THE PROWL | Back to Africa! A train pulls into the station in Nairobi, Kenya, and the hunter (Westworld‘s Brandon Sklenar) we saw near the top of the show is dozing in his seat. He dreams of being on the battlefield in World War I, shooting at the enemy but unable to fall back when needed because he has a broken leg. An enemy soldier gets too close so the hunter beats at him with his helmet. Another combatant is suddenly on top of him with a gun… and that’s when the hunter wakes up to realize he’s pulled a weapon on the train’s conductor, who was trying to let him know they’d arrived. The hunter apologizes and tips the conductor for the scare, explaining, “I don’t wake well.” The man is a little rattled, but he quips, “No sir, I’d say you don’t.”

The hunter disembarks and winds up at a posh safari camp. He’s there to hunt down a leopard that’s been tormenting the wealthy white people who pay to spend vacation in the great outdoors; it seems like the cat has already attacked a human. “Once they get a taste for man, man’s all they want to eat,” he observes, and shuns any animal bait because and his assistants will serve as the bait. (For the record, this seems to be the first time his assistants have heard of this plan.)

When the camp’s director refers to the hunter as “Dutton,” we get a clue about his identity. Later, as Cara writes a letter to her missing nephew, we realize that he’s John’s brother, Spencer. “Why won’t you come home to us?” she wonders via voiceover. “We can’t help but think your absence is punishment, that somehow we are the reason you won’t return. That’s selfish, I suppose. War changes men, I know. I can only assume you are seeking the part of yourself you lost, and I can only pray that you find it and come back to us.”

In the meantime, Spencer is busy getting hit on by a rich, blonde Brit safari-goer whose charms he doesn’t seem to care much about. And that’s convenient, seeing as how she becomes leopard fodder when she exits her tent to pee that evening. The cat drags her up a tree to eat her, and when Spencer shoots the animal, the blonde falls to the ground with a sickening thunk, her neck clearly broken. But just then, Spencer’s assistants realize that there are two leopards stalking the camp. And as they shout as much to him, something (ostensibly the cat?) rushes up behind Dutton. He turns, and the scene cuts to black.

Now it’s your turn. Grade the premiere via the poll below, then hit the comments with your thoughts on the new series!

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