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The '1923' Season Finale Is Devastating

By Dustin Rowles | TV | February 27, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | February 27, 2023 |


The thing about both Yellowstone prequels, 1883 and now 1923, is that when you think that the situation cannot possibly get direr, Taylor Sheridan finds a way. Piling bleakness on top of misery on top of grimness is not typically a recipe for success (see The Walking Dead, seasons 7 and 8), but Sheridan repeatedly gets away with it in the Yellowstone prequels because of strong character work and because he’s servicing a generational story.

We know these characters are going to die. We know that the Dutton family will maintain control of Yellowstone. In many instances, a series of tragedies could kill a series, but here it leaves the viewer more appreciative of the sacrifice the Duttons made to maintain their land. It’s why Kevin Costner’s character is still important to the mothership: John Dutton III is carrying that generational trauma; he’s the only character that truly appreciates the sacrifices made to hang on to the land; and ultimately, that’s what is truly at stake in Yellowstone. There’s a lot of land in Montana, but it’s important that the Duttons hang on to this land because of the hell that generations before him experienced to keep it.

The land the Duttons borrowed from the Natives is the one constant, and so we know — no matter how bleak things get — that it was all worth it, if you assume — as these characters must — that the legacy of the family is more important than the individual. Speaking of the legacy, I don’t think we can say for sure through whom the legacy passes: James and Margaret’s youngest son (and only surviving offspring), Spencer, and his wife Alexandra, or Spencer’s nephew (and James’ grandson through John Dutton I), Jack and his wife, Elizabeth.

Jack and Elizabeth seemed to be a lock, but in the first of many tragic moments in the season finale, we find out that Elizabeth miscarried and, from the way she and Jack spoke, may be unable to have children.

Meanwhile, Spencer and Alexandra — who survived lion attacks, and their tugboat capsizing at sea — cannot catch a break. Alexandra’s ex-fiancé — who is British royalty — ends up on the same ship that Spencer and Alexandra are taking back to the States, and the humiliated fiancé challenges Spencer to a duel. Spencer begrudgingly accepts, but only after he’s been berated into it, and though he tries several times to win the duel without killing the ex-fiancé, the fiancé ends up going overboard. Long story short: Spencer is arrested and shipped back to shore, while Alexandra is held captive on the ship. She’s going to have to make her way to the States and Montana to find Spencer on her own now.

Elsewhere, Brian Geraghty’s Zane Davis — who is basically the Rip of 1923 — hasn’t been a huge presence on the show yet, but in this episode, Taylor Sheridan decided to remind us of the miscegenation laws. Zane was married to an Asian woman, and they had kids together, but the police arrest his wife and take her away presumably because Taylor Sheridan had not stacked enough misery into one episode. Speaking of which, for reasons unknown, he also decided to throw a couple of sex workers into the mix. The two were having a grand old time with Jerome Flynn’s Banner Creighton — a Scottish sheepherder — but when Timothy Dalton’s business tycoon Donald Whitfield basically took “possession” of them, things took a decidedly dark turn. He forced the sex workers to beat each other with a belt, and he got off on the power they exhibited while beating the other. It’s like some f**ked-up rancher Requiem for a Dream bullshit.

Speaking of Donald Whitfield, he’s informed Banner Creighton — whose army he’s bankrolling — that he doesn’t want to use force to take the Yellowstone ranch. He wants to use the power of the pen, and hell if he didn’t figure out a way to do it. Harrison Ford’s Jacob Dutton is one of the few ranchers in Montana without a mortgage, but he did have a tax bill, and according to either Montana logic or Taylor Sheridan logic, if someone pays your taxes for you, and you don’t pay them back by tax day, the deed passes to the payer of the taxes, in this case, Whitfield. That is to say: Jacob and Cara don’t even have enough money to take care of the cattle they have to sell to pay the taxes, so how are they going to manage the taxes? And if they don’t pay them, Whitfield — who is already looking toward a future where tourism is the biggest industry in Montana — will take their land.

In sum: Jack and Elizabeth lost their baby; Spencer and Alexandra lost each other; Zane lost his wife; Jacob and Cara are on the verge of losing their land; and Donald is getting off on naked women beating each other. If that weren’t bad enough, the authorities are now in pursuit of Teonna Rainwater, who is headed West toward Montana with her boyfriend and her father.

The series has found its lowest point, but something tells me, things aren’t going to improve dramatically next season. After all, the other prequel, 1883, ended with Sam Elliot blowing his brains out and James and Margaret’s only daughter succumbing to an infection from an arrow dipped in feces. Season two — which is expected to begin shooting this summer and come out around the end of the year — can’t come fast enough.