[Warning: The following contains spoilers from 1883 Episode 4. Read at your own risk!]
1883 is off to the races, and I gotta say, I'm invested.
After four seasons of Yellowstone's intense focus on masculinity and the sometimes questionable rules of the Dutton family, the female-focused freedom of 1883 is strangely refreshing. More people are constantly dying (which we will discuss momentarily) and the cowboys are dirtier than ever, but the fact that this story is told through the eyes of an adventurous 18-year-old girl makes it feel like something I haven't seen before. Do I live in constant fear of her being assaulted as part of her character development? Of course I do, but that's a river we'll cross when or if we have to.
Speaking of rivers no one wants to cross, that was the general gist of this week's episode. The caravan had to get across the river in order to continue the journey, and it was not an easy river to cross, allegedly. James (Tim McGraw) and Margaret (Faith Hill) crossed it first as a way of testing it, and they seemed to get across it fairly easily, though they determined that the heavier wagons would not make it and warned that there was a trench in the middle.
Shea (Sam Elliott) spent most of the episode—when he wasn't having Civil War nightmares—convincing the immigrants that they had to leave their unnecessary things behind in order to get across. You know, things like the giant pianos they were trying to haul in their wagons. It was sad to leave those behind, but it also feels like giant pianos should have never been on the packing list in the first place.
The actual trek across the river—accompanied by Elsa (Isabel May) playing the abandoned piano—was almost comically devastating. People were just sort of drowning out of nowhere, despite being directly next to people who could save them. I get the concept of a tough river to cross, but visually, this was not it. It reminded me of the opening montage in the last episode, where people just sort of casually got run over by wagons. There has to be a way to make these deaths seem more dramatic and less preventable on this expensive television show. It should not feel so much like we are just playing a bad game of Oregon Trail.
After all the non-drowned immigrants made it across, Elsa and the other cowboys brought up the rear with the cattle, and they all seemed to make it over with no problem. I simply don't understand the dangers of this river, but I sure am glad to be done with it.
Anyway, Elsa had a really fun episode. She started by declaring herself a cowboy and going in search of a pair of pants. She traded one of the immigrants some gold in exchange for a pair of her husband's pants, and after a few "Whoa, a woman in pants!" comments and a sputtering reaction from Margaret ("I don't wanna know where you got those pants from"), Elsa just finally got to ride a horse in pants. Then, she kissed her cowboy friend, got caught by her dad who wasn't even mad about it, and then she mused on the concept of kissing. Kissing is, when you think about it, really weird. Thank you for that observation, Elsa.
Elsewhere in the land of kissing, one of the immigrant couples got sexy in their bed under a wagon and decided to make a baby, which seems like the absolute worst decision considering the circumstances. And while they're not kissing yet, Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) and Noemi (Gratiela Brancusi) flirted hard. Or at least she flirted with him, explaining that he has no idea what women want if he doesn't think she wants to sit there and watch him eat the food she has brought him. I don't get it, but at the same time, I do get it. Of all the cowboys on this show, Thomas certainly has the most allure. I'm also fascinated by his role on the show and the past he has slowly been revealing in each episode, like when he told Shea what it was like to have been whipped. As a Black man who became a Pinkerton detective after the Civil War, he's probably got a story to tell that's more interesting than almost anything else happening here. He deserves romance! Let him kiss!
Now that that dang river is out of the way, hopefully, everyone can do some more kissing until the next river arrives.
New episodes of 1883 debut Sundays on Paramount+.