“1883” Recap: What Happened In The First Two Episodes?

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Spoilers below for the first two episodes of 1883. Do not keep reading if you have not watched either episode yet.

After months of waiting, the Yellowstone prequel series 1883 finally premiered on Sunday night (December 19). The series follows the ancestors of the modern-day Duttons as they journey from Texas to their eventual home in Montana.

Keep reading for a full recap of the show’s first two episodes, which are available on Paramount+.

Episode 1 – “1883”

The first episode of 1883 opens with a flash-forward shot of Elsa Dutton (played by Isabel May) on the ground with tears streaming down her face. Once she rises, we see a wagon on fire behind her, and realize her traveling party has been attacked by Native American warriors.

Elsa finds a gun and ends up killing one of the warriors. She is shot in the stomach with an arrow, but continues running toward the other warriors while firing the gun. Elsa narrates over the scene, saying, “If this is h—, and I am in it — I must be a demon, too!

We then jump back to the past, and are introduced to Shea Brennan (played by Sam Elliott). Shea cries as he opens the door to his daughter’s bedroom. The young girl passed away after contracting smallpox.

Shea carries his daughter upstairs and places her in bed next to the body of his wife, Helen. She too, died from smallpox. After doing this, Shea steps outside and lights the house on fire, and it doesn’t take long for the whole structure to go up in flames.

These memories still haunt Shea, who we then see in 1883. He’s holding a gun to his chin, ready to end his life, when he’s interrupted by his right-hand man Thomas (played by LaMoncia Garrett).

Shea and Thomas ride off and discover James Dutton (played by Tim McGraw), who is being chased by thieves. James is a good shot, and manages to kill all of the thieves after hiding in some tall grass.

Impressed, Shea and Thomas ride down to greet James, who was less-than-pleased to hear they watched him fight for his life and didn’t jump in to help.

James then rides into Fort Worth and pays to have his wagon and horses looked after so they aren’t stolen. He shares that he’s meeting his family in town that night, and they intend to head North afterward.

The Dutton patriarch quickly learns just how dangerous Fort Worth is. His wallet is stolen by a pickpocket within minutes of being in the city. He shoots the pickpocket and gets his wallet back, while the townspeople are quick to hang the thief in punishment.

Shea and Thomas also watch this go down, and find themselves even more impressed with James’ skills.

Then we see Elsa, who snuck up to the front of the train to enjoy the view out the window. Her mother, Margaret (played by Faith Hill), scolds her and brings her back to her family. Margaret and Elsa are traveling with James’ holier-than-thou and recently widowed sister, Claire (played by Dawn Olivieri) and Claire’s daughter, Mary Abel (Emma Malouff). James and Margaret’s young son, John (played by Audie Rick), is also with them.

James greets his family at the train station and escorts them back to the hotel where they’re staying for the night. He and Margaret enjoy an intimate moment in their room’s bathtub before settling in for the night.

But the family’s night is far from peaceful. A drunk man accidentally lets himself into the room Elsa and John are sharing. He lays down in bed beside Elsa and attacks her, but she screams and catches the attention of her dad, who shoots the drunk and kills him.

The next day, James agrees to help Shea and Thomas lead a wagon party of German immigrants up North. Shea and Thomas had previously asked for James’ help, but he refused. However, after the night’s events, he realizes his family will be better protected if they travel in a group.

Unfortunately, the Germans are incredibly unprepared. Only one of them speaks English, they have no guns, no horses, and have brought far too many possessions with them. Shea and Thomas have little faith that that party will survive their trek North.

Claire and James help Shea and Thomas check all the travelers for smallpox. They discover one couple has contracted the disease, so Shea kicks them out and tells them to go die somewhere in peace so they don’t pass it on to anyone else.

The first episode ends with the Duttons making camp out by the river just outside of town while the rest of the travel party comes to to meet them.

Episode 2 – “Behind Us, A Cliff”

The series’ second episode opens with a flashback to 1862. The Battle of Antietam just ended, and James is the sole Confederate survivor. He is approached by a Union general (played by Tom Hanks), who places a hand on his shoulder.

In a voiceover, Elsa tells us that her father does not talk about the war.

Back at the river camp, James reluctantly leaves his family behind to help Shea and Thomas move cattle. They eventually decide to round up some wild cattle, and enlist the help of two cowboys.

Meanwhile, the German immigrants keep getting sick from drinking the river water without boiling it. Margaret goes to warn some of them, though Claire discourages her, saying, “only cure for stupid is reaching the gates of Heaven.”

James, Shea, and Thomas return to camp, and James opts to bring Elsa along with them to help them round up cattle. She proves to be quite capable, and has the time of her life working with her father and the cowboys.

While Elsa is living the dream, her family finds themselves in the middle of a nightmare back at camp. A group of men approach the camp and don’t seem too friendly. Claire antagonizes them, and ends up throwing rocks and them and their horses after they go down to the river.

Chaos ensues, and men attack in retaliation. Once the bullets finish flying, it’s discovered that Claire’s daughter, Mary, was killed.

After James, Shea, Thomas, and Elsa return and learn of the attack, the men head into town to get revenge. They enlist the help of City Marshal Jim Courtright (played by Billy Bob Thornton). Together, they kill all of the men who attacked the camp.

Shea decides they need to leave the next day. As the wagon train rolls out, Claire kneels beside her daughter’s grave and refuses to leave. James initially leaves her behind as she wishes, but Margaret convinces him to go back for her.

He does, but he gets there just as Claire shoots herself in the head and dies. James begins digging a grave for his sister, and Shea comes to help. He tells James he thinks Claire had a lot of courage for doing what she did, but James doesn’t feel the same.

That’s where episode two left off. Both episodes were pretty intense!

What did y’all think of 1883? We’re anxious to see where the story goes from here.