Shea and Thomas cope with the aftermath of the river crossing, while Elsa and Ennis share a romantic moment.
OK, we know we warn you about this at the start of every episode recap. But this time, we really, really, REALLY mean it: Do NOT read this before you watch “The Fangs of Freedom,” Episode 105 of 1883.
Takeaway No. 1
No, we didn’t see it coming, either.
Takeaway No. 2
Of course, we should have known something bad would happen after the even bleaker than usual opening narration by Elsa Dutton (Isabel May) as she contemplated the aftermath of the costly river crossing in Episode 104: “Here, there can be no mistakes. Because here doesn’t care. The river doesn’t care if you can swim. The snake doesn’t care how much you love your children. And the wolf has no interests in your dreams. If you fail to beat the current, you will drown. If you get too close, you will be bitten. And if you are too weak, you will be eaten. We are in the land of no mercy now.” Also: Consider the dramatic principle of Chekhov’s Gun, based upon advice given often, in various phrasings, by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there.” About midway through this episode, Ennis (Eric Nelsen) pointedly Elsa asked if she still had the pistol her father James Dutton (Tim McGraw) gave her. She did. So she wound up using it.
Takeaway No. 3
Once again, Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott) had to remind folks that, as bad as things have been up until now, “This trip ain’t even hard yet. But hard’s coming.” And once again, Brennan and Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) — this time backed by James — had to enforce the sort of harsh justice that, so far, Josef (Marc Rissman) appears unable or unwilling to dish out. (Fortunately, when push came to shove, Risa — Josef’s wife, played by Anna Fiamora — proved to be a much better shot than her husband.) Told that a few mendacious immigrants were preying upon their weaker fellow travelers, Brennan retrieved what those galoots had stolen, gave them a refund for the money they had originally paid to join the wagon train, and more or less told them to get lost. (“You follow us, and I’ll kill you.”) We must confess: We didn’t feel sad at all when the brutish outcasts were subsequently overwhelmed and killed by bandits. On the other hand, we also found ourselves thinking: Gee, Major Adams (Ward Bond) and Christopher Hale (John McIntire) never had to lay down the law like this on Wagon Train, did they?
Takeaway No. 4
Faith Hill and Isabel May shared the most charming scene in the series so far, as Margaret Dutton and her daughter bathed in the river and, while discreetly covered by water, discussed the birds and the bees — and Ennis. This was an effective build up to their subsequent conversation after Margaret accidentally witnessed Ennis and Elsa during their fumbling consummation of their relationship. Freedom may seem exhilarating, mom warned her daughter, but “every choice has fangs.” (Boy, was she proven right!) For his part, Ennis revealed the depth of his genuine love for Elsa, to the point of standing up to her father as James expressed his disapproval of their relationship nonverbally. Grudgingly, James accepted Ennis’ promise that he would love Elsa for the rest of his life. And that, alas, is just what Ennis did.
Takeaway No. 5
Do you get the feeling that Taylor Sheridan was messing with us right from the start? Think about it: For the past few weeks, not only has Eric Nelsen has been looming large in the opening credits — he’s appeared prominently in several print and online interviews, filmed TV commercials with Yellowstone star Jefferson White, and generally been positioned (or so it seemed) as one of the series’ breakout stars. But when the aforementioned bandits made the fatal mistake of attacking the wagon train — BAM! — Ennis was shot dead by the one of the varmints. He went out with a pledge of love for Elsa on his lips, telling James with his dying breath: “I loved her.” And Elsa immediately took revenge by taking aim at Ennis’ killer and blasting him several times until he was very seriously deceased. All of which came as a shock, to put it mildly, and we’ll have to wait until Episode 106 arrives on Jan. 30 to see how this might affect Elsa in the long run. In the meantime, though, we can’t help suspecting that this was Sheridan’s way of warning us that almost anyone may bite the dust before the Duttons reach Montana, so we probably shouldn’t get too attached to anyone. A flashback in Yellowstone Episode 408 indicated James, Margaret and their son John will live to see Montana. But the very first episode of 1883 suggested that even Elsa isn’t destined to make it to the promised land. We’re really hoping that Brennan and Thomas make it to the end of the trail but, hey, Sheridan has made it clear: Everything is up for grabs.