Graham Greene guest stars as Spotted Eagle, a Crow elder who points James Dutton in the right direction during the season finale.
Warning: This is an overview of Episode 110 of 1883, so there will be scads of spoilers here. We strongly recommend that you not read this if you have not yet watched the episode on Paramount+.
Journeys end and fates are sealed. What are we to make of this? And what might the future bring? Here are our five takeaways from “This Is Not Your Heaven,” Episode 110 — the season finale — of 1883.
Takeaway No. 1
When series creator Taylor Sheridan and Paramount+ announced plans for “additional episodes” of 1883 earlier this month, most of us assumed — hoped? — that meant there would be a Season Two for his Yellowstone prequel. After seeing how things were more or less wrapped up in “This Is Not Your Heaven,” however, we can’t help wondering whether that was another Sheridanesque ploy just to keep us guessing, or to make surprise plot twists even more surprising. Of course, Sheridan did leave himself a little wriggle room: The final scenes in this season finale unfolded after an on-screen title indicated “One Year Later,” so there may be more stories to be told (and “additional episodes” to be produced) that cover the time between Elsa’s death — yes, sorry, the worst expectations raised in Episode 109 were fulfilled here — and Shea’s reaching the end of the trail in Oregon. Otherwise? Well, back in the 1970s, James at 15 became James at 16, so…
Takeaway No. 2
You wanted a happy ending. We wanted a happy ending. Everybody who watched throughout this ten-episode season wanted a happy ending. So it’s hard to criticize Sheridan for capping things off with a curtain-closing fantasy that had Elsa (Isabel May) — still serving as narrator, despite being very seriously deceased — enjoying a paradise spent with her beloved Sam (Martin Sensmeier), riding and racing across the plain. (Evidently, Elsa’s previous sweetheart, Ennis, didn’t make it to heaven.) Texas-born writer-director Robert Benton pulled off something similar, brilliantly, at the conclusion of the 1984 film Places in the Heart (and won an Oscar for Best Screenplay). But as we watched, well, we couldn’t avoid thinking about, of all things, Love Me Tender, Elvis Presley’s 1956 movie debut. Fans were so upset by Elvis’ death during preview screenings, the studio demanded reshoots so that, despite being as dead as Elsa, his character could be superimposed over a burial scene, strumming his guitar and singing the title song. Fortunately, “This Is Not Your Heaven” wasn’t at all that cheesy.
Takeaway No. 3
The company finally made it to the fort where they were headed at the end of Episode 109. But, once again demonstrating how actions always have consequences in the harsh world of 1883, they discovered said fort was largely abandoned by the U.S. Army, and under the control of the same wheeler-dealers whose cattle-thieving, Lakota-murdering “deputies” had been terminated with extreme prejudice by Shea (Sam Elliott), Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) and James (Tim McGraw). Shea suggested they vamoose before they suffered any consequences for their particular actions; James, determined to fulfill his promise to Margaret (Faith Hill) that they would settle wherever they ultimately buried their dying daughter, readily agreed. Naturally, complications arose: When Shea announced plans to spend the winter in Montana, just about all the immigrant settlers decided to break away and head to Oregon on their own. (Not surprisingly, nothing good came of this.) Josef (Marc Rissmann), incapacitated by a rattlesnake bite on his leg, and his wife Risa (Anna Fiamora), barely surviving a head injury after being thrown from her horse, opted to join the Shea, Thomas and the Suttons on the detour to Montana, and Noemi (Gratiela Brancusi), with her two children in tow, stuck by Thomas. But Wade (James Landry Hébert) and Colton (Noah Le Gros), their cattle-herding services no longer required, decided to ride off in a new direction. Maybe we’ll see them again in 1884, or whatever they plan to call it?
Takeaway No. 4
Thomas delivered the bad news to Josef: “We can take the leg, or you can die with it.” Josef saw the logic in that, cuing a grueling amputation scene that ended with Shea, ever practical, ordering the burial of the amputated limb. (“He don’t need to see a coyote run through the plain with his foot tomorrow.”) Unfortunately, there was no cure for what ailed Risa: She died in her sleep next to Josef. After all that, we were greatly relieved to see Josef survived long enough to stake out a place for himself in Oregon “one year later.” And we were even happier to see Thomas doing the same thing with Noemi and her two children. As for Shea, you could say he, too, reached his goal by making it to the ocean, and enjoying the view he imaged sharing with his late wife. But after watching the waves roll in for a while, he obviously felt he’d made good on his promise, and shot himself. (Really, really glad this was filmed with the camera off in another zip code.) Too bad Thomas wasn’t there to talk him out of it.
Takeaway No. 5
Before those one-year-later events unfolded, the Montana-bound group fortuitously encountered Crow elder Spotted Eagle (the great Graham Greene), who asked his people to provide palliative care for Elsa and — arguably more important, because, let’s face it, everybody knew she going to die anyway — directed James toward land where he could bury his daughter and settle with Margaret and little John (Audie Rick). However: “In seven generations,” Spotted Eagle warned, “my people will rise up and take it back from you.” “In seven generations,” James responded, “you can have it.” (A passing thought: Is John Dutton of present-day Yellowstone aware of this promise?) Good thing we kept a box of Kleenex nearby for most of what happened next. First, Shea — who knew a thing or two about losing a daughter — comforted James about the impending loss of Elsa: “I’m 75 years old. And she has out-smiled me. Out-loved me. Out-thought me. She’s outlived all of us.” (Memo to Emmy Award voters: Sam Elliott deserves at least a nomination for this scene alone, OK?) And then Shea had to explain to Margaret — because James was too devastated to do so — that James would have to ride ahead with their dying daughter, so Elsa could pick out the spot where she wanted to be buried. Margaret wasn’t happy about this at all, but she recognized that Elsa didn’t have much time left, and the young woman could move must faster on horseback with her dad than in a slow-moving wagon. And then, once Elsa selected the location for her final resting place, she and James had a final and greatly affecting conversation. And then… and then… dammit, then she died. Excuse us, now, while we look for some more tissues.
One Final Thought
Go back and take another look at Episode 101, and then ask yourself: How many of those poor immigrants aiming to be pioneers survived their journey westward? Not a whole bunch, huh? Mind you, this is not meant as a criticism of Shea or Thomas (or James, for that matter) as guides. Rather, it is intended as sincere appreciation for those usually forgotten by the history books, the countless hearty souls who came to America to chase their dreams, only to discover how dreams have a nasty habit of turning into nightmares. Thank God many of those dreams did come true, and continue to do so. And if you doubt this is still the land of opportunity, consider: What you are reading was written by an immigrant’s son who for decades has gotten paid to watch movies and television. But only because someone with sufficient get up and go, got up and went.