‘1883’ Review: Taylor Sheridan’s ‘Yellowstone’ Prequel for Paramount+

Taylor Sheridan’s drama series Paramount + offers little intrinsic value to the narrative history of one of the most transformative periods in US history.

A prequel to Taylor Sheridan’s Paramount Network drama series “Yellowstone,” “1883” unfolds over a century ago as contemporary Montana has been replaced by a journey across the Great Plains, chronicling the story of one family during the great American western migration. However, an opportunity to disrupt the current understanding of a transformative period in US history is lost on another narrative from the point of view of white settlers.

The Western Frontier novel is a story that cannot be told without including the Native American experience, yet it is a perspective that these particular stories are rarely expressed, especially in the mainstream. Even the official summary of “1883” uses the phrase “the last stronghold of untamed America” ​​to describe this final destination. But what does the word “untamed” mean to the civilization that has inhabited those lands for centuries? This lack of consideration is what makes “1883” so disappointing. At best, it is reductive, offering little value to progressive discourse – and this family drama has nothing new or profound to say about the family; At worst, it is intentional. In either scenario, the chain becomes toothless.

The first episode begins with a white young woman, bruised and battered, armed with Native Americans on horseback, covered wagons burning, and corpses strewn about. She’s Elsa Dutton (Isabel May), the “pure” blonde, the teenage daughter of James Dutton (Tim McGraw), the Dutton family patriarch whose exploits are pivotal in Yellowstone. Dressed in a brightly colored dress—as she is throughout the series, contrasting sharply with her “darker” surroundings—Elsa is, for all intents and purposes, the personification of Colombia, and herself the historical personification of the United States as depicted in John Just’s 1872 painting “American Progress” . Columbia is depicted as the “Spirit of the Frontier,” a white, blonde, female figure, dressed in a white cloak, bound west to fulfill what was believed to be a divine mission: the “civilization” of the Wild West.

A Necessary Context 1883 Doesn’t Provide: From about 1840 (after the US victory in the Mexican War, the California Gold Rush, and the abolition of slavery) until 1900, large-scale changes transformed the American West. At the beginning of that period, most parts of the region were dominated by a large and diverse group of Native Americans, whose cultures were already several thousand years old. By the end of the era, the West had become inhabited by new immigrants of all kinds, an expansion that greatly affected the indigenous population. The resistance of the tribes often led to wars with the American army, which the tribes usually lost, as the western lands came under the control of whites.

Is knowledge of this history necessary to place Sheridan in “1883”? The simple answer is yes. It may not be a scientific understanding of it, but it is well documented that the American education system has generally failed its students, especially when it comes to illustrating the most humiliating periods of the country’s past, including the harsh experiences of indigenous peoples in the present. . The media has certainly helped perpetuate the neglect of the original American novel, with mischievous characterizations in film and television from the start.

Does Sheridan have a responsibility to tell Aboriginal stories? Of course not, but given how imbalanced the scales of power and control are in the American media, in terms of who decides which stories to tell and the realization of one’s privilege (as the man says, “With great power comes great responsibility”) could be the first step toward necessary empathy.

In a web of past and present, there are key memories of the current season’s first episode of “Yellowstone,” when former Confederate officer James Dutton (McGraw) met Native Americans on his home soil. The optics illustrate the power relationship: Dutton, confident, soaring on horseback, looks down upon the besieged natives (the European legend of “noble barbarism” looming), who are ultimately at his mercy. They are there to bury one of their dead on what used to be their land. Dutton asks if they have come to get her back, and he is strict in his position that he is not personally responsible for what they lost.

Although Dutton’s assumption can be argued, if he was aware of the history that eased his family’s suffering, or was sympathetic to the plight of those who had been replaced by force and violence so that he could claim this land, it does not appear.

Sheridan’s biography as an author is not exhaustive enough to measure his politics, but the small-town Texas native (Cranfills Gap) showed an interest in heartbeats of “rural America”—a loaded term that incorrectly became synonymous with “white farmland heartland”; His 2016 Academy Award-nominated movie “Hell or High Water” (which he wrote) is one example of the recent Paramount+ series “Mayor of Kingstown”. In “1883,” Dutton, a stubborn former Confederate officer, is very likely an ideological ship.

To be fair, Sheridan inserted a Dutton coin in the shape of Sam Elliott’s majestic Union Army man, Shea Brennan, the former captain of the Buffalo Soldier (a squad of African American soldiers). Brennan was tasked with guiding a group of mostly non-English speaking Germans along the Great Plains. He is in mourning, having left behind a family with smallpox, all of whom died from the viral disease.

Accompanying Brennan Thomas (LaMonica Jarrett), the only African American presence on the series. A former Buffalo soldier, now Brennan’s right-hand man – an optimist toward a pessimist Brennan. War and death have come to them, they are “good” people, which is something the series seems to want to make clear.

Fate introduces the traveling duo and his entourage to the Dutton family, after a skirmish or two that lands them all in a sort of transitional western city where the unarmed are the most vulnerable, yet the gunslingers are often the first to die.

However, any hints of a power struggle between Brennan and Dutton are quickly quelled as the former acquiesces to the latter. For example, at a crossroads, Brennan proposes a longer path that would avoid confrontation with the natives, but the singularly focused Dutton is willing, and perhaps even willing, to risk conflict. A violent showdown with the Native Americans is clearly coming, and so is Winter. Both concerns are raised often. But suffice it to say that the Dutton method wins. The opposite is rarely the case.

Isabel May as Elsa Dutton in “1883”

Paramount +

No matter where an individual’s sociopolitical loyalties lie, a good story requires a clear narrative voice, compelling characters, insightful themes, and conflict that stems from diverse perspectives, and most importantly, empathy. It is a trait that nurtures curiosity, which then opens the door to understanding and more subtle ways of observing the world. “1883” is only a nuance.

It’s an R-rated “Little House on the Prairie,” although the ’70s and ’80s series, as problematic as it were, dealt with storylines about settler biases and gender inequality more subtly than I’ve been given the credit for. But both are dramatic accounts of a white family’s struggle to build a new life for themselves on the American frontier for the latter half of the nineteenth century, with conservative “family values” still resonating among many Americans today.

It is possible that the development of rural American political ideology can be traced back to James Dutton’s implication of self-reliance. As a middle-aged white man, Dutton, like many of his peers, likely scoffed at government relief programs, especially those that helped newly liberated African Americans, and insisted that his family had endured hardship without aid, making the treacherous journey westward, by planting seeds For the obvious fortune to come a century later, as described in “Yellowstone.”

But the U.S. Congress enacted laws to encourage settlement, including the Homestead Act of 1862, which for hundreds of thousands of predominantly white people meant the benefit of what was a large-scale, if ill-considered, government initiative that led to 50 years. Violent conflict and brutal struggle, leaving the Native Americans at a disadvantage.

For whatever it’s worth, “1883” is serious about crafting it, thanks to Sheridan’s writing and the performances of his cast, particularly real-life couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill as James and Margaret Dutton. They are a family that works on mutual respect and affection, and they rely on their devotion to each other to see them through the daily experiences of early settling life.

A stray narration by Dutton’s daughter Elsa is sprayed throughout each episode.

“How ruthless and indifferent this world can be,” she says in a seemingly disparaging Southern tie. “The world does not care if you die. It will not listen to your screams. When I meet God, I will be the first to ask: Why would we make a world with such wonders and fill it with monsters?”

It is not clear who you think the “monsters” are.

“If a feeling can be described, it is how it felt,” she says. “The whole world felt it was possible and I’m ready for it.”

Native Americans, as well as formerly enslaved Americans, may have felt the same way.

In the end, her naivety began to falter.

The series’ special, Scarlett O’Hara, Elsa testifies about events that actually happened. In the end, the episodes will catch up with the deadly confrontation with the natives that was filmed in the first minutes of the first episode. And how it ends, before turning back to tell the story of the past when the Duttons began their journey, will likely be answered.

Today’s America grew out of the many battles fought, lives lost, cultures overrun, lands claimed, treaties ended, all as a result of Western expansion that many believed was sacred and predestined. The stories of those who sought a better future certainly deserved to be told; The problem is that it was chronically patchy. And in what has been described as a global historical account, as the statues and monuments of racism, colonialism, and legacies of injustice continue to fall across the globe, “1883” feels like a chain in time.

Grade: D +

“1883” launches with its two-episode premiere on Sunday, December 19, on Paramount+.

Participation: Stay up-to-date with the latest movies and TV news! Subscribe to our email newsletters here.

Leave a Comment