‘1883’ Offers Budding Romance, Deadly Consequences + Faith Hill’s Most Wrenching Scene Yet [Spoiler Alert]
1883 gave viewers another taste of Faith Hill's emotional range as an actor when Episode 4 of Season 1 began airing on Sunday (Jan. 9) via Paramount+. Hill gave an exceptionally powerful performance in what proved to be Margaret Dutton's most harrowing scene yet.
Episode 4 starts off easily enough, with Elsa (Isabel May) saying in a voiceover that she is leaving the rules of society behind a little more each day as the Duttons settle into their new life on the wagon train headed West to parts unknown. Viewers see her bartering for a pair of pants from one of the immigrant women on the trip, trading her some gold for a little more comfort while she rides in a move that draws her mother's grudging respect, while her budding love interest, cowboy Ennis (Eric Nelsen), seems almost awed by her growing independence.
There's more friction between Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott) and James Dutton (Tim McGraw) as Dutton challenges Brennan's position in leading the inexperienced group of immigrants on the journey. They disagree about how and when to make the crossing of the Brazos River, and Dutton ultimately asserts his independence by having his family cross in the middle of the night ahead of the rest of the convoy — a risky move that leaves Margaret upset that the journey is already far harder than he had told her it would be.
There's a sweet side to Episode 4 as Elsa and Ennis begin to deepen their relationship, sharing their first kiss before James catches them in the act. And while both Ennis and Elsa seem afraid of how he'll react, he simply tells Elsa that if he treats her as an adult in one area of her life, he can't very well treat her like a child in another — a sentiment her mother may or may not share.
We also find out more of James' backstory as he reveals to Brennan for the first time that he's not just a farmer; he was also a Captain during the war, the same position as Brennan, though on the other side.
We also gain new insight into Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) after Brennan expresses his wonderment at the tenacity of the immigrants, who are fleeing a homeland in which they were beaten for routine things like wanting to learn to swim. When he expresses incredulity that they have not given up on their journey despite how woefully unprepared they are, we learn for the first time that before he fought in the war and became a Pinkerton agent, Thomas was a slave.
"You ain't never been whipped, Captain," he explains to Brennan. "Let someone put a whip to your back and tell me the unknown is what scares you. They ain't never going home."
There's also a subplot brewing for Thomas involving a potential romantic interest, but the pivotal story arc of Episode 4 of 1883 focuses on the difficulties of getting the immigrants, their horses and especially their wagons across the Brazos safely — especially after Brennan realizes that they are carrying a lot of additional weight in the form of items they should have never attempted to bring on the trail in the first place. In an emotional scene, he makes all of them unload everything that's not completely essential from their wagons, forcing them to realize perhaps for the first time how much they are really giving up for the chance at freedom.
We also get a look at the Duttons' former life when Elsa sits down and begins to play a mournful tune on the piano that one of the immigrants is having to leave behind, despite the fact that he had hoped to make his way as a musician in the new land. That serves as the soundtrack to a terrible scene that ends the episode, as the river crossing goes sideways when it turns out that the inexperienced immigrants can't swim, and many are terrified of water.
Margaret is trying to help lead the immigrants through the water from horseback when one of the women gets spooked and pulls her from her horse into the river. A struggle ensues as the panicked woman pulls her under, and in the moments that follow, Margaret fights for her life before pulling away, while the other woman drowns.
The scene that follows once again demonstrates Hill's remarkable ability to channel her character's physicality as she again falls to the ground and screams in pain, as she did during the attacks on the wagon train in Episode 2. But this time around she's forced to channel all of it through her face, as the scene is paired with Elsa's music and we cannot hear her cries. It's a performance that lays to rest once and for all any questions anyone had going into 1883 as to whether Hill — whose acting resume prior to the show was quite thin — can carry her part of the show as well as the more experienced actors.
There are still so many questions ahead of viewers as 1883 heads into Episode 5, which will mark the halfway point of Season 1. Will we see cracks start to open in the Duttons' marriage because of all they've endured? Can James Dutton and Brennan come to a better understanding? Can Brennan ever come back from all of the pain that he's been through? And can Elsa possibly survive the arrow that she took in the flash-forward that opened the show?
New episodes of 1883 stream every Sunday via Paramount+.
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