This 1923 review contains spoilers for the episode and the YELLOWSTONE universe at large.
1923 Episode 8
In the 1923 season 1 finale, there’s a well-written little nugget of dialogue spoken by breakout character Teonna Rainwater (Aminah Nieves) when she tells her father, with conviction, that she “believes in right now.” While inspiring, that affirmation sticks out because of the inherent dramatic irony.
Yellowstone supercreator, Taylor Sheridan, who only half a decade ago barely had one show to his name, now helms nine television shows, all in varying degrees of production. On the surface, he certainly seems like a man who has to live in the “right now”, as his time is so precious, it would be difficult to think about nice different things at the same time, so best to focus on the here and now. However, it may be fair to say that his writing has recently suffered on several of his shows because he’s not necessarily focussed on the here and now, and that his once amazing work has become diluted.
It truly feels like the season one finale of 1923, “Nothing Left to Lose,” supports that argument.
Granted, 1923 still has flecks of Sheridan-greatness. It has been said for weeks in these reviews that the Rainwater storyline, which follows Teonna’s struggle to escape the hell of the Residential School has been powerful, tragic, and a sullen reminder of North America’s tragic injustices towards Indigenous people.
The episode opens with Marshall Kent (Jamie McShane), the newest villainous lawman in the cabal of racist and abusive antagonists within the show, speaking with Father Renaud (Sebastian Roché) about Teonna’s escape. Roché has been another breakout performance this season, as his pious and violent righteousness can make anyone’s skin crawl every time he’s on screen.
Kent, along with his fellow marshals, and with Renaud by their side, follow the tracks that Teonna has left, and eventually find the site of the chaos that was a result of last week’s bloody confrontation between the priests sent from the Residential school, and Teonna’s savior, Hank (Michael Greyeyes). Luckily, Runs His Horse (Michael Spears) and Pete (Cole Gives Plenty) get there before the marshals do and find Teonna, but Kent is still on to their plan. Instead of following their direct path, the marshalls decide to take a train to the nearest Comanche reservation, where they know Runs his Horse, Pete and Teonna will eventually travel to.
Remember that word – eventually.
With all the darkness that naturally follows the world of Yellowstone and the Dutton family, there is a beautiful bright spot to the season one conclusion of this Rainwater storyline. Teonna and Pete, full of noticeable googly-eyed glances and sly smiles, seemingly find comfort in one another, and an ember of romance begins to spark, much to the chagrin of Runs His Horse.
Nieves has absolutely carried this show in the opinion of this writer, as the young actress has had the absolute lion’s share of powerful and emotional moments. Sheridan has always had an affinity in terms of his writing of young female characters, as was evident in his writing of Elsa (Isabel May) in 1883. Nieves has never had a single moment where her acting is not utterly believable, and that authenticity has made Teonna the standout character. But the “love at first sight” trope does seem a little out of the blue. Sheridan has done this before, with Elsa, in fact, and while it’s sweet to see young love, it seemed a little shoehorned. The irony of Teonna’s statement about believing in “right now” is doubled as it is clear Sheridan is setting up this romance for next season.
The Montana-Dutton storyline in “Nothing left to Lose” predominantly follows the growing rivalry between Jacob (Harrison Ford) and the murderous Scot, Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn). Banner is at his arraignment, where his greasy lawyer with a name equally as punchable as his smug face, Chadwick Benton (Currie Graham) gets the accused murderer released with no bail. Going against Benton’s recommendation, Creighton can’t help but goad the Duttons who are sitting in court, culminating in him punching Jack (Darren Mann).
The issue with this storyline this late in the season, is there has not been even an iota of justice or retribution at all, which admittedly, is frustrating to watch. It will undoubtedly make Creighton’s eventual (and inevitable) downfall that much sweeter, granted, but once again the word “eventually” rears its ugly head.
It is merely more of the same. The Duttons were ambushed by Creighton and his goons in the third episode this season. John Dutton Sr (James Badge Dale) was mowed down, Jacob was almost fatally wounded, and yet, Creighton has not had his real day in court, at least the Dutton court to which fans have grown accustomed. Timothy Dalton’s Whitfield, the shark-like grin behind Creighton’s thuggery, is very much the same story in this episode as well. In fact, his abusive tendencies with two prostitutes is almost exactly the same as last episode, and it is thoroughly uncharacteristic of Sheridan to not push the story forward.
One new development was the subplot of trusted Dutton right hand man, Zane (Brian Geraghty) asking Jacob permission to visit home for the day, something he hasn’t been able to do for quite some time. When he arrives home, it is revealed that he is in a loving interracial relationship with his Asian partner, Alice (Joy Osmanski). They have two beautiful children together, and the family laughs and embraces each other to make up for lost time.
This is another great example of Sheridan’s balanced approach to not only representation within his shows, but educating his audience on the atrocities committed in North America. Tragically, the untrustworthy Clyde (Brian Konowal) who audiences were on to the very moment he showed up, creeps in the window of Zane’s house, noticing who he is married to, and reports the family for miscegenation. Alice is ripped away from her family by authorities, and Zane is savagely beaten.
While again, this is an important story to tell, the one aspect that has to come into question is the timing. Sheridan deciding to only introduce this subplot in the fleeting moments of the season finale is almost unforgivable. Zane has barely made a dent in this show, has barely had any lines, and of all the times the audience could have used a little more to flesh out the character, Sheridan chose now. Fans will surely get the answers, and perhaps the justice they seek, but again, only eventually.
What is no doubt the most talked about storyline brought a little excitement to this episode, but once again was merely a set up for what’s to come next season.
Spencer (Brandon Sklenar) and Alexandra (Julia Schlaepfer) board their liner on route to London, and they have unwanted company. The story does not pick up right where the previous episode did, with Alex being confronted by her former fiancée, Young Arthur (Rafe Soule), but rather days later as both parties board the same ship.
Eventually Alex fights off her motion sickness and insecurities enough to convince Spencer that they can no longer run from the scornful looks or gossip being thrown their way by the English upper crust. As the newlyweds dine in the main hall, tensions erupt, and the foppish Arthur challenges Spencer to a duel. It is, naturally, laughable, akin to a privileged hedgehog challenging a lion. Spencer tries to walk away, but naturally, Arthur goes one insult too far, and Spencer must defend Alexandra’s honor. The duel goes as expected, but when Arthur pulls a pistol, Spencer throws the insignificant hedgehog overboard.
While this was the one solitary moment of satisfaction fans can take away from this episode, it leads to more frustration. Spencer is taken to the brig, and while eventually he is released thanks to Alex’s friend Jennifer (Jo Ellen Pellman), he is taken ashore, torn away from Alex. Alex then shouts from the deck of the ship that she will meet her love in Boseman. Fans have been anticipating Spencer’s return to the Yellowstone for almost the entire season, and it will no doubt be the rage-filled vengeance audiences have all awaited when he gets there… eventually.
In fact, there was only closure on one storyline, and it was yet another tragedy that has struck the Dutton family. Elizabeth (Michelle Randolph) and Jack lost their pregnancy. The loving exchange between Elizabeth and Jack was arguably the highlight of the episode, as Mann gives a touching performance as a husband trying to console the inconsolable love of his life. Sheridan again shows an aptitude for understanding the perspective of his female characters, and deals with the subject with empathy and gravitas. The speech he wrote for Jack about how Elizabeth can find a new purpose and destiny was beautiful, and Mann delivered it impeccably.
Yet, sadly, audiences have already experienced this with the Duttons this year. Albeit, within Yellowstone, but Monica (Kelsey Asbille) and Kayce Dutton (Luke Grimes) also lost a child at the start of this current season of the show. While this is a tragedy that can befall many couples, it should certainly be questioned why Sheridan needs to keep drawing water from that particular well.
That overall feeling of deja vu is what ultimately lingers after watching “Nothing Left to Lose”. Audiences have already seen Creighton get away with literal murder for far too long. Audiences know that most authorities in the Yellowstone universe are not to be trusted. They know that rich or powerful white men are almost always the enemy, as long as they’re not the Duttons. They have seen tragedy befall the family, and have seen the Duttons lose countless times, only to eventually rise up and claim some sort of victory.
It has to be acknowledged that these prequel chapters to the contemporary flagship Yellowstone were created to shine a new light on the family history – to give audiences a chance to experience something new, or any kind of revelation, but it simply has not been the case with 1923. This final chapter in season one may set up an exciting sophomore season, but looking back at this premiere season, it feels more as if George Lucas gave us The Empire Strikes Back without the first film. Imagine watching that Empire without having seen A New Hope, it would be nothing but an exercise in futility – incessant tragedy befalling characters we have barely had the opportunity to connect with, and that is what this first season of 1923 has often felt like.
The harsh truth is Sheridan’s writing has been floundering for quite some time now, undoubtedly because he simply has too much on his plate. So instead of believing in “right now”, he’s merely biding his time with a lot of his shows, and not only was “Nothing Left to Lose” indicative of that, but it can be argued this entire premiere season reflected that as well.