January 27, 2023
1923 A Yellowstone Origin Story

“With Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren on duty, 1923 has the makings of a terrific prequel series. An auspicious and intriguing opening episode, I can’t wait to see what the season brings to the Yellowstone table.” We review the opening episode of the prequel series, 1923.

I’ve heard so much about the series Yellowstone from one of my fellow writers at The Future Of The Force. So much so, that I had to binge-watch the entire four seasons and the first half of season 5 to get a taste of what she was so enthused about. And I’m glad I did. I am now hooked on the show. With the addition of 1883 to the Yellowstone universe, the franchise has the makings of becoming an all-time classic.

Now we come to the new prequel/ sequel series, 1923. Again, the series focuses on the Dutton family but this time in the form of Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren. The series is planned to run for two seasons. But from what we have seen so far, the series could run longer than that. In my press pack, I received only the first episode of this first season. But from the start, fans and non-fans alike will be hooked. And it may just become one of the most loved shows ever.

1923 A yellowstone Origin Story

THE PREMISE

The series follows a generation of the Dutton family in 1923, during a time of various hardships including Western Expansion, Prohibition, and the Great Depression, which in Montana started a decade earlier.

THE STORYLINES

The opening episode is broken down into three segments. The first begins the story of Jacob Dutton (Ford), the brother of James Dutton (played in 1883 by Tim McGraw), the patriarch of the Dutton family. Helen Mirren plays his wife, Clara, the matriarch of the family. After the death of James, and having no children of their own, the pair are raising James’ children as their own. It is with Clara that we start with in an opening that we will come back to later in the season. Jacob is in conflict, alongside other ranchers with Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn), a Scottish sheep farmer who constantly grazes his flock on other people’s lands without permission. Banner and Jacob almost come into a violent confrontation, forcing Sheriff McDowell (Robert Patrick) to step in.

Cara also has to contend with the chores of running the Dutton ranch in the absence of Jacob. In addition, she has to deal with the upcoming wedding of her nephew Jack Dutton (Darren Mann) to Elizabeth Strafford (Michelle Randolph). Jack is loyal to his family and goes with Jacob and his ranchers to take their cattle higher up the mountain to graze, something that Elizabeth doesn’t fully understand and angers her. Cara has to step in with a motherly chat with Elizabeth, telling her what life she is in for once she marries Jack and placates the young woman.

Helen Mirren as Cara Dutton in 1923, streaming on Paramount+ 2022. Photo Credit: James Minchin III/Paramount+

THE SECOND SEGMENT

The second segment concerns Teonna Rainwater (Aminah Nieves), a young woman at a government residential boarding school. Teonna is constantly in conflict with Sister Mary (Jennifer Ehle), an Irish Nun who teaches at the school for American Indians in Montana. After one confrontation, Teonna attacks Sister Mary violently, causing both to be dragged to the office of Father Renaud (Sebastian Roche), the headmaster of the school for American Indians. Although he seems kind-natured and understanding, his punishments for both women are extreme, brutal, and long-lasting.

After joining in with the other young women as they bathe, Teonna bleeds from her wounds onto the floor. Sister Mary examines Teonna while she is wrapped in her towel, telling her that they should both ensure they never have to enter Father Renaud’s office again before instructing her to dress and mop up the blood. While speaking with her friend at bedtime, Teonna states that she has received no reply to any of the letters she has sent to her people. She tells her friend that she doubts any of them will ever leave the school alive.

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Helen Mirren as Cara Dutton in 1923, streaming on Paramount+ 2022. Photo Credit: James Minchin III/Paramount+

THIRD SEGMENT

The third segment follows Spencer Dutton (Brandon Sklenar), Jacob’s nephew who has witnessed the horrors of World War I, causing him to suffer from PTSD. He is making a living tracking big game in Africa alongside his two native friends. Cara is constantly writing to her nephew, worried about him and his exploits, urging him to return home to the family. The trauma Spencer suffers comes out in nightmares, giving us a taste of the horror he has witnessed. One such nightmare happens onboard a train, causing Spencer to pull his pistol and almost shoot the train conductor to death.

Spencer is a loner, preferring his own company to sharing anything with anyone other than his two companions. After killing a lion in one part of Africa, he is tasked with hunting down and destroying a leopard that is terrorizing a bunch of British travelers. But Spencer and his companions are in for a shock when a deadly and potentially fatal surprise is sprung on them.

Harrison Ford as Jacob Dutton in 1923 streaming on Paramount+ 2022. Photo Credit: James Minchin III/Paramount+

THOUGHTS

This opening episode certainly knows how to grab the audience by the lapels and draw them in. From the start of the episode, we find ourselves hooked. The storylines are gripping and in some cases, quite shocking to us. It comes as a complete surprise that the Ford and Mirren segment is the lightest of the three. It does contain some threats and shocks but in comparison with the other two segments, is pretty tame. While the third segment is dramatic storytelling at its best, it’s the middle story regarding Teonna that shocks us the most. It doesn’t shy away from the shocking events it portrays and the aftermath. It is also a surprise to learn that Aminah Nieves and Jennifer Ehle deliver the best performances of the episode. Their story is one to watch very closely over the coming weeks.

Brandon Sklenar as Spencer Dutton is also a surprise. As is his storyline. We would have expected to see the character appear alongside Harrison Ford and James Badge Dale as John Dutton Sr. But his story is almost a replay of The Ghost And The Darkness. Both featured a big game hunter stalking his prey. And both featured shocks, blood, and death along the way. It is also part of the story that keeps us on our toes at every turn, and one I can’t wait to see develop over the whole season.

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Harrison Ford as Jacob Dutton in 1923 streaming on Paramount+ 2022. Photo Credit: James Minchin III/Paramount+

HARRISON FORD AND HELEN MIRREN

But the main stars are, of course, Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren. And both turn in terrific performances. Ford is completely suited to the role of Jacob Dutton. From the minute we first see him, we know that Jacob is another strong character for the actor. He is one of those actors who just seems to fit any role that he inhabits. The same has to be said for Helen Mirren. No matter what the part is, Mirren always seems like a perfect fit. And she does so here. Cara is an Irish woman, and Mirren plays her with affection, and with great steeliness. Both leads play off each other well and are completely believable as a married couple from the Depression era. Although their interaction and screen time together in this opening episode is brief, we can expect to see much more from the pair throughout the season.

Harrison Ford as Jacob Dutton and Helen Mirren as Cara Dutton in 1923 streaming on Paramount+ 2022. Photo Credit: James Minchin III/Paramount+

FINAL THOUGHTS

With Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren on duty, 1923 has the makings of a terrific prequel series. The imagery and setting look sublime, with all rich colors and beautiful shots of Montana and its mountainous terrain. The storylines are gripping enough to keep us all hooked and on the edge of our seats going forward and will give fans and those yet to enjoy the franchise an enjoyable if not always comfortable ride. The seeds that are sown both here and in 1883 will bear fruit and tie in with the main series as we go along. We can see the makings of what forms the story of Yellowstone here and we can smile at what we know will happen in the future. An auspicious and intriguing opening episode. And I can’t wait to see what the season brings to the Yellowstone table.

The first episode of 1923 is now available on Paramount Plus for all subscribers.

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