In episode 4 of season 1 of 1883, the Travelers finally had to face the threat that loomed before them.
No one was quite ready to cross the river, including James, Margaret, Shea and Thomas.
But what travelers experienced could set the tone for the rest of their trip.
James still makes his own way north, much to Shea and Thomas’ dismay.
Shea: By the time these misfits move, it will be noon, farmer. Do not worry.
James: I’m not a fucking farmer.
Shea: You were.
James: I was a captain too. I don’t call myself that either. Captain.
Before they even reached the river, Shea realized he had to carefully walk around James. It wouldn’t be worth losing him entirely as an ally; they need help.
An argument between James and Shea arose shortly after the men discussed what was to come. There was a lot of talk about what to expect from the river to starvation if they didn’t manage their supplies better.
Josef has revealed a little more why he and his compatriots are so keen on making a fresh start. Their freedoms have been trampled on and their minds crushed. Even trying to swim led to lashes.
Considering the dangers of the journey ahead, Josef wondered if it was worth continuing, and Shea assured him it was. But when Josef left them, Shea admitted to Thomas that he was surprised that they were still willing after what they had suffered so far.
For Shea, the stranger was the scariest thing he could imagine, and they were heading straight for it. He thought everyone felt the same.
But Thomas knew better. When someone takes a whip on your back, even once, you realize that there is nothing worse than losing your agency like this.
Shea’s nightmares keep him awake, but Thomas’ nightmares were alive and sleep was the only way to escape them. This stark contrast made so much sense and discussing it was imperative to understanding this journey as well as those of all the pioneers.
In episode 1 of season 1 of 1883, the conductors of this train of wagons tried to make travelers understand that the dead weight could not come on their journey. It’s too tiring to pull it.
But they never checked the wagons or bothered to call travelers for what they had stowed in their wagons until the realities of crossing the river came.
Yes, travelers have been told to lighten their load considerably, but Shea’s method of communication sucks. Threatening to burn their wagon and all its belongings on the ground is useful, how?
Thomas: They will hate you.
Shea: They’ll still be alive to do it.
If he tried harder to understand the people he is carrying and treat them properly, it might be easier to accomplish their task. Letting go of everything that tied them to their community, heritage and sense of worth just before the crossing could have impacted their success.
James and Margaret crossed ahead to get the lay of the land and determine the best place to cross and how to bring the others in afterward.
Margaret’s expertise in the wagon was required, but with as experienced as she was, she still felt the stress of the crossing.
It wasn’t going to be easy no matter how it turned out, but if Shea had been more diligent about what they were carrying in their wagons they would have had some time to get over it.
The pain they felt upon letting go was sapping some of their emotional reserves, and mental acuity was required to cross safely.
There is a lot of room for improvement among this group of travelers from leadership. They all have different goals, but if they communicate more effectively, they should find it very useful.
Elsa’s realization that she is a cowboy also fits the theme of the episode. If she hadn’t started this journey, she might never have discovered her love for cattle and working with the herd.
I know what I am now. I am a cowboy.
Her first kiss would certainly have been a lot different.
Ennis: I guess I’m the one moving forward now. I am sorry. I probably shouldn’t have.
Elsa: Start over.
Being among so many different people opens her mind to possibilities she never knew existed. She sees a woman riding a horse in pants, and this triggers in her the desire to make her work a little easier.
Much like John Dutton years later and his relationship with Beth, Elsa’s parents can sometimes laugh at her actions, but they’re not hypocrites. They need to preach.
It pays off, because Elsa has her head on her shoulders and compassion for others. The voiceovers suggest that she is more poetic in thought than in life, but she finds times to combine the two.
Stumbling over the cemetery of the traveller’s belongings was also another step in getting rid of his past life.
Once a cultured young woman, in her pants and torn dress, she played the piano in what might be the last time in quite a while.
She chose a tearful song, which highlighted the challenges that awaited them all.
All the travelers on this wagon train shed their old skins, and by the time they arrive at their destination, they will have new loves and ideas to support themselves.
Sometimes in the future, saying goodbye to pianos, housewares and heirlooms – reminders of who they once were – won’t seem like a burden on their shoulders.
Freedom will be a struggle, but it will also provide. We’ve seen their future, and it’s pretty bright – for a while anyway.
Carissa Pavlica is an editor and writer and reviewer for TV Fanatic. She is a member of Critics’ Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, chatting with cats and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone willing to listen. Follow her on Twitter and email him here at TV Fanatic.