1883 Season 1 Episode 5 (predictably) swelled our hearts, then ripped them out and ground them to dust.
Even though it was predictable, it still hurt – a lot.
Travelers were still reeling from crossing the river in 1883 Season 1 Episode 4. Surprisingly, it was Shea who took it the hardest among the leaders.
Shea understands what he signed up for, and while I was a little too hard on him for the way he treated the group in the previous episode, his actions now make a lot more sense.
When I was a child, nothing made my father more passionate and angry than one of his daughters in danger. Whether it was because of an argument with our friends or we did something stupid that almost hurt us, his anger would increase exponentially because of his fear of us being hurt.
Likewise, Shea’s anger was a coping mechanism. He didn’t know how to impress the travelers with the dangers ahead, so he tried to scare them and anger them enough to agree to his demands.
It didn’t work, and people got killed, and Shea can’t forgive herself.
Thomas: I missed them this morning, huh?
Shea: I miss them every morning, Tom. But that’s not what bothers me today.
Thomas: What eats you then?
Shea: We’re making too many widows, too many orphans.
Thomas: We’re not doing anything. These deaths are not our fault.
Shea: They are our responsibility. It makes them our fault.
Thomas: How is it different from sending soldiers up a hill? You knew they were going to die. Never shed a tear for them.
Shea: Shit, I didn’t.
What he feels after the crossing is probably only part of what he felt leading men into battle during the war and watching helplessly as his family died before him.
As far as Thomas understands about his friend, he had misinterpreted Shea’s feelings about the harm he felt he had done to others. That is why he now has a pragmatic approach.
When the Travelers are in trouble, Shea steps in to help them, even though he’s tired of doing so.
Theft has been a problem among wagons since the beginning. You’d think people would learn their lesson by watching others being left behind, but it’s human nature to think that what happens to them will never happen to us.
Josef’s inability to lead effectively has a lot to do with it, but for every person who wants him to lead, there’s another who thinks they can trump him. They wanted him to be in charge because it’s child’s play.
When Josef tried to stand up to the tall man who had stolen food from the others, he was no match for it and fell hard several times.
This is not the message a leader wants to send to others, but Josef had the opportunity later to prove why he is worthy of the role he takes on.
The only way to survive this is to work together, leaning on each other. This journey hasn’t even become difficult yet, but difficult ahead. The river is what happens when you’re not working together. [points to Josef] He’s your boss. You chose it. Now follow him or choose someone to follow.
Once again, Shea made sure the villain stayed behind, but he wasn’t alone, and as the group’s numbers dwindled, their safety diminished with him.
From the start, everyone was looking for bandits. They had crossed a river, but far more deadly dangers awaited them. The river crossing could have gone better.
If the party hadn’t protected their food by placing it in a single cart and continued to cross the river without fail, it might have turned out differently.
The land of no consequences behind us, we are now in the land of no mercy.
Dealing with bandits, however, is another story. When you are responsible for your own actions for safety, you have a chance. When your safety depends on the whims of others, there are too many factors that come into play to guarantee anything.
Through it all, Elsa was still experiencing the wonders of the wild west. Although she had seen others face the dark side of their quest for freedom, she was gloriously beyond the grip of danger.
With each choice she makes, Elsa creates herself. She is transitioning from girl to woman, and anyone who has ever made this transition knows that it comes with some level of pain.
Margaret and James gave him free rein, not without concern, but out of necessity. Elsa was raised with skills that are an asset to their journey. They can’t protect her from any pain if she’s needed to help protect everyone.
Margaret: I envy you becoming a woman here. No rules, no worries or whispers about what you should be. Freedom does not exist, Elsa. Don’t let anyone tell you there is. There are laws, there are rules, there are customs, responsibilities everywhere. The more people you gather, the more rules there will be. I don’t know what life is like in Oregon, but there will be rules there too. This trail is as free as ever. The only rules you have to follow are those of your heart.
Elsa: Can we talk about sex now?
Margaret: We just did.
Elsa’s mind was free even though she knew the dangers of the road. Margaret reminded him that love, even when given freely, has consequences.
When the potential consequence was pregnancy, Elsa got it all figured out. Elsa and Ennis shared their journey in every way. Ennis fell as hard for Elsa as he did for him, emotionally and physically.
Elsa: If I have a baby, are you man enough to help me raise it? Good?
Ennis: You are unlike anyone I have ever met. Damn yes, I’m man enough! I doubt I’ll be lucky, though.
Elsa: [kisses him] Hello.
Elsa: I’ll tell dad.
Ennis: What do you say to dad?
Elsa: That we’re getting married!
Ennis never batted an eyelid when she said they were getting married. He had hit the jackpot.
All the dangers interspersed with their heady desires rubbed a sore spot in the story, and as her voiceover hinted at at the start of the episode, Elsa’s freedom had more in store for her than the happiness she mapped out.
However, it could have ended differently.
Shea, Thomas, James, Ennis, and Wade had a plan to sort out the bandits, but it wasn’t the one that made sense.
Josef and Risa acted as bait for the bandits, but when I thought the whole group would be on the lookout inside their cart, Josef was alone, armed with a gun.
Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the men to be inside that wagon, waiting to launch themselves at the bandits?
Getting better, we saw how beautifully James wields a gun in 1883 Season 1 Episode 1 when he hid in the tall grass and took down a group of bandits one by one without they know what hit them.
There wasn’t much tall grass for this exact plan to work, but surely there was something else that could have used his marksmanship better. Arriving on horseback was inefficient. They fired without hitting their targets.
And damn it, Ennis’ love for Elsa gave him false courage. He left himself open to his fate.
Just once, I would like to see the world through your eyes. One day you will see them through mine, and it breaks my heart.
The entire hour came full circle as everything Elsa had experienced and heard from her parents came crashing down around her. Margaret wished she could see things through Elsa’s eyes just once, knowing grief threatened when Elsa finally experienced things through Margaret’s eyes.
None of them could have imagined that the threat was so close.
Even though the tragedy was foreseen from the first frame, the reality hit me as hard as it hit Elsa.
With good reason, 1883 is not easy to watch. There are fewer bright spots than in your average show, and Elsa and Ennis were the light.
I knew death from my childhood. It’s everywhere. But it never touched me. He had never put his rotten finger on my heart until today. Today my eyes are dead. I see the world through my mother’s eyes now. Yes, freedom has fangs and she sank them into me. I chose to love him. He chose to love me back, then chose to protect me. And a man we never met chose to kill him and made me color blind. [kills the man] Maybe killing this man will get my eyes back. Maybe not, but I chose to find out.
Killing the man won’t restore Elsa’s perspective, but it will bring her some comfort knowing that she made sure another life wouldn’t be lost like she lost Ennis.
Let’s hope Elsa isn’t pregnant. It’s too much for the story to bear at this point. Not everything can come for Elsa. If she is to be the shining light on a difficult journey, she must be allowed to pass through part of it without sorrow.
Although I’m crushed after this one, the no-holds-barred approach 1883 takes to telling the story of this country’s settlement works. It’s edge-of-your-seat stuff, and it’s not accomplished through nonsense stories or fantasy inclination.
The realities pioneers faced are enough to raise the tension to uncomfortable levels without embellishment. Does 1883 give you a new appreciation for what we have accomplished over the past 139 years? It’s impressive.
Has your heart been crushed along with Elsa’s because of lost innocence?
What does the next phase of their journey hold for us?
They’ve been setting up hunger to cause disruption for a while now, so that’s where I’m voting. Share your thoughts below.
Carissa Pavlica is the editor and a writer and reviewer for TV Fanatic. She is a member of the Critics’ Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who wants to listen. Follow her on Twitter and email him here at TV Fanatic.