1883: “The Fangs of Freedom” Recap

One of the worst parts about freedom is that it isn’t free, as many have said throughout history, and too many have found out the hard way. Episode 5, ‘The Fangs of Freedom’, almost sounds like a cheesy title for this kind of show, but it sinks in quite well as the meaning behind it comes clear throughout the hour-long continuation of a journey that’s still seeing the continual decline of the wagon train as more issues keep popping up. Oh yes, spoilers are coming. The river was perhaps one of the worst since the settlers had no idea how bad things were going to get, and from what Shea relays to Josef, the river was the easiest part of it. That starts to sink in when it comes to the depletion of the food stores as Josef has to point out another member of his party that’s holding out on the rest of them. Some might think that it was the stupidity of the settlers to put all the food in one carriage and try to send it across, others might be thinking the same way as Shea and Josef when it comes to divvying up the rations so that no one starves. But that wasn’t the plan of the big, black-bearded settler that was knocked to the ground by James Dutton.

His expulsion from the group was kind of harsh, to say the least, but the fact that he called them all sheep following a wolf was morbidly amusing since it indicates that he fancied himself something other than a sheep. Elsa’s narration throughout the episode sounds wise at moments but also sounds like a young woman that’s still romanticizing the freedom of the trail, meaning she hasn’t had to pay a steep enough price yet to realize the cost of her freedom. I couldn’t have been the only one thinking that her dalliance with Ennis was going to end up in anything but tragedy since it almost forced her father to beat Ennis several different shades of blue. 

Seeing this matter from the angle of the parents is easy if you have kids, especially kids that are starting to think that they’re ready for what life can throw at them. But seeing it from Elsa’s perspective is just as easy since all of us were there at one point and can probably remember what it was like to believe in a world that we could handle, a place where we might be happy and safe and where we were capable of handling things without too much trouble. A lot of us were wrong, weren’t we? At one time or another, we found out that the world, which appears so beautiful, can be unbearably cruel as well, and will gladly snatch away anything we care about without hesitation if we’re not careful. In this episode, Elsa found out that believing that things will always turn out the way they need isn’t a guarantee. As her mother said, one day she would see things through her eyes, and it broke her heart to say so. Any parent might think the same thing, because the experience granted to those of us that have lived long enough in this world to feel joy, love, hardship, and pain, only deadens the joy of life if we let it, but it tempers everyone at some point by making it clear that life will not always turn out the way one wants. 

Unfortunately, Elsa is given a crash course when bandits are noticed lurking about. When Wade takes note of a campfire that wasn’t cleared and the tracks of several unshod horses, the men guarding the settlers decide to take action. Of course, this is too late to save the thieving settler and his family as the bandits take their goods and kill them all, alerting the wagon train thanks to the pillar of black smoke that can be seen on the horizon the day after the raid. To their credit, the settlers do take direction, and Josef and his wife do just fine as bait, but Josef’s wife might not recover as quickly after she’s forced to kill one of the bandits. 

Worse than this however is the loss of Ennis as his death comes during a shootout with one of the final bandits. Understandably, Elsa is enraged as she kills the bandit after expressing her grief. What’s truly regrettable is the hardened look she takes on during and shortly after. Even as she curls up on Ennis’s still form, one can’t help but think that the last bit of innocence she possesses is in danger of being stripped away. It’s fair to think that the following episodes are going to explore the depths of her grief, and what will come next. The trail isn’t changing, but it’s changing those that use it. 

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