There’s time to wonder about how the show starts out as Paramount+ has been kind enough to stream the first two episodes of 1883 for those that have been waiting for it to show up, but the action that ensues from the start makes it clear that the Duttons’ trip to Montana isn’t going to be an easy one. Just so you’re aware, there are spoilers coming, so unless you’ve seen the first two episodes by now, you might want to stop reading. Told from the point of view of Elsa, the daughter of James and Margaret Dutton, the story begins with a fierce battle between a group of indigenous folk that appear to have set fire to a caravan and killed nearly everyone in the group. Elsa, having just recovered from being knocked down, or unconscious takes in the carnage and attempts to run, only to be cornered as she reaches for a gun. When the warrior facing her down from horseback tells her not to try it, she proves that Dutton’s are stubborn and takes aim anyway, wounding or killing the warrior, it isn’t certain. She takes an arrow to the gut for her troubles, and only moments later, as she’s being surrounded by other warriors, the story cuts off and focuses on another individual.
Shea Brennan, played by Sam Elliott, comes off as a man that has lost everything since he kind of has, as it’s shown during his intro that he’s lost his loved ones to disease and as a result torches his home with his family in it. He’s then seen sitting in a field, a revolver aimed at the underside of his chin, no doubt contemplating whatever it is that people think about before pulling the trigger. When his companion Thomas, played by LaMonica Garrett, tells him that if he’s going to do it he’d rather have the hole dug before the sun gets high, Shea decides that he’ll keep moving, as the two of them make their way toward whatever comes next.
The two of them witness James Dutton as he’s being chased by outlaws and, amazingly enough, kills every last one of them before they advise him to not take their horses, as it would be advertising that he’d killed the men they belonged to, which would only bring trouble. James Dutton has already started out as a man that appears to not want trouble but isn’t going to shy away from it. He’s a decent enough individual, but he’s also quick-tempered and fiercely protective of his family, which is an upside, but it also makes him appear to be a much harder man than he is. This could be due to the fact that during the Civil War he was one of the men that suffered the most, not to mention that the story goes on to say that he spent at least a couple of years or more in prison, during which many men changed drastically. This is actually shown in a flashback that was mentioned when it was made clear that Tom Hanks would be showing up in the series. Whether he’s going to show up again is hard to say, but it was a special treat for a lot of viewers no doubt.
But the point of the Dutton’s making their way to Texas is made quite clearly, even if it’s not an agreeable point to everyone since James’ sister Claire and her daughter don’t share his vision, but since Claire’s husband passed away she had no choice but to remain with family. That doesn’t make things any easier since she’s firmly set in her ways and actually slaps Elsa in front of her mother after Elsa is caught in the front of the train they’re taking to meet with James before their trek north. One can say that this was how things were done in the past, when someone else was allowed to discipline another’s child, but it’s fair to state that some folk might wish ill upon Claire before her time was up, since despite losing a husband and bringing herself to wilds, she’s a rather miserable excuse for a human being since she’s the type that preaches a great deal about how to live and yet can’t follow her own advice.
Throughout the early part of the trip north, however, it comes to be that one might understand Claire a little better since after her daughter is shot by outlaws, who are in turn shot by James, Shea, Thomas, and the local sheriff, in turn, she decides that she can’t go any further. She reveals that she’s had seven children in her life, and they’ve all died, and she simply can’t go anymore. This leaves her brother and Shea to dig her grave when she commits suicide next to her daughter’s grave, and the rest of the caravan of European immigrants they’re guiding to move onward, toward an uncertain future that’s taught only one lesson thus far: you’ll learn to survive in the wild, or you won’t.