This 1923 review contains spoilers.
1923 Episode 4
It must be somewhat difficult to write a period piece, when the history is largely known, and still keep it compelling and intriguing. When an audience knows how something is going to end, it can take the fun out of guessing a little bit for those of us who enjoy it. Even massive blockbusters such as Titanic had to forge a love story for the ages to distract from the inevitability of the boat sinking. This is where 1923 writer and creator Taylor Sheridan now finds himself.
Not that 1923 is by any means a sinking ship, quite the contrary, but you’re undoubtedly reading this review for the same reason you watch 1923 – you’re a fan of Yellowstone, and as a fan, you have a crystal ball into the legacy of the Dutton family, since you already know what the future is going to look like.
We, as Yellowstone fans, know that this family not only survives, but thrives. We know future generations are born. We know they become more powerful. We even know what the Dutton ranch and their log-cabin Montana mansion will look like. Which you have to admit, somewhat lessens the tension. While last week’s explosive episode where the family lost John Dutton (James Badge Dale) and with the co-lead of the family and the show, Jacob (Harrison Ford) possibly mortally wounded was indeed shocking, it was perhaps not as impactful as it could have been.
Regardless of the impact it has on the audience, we see that impact on the Dutton family almost immediately in this episode, as Cara (Helen Mirren) is cleaning the bloody aftermath of the multiple surgeries performed in the Yellowstone kitchen. As she does, trusted right-hand-man, Zane (Brian Geraghty) comes in to offer to help. Right there and then, Cara devises a plan – no one must know how close to death Jacob is, and that they must send for Spencer (Brandon Sklenar) immediately, regardless of how long it will take to get ahold of him in the depths of Africa.
As we cut to the continuing sexual escapades of Spencer and his new bride, Alex (Julia Schlaepfer), we discover the two enjoying the solitude of an African beach, wading in the title turquoise tide. Sheridan has the two lovers wade in the tides and bide their time, as sadly, the scenes between Spencer and Alex don’t necessarily add much to this episode. At this specific junction, fans are merely waiting for Spencer to read the letter from his Aunt Cara and get home so he can exact revenge to satiate our bloodlust.
There are some memorable bits to these cut away scenes, including one of Sheridan’s most memorable lines in recent memory, as Spencer describes war to Alex as “if insanity were a thing you could touch”. Sheridan has saved many of his poetic speeches for Spencer’s older sister, Elsa’s narration, executed beautifully by Isabel May, so it was a sweet touch to think that this poetry could run in the family. Yet the bumper-sticker worthy quotations, romantic bathing in the turquoise tide and exhibitive sexual exploits are simply leading to the moment where Alex reads the letter Cara gave to Zane. When they finally do read it, there is the reveal that it was in fact three months later than the events we see happening in Montana.
Again, however, this moment was merely attempting to be more impactful than it actually was. Yes, this tiny cliffhanger is a good time to have a short hiatus from the show, as the network is not releasing new episodes until early February at this point. During this break, fans can ruminate and hypothesize what is going to be left of the Duttons and the ranch when Spencer arrives, but ultimately, as stated – don’t we already know? Even if the war Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn) has waged against the Duttons has all but decimated the family ranks when Spencer comes home, we know they’re going to be just fine eventually.
In actuality, the episode wasn’t really about Spencer. It was once again, and rightfully, focussed on Dame Helen Mirren. The strength of the show, and the strong start it got off to, was all because of Mirren, and from the very first episode, she established that 1923 was much her show. Mirren commands the screen within seconds of her arrival in “War and the Turquoise Tide” – screaming into the Montana plains, emptying her tank of pain before immediately regaining her composure. It quickly reminded fans what the Dutton women are all about. They too share the family’s darkness, they share in that fierce anger that lives within them all, and yet, they maintain control and get stuff done.
What this means for Cara, is she steps into Jacob’s role as Head of the Livestock Commision. She deftly forges Jacob’s signature on a document saying that the Commision can now create its own law-enforcement faction, to enact the justice needed to bring down the cattle thieves and murderers who pillage the land and their fellow ranchers. This naturally confuses and upsets Creighton, as the snake-like Scotsman knows that Jacob is likely dead, and a heated exchange between Cara and Creighton sets up the next stage of the war.
What didn’t fit in all of this was the scene where a distraught Cara perches next to her husband’s bed, seeking guidance. She quietly prays, asking “who should lead the family”, but the audience doesn’t need to wait for God to give the answer. Cara has already shown, time and time again, that she can think on her feet very quickly. She has shown she can stand up for what’s best for her kin, as she does 10 minutes prior to this scene when she stands up for Elizabeth (Michelle Randolph) and Jack (Darren Man) against Elizabeth’s mother. We have already seen, Cara has always been a leader.
To exacerbate the issue even further, Sheridan, completely out of pocket has a stubborn Jacob, still hanging on to life, assure Cara what we already know – that she is now the head of the family (at least while he convalesces). While it wasn’t exactly Jacob giving permission for Cara to do what she needed to do, it might as well have been. It’s strangely out of place because Sheridan is usually so adept at creating an unspoken strength within his female characters, that it begged the question, why have it literally spoken this time? Why does Cara, of all people, need to hear it from Jacob? It was unnecessary, especially when considering the commanding performance of Mirren, and the pre-established fortitude of the character.
While the strength of the Yellowstone women goes largely unspoken, occasionally it can come out as a savage yawp like the one Cara released in the beginning of the episode – and seldomly, it’s a whisper. Continuing what is arguably the most intriguing and powerful storyline, we once again see the awful abuse that Teonna (Aminah Nieves) suffers at the hands of Sister Alice (Kerry O’Malley). Teonna finally reaches her breaking point, and exacts her own, soft spoken yet powerful revenge as she murders the sadistic nun in her sleep. This is exactly the kind of potent storytelling expected from the Yellowstone universe – not only representing a marginalized culture’s struggle against eradication, but seeing a member of that culture violently take her power back. It was perhaps the only moment of catharsis the fans have received from the show so far, and it was certainly worthwhile.
While the crystal ball may eliminate any real dramatic tension, it has certainly given audiences an interesting view into the overlaps within the generations that call the Yellowstone home. In “War and the Turquoise Tide”, Sheridan was especially generous with the parallels he has created across time. As Emma Dutton (Marley Shelton) prepares to dig a grave for John, the Yellowstone cowboys see her from afar, and don’t hesitate to ride in and help her. Yellowstone this season has a similar scene as the family prepared to bury Monica (Kelsey Asbille) and Kayce’s (Luke Grimes) infant son. It was an extremely interesting story beat to revisit, and reminds the audience that this is a tight-knit family – how much everyone living or working on the Yellowstone “wears the brand” whether it be literally or spiritually.
Teonna’s hair is also brutally sheared from her head as the nuns exact their disgusting conversion to try and rid Teonna of her identity. Her cries of anguish as it is happening is no doubt a purposeful parallel to Monica’s similar act in her kitchen as she dealt with Baby John’s passing earlier in this current season of Yellowstone. These two women have gone through so much in this season of their respective shows, and in these two powerful scenes show literal sacrifice of their bodies as well as their spirit. That cannot be a coincidence.
Those tiny moments are enough to make the episode worthwhile, but in the long run, “War and the Turquoise Tide” will undoubtedly be remembered as a filler episode – one that only slightly pushes the plot forward. Even the introduction of Timothy Dalton’s long awaited villainous Donald Whitfield, which should have been a massive reveal and shot in the arm for the show, is sadly underwhelming. So for now, we must peer into the crystal ball one more time awaiting a little more excitement, a larger step towards development and a lot more impact.