1923 Episode 7 Review: The Rule of Five Hundred

TV

This 1923 review contains spoilers.

1923 Episode 7

There’s a key sequence in “The Rule of Five Hundred”, where we see that winter has come to Montana. It’s bleak, it’s freezing, but none of that stops the patriarch of the Dutton family, Jacob (Harrison Ford) from riding into town with his posse to ensure justice is served. As he and his men trot by on horseback, only the clops of the hooves on the pavement can be heard. This group seemingly from the Old West trots past an automobile that is stuck in the Montana slush, as if this modern day convenience was completely unprepared for the world they live in.

The juxtaposition of those two worlds is the real key. It was almost as if creator Taylor Sheridan, who once again wrote this episode, is commenting that the old ways are still the best ways. Progress be damned. 

It was the perfect visual metaphor for how he has treated this premiere season of 1923. It has crept up on viewers methodically, and silently, and often Sheridan seems to be saying “progress be damned” subtextually in his writing. He’s going to tell the story he wants to tell, and he is going to tell his audience exactly how much time they should be soaking in each moment.  

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The first moment of “The Rule of Five Hundred” that audiences can relish is when justice is served to Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn). Creighton has become quite accustomed to his new way of life within the home given to him by Whitfield (Timothy Dalton). He dons a silk robe, takes a cigar from a box on the kitchen counter, and grabs a bottle of champagne as he makes his way upstairs to his bedroom where two prostitutes seem fairly comfortable as well. Just as Creighton begins to enjoy himself, he receives a rude awakening at the front door. Sheriff McDowell (Robert Patrick) places him under arrest, but before they drag him away, a strong Jacob shocks Creighton and shows he survived the attempt on his life at the hands of Creighton.

While there is some satisfaction in seeing Creighton torn away from his debaucherous paradise, and eventually in striped pajamas when he is later seen in jail, the opening teaser of the episode is indicative of that aforementioned approach taken by Sheridan this entire series. He might give audiences what they want… kind of… but not necessarily in the way they want. 

Instead of the standoff between the Dutton posse and Creighton’s army of hired goons, this episode gives us more build up. Perhaps it will make the inevitable face off that much more satisfying, and clearly that’s what Sheridan is hoping for. Another purpose it serves is we are introduced to Chadwick Benton (Currie Graham), another antagonist with an easily punchable face. The smarmy worm visits Creighton in prison where he guarantees the Scotsman he will be released soon. 

As Benton hops into Whitfield’s car, he tells the equally smarmy Englishman about the two prostitutes still in Creighton’s house. Surprisingly, Whitfield tells Benton he will take care of it. When Whitfield arrives at the house, the two women of ill-repute still loiter, and still look fairly comfortable. At this point, Whitfield begins using that million-dollar voice of his to seduce the two women into staying and playing a violent “game,” as one prostitute abuses the other with Whitfield’s belt. 

This particular scene is a welcome shock to the system, and something that has been sorely missed in 1923. Much like the early episodes of Yellowstone, there was a visceral violence to it, but the catch is, it is also easy to question how much it was truly needed. 

In our review of episode five, it was mentioned how Dalton’s Whitfield is approaching the status of a caricature instead of being a genuine threat. This is another tool within the Sheridan kit that is used quite often, and oftentimes it’s used to great success. The antagonists are typically as subtle as the Yellowstone world – matching the drama and violence of this fictionalized Montana. 

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Yet, having Whitfield leer in the corner as a creepy voyeur to this brutality seems superfluous. It feels almost as if Sheridan shoehorned in a scene where Whitfield was torturing kittens – predominantly because the audience already hates Whitfield. This scene did not serve as character development at all, which is out of character for Sheridan’s writing.

Yet there’s a return to form in the second act of this episode. As Jacob and Jack (Darren Mann) take care of business in town, two generations of Dutton women, Cara (Helen Mirren) and Elizabeth (Michelle Randolph) bide their time at the homestead. Scenes such as this have always been the strength of this first season of 1923, as any opportunity where Mirren or Ford can dominate the dialogue is a moment for these two legends to shine, and shine they have. 

Cara shares her therapeutic method of handling the stress associated with being a Dutton woman of that era – often having to wait and see if her beloved will return from a dangerous situation. Mirren’s genuine maternal aura has been a pleasure to watch this entire season, and audiences will surely note the tangible warmth between the two characters during this exchange. 

Later in the episode, Ford gets that same opportunity as Jacob dishes out gravelly-voiced pebbles of wisdom on his great-nephew. Ford’s affable avuncular sensibility is just as convincing as Mirren’s maternal nature, yet there was a bit more responsibility in Ford’s monologue compared to Mirren’s cake-baking montage this episode. 

The voice of Sheridan comes through Jacob’s words when he passionately discusses how progress, big government, and capitalism will ruin this world. While the political subtext of the speech once again lacked subtlety, it is intriguing to hear another voice coming through Jacob other than Sheridan’s… the voice of Yellowstone’s John Dutton (Kevin Costner). The way Jacob’s belief echoes through the generations of the Dutton family is undoubtedly one of the most enticing elements of these Yellowstone prequels. That coupled with the sequences that take place at the ranch, whether it be with Cara and Elizabeth or Jacob and Jack is another staple of this television universe, as it gives these characters tangible relatability, and was certainly one of the notable strengths of the episode. 

Fans of the show watch for the violence and chaos, but they stay because they’re connected to the characters, and Sheridan shows how he has always been able to walk that tightrope in “The Rule of Five Hundred.”

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Yellowstone fans are occasionally, and forgivably “bloodthirsty,” it’s simply one of the accepted truths of the fanbase. There is a need for an occasional shot of violence, and this episode does not disappoint in that regard. In the continuing story of Teonna Rainwater’s (Aminah Nieves) escape from the residential school, this particular subplot picks up when Teonna’s father, Runs His Horse (Michael Spears) discovers the corpse of his mother in her isolated cabin. 

Pete Plenty Clouds (Cole Brings Plenty), who is an ally of Teonna’s, finds Runs His Horse to tell him the news of Teonna’s escape, and the bloody violence that preceded it. They hop back on horseback and split up to try and find Teonna, and warn Pete’s father, Hank (Michael Greyeyes). 

Naturally, it is too late, as the priests first catch up with Pete, now on his own. As mentioned before, Sheridan has a natural talent of writing villainous characters that almost need to be taken out. The Yellowstone universe has always had antagonists that have earned their death, and these priests are no different. They spout hate-filled dogmatic righteousness as they beat Pete simply for standing up for himself. They tie him up and one of them drags Pete behind his horse on a path back towards the residential school and a similar fate to Teonna’s. 

Before the most notable and furious priest can exact any more violence on a bloodied Pete, Runs His Horse saves the young man in one of the most cathartic deaths in the history of this television universe. It is another great shot of visceral, but necessary violence, that surely satiates even the most discerning audience palette.

The other two priests find Teonna, and while they originally think she is a young man and not the murderous girl they are looking for, these men are not discernable in their hatred. They go to attack her, meaning to take her back to the residential school, but luckily, Hank is able to shoot both attackers. While he goes to see if Teonna is ok, one priest, who survived the gunshot, grabs Hank’s gun and shoots the beloved confidant, killing him. Before the priest can do the same to Teonna, the young woman bludgeons him with a rock. Teonna lets out another powerful yawp, giving sound to the fury of her ongoing struggle. 

This entire sequence is extremely satisfying, but it cannot help but feel Sheridan is merely placating the audience as we await true satisfaction.

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In the storyline of Spencer (Brandon Sklenar) and Alexandra (Julia Schlaepfer), the newlyweds find themselves safe in the embrace of Italy’s golden shores. They dine on seafood and bask in a sun-kissed patio as they await passage back to America once again.

The episode concludes with a rather unexpected cliffhanger, as Alex has been tracked down (somehow) by her foppish former fiance, and her father (Bruce Davison). Forget the absolute convenience of this encounter, don’t try to calculate the odds of this party somehow being in the same Italian city as our lovers who have been literally tossed from one corner of the globe to the other … the important aspect to consider is, we are clearly not getting a conclusion to Spencer’s return home. 

This is the penultimate episode. Next week will be the conclusion of this season, and it has become quite evident that Spencer and Alex will not grace the shores of America any time soon. Sheridan now has to focus on the repercussions of Alex fleeing her duties as a fiance and daughter, meaning chances are she will be taken away from Spencer, and that will be the cliffhanger of the season. Audiences will have to wait almost another entire year before there is even a possibility of a gun-blazing Spencer to be the family’s savior, and that has to infuriate fans a little.  

Even if Sheridan is not concluding the storylines audiences want, he gives enough staples of violence, character development, and intrigue to make “The Rule of Five Hundred” one of the edgier and more memorable episodes this season.  

New episodes of 1923 premiere Sundays on Paramount+ in the U.S. and the day after in the U.K.

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