Oh “1923,” you thrilling, thoughtful, brutal show. What a finale you delivered. And for us viewers whose heads are spinning from Timothy Dalton’s BDSM-obsessed bad guy and that heartbreaking separation for Spencer (Brandon Sklenar) and Alex (Julia Schlaepfer) there’s so much to process that we need that “1923” ending explained.
The thing that’s so interesting about the Season 1 finale, “Nothing Left to Lose,” written, as with every episode of the “Yellowstone” franchise, by Taylor Sheridan, is that it actually resolves quite a lot even as it sets up that much more for the future. Could it have served as a series finale if “1923” hadn’t already been renewed for Season 2? Possibly. There don’t appear to be plans for a continuation of “1883,” and the production values of “1923” are very much of the no-expense-spared variety.
But the show was a hit, captivating viewers with one of the best romances on TV in years in Spencer and Alex, maybe the most searing depiction ever of the horrors at American Indian boarding schools, and then, yes, the starpower of Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, who, as great as they are, are almost an afterthought compared to all these compelling other storylines. Or at least they weren’t asked to carry the weight of the show with their starpower alone — they’re playing real characters, whose relevance waxes and wanes as any characters with a real arc should, and they aren’t just there to bolster what happens with their name recognition.
Here’s five bits of closure we got in the Season 1 finale and where we think the show might be heading next.
Father Renaud (Sebastian Roche) is a demonic character who’d fit in nicely in a Cormac McCarthy novel. He will not be deterred in his pursuit of Teonna (Aminah Nieves), especially after she and her new allies (including Michael Greyeyes’ Hank and Hank’s son, Pete, played by Cole Brings Plenty) murder the three priests he sent after her. Hank was killed in Episode 7, but a romance has blossomed between Teonna and Pete, and Teonna, mercifully, reunited with her father, Runs His Horse (Michael Spears). With her father and Pete, she stands a real fighting chance against Renaud and the U.S. Marshals he’s now convinced to track her down. Teonna & Co. decide to ride far south to Comanche country, where they hope to blend in — going back to her father’s reservation was surely not an option. But Marshal Kent (Jamie McShane) is one step ahead of their plan: he figures they must be riding south, so he decides to get ahead of them by taking the train to Comanche territory so he’ll be waiting for our fugitives when they arrive. This is sort of a stand-in for all the storylines in the finale: something that could be a conclusion is really springboard to further stories down the road.
2. Jack and Liz
Liz (Michelle Randolph) suffered a miscarriage in the finale, and it now seems she may be unable to have children again. In one of the best scenes of the series, her husband Jack (Darren Mann) talked about how purpose can be found in so much more than just children — a necessary reminder from a show that puts so much stock in bloodlines. After all, his Uncle Jacob (Ford) and Aunt Cara (Mirren) never had children, but they basically raised the entire Dutton clan into the powerhouse that it is.
Those “Yellowstone” fans obsessed with the (to-this-point unclear) Dutton family tree, however, might be encouraged to think that this development means Spencer and Alex will be the progenitors of Kevin Costner’s John Dutton III on “Yellowstone.” But it seems just as likely that this is misdirection and Jack and Liz will still be able to conceive down the road.
It’s fascinating how quickly Whitfield (Dalton) has supplanted Jerome Flynn’s Banner Creighton as the main villain of the show — he was perfectly set up, Emperor Palpatine style, as the real evil force pulling all the strings. The final two episodes of Season 1 showed him getting his jollies by watching one sex worker brutally spank another in a shockingly graphic bit of BDSM voyeurism. These two had been lovers, and Whitfield’s aim seems really to be to turn them against one other, finding a way to turn love into hate. He’s had one beat the other this whole time, but then he turns the tables, and when the submissive becomes the dominant, she’s even more brutal, in revenge for her own pain.
There’s a lot to be said about how this (possibly gratuitous) display of sex contrasts with the other sex scenes on the show and how sex on “1923” is used to define power relations and reveal much about the characters. In Whitfield’s case, it’s a metaphor for what he plans to do to all his enemies: turn them against one another. And he’s already started that by having one of his minions report the relationship of Dutton foreman Zane (Brian Geraghty) with Alice (Joy Osmanski), who’s Chinese-American. They’re breaking the anti-miscegenation laws of the time, and Zane, for his love, is now thrown in prison and unable to help the Duttons in their fight against Whitfield.
4. Cara and Jacob
These two are on the show primarily to deliver insightful monologues and glare at their enemies. But they are left in quite a pickle at the end of Season 1: Whitfield has paid the property taxes on their ranch, which to this point Cara and Jacob had been unable to do. That means if they can’t pay him back by the end of the year, Whitfield will get the deed to the ranch. Given that they already have no money and their cattle trade has entered a kind of recession (the Great Depression actually started in Montana and Wyoming for the cattle trade a decade earlier than it did for everyone else), it seems bleak. Hopefully, Spencer will get back soon.
5. Spencer and Alex
There have long been jokes about what a “Titanic 2” would have been like. But there’s a legitimate way to imagine this: that Jack had been pulled onto the door and ended up with Rose, while they still have to battle her family and the machinations of one Caledon Hockley.
Well, “1923” is basically that “Titanic 2.” Spencer and Alex have been through so much in their journey from Kenya to (what appears to be) Marseille: lions, venal British colonists, consumptive tugboat captains, “ghost ships,” sharks, and now an offshoot of the British royal family. Alex’s fiancée, Arthur, the son of the Earl of Sussex (Bruce Davison), wants his almost-bride back. The only remedy is a duel on deck. After some fisticuffs and swordplay, Spencer simply throws a charging Arthur overboard. We see no body, so we should not assume that’s the last we’ve seen of him. Anyway, it’s a British ship, and the Earl has sway, so he forces Spencer to be parted from Alex and brought ashore at their next port of call while Alex is forced to stay behind and return to London. That the star-crossed love actually did have their previous ship’s captain marry them is irrelevant, apparently.
It’s a heartbreaking, dramatic scene as Alex, from the ship’s deck, calls out to Spencer in his dinghy, being rowed to shore, that she will find him. “Bozeman, Montana!” she yells — that’s where they’ll next meet. It’s a helluva long journey back there, but this has the side effect of, for now, wrapping up their romance so Spencer can get back to Montana and just focus on killing Whitfield and his evil followers. Once that’s done, of course a teary reunion with Alex will ensue. At least that’s how we all imagine it, right?
The entirety of “1923” Season 1 is now streaming on Paramount+.
Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.