1923 Premiere: Yellowstone Universe Reveals And Major Highlights From Paramount+ Prequel

Jacob and Cara Dutton in 1923
(Image credit: Paramoung+)

Spoilers below for the series premiere of Taylor Sheridan’s latest Yellowstone-verse drama, 1923, so be warned if you haven’t yet watched.

While Yellowstone’s fifth season will soon head into its winter hiatus, fans don’t have to worry about making it into 2023 sans the Duttons, now that 1923 has arrived for everyone with Paramount+ subscriptions. The prequel spinoff, which boosted awareness by airing its premiere on Paramount Network, will lay out the next on-screen chapter of the ranch-ruling Montana family for the coming months, as led by Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren’s Jacob and Cara Dutton. 

The first episode, simply titled “1923,” checked off just about all the boxes that any potential fans would likely want to be checked off, save for maybe “Rip Wheeler showing up in a time machine.” So let’s dive right into the confirmed Yellowstone franchise’s reveals, parallel themes, and big highlights from our first trip back to Montana in the roaring ‘20s. (Or as roaring as it can get during Prohibition.)

Yellowstone Universe Reveals And Connections

Spencer Dutton in Africa in 1923

(Image credit: Paramount+)

Isabel May Returned As Elsa Dutton, Narrator

Though Yellowstone proper hasn’t ever utilized episodic narration, 1883 utilized Elsa Dutton’s soft and measured drawl throughout its first season. And through the magic of fictional disembodied voices, actress Isabel May did indeed return to reprise that particular role for the new series. I kind of love having Elsa, whose tragic demise directly influenced the ranch’s current whereabouts, as an emotional thread woven throughout the prequels. And I was both intrigued and spooked out by Narrator Elsa making reference to Corporeal Elsa’s non-survival when catching viewers up with how the first two generations of Duttons fared.

My father had three children. Only one would live to see their own children grown. Only one would carry the fate of this family through the depression and every other hell the 20th century hurled at them.

Interestingly enough, it’s not entirely clear who she was referring to when talking about carrying the fate of the family, since that bit of voiceover played over shots of Spencer, whose fate was left unresolved by the end of the premiere.

The Fate Of Margaret Dutton

Clearly, no characters who factored into 1883’s timeline would still be alive during the franchise current-day drama, which made a point in a recent episode to highlight the graves of James, Margaret, and Elsa. Beyond seeing the latter’s death in 1883, Yellowstone viewers witnessed Tim McGraw’s patriarch falling victim to a horse thief’s bullet during a Season 4 flashback. And since we have James Badge Dale and Brandon Sklenar as John Dutton Sr. and Spender, respectively, that really only left Margaret’s fate up in the air, as well as the curiosity over how the ranch changed hands. 

1923 cleared that up right quick with Isabel May’s narration, although it was quite the harrowing little update, which I will try not to think about too much. Here’s how she explained it:

Upon my father’s death, my mother wrote to his brother, begging that he bring his family to this wild land and save hers. A year later, he arrived to find my mother frozen in a snow drift, her two boys half-starved and barely able to speak. He raised them as his own, then took my father’s dream and made it into an empire.

While fans can wax on for hours glorifying the Duttons and what they stand for, those final moments in the lives of Elsa, James, and Margaret all serve as a ghastly reminder that death honors no legacies and is incapable of empathy. Could Jacob have come sooner and found Margaret before she froze to death? Possibly, but that’s a burden he’s likely come to terms with by now. 

1923's Parallels To Yellowstone

I won’t spend too long on this one, since it’s not about anything revealed, per se. But this first episode of 1923 contains several elements that tie into the mothership drama, and Season 5 in particular. A general example would be Spencer having a traumatic war experience where his gut instincts and sheer will to survive kept him alive — along with A+ bludgeoning-by-helmet skills — which ties to Kayce’s own military past. (Not to mention those of James Dutton in 1883, even if we didn’t get another Tom Hanks cameo here.)

Beyond that, the spinoff’s first episode featured a crowd gathered around a street-corner boxing ring, where two men were squaring off; and who likes brawling in public more than Beth Dutton and others within Yellowstone’s bunkhouse elite? Not that she wears gloves. We also got to see visual parallels of characters using their hands to compare and identify animal tracks in the ground, issues over animals being let onto others’ land illegally, and animal corpses serving as possible indicators of something far more horrible at play. No lions taking people up into trees on Yellowstone, though…yet.

Major Highlights From 1923's Premiere

Cara Dutton wearing hat in 1923

(Image credit: Paramount+)

Everything Helen Mirren’s Cara Says, Does, Thinks, Etc.

From her clutch endurance in the opening scene to her comfortoing verbal dominance over Harrison Ford's Jacob to the way she perfectly brought Jack and Elizabeth together again immediately after their argument over the wedding delay, Cara Dutton knows no mode beyond that of Beast. I really hope we get to see a younger version of the character in a future season of 1883 or elsewhere, as she was clearly a hardcore badass before crossing paths with any Duttons. 

Africa As A Change In Setting

The western franchise obviously hadn't delivered any '20s-set storylines ahead of 1923's debut, so the downtown and ranch locations shown therein are technically all new to viewers, though not so different from other settings in this world. But Spencer's storyline taking place in Africa adds something of a new visual flair to the drama (regardless of where it was all filmed). Not that I'm getting tired of the eye-widening gorgeousness of Yellowstone, since even repeated shots of those vistas couldn't get old. Also, kudos to this effects team for nailing the lions.

Robert Patrick's William McDowell

I don’t think anyone would argue against the idea that Robert Patrick is a stellar add-on to any cast, particularly when there are heavy genre vibes. And hot damn, if his Sheriff McDowell isn’t Yellowstone’s iteration of Yosemite Sam, from the mustache to the gunshots into the air to a gloriously loud and guttural holler, which was displayed in full during the town hall meeting, where he told everyone to shut the hell up. Seriously, that may have been the best crowd-quieting roar I’ve ever seen on TV. I hope he yells at everyone all season long.

The Unbridled Optimism Of Jack Dutton

Darren Mann's Jack Dutton shares some qualities with other Yellowstone characters, namely the wide-eyed naivete of Carter and Jimmy (or at least Jimmy before the Four Sixes). But few others within this universe can carry a smile so consistently from one scene to the next, at least in a way that reads as believable and not just "a means to fool someone out of their life savings or something equally monolithic." I hope those big smiles remain a staple of this show's two seasons, and that he doesn't immediately get brow-beaten in the early days of Season 1.

Spotlighting Controversial Native American Boarding Schools

Using the term highlight here is somewhat strange, but 1923 deserves credit for approaching a topic that has rarely, if ever, been tackled in a primetime TV drama: the existence of boarding schools where young Native Americans were sent to essentially be reformed under the punishing eye of the Catholic Church. That hard-to-stomach storyline is being told through the indigenous teen Teonna (Aminah Nieves), the vengeful nun Sister Mary (Jennifer Ehle), and the compassionate but merciless priest Father Renaud (Sebastian Roché). I can only hope things get better for Teonna over time, but harmful institutions like that didn’t exactly become more welcoming at any point. 

There were definitely more highlights than just those above, from Harrison Ford on horseback to the cliffhanger ending to Game of Thrones vet Jerome Flynn as the sheepherder’s head honcho Banner Creighton, but maybe we’ll get to give those elements more attention in the coming weeks. And if not, I’m content to just laud Helen Mirren’s efforts ad nauseam. 

1923 drops new episodes on Sundays on Paramount+, with nine episodes left to go in its first of two seasons. Head to our 2023 TV premiere schedule to see what new and returning shows will arrive a full century after the events of the Yellowstone prequel.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.