Spoilers below for the penultimate episode of 1883 Season 1, so be warned if you haven’t yet watched!
When 1883 debuted to streaming audiences, basically the first thing viewers witnessed was Isabel May’s travel-worn Elsa Dutton being shot through the stomach with an arrow. Episode 109, “Racing Clouds,” finally arrived at the point of the tale in which viewers witnessed the events that led to that potentially lethal impaling. But instead of just informing viewers about what happened and then clearing things up in purely optimistic ways, 1883 made it appear as if the season finale will actually take one of its main characters out of the picture for good.
What Led To Elsa Being Shot With An Arrow?
While it seemed in the beginning as if Elsa awoke in the midst of some war battle, the actual events that led to her injury weren’t so straightforward, but it all started with a bunch of racist assholes. James, Brennan and Thomas rode up on the ruins of a Lakota village where all the women and children had been killed as the husbands were out hunting. Knowing they’d be blamed for the tragedies if they were discovered, the three men went out and murdered those responsible with the quickness. But that meant they weren’t around to save everyone else in the wagon train once they were found.
Once the Lakota men discovered the wreckage, they understandably went off to track those responsible, though of course found Elsa & Co. instead. The eldest Dutton offspring selflessly attempted to lead the clan of warriors away from the rest of her own group, though there was still a big attack that left lots of people dead, and left Elsa with an arrow sticking out of her torso.
But while most people would have been killed immediately after that, Elsa’s relationship with and marriage to Comanche Sam is what saved her hide in the end. She spoke the language, both with her mouth and with her actions, and the Lakota leader (who did not seem to be anywhere near as mournful as others would have been) let her go. That said, he didn't exactly leave her with any medical supplies, or even an apology, the jerk. (Kidding, mostly.)
Is Elsa Going To Die Now?
Considering this entire series started off with Elsa seemingly being wounded on a fatal level, I never imagined the injury would turn out to actually be a deadly one. As often as TV shows and movies set things up like this, only to reveal the main character will be okay by the end, I truly wasn’t so worried about Elsa’s chances of survival. Even though she didn’t appear in the Yellowstone-set flashbacks with Tim McGraw’s James, and even though her voiceovers were spoken as if they were from an omniscient place. I figured this was all just a dramatic set-up for the dramatic set-up’s sake.
But “Racing Clouds” effectively convinced me otherwise, even though it also still fell into the zone of “making it seem so hard like Elsa is going to die that she can’t possibly die, right?” And I think it’s because it wasn’t just an assumption that Tim McGraw’s James Dutton spoke aloud all on his lonesome, or a topic of prayer that Faith Hill’s Margaret spoke with God about. It wasn’t something mulled over in private in the slightest.
Rather, James and Margaret had the impossible conversation about how unlikely Elsa’s survival would be, and how they just needed to accept that. And then, even without saying the words, the doom-stricken James and Margaret also passed that feeling onto their daughter, who spoke these final words:
Now, I know that the finale could always introduce a surprise element that shocking saves Elsa’s life and keeps her wound from becoming infected, and also gives her superpowers. So I’m not 100% convinced that she’s a goner. But in the same way she felt that her father was viewing her as if she was already gone, it almost feels like Taylor Sheridan was putting these characters through the acceptance now so that her eventual death will be less of a shot to the gut. Or an arrow to just above the gut, as it were.
If Elsa does end up dying over this particular wound, it will be interesting to see how James carries himself in the future, as far as whether or not he holds grudges against the Lakotas for their part in her death. That said, considering those self-deputized murderers were out of Wyoming, it'd be interesting if that served as additional narrative reasoning for why John Dutton chooses to dump the bodies of his enemies over the Wyoming state line.
Had 1883 been a one-and-done standalone prequel that was only meant to last one season, I would probably expect Elsa’s death that much more, since it would be quite the statement to hang the series on. But now that we know Season 2 is on the way, along with a wholly different prequel timeline, I’m curious to see whether Sheridan did indeed decide to take her out of the equation going forward. How weird would it be to have someone else narrating in Season 2? Or would she still narrate from her ghostly point of view? So many questions, and so few days until they’ll be answered…probably.
With just one episode left to go in its first season, 1883’s finale will debut on Paramount+ (opens in new tab) on Sunday, February 27, though those with Paramount+ subscriptions can stream all nine previous episodes at any point before or after then. And stay tuned to our 2022 TV premiere schedule to see what new and returning shows are on the way soon.
Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.
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