Naturally, there are MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD for the “1883” finale, so come back when you’ve seen the episode!
Oh, you’ve already seen it? Well then, let’s deep dive into Sam Elliott’s character Shea Brennan and his role in the finale. First of all, where did we meet Shea? In the first episode, he was burning his home to the ground with his dead family inside. We learned he was a former captain in the Civil War, now a Pinkerton agent with fellow veteran and friend Thomas. He and Thomas were bringing a group of German immigrants across the Oregon Trail to the West. The group teamed up with James Dutton and his family, and Shea was basically in charge of taking care of their rag-tag collection of people.
Things were tough along the way, and that’s an understatement. The finale culminated in Elsa Dutton’s death, as was teased in the premiere. But, we finally got there in “1883” episode 10; Tim McGraw and Faith Hill gave top-notch performances as Elsa’s grieving parents, especially when Margaret wasn’t allowed to leave the wagon and be with her daughter. The usually stoic James broke down, holding his lifeless child in his arms. But, now we know the Dutton ranch is passed through John Dutton, the younger child, and not Elsa.
But what about Shea Brennan? The very end of the episode featured a look ahead a year later. Thomas, Noemi and her children were settling on a plot of land all their own, beginning their life together; we caught up with Josef as well, who, healed after losing part of his leg, was determined to find his place in the West.
‘1883’: Did Shea’s Ending Really Suit His Storyline?
Meanwhile, on “1883”, Shea finally reached the ocean. He knew what his fate was supposed to be throughout the entire series, and he was set on fulfilling it. He sat down on the beach and watched the water, speaking to his dead wife. “Just look at that, Helen. Isn’t it beautiful?” he said.
Heartbreaking already. But, then, the shot pulls away, and we hear a gunshot. Shea has fulfilled his fate, as he’s said before. He was meant to be with his family after he completed his last responsibility. Shea always intended to kill himself, and in his mind, he had completed when he set out to do. And was doing what he felt would free himself of his burdens.