‘1883’: Full Recap of Season 1, Episode 4, ‘The Crossing’

by Jon D. B.

1883 continues with another brilliant chapter in “The Crossing,” bringing the Duttons and company face-to-face with their dreaded River Brazos.

“I knew that war. That war between what you should become, and what you could become.”

Elsa Dutton (Isabel May) opens Season 1, Episode 4 with another sweeping narration on the wonders and horrors of Texas. 1883’s wagon camp is set up on the east side of the river, and as she walks through, she’s decided her destiny is to be a cowboy. But she’s going to need a pair of pants.

Learning quickly, Elsa trades a piece of her golden bracelet for a pair of pants from one of the immigrant travelers; Alina (Amanda Jaros), a skilled tailor. After butting heads, they hit it off through a shared grit and determination to survive.

After stunning her flirting partner, Ennis (Eric Nelsen), and her own mother, Margaret (Faith Hill) riding the prairie in pants, it’s time to get to work herding the cattle.

‘1883’ Episode 4 Highlights Why So Many Took the Risk of the Westward Expansion

Back at camp, a meeting of leaders is taking place. Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott) and Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) talk crossing with James Dutton (Tim McGraw) and cowboy Wade (James Landry Hebert). While Wade has sage advice to offer, James and Shea still refuse to see eye-to-eye.

But it’s immigrant leader Josef (Marc Rissman) who makes the biggest impact. Where he’s from, it is illegal to swim in the rivers; an offense punishable by whipping and death if any survive. Shea is in disbelief, yet finally sees why so many Europeans are flocking to America for a better life.

Through their exchange, Josef makes it clear how worth the horrible risk of the Westward Expansion is to their people. “It’s worth the risk, if that’s what you’re asking,” Shea tells Josef of Oregon.

“That’s what I’m asking,” he replies.

The determination of the immigrants shocks Shea. But anything is better than going back to a land where they “can’t even think for themselves.” And as Thomas teaches his white captain, a whip will keep any man going whatever direction that whip isn’t.

These folks ain’t never going home’ – ‘1883’s Thomas

As night falls, James tells Margaret they should cross the river tonight ahead of everyone. It’ll be the best way to help the immigrants cross, he believes.

As he does, his daughter sings to calm the cattle (showcasing the beautiful voice of Isabel May with an acapella rendition of “Beautiful Dreamer”). Ennis can’t help himself at the sight and sound, planting their first kiss on Elsa. Before long, she’s asking him to “do it again” with a big ol’ smile. And her father is there to watch it happen.

Back at camp, Thomas and gypsy Noemi (Gratiela Brancusi) become closer in a touching exchange of food and comfort. But before long, the wolves are howling into the night… And it’s time for the Duttons to cross the river.

The First Crossing of the Brazos

After an intense nighttime crossing of the Brazos, Margaret begins questioning her husband’s decision to bring their family out West for the first time. “This was harder than you said it was gonna be,” she tells James.

“I told you it was gonna take everything we had and more,” he replies.

“You shoulda told me what ‘everything’ meant,” she exhales after crossing.

But the horrors of the past are far more to Shea. A riveting Civil War flashback takes his dreams, showcasing the toll PTSD has taken on the former Union Captain.

‘You are pioneers! And that’s all you are until you get there!’ – Shea Brennan

As 1883‘s morning sun rises, Shea and Thomas have a hard time of getting the immigrants to leave their heavy supplies behind. Anything hefty must be left east of the Brazos or they’ll never make it.

Musicians leave grand, hand-carved pianos. Carpenters leave life-long tools. Blacksmiths leave trusted ovens and anvils. As Shea tells them with fire in his belly, “You have the journey. That’s it.”

In this moment, the wagon train moves on lighter in possessions, but far heavier in sorrow. The company moves for the Brazos as their entire lives lay bare in the prairie; left for time to rot.

Their new lives begin now. As does “The Crossing.”

Using a rope, James and Margaret help the immigrants cross the Brazos. It’s neck-deep, and these are folks terrified of water. But the first group makes it through Thomas’s help, and the time comes to cross the wagons.

“Cool heads cross rivers. Hot heads drown.” – Thomas

As the second crossing takes place, Wade, and Ennis come to the prairie of lost belongings. And Elsa plays “one last time” on the piano left behind.

What follows is a brilliantly moving sequence as Elsa plays out Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” in full as James, Margaret, Shea, and Thomas do all they can to get these people and their wagons across.

Souls are lost and lives destroyed as Elsa plays back east. Mothers drown. Children scream. Men fight to survive. And it is Hell on Earth.

“You don’t know any happy ones?” Ennis asks a sobbing Elsa.

“I never had much interest in the happy ones,” she smiles through her tears. The Dutton daughter moves into a piano sonnet of the Yellowstone and 1883 theme, and the cattle’s crossing of the Brazos begins. Her thoughts ring out as she makes it to the other side.

“I had abandoned every memory of Tennessee as if I was born on this journey. But I wasn’t. We were leaving a place, and seeking another. And the journey was a necessary, miserable road between the two. Somehow I felt immune to the dangers of this place. As if the land and I had struck a deal. I could pass on heart so long as I loved it. And I did. I loved everything about it.

“But crossing the Brazos taught me there was no deal. No matter how much we love it, the land will never love us back.”