The beginning of the Duttons’ journey to Montana is marked by tragedy as 1883‘s Ep. 2 claims several characters integral to their story. Warning: Major spoilers ahead as this article recaps specific events of the episode.
While Episode 1 proved a slow burn, Episode 2 hits the ground running with near non-stop action. Indeed, the stakes are raised significantly in “Behind Us, A Cliff,” and casualties fall as a result. Again, be warned of significant 1883 spoilers ahead!
Familial Losses Amidst ‘1883’s Wild West
As Episodes 1 & 2 rolled on, audiences got to know the shrewd and unforgiving extended family of 1883‘s Duttons. Chief among them was Margaret’s sister, Claire. Portrayed by Dawn Olivieri, Claire could not be more different from Faith Hill’s loving, optimistic matriarch. Claire is shrewd, unforgiving, and deeply cynical.
A life of tremendous loss would shape Claire. Episode 1 taught us she was widowed before the events of 1883. As a result, she’s “forced” to travel West with her Dutton family, bringing her only daughter, Mary Abel, along for the perilous journey.
Mary Abel (Emma Malouff), is cut from the same cloth as her shrewd mother, too. She berates her cousin, Elsa, and her Aunt Margaret over their “lack of decorum” every chance she gets. Bad attitude or not, her life is cut tragically short in “Behind Us, A Cliff” after her mother’s own resentful nature spurs an all-out brawl with invading bandits.
Claire takes it upon herself to throw the biggest rocks she can find at the bandits before they ever strike, issuing a full-out gunfight. Mary Abel is caught in the crossfire that breaks out in her wagon camp. There, she dies in her mother’s arms while James is away and unable to protect the family. A dozen other immigrants die in the slaughter, as well, setting a grim stage for the beginning of the Dutton’s journey.
And soon, Mary Abel’s loss becomes the final nail in the coffin for her mother.
The Deaths of Claire and Mary Abel
In the aftermath of the slaughter, Claire stares up at Margaret who is holding her tiny son, John. Both survive. But Claire has now lost everything through her last surviving child’s death.
In an effective and tragic sendoff, 1883 tells us that Claire has lost seven children alongside her husband previous to Mary Abel. Margaret attempts to talk to her sister, but she won’t have it.
Once James (Tim McGraw) returns to camp, he vows to go after the men that did this. It leads him, Shea, and Thomas straight into town. But before he goes, the patriarch tries to convince Claire to come with their party and not give up. Claire, however, believes she has “nothing left to live for” and refuses to carry on.
James grants her wish and reluctantly leaves her behind. He knows what she’s going to do. After a talk with his wife, James returns to where he left Claire brandishing a shovel and little hope for her survival.
In the episode’s most shocking reveal, we watch as Claire takes her own life by the river via a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. After her body falls, Shea (Sam Elliott) and James dig her a grave beside her daughter.