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“I chose that moment in time [year 1923] to peek back in because you’re seeing the children that we’ve met in 1883 attempting to raise another generation of Dutton,” says Sheridan in a Paramount+ video and The Hollywood Reporter exclusive (below).
When explaining why he picked the year of 1923 to retrace Dutton family lineage, the creator adds that the next prequel chapter in the Yellowstone universe arrives in the backdrop of “a time of great drought, at a time of Prohibition, at a time of all this expansion — the Wild West was truly becoming a relevant center of resources.”
The surviving child viewers had already met from 1883 was young John (Audie Rick), who grew up to become the John Dutton Sr. (played by James Badge Dale) viewers met in 1923. John’s older sister Elsa (Isabel May) returned to narrate 1923. Their brother, Spencer (Brandon Sklenar), had not yet been born by the time 1883 ended.
The third episode of 1923 — which stars Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren as Yellowstone elders Jacob and Cara Dutton, respectively — brought the show’s opening minutes, a tragic foreshadowing from narrator May, full circle when it killed another Dutton — the grown up John, her brother.
John Sr., the nephew to Jacob (Ford), was shot and killed during a gun fight that targeted Jacob and the entire Dutton clan. Sheepherder Banner Creigton (Jerome Flynn) and his men ambushed the Duttons, who were traveling by horse and wagon, in an act of vengeance that killed John Sr., severely wounded Jacob, and also wounded John Sr.’s son Jack (Darren Mann) and his fiancée, Elizabeth (Michelle Randolph).
And the attack set off a chain of events for the Jan. 8 midseason finale (the final four episodes return Feb. 5). In order to keep Jacob’s injury a secret and the ranch’s enemies at bay, Cara took her husband’s place at the town hall Livestock Association meeting, Jack and the ranch hands prepared for battle, and Jacob’s other nephew, Spencer — who has been in South Africa on his own journey with new fiancée Alex (Julia Schlaepfer) — has finally read Cara’s letter asking him to return home to defend his family and the ranch in this desperate time of need.
When speaking to Dale about the significance of his character’s death, the actor told THR that the first half of the season serves as a prologue to the full 1923 story. “It’s a springboard for the story [to] get Spencer home,” he said. “The way I look at it is that the first three episodes are kind of a prologue. This is where the story starts. With the first scene you see in episode one, that’s the beginning of the story.”
The first scene of 1923 had opened with Cara killing a man with a shotgun and screaming into the wilderness. The third episode then connected the dots for viewers, revealing that moment as a flash-forward to Cara’s response to the bloody gun battle. But the show’s opening moments had also offered key narration from May.
In voiceover, May had filled in the gaps of what happened to her family after her heartbreaking death in the finale of 1883. Her parents, James Dutton (Tim McGraw) and Margaret (Faith Hill), died after the events of 1883; first James, then followed by Margaret. But before her death, Margaret wrote a letter to her husband’s brother, Jacob, who then found and raised Elsa’s surviving brothers, John Sr. and Spencer.
“Upon my father’s death, my mother wrote to his brother, begging that he bring his family to this wild land and save hers,” Elsa explained. “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 and took my father’s dream and made it into an empire. Then the empire crumbled.”
Yellowstone viewers will recall a flashback in season four, which introduced James and Margaret, as well as a young John and Spencer, when James was shot (that scene served as real-life couple McGraw and Hill’s audition, giving Sheridan the idea to center them in 1883).
Now, after John Sr.’s death, 1923 shifts its focus to Spencer when it returns, setting him up as the Dutton who will take over the ranch. The latest events also put a spotlight on Jack, who has already begun to step up to help until his uncle’s arrival.
“It’s a love story, from my point of view,” says Sklenar in the video tease for 1923‘s return. “Commitment to self, commitment to partner, commitment to family, to your partner, to your purpose.”
Schlaepfer describes the story as “this epic adventure,” noting that the series films across three continents, with locations in Montana, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Malta. “It’s really this grand journey home back to Montana, where the Duttons exist at their core.”
Mirren also sets up the rest of the season. “The great challenge is survival,” she says. “Survival at a time of huge change, especially in a young country like America. The dam is about to break, let’s put it that way. The pressure is building up on the dam.” What’s to come is “awesome,” she adds, “and I mean that in the full sense of the world: full of awe.”
And Ford — who previously shared his hopes with THR for the ambitious series — is shown in the only upcoming footage telling someone at the ranch, “This must be done right, or we lose everything.”
Teeing up what’s to come, Ford adds that up until now, “it has been necessary for [Jacob] to address grievances himself without aid of civil authority.” He says, “The future is uncertain. We know that people still want him dead. We know people still want his ranch. There are threats against other members of his family. It’s a broad story that ranges across the world and has many, many different tentacles all coming together at the appropriate time.”
See what the entire cast, also including Robert Patrick, Brian Geraghty, Timothy Dalton, Aminah Nieves and Marley Shelton, has to say about 1923 in the video above, ahead of the Paramount+ series’ Feb. 5 return. (1923 was renewed for a second season after this story published.)
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