‘1883’ Season 1 Episode 4 Recap: “The Crossing”

1883 Episode 4
Tim McGraw as James in ‘1883’ episode 4 (Photo Cr: Emerson Miller / Paramount+ © 2021 MTV Entertainment Studios)

After taking an unexpected week off Paramount+’s Yellowstone prequel, 1883, returns with season one episode four, “The Crossing.” Episode four begins with Elsa (Isabel May) wandering through a field and reflecting on the heat and how every living thing in this part of the country is armed with thorns, horns, or fangs.

Elsa has come to the conclusion over the course of this short journey that she’s a cowboy. She announces this in a voiceover while watching the women in the group do the heavy lifting and perform jobs that are normally relegated to men.

Elsa’s decided to embrace this version of herself and asks one of the immigrants if she can trade her for a pair of pants. She makes a deal – a little gold for the pants – and explains gold’s what the immigrants will need to purchase supplies in Abilene. Elsa reveals more than she should when she says her father made gold jewelry with his money to hide it.

Clad in her new pants, Elsa rides out and meets up with Ennis (Eric Nelsen) who admits she’s the first woman he’s ever seen in that particular article of clothing. Her mom can only shake her head and chuckle before confirming it’s not the worst idea Elsa’s ever had.

At camp, the leaders of the group meet to discuss where they should attempt to cross the river. Josef (Marc Rissmann) confesses his people can’t swim, and Wade (James Landry Hébert) suggests they move the people over first followed by the cattle. Wade’s certain he can handle the herd but will need Shea to take care of moving the wagons away from the riverbank so there isn’t a traffic jam.

James (Tim McGraw) agrees to help ferry people across and when Shea (Sam Elliott) explains that means Margaret will have to drive a wagon, James compliments his wife’s skills. “My wife can back a wagon through the doors of a saloon. She’ll be fine,” says James.

Shea and James have a polite but tense argument over the best time of day to cross and ultimately land on a mid-day move (as James suggested). The tension between the men escalates and James warns Shea not to continue to refer to him as a farmer, even though he once was. “I was a captain, too, and I don’t call myself that either,” growls James.

After James walks away, Wade’s the next to talk back to Shea. And after Wade leaves, Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) offers to have a word with “that farmer” to make him stop questioning Shea’s leadership. Shea doesn’t think that will be necessary.

Shea confesses these immigrants have surprised him. They weren’t allowed to think for themselves and now they’re out here struggling for a new life. He’s shocked they haven’t hightailed it back to Galveston and back to the hell they know.

These people have spent their lives being whipped over very minor infractions of their strict laws, and Thomas explains once you’ve been whipped, facing the unknown is nothing. “These folks ain’t never going home,” says Thomas, leaving Shea with plenty to think about.

In the dead of night, James enters the Dutton tent and wakes Margaret (Faith Hill). He believes they should break camp and head across the river now. He explains it won’t be safe to cross behind the group, and they won’t be able to assist the immigrants if they’re stuck in the same perilous situation alongside them.

Margaret agrees and James heads off to inform Elsa who’s currently singing to the cattle to keep them calm. She pauses and Ennis asks her to continue, telling her she has a pretty voice. They flirt a little before Elsa gets back to singing to settle the herd.

When the song’s over, Elsa and Ennis stare into each other’s eyes and kiss, with Ennis taking the lead. He apologizes for being forward and Elsa asks him to kiss her again. They’re still embracing (on horseback) when James rides up, and Ennis is justifiably worried he’s about to be shot. James confesses he’s considering it but doesn’t. He fills the twosome in on his plan to move the Dutton wagon across the river now.

Before James rides off Elsa gets a moment alone with her dad and confesses she likes Ennis. James admits he’s not mad she has feelings for the cowboy. “I can’t treat you like an adult when it suits me and a child when I’m worried. You’re one or the other,” says James before adding Margaret won’t take it as well.

He won’t tell Margaret but warns Elsa she’ll have to. He also instructs her to stay with Ennis and hold the herd until all the wagons have made it across the river.

After James leaves, Elsa and Ennis turn their attention back to kissing.

Elsewhere in camp, the widowed gypsy offers Thomas some stew. He initially turns Noemi (Gratiela Brancusi) down but she reminds him she wouldn’t have any supplies if it weren’t for him. She watches while he eats and that makes Thomas uncomfortable. He explains being with a Black man won’t solve her problems but will instead create new ones. They discuss the government’s unfair control of their lives and Noemi suggests they head to someplace where the government can’t tell them what to do or who to love.

Thomas remains certain she doesn’t want him but Noemi counters, arguing men never ask what a woman actually wants and instead just assume they know all the answers. Noemi assures him she knows exactly what she wants.

Meanwhile, James and Margaret prepare to cross the river. John will ride on his dad’s horse while Margaret handles the wagon. James reminds her there’s nothing in the wagon worth risking her life over and tells her he loves her, which makes her nervous. (She claimed she wasn’t just seconds prior to James proclaiming his love.)

Margaret maintains the same path across the river that James is taking but it’s still a harrowing experience. They emerge on the other side and John, blissfully unaware of the danger, says it was a blast. James covers John’s ears as he confesses it was far more dangerous than he made it out to be.

A flashback to the Civil War interrupts the story, and this time it focuses on Shea rather than James’ experience. Shea watches over a skirmish between his Union army and the Confederate and then jolts awake, yelling out as he sits up. (This scene confirms Shea and James fought on opposite sides of the Civil War.)

Thomas is there as Shea opens his eyes, and Shea confesses he doesn’t understand how Thomas is able to sleep soundly when he can’t. Thomas admits nightmares are nothing compared to his traumatic upbringing.

As morning arrives the Duttons (minus Elsa) have established camp on the other side of the river. Margaret hangs their clothes out to dry as James spots Shea on the other riverbank. He warns Shea the current’s stronger than it looks and there’s a deep channel in the middle of the river.

Shea’s obviously angry James moved ahead of the group, but James reiterates that he’s still willing to help – just like he promised.

Elsa’s a little timid around Ennis in the morning after oversleeping. She apologizes but it’s unnecessary as Ennis is clearly in love. They begin working the cattle and driving them toward the river as Elsa’s voiceover informs us kissing is a pointless thing which she can’t wait to do again.

Back in camp, Shea instructs Josef to tell his people they need to lighten the wagons because the river rose overnight. Everyone will need to get rid of anything that’s not absolutely essential.

Josef’s wife is upset they’ll have to travel to Oregon with nothing, and she’s not the only one. Shea and Thomas go through camp telling everyone to unpack their wagons, and Shea reminds them they were instructed to leave all non-essential items behind in Fort Worth and yet they disobeyed.

Josef believes some of his fellow immigrants’ possessions are necessary for their livelihoods, but Shea vehemently disagrees. They are all pioneers without jobs right now, and the journey is all they need to think about.

That doesn’t sit well with the group who are certain Shea’s forcing them into lives of begging on the streets. But Shea isn’t swayed. He offers one man three options: unpack his wagon, head back to Fort Worth, or have his wagon burned to the ground.

Obviously, the man has no choice other than to unpack.

Thomas warns Shea they’re all going to hate him, but Shea doesn’t care. At least the immigrants will be alive.

The group begins to move toward the riverbank, leaving behind large pieces of furniture and other cherished personal items. They gather at the edge of the water and are nervous about the prospect of crossing the river, certain they’re not capable of handling this part of the trip.

James rides over from the other bank and delivers a rope to the side where the immigrants are waiting to cross. Margaret holds the other end of the rope on the opposite bank and helps the immigrants cross.

The immigrants make their way carefully across the river on foot, holding tight to the rope. A few drown in the process, but most are able to get to dry ground unharmed.

It’s mid-day when the wagons begin to cross. Thomas is in the lead wagon and has instructed all of the drivers to stay to the right of a certain area and remain patient. Margaret’s tasked with throwing a rope to anyone who falls off a wagon. Shea warns her to be careful and not let anyone pull her off her horse while they’re panicking. James is worried her dress will drown her if she’s pulled into the water so Margaret quickly strips down.

1883 episode 4
Isabel May as Elsa, James Landry Hébert as Wade, and Eric Nelsen as Ennis in ‘1883’ episode 4 (Photo Cr: Emerson Miller / Paramount+ © 2021 MTV Entertainment Studios)

Ennis, Elsa, and Wade have brought the herd into camp and comment on all the possessions left behind. Ennis takes the sensible approach and says they never should have brought these heavy items this far.

Elsa spots a piano and smiles as she plays a few notes. She claims she doesn’t play anymore but Ennis suggests she play one final song. Elsa does and proves she has the piano skills to match her vocal talent.

The struggle to survive the river crossing plays out with haunting notes from the piano as a backdrop. Immigrants fall from wagons and Thomas, James, Shea, and Margaret do their best to rescue as many as they can.

Margaret’s pulled underwater during one rescue and only survives thanks to her wise choice of discarding her heavy dress. The immigrant who pulled her into the river isn’t as fortunate.

Margaret pounds the ground in frustration while Elsa cries while pounding out the last few notes on the piano.

When the melancholy song’s over Ennis asks if she knows any happy ones. Elsa shyly smiles and replies, “I never had much interest in the happy ones.”

The time’s come for the cattle to cross and Ennis, Wade, and Elsa herd them over to the other bank. Elsa passes dead bodies and one wagon which was left in the middle of the river.

As Elsa rides through the reunited group, she understands the impact this trip’s having on these strangers. Graves are being dug as Shea, James, Wade, Ennis, and Thomas attempt to retrieve the stranded wagon.

Elsa narrates the final minutes of episode four, describing what she thought was a deal she’d made with the land for her survival. If she loved the land enough, she would be allowed to pass unharmed. However, crossing the river taught her she was wrong and she doesn’t have a deal with the land. Her survival isn’t guaranteed.

No matter how much we love it, the land will never love us back,” says Elsa.