'1923' Premiere Recap: 'Yellowstone' Prequel Hints at a Major Dutton Death


The prequel series introduced Jacob, Cara and a new class of Duttons to the 'Yellowstone' lore on Sunday's Paramount+ premiere.

Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched the series premiere of Paramount+'s 1923.

Did 1923 just hint at a major Dutton death? The Yellowstone prequel launched Sunday on Paramount+, introducing Harrison Ford's Jacob and Helen Mirren's Cara Dutton, John Dutton III's (Kevin Costner) great-great uncle and great-great aunt, as well as a new cast of characters to the franchise. But one of the main members of the Dutton family may not be long for this world.

Narrated by the late Elsa (1883's Isabel May), who died in the 1883 finale after being shot by an arrow, the prequel issues a tragic warning for this generation of the Dutton clan, hinting that one of her two surviving brothers will die before the series is over. 

"My father had three children," Elsa says in voiceover early in the episode, referring to herself and her siblings, John Sr. (James Badge Dale) and Spencer (Brandon Sklenar). (Their parents are James and Margaret Dutton, who were played by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill in 1883.) "Only one would live to see their own children grow. Only one would carry the fate of this family through the Depression and every other hell the 20th century hurled at them."

The ominous tease raises a lot of questions for 1923 over which of Elsa's brothers, who were raised by Jacob like his own children after he found a widowed Margaret frozen to death, will be the one to perish and the circumstances that lead to his eventual death. In the first episode, there are barely any hints as to whether it's John, who spends much of the episode serving as Jacob's right-hand man, or Spencer, a World War I vet who left home some years ago and is in Nairobi hunting the wildlife that's been terrorizing various camps. 

Because the first episode ends on a shocking cliffhanger -- a wild leopard unexpectedly pounces on Spencer during one of his midnight stake-outs -- it's natural for one to think that he is the Dutton brother whose mortality clock may be ticking. Considering the story is just beginning, we're not 100 percent sold... yet.

While this 1923 mystery will be one to track as the Yellowstone prequel carries on, the premiere episode sets the table for what's to come. 


Jacob and Cara Dutton 

As Elsa narrates, Jacob and Cara came into the picture after the death of her father, James. Her mother, Margaret, wrote to Jacob pleading with him to bring his family to Montana to save hers and when he arrived, he and Cara raised John Sr. and Spencer as their own after finding their mother frozen to death. Jacob took James' dream and turned Yellowstone ranch "into an empire," but then, as Elsa warns, "the empire crumbled." 

In present-day 1923, Jacob discovers cattle and sheep are dying and they don't know what's killing them. At a local hearing in the city center, an Irish rancher and sheep herder Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn) expresses his suspicions over what's killing his sheep, and he and Jacob -- who also holds office as a commissioner -- have a tense exchange in the town hall. Outside, Banner confronts Jacob over the livelihood of his stock and it's clear he's going to be a problem.

While Jacob and his men prepare to drive their cattle up the mountain so they can survive the summer, Cara attempts to busy herself as she worries over whether her husband will come home safely. During a late night trek, Banner tells his men to cut the wires after they reach the border of the Duttons' claimed land -- knowing full well the repercussions of his decision will likely start a war. As they cut through the barbed wire, they shuffle their sheep through, opening up a whole can of worms. 

Spencer Dutton

After serving in WWI, Spencer finds himself in Africa, where his nomadic existence leads him to hunting down wild leopards and lions that are posing a danger to others settling in the African safari. Though it's unclear why he chose to distance himself from the rest of the Duttons back at the Yellowstone ranch, it's obvious he's still experiencing trauma from his time out on the battlefield. After having another violent nightmare, Spencer nearly shoots an innocent train conductor when he arrives at the Nairobi station.

Meanwhile, Cara writes a letter to Spencer, adding context as to why he's in Africa and not in Montana with the rest of the family, imploring him to return home while also updating him on all that is happening at the ranch. There's a sense of urgency and confusion in her words, implying that Spencer left under non-ideal circumstances. "When the house is full and the ranch is busy, I can lose myself in the hurry of it and forget you're not here," Cara writes, as Jacob and the others are off driving the cattle. "But the house is empty, I have no chores left and so I think of you and wonder why. Why won't you come home to us?"

"I can't help but think that your absence is punishment, that somehow we are the reason you won't return," she continues on. "That's selfish, I suppose; war changes men. I can only assume you are seeking a part of yourself you lost. And I can only pray that you find it and come back to us."

During his adventures in Nairobi, Spencer and his two men think they're capturing one wild leopard on their latest job, but as they soon discover, it's actually two. After a married woman openly flirts with Spencer at dinner hours earlier, Spencer sees her leave her tent late in the evening to relieve herself. After taking his eyes off her for a few seconds, he notices she's gone. One of the leopards silently attacked her in those few seconds as Spencer would discover moments later, discovering her bloodied, lifeless body on the ground after shooting the leopard dead.

But, Spencer has no time to rest as those seconds turn out to vital, as he's warned about a second leopard with no time to spare. By the time he learns the information, it's too late, as he turns around only to be met with the leopard attacking him


Jack Dutton 

The eldest son of John Sr. and his wife, Emma (Marley Shelton), Jack (Darren Mann) is engaged to be married to Elizabeth Strafford (Michelle Randolph) on a Wednesday. However, issues regarding the cattle force their wedding to be postponed another week (or two), as Jack joins Jacob, John Sr. and the others to drive the cows up over the mountain so they won't die. Of course, the actual conversation between Jack and his bride-to-be about delaying the wedding another week goes about as well as you'd expect, with Elizabeth hysterical that he'd choose cattle over her. 

Knowing full well that Jack would not be able to handle the situation well, Cara comes to the rescue and talks Elizabeth down, telling her that she must understand that the cattle always come first but there is a freedom to that if she chooses to that life. "You will be free in a way that most people can barely conceive," Cara pitches to the young bride. "You have to want more than the boy, you have to want the life too because in this life there's no debating which is more important -- the wedding or the cattle -- it's always the cattle."

Whatever Cara says works as Elizabeth tells her she'll "learn" how to be a rancher's wife. The matter of the wedding postponement is settled, as Jack and Elizabeth will now get married two weeks from Saturday. As the two lovebirds passionately reunite after their fight, Elizabeth's dad, Bob (Tim DeKay), and Jacob look on. Bob says a remark about the young couple, who are very much in love, and Jacob hints that whatever comes from their union, that he must not question it -- especially when it comes to pregnancies and babies. Is 1923 hinting that Elizabeth is already or will be pregnant very soon (possibly to John Dutton II, John Dutton III's father)?

"In my experience, Bob, when the first baby comes you don't want to be too picky with your math on the calendar," Jacob tells his fellow rancher, who's seems less than enthused that his daughter is marrying Jack. Soon after the wedding is officially delayed, Jack joins the group in driving the cattle up the mountain. Not long after they embark on their weeks-long trek, Jack faces his first big test when he discovers Banner Creighton's herd of sheep have crossed into their territory. 


Teonna and Sister Mary

Elsewhere, Teonna (Aminah Nieves) -- a young woman attending a residential boarding school for Native Americans -- suffers abuse at the hands of Sister Mary (Jennifer Ehle) and later, headmaster Father Renaud (Sebastian Roche). The excruciating moment comes after she fails to correctly answer a question asked by Sister Mary in the classroom and talks back at her, prompting the sister to continuously beat Teonna's hands raw. Teonna reaches her limit, punching Sister Mary multiple times before she and Sister Mary are brought to Father Renaud's office.

At first, it appears Father Renaud is on Teonna's side, punishing the nun by beating her hands red with a wooden paddle. And when Teonna pleads with him to have mercy on Sister Mary, he warns her with a menacing look not to undermine her (and him) ever again. "I understand your desire to lash out at a sister who lacks compassion, but you lash out, all will lash out," he threatens, before asking her to face the bookshelves for her own form of punishment as he prepares to punish her too. "I have compassion for you my child, I do... I have compassion but I have no mercy." Father Renaud proceeds to hit her with the wooden paddle multiple times, her piercing screams of pain echoing through the hallway. 

Later at the bath, the severity of Teonna's injuries are revealed -- and it's devastating to see her in pain as she tries to clean herself. When Sister Mary approaches her during inspection, blood trickles down Teonna's legs from the rawness of Father Renaud's beatings. The sister and Teonna are at a mutual understanding now; that they both need to steer clear of his office. At bedtime, Teonna shows a friend the scarring that's starting to show on her legs from her punishment and she says she plans to put honey and cedar sap to hopefully help with the scarring as no man will want to marry her if he sees the extent of her injuries. Teonna, though, has her eye on the big picture, wondering why they haven't received any letters from friends or family, suggesting that they never made it home to write them. Her goal now is clear: Get out before it's too late.

New episodes of 1923 drop Sundays on Paramount+. Paramount Network will have a special airing of the 1923 premiere on Sunday, Dec. 18 following Yellowstone. The second episode will air Jan. 1 on the network after the Yellowstone midseason finale.