Limited Series [Premiere]
Aired On: Paramount+
Release Date: 12/18/22
"The Duttons face a new set of challenges in the early 20th century, including the rise of Western expansion, Prohibition and the Great Depression."
As one of the few people on this planet that hasn’t seen the series Yellowstone there’s a certain unawareness on my end as to just how much the new prequel set, 1923, informs such a show; though I assume fans will be linking the family trees for good measure.
As an uninitiated viewer, Taylor Sheridan’s at-times brutal Western seems to lay a gruff foundation on its own accord, though there are certain images and seeming plot developments in this first episode that feel out of place, but will hopefully be expanded upon as the series continues.
Opening with an exposition-adjacent narration that probably needs a little deciphering to understand if it actually means anything beyond smart-sounding words, 1923 has violence on its brain from the jump, with Helen Mirren taking the first shot (literally), suggesting her Irish immigrant Cara is not to be messed with.
There are two storylines taking place within this first episode, neither of which seem in cohesion with each other, but individually offer a certain intrigue. Again, they’re both cased in violence, with an African-set narrative leaning on senseless animal violence, and the other, in a boarding school, particularly vile as it speaks to the punishment of both students and teachers at the hands of those supposedly of a certain faith; Jennifer Ehle making an impact as a nun whose own methods are eventually turned against her.
But these don’t seem to truly be about anything when it comes to 1923 and the storyline it’s setting up, as overseen by Mirren and Harrison Ford as her husband, Jacob. It’s hard to believe Ford has never really delved into the Western genre, as he has all the harsh makings for such a setting - and, no, Cowboys & Aliens doesn’t count - and he’s clearly at ease here, letting his intimidating demeanour do the majority of the work.
Sheridan is no stranger to presenting his audience a certain discomfort regarding violence, and 1923, so far, seems to be making such brutality its personality. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it is difficult to truly have a hold on his master plan after only one episode, but viewers certainly have to hope that there’s a justification behind it all; as for now, Ford and Mirren are making it work.