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‘1923’ Season 1 Episode 2 Recap: “Nature’s Empty Throne” 

“Man will always seek to take from others that which he can make for himself. Those are the words that have governed this family. Or perhaps it is our refusal to surrender that governs us.” As our 1923 narrator (Isabel May of 1883 fame) often surfaces when it’s important to emphasize the lasting meaning of an incident or event, lasting in the sense that resonates from generation to Dutton generation. But it’s not likely anyone was going to miss the lasting meaning of Harrison Ford’s Jacob Dutton stringing up five sheepherders and leaving them in the saddle to maybe (probably) hang. (“It depends on the loyalty of their horse,” is his hardened wiseacre commentary on whether any of them will survive.”) As it turns out, head sheeper Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn) is the only one of his number who manages to cut himself down. And so he becomes the messenger. As Jacob imparts to his nephew Jack (Darren Mann), the greatest threat to the Yellowstone Ranch isn’t wolves or drought or lizards, or even Texas fever. It’s other men. And that’s who the Duttons fight. “Your enemies have got to be so terrified that their fear is greater than their greed.”

Banner Creighton got free from his prospective hanging. But he might not have any sheep left to herd. After the sheepers took a pot shot at Jack and their pitched battle with the ranch cowboys, Jacob ordered his foreman Zane (Brian Geraghty) to push Banner’s flock of “prairie maggots” down the mountainside to the Indian reservation, where many people are starving. The Native American riders are suspicious at first. What are they going to do with a bunch of sheep who will only act as wolf magnets and gobble up what little grass there is? Zane offers his best cowboy’s shrug. “Mr. Dutton said to bring ‘em to you. Keep ‘em, sell ‘em, eat ‘em – it’s a gift.” Runs His Horse (Michael Spears) offers Zane a blade to give to Jacob as a show of thanks and gratitude. 


Folks are hungry on the reservation, but conditions at the government boarding school border are close to inhuman. Sister Mary (Jennifer Ehle) makes sure that every act is a humiliation, with her tyranny of task mastery focused on the drudgery of domestic labors. Taken from their families, these young women are essentially in a prison operated by the Catholic church. After Teonna Rainwater (Aminah Nieves) continues to be antagonized by Sister Mary and slams the nun’s face into a table, she’s dragged out to the hot box and locked inside, only to be sexually assaulted by Sister Alice (Kerry O’Malley), subjected to death threats by the school’s vicious headmaster Father Renaud (Sebastian Roche), and forced to submit to Sister Mary’s control. “You think I’m your adversary, but I’m not. I’m your salvation. I am the bridge from the extinct civilization of your people to the thriving society tasked with taming this godless place.” We’re rooting for Teonna to make her escape from this awful place and its sadistic tortures as soon as her captors who hide behind the cloth aren’t looking.

When we last saw Spencer Dutton, the hunter was being clapped across the face and chest by the enormous paw of a leopard gone mad for human prey. He manages to deflect, and put two shotgun shells in the big cat’s chest. But Kagiso (Raymond Watanga), Spencer’s hunting guide, gets his neck ripped open by the other attacking leopard. Nursing his own wounds with iodine and whiskey, Spencer also takes issue with the English safari encampment’s stuffed shirt of a manager, who doesn’t offer any condolences after the fallen man. It’s the kind of offense you can be shot over, but this guy can live for now, mostly because Spencer needs a ride to Nairobi. At the Stanley Hotel, the local hub for the well-heeled to book safaris and hunting expeditions, Spencer is sucking down bourbon at the veranda bar when a gaggle of society ladies send one of their number with questions. Isn’t he the American war hero who hunts the maneaters? 

Alexandra (Julia Schlaepfer) and her friends look like they just stepped out of the later seasons of Downton Abbey, or the pages of an Edith Wharton novel. They’re all about giggles and champagne toasts and lavish excursions into the bush. And Spencer deflects most of their chatter and histrionics. But not Alexandra, their designated spokesperson. He even responds to her flirty questions with more than monosyllables. But here’s the thing. Alexandra is also engaged. And her engagement party is that very evening at the hotel. Later, she leaves the formal dinner table, emotional. It’s a society marriage, and Alexandra dreads her future. “I’m a real estate transaction!” she cries to a friend. But if there’s no love in her upcoming nuptials, there’s romance and danger in the death-courting work of the handsome American hunter. The next morning, as he’s climbing into his boss’s Rolls Royce for the journey to his new assignment – there’s a spotted hyena terrorizing the engineers building a railroad to the east – Spencer catches the light as it plays off Alexandra’s blonde hair and fabulous neckerchief. He doffs his hat; she does the same thing with an imaginary hat. She follows his eyes as the Rolls pulls down the hotel drive. And suddenly, she grabs her bag and hat from the bus her wedding party is boarding. Spencer has the driver stop, and Alexandra piles into the back of the vehicle, exhilarated. “Let’s look death in the eye then, shall we?”

Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges

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