1883 Season 1 Episode 5 Review: The Fangs of Freedom



1883 Season 1 Episode 5 (predictably) swelled our hearts and then ripped them out and crushed them to dust.

Even though it was predictable, it still hurt — a lot.

The travelers were still reeling from the river crossing on 1883 Season 1 Episode 4. Surprisingly, it was Shea who was taking it the hardest of the leaders.

Shea understands what he’s signed up for, and if I was a little too hard on him for how he treated the group during the previous episode, his actions now make a lot more sense.

When I was a kid, nothing got my father more passionate and angry than one of his daughters being in peril. Whether it was because of an argument with our friends or we’d done something stupid that almost got us injured, his ire would rise exponentially as a result because of his fear that we’d come to harm.

Similarly, Shea’s ire was a coping mechanism. He didn’t know how to get across to the travelers the dangers ahead, so he tried to frighten them and get them angry enough that they’d acquiesce to his demands.

It didn’t work, and people got killed, and Shea can’t forgive himself.

Thomas: Missin’ ’em bad this morning, huh?
Shea: I miss ’em bad every mornin’ Tom. But that ain’t what’s eatin’ me today.
Thomas: What’s eatin’ ya then?
Shea: We’re makin’ too many widows, too many orphans.
Thomas: We ain’t makin’ nothin’. They deaths ain’t our fault.
Shea: They’re our responsibility. That makes ’em our fault.
Thomas: How’s ‘is any different than sendin’ soldiers over a hill? You knew them was gonna die. Never shed a tear for them.
Shea: The hell I didn’t.

How he’s feeling after the crossing is likely only a sliver of how he felt driving men into battle during the war and watching helplessly as his family died before him.

As much as Thomas understands about his friend, he had misread Shea’s feelings on the damage he felt he’s done to others. That’s why he’s got a no-nonsense approach now.

When the travelers are in trouble, Shea steps in to help, even if he’s getting tired of doing it.

Stealing has been a problem amongst the wagon train since the beginning. You’d think people would learn their lesson watching others left behind, but it’s human nature to think what happens to them will never happen to us.

Josef’s inability to lead effectively has a lot to do with it, but for every person who wants him to lead, there is another who thinks they can get the better of him. They wanted him in charge because he’s a pushover.

When Josef tried to stand up to the large man who had stolen food from others, he wasn’t a match and went down hard repeatedly.

That’s not the message any leader wants to send to others, but Josef got an opportunity later to prove why he’s worthy of the role he’s assumed.

The only way you survive this is workin’ together, leanin’ on each other. This trip ain’t even got hard yet, but hard’s comin’. The river is what happens when you don’t work together. [points to Josef] That is your leader. You chose ‘im. Now follow him or choose someone you will follow.


Once again, Shea ensured that the bad guy stayed behind, but he wasn’t alone, and as the group’s numbers dwindle, their safety diminishes with it.

Right from the onset, everyone was on the lookout for bandits. They had crossed a river, but there were dangers of a far deadlier variety waiting for them. The river crossing could have gone better.

If the group hadn’t protected their food by placing all of it in one wagon and if they’d kept moving across the river without fail, it might have turned out differently.

The land of no consequences behind us, we are in the land of no mercy now.


Dealing with bandits, though, is a different story. When you’re in charge of your own actions for safety, you’ve got a chance. When you’re safety comes at the whim of others, there are too many factors that come into play to guarantee anything.

Through all of this, Elsa was still experiencing the wonder of the untamed west. Although she had seen others face the dark side of their quest for freedom, she was gloriously beyond danger’s grasp.

With each choice she makes, Elsa is creating herself. She’s moving from girl to woman, and anyone who has already made that transition knows that it comes with some level of pain.

Margaret and James have allowed her free rein, not without concern, but due to necessity. Elsa was raised with skills that are an asset to their journey. They can’t keep her safe from all pain if she’s needed to help keep everyone else safe.

Margaret: I envy you, becomin’ a woman out here. No rules, no worries, or whispers about what you should be. There’s no such thing as freedom, Elsa. Don’t let anyone tell you there is. There’s laws, there’s rules, there’s customs, responsibilities everywhere. The more people you cram together, the more rules there’ll be. I don’t know what life is like in Oregon, but there’ll be rules there, too. This trail is as free as you’ll ever be. The only rules you need to follow are the ones in your heart.
Elsa: Can we talk about sex now?
Margaret: We just did.

Elsa’s spirit was free even though she knew the dangers of the road. Margaret reminded her that love, even while given freely, comes with consequences.

When the potential consequence was pregnancy, Elsa has it all figured out. Elsa and Ennis were sharing their journey in every way. Ennis fell just as hard for Elsa as she had for him, emotionally and physically.

Elsa: If I have a baby, are you man enough to help raise it? Well?
Ennis: You ain’t like anyone I ever met. Hell yes, I’m man enough! Doubt I’m that lucky, though.
Elsa: [kisses him] Mornin’.
Ennis: Good mornin’.
Elsa: I’m gonna go tell Daddy.
Ennis: Tell daddy what?
Elsa: That we’re gettin’ married!

Ennis never batted an eyelash when she said they were getting married. He’d hit the jackpot.

All of the dangers interspersed with their heady desires were rubbing a sore spot through the story, and as portended in her voiceover at the beginning of the episode, Elsa’s freedom had something else in store for her than the happiness she was mapping.

Still, it could have ended differently.

Shea, Thomas, James, Ennis, and Wade had a plan to sort out the bandits, but it wasn’t one that made a lick of sense.

Josef and Risa acted as bait for the bandits, but when I thought the entire posse would be lying in wait inside of their wagon, Josef was on his own, armed with a rifle.

Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the men to be inside that wagon, waiting to launch themselves at the bandits?

Going one better, we saw how beautifully James handles a rifle on 1883 Season 1 Episode 1 when he hid in tall grass and picked off a group of bandits one by one without them knowing what hit them.

There wasn’t a lot of tall grass for that exact plan to work, but surely there was something else that could have made better use of his marksmanship. Blazing in on horseback was ineffective. They were shooting without hitting their marks.

And dammit, Ennis’s love for Elsa gave him false courage. He left himself open for his fate.

Just once, I’d love to see the world through your eyes. One day you’ll see ’em through mine, though, and it breaks my heart.


The entire hour came full circle as everything that Elsa had experienced and heard from her parents came crashing down around her. Margaret wished she could see things through Elsa’s eyes just once, knowing heartbreak was looming when Elsa finally experienced things through Margaret’s eyes.

Neither of them could have imagined that threat was so close.

Even though tragedy was forecast from the opening frame, the reality of it hit me just as hard as it hit Elsa.

With good reason, 1883 isn’t easy to watch. There are fewer bright spots than in your average show, and Elsa and Ennis were the light.

I’d known death since I was a child. It’s everywhere. But it had never touched me. It had never placed its rotten finger on my heart until today. Today, my eyes died. I see the world through my mother’s eyes now. Yes, freedom has fangs and it sunk them in me. I chose to love him. He chose to love me back, then chose to protect me. And a man we’ve never met chose to kill him and made me colorblind. [kills the man] Maybe killin’ this man will get my eyes back. Maybe it won’t, but I chose to find out.


Killing the man won’t restore Elsa’s viewpoint, but it will give her a little bit of comfort knowing that she ensured another life wouldn’t be lost as she lost Ennis.

Hopefully, Elsa isn’t pregnant. That’s too much for the story to bear at this point. Everything can’t come for Elsa. If she’s to be the shining light during a difficult trip, then she needs to be allowed to get through some of it without heartache.

Although I’m crushed after this one, the no-holds-barred approach 1883 is taking to telling the tale of settling this country is working. It’s edge-of-your-seat stuff, and it’s not accomplished through nonsense storylines or a fantastical bent.

The realities pioneers faced are enough to ratchet up the tension to uncomfortable levels without embellishing. Does 1883 give you a new appreciation for what we’ve accomplished in the last 139 years? It’s awe-inspiring.

Was your heart crushed with Elsa’s at the innocence lost?

What’s in store for the next phase of their journey?

They’ve been setting up hunger to cause a disruption for a while now, so that’s where I’m casting my vote. Share your thoughts below.

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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