1883 season 1’s most tragic death not only serves as the perfect ending to the show but also mirrors the very first episode of Yellowstone. Set during the titular year, 1883 is a Western period drama that dives deeply into the origins of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch. The show serves as the first spinoff prequel series for Yellowstone, and as the second series in Taylor Sheridan’s Neo-Western universe. No wonder the finale of 1883 season 1 perfectly pays tribute to the pilot episode of Yellowstone.
In Yellowstone season 1, episode 1 “Daybreak,” the conflict between the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch and the Broken Rock Indian Reservation over a herd of cattle results in a shootout. One of the casualties is Lee Dutton, the son of Yellowstone protagonist John Dutton. Before burying his son, John takes Lee’s body to a quiet, secluded spot on the property, and, once there, John holds his son’s lifeless body and grieves under a tree.
1883 perfectly mirrors this scene in 1883 season 1, episode 10 “This Is Not Your Heaven.” More than a century before John held his son Lee for one last time surrounded by the natural beauty of Paradise Valley, another Dutton patriarch grieved the loss of their offspring in that very same spot. In 1883, the same scene was repeated by Yellowstone Dutton Ranch founder James Dutton who grieved for the death of his daughter Elsa Dutton. There are plenty of differences in the circumstances of Lee and Elsa’s respective deaths. Nonetheless, one key element is the same: both John and James lost not just their offspring, they respectively lost the son and the daughter whom they expected to carry on their legacy. Moreover, Elsa and Lee both lost their lives in pursuit of their respective father’s primary goals. While Elsa’s death served to mark the future site of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, Lee’s death gave John a renewed resolve to protect their family’s property – both are sacrifices that only made the Duttons stronger as a whole. Both Elsa and Lee died while surrounded by the beauty of the land that they claimed and protected with their own lives.
Indeed, the way the ending of 1883 season 1 mirrors the Yellowstone pilot also draws deep parallels between James and John Dutton, who no doubt blame themselves respectively for Elsa and Lee’s deaths. The reality is that although Elsa and Lee’s fathers were the ones who placed them in dangerous situations, neither James nor John is truly responsible. All four of these characters were simply doing what they felt was best for the Dutton family, and none of them are truly responsible for Elsa and Lee’s deaths, the causes of which are a variety of interrelated factors – a complex web of sociopolitical conflicts that have driven both Yellowstone and 1883.
1883’s bittersweet season 1 finale marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Duttons of the late 19th century. In the same way that Lee’s death sets up the conflicts in Yellowstone season 1, so does Elsa’s death lay the groundwork for 1883 season 2. Moreover, with Yellowstone season 5 in the horizon, audiences can expect more poignant connections between the different Neo-Westerns that share Sheridan’s universe.