1923 Recap: This Woman's Work

1923 Recap: This Woman's Work

It was only an episode ago that 1923 voice-overer Elsa reminded us that life on the ranch affords its residents no breaks, and apparently that even applies to the aftermath of a shootout that killed your nephew, injured your grand-nephew and his betrothed and almost (at least, as of now) ended your husband’s life.

First, the good news: Jacob is alive, though in rough shape, in Episode 4. And Jack and Elizabeth are tentatively on the mend, as well. But goodness gracious, the Duttons’ kitchen very closely resembles an Overlook Hotel hallway after all of the bullet-removal and body-stitching is done.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Spencer and Alexandra’s African idyll comes to an abrupt end. Read on for the highlights of “War and the Turqoise Tide.”

DUTTON INTENSIVE CARE UNIT | OK, back to the blood. The Yellowstone kitchen is literally dripping with the stuff; Cara surveys the scene for a hot minute before running outside and falling to the ground, holding her stained apron to her mouth to muffle her screaming sobs. But there’s work to be done, so she quickly pulls herself together and sits up, emotional outburst overwith. (Side note: Lady, TEACH ME YOUR WAYS.)

When Zane returns to the house, he finds her hard at work, scrubbing the kitchen. She instructs him to mail her letter to Spencer, but he suggests a wire instead: The letter will take months. But a wire means that “the world will know,” she counters, and she doesn’t want anyone outside the house to know what has become of Jacob. So that also means no involvement by the sheriff, no vengeful posse — and she’ll attend the Livestock Association meeting in Jacob’s place.

It’s only AFTER all of this that we get a definitive update on Jake: He survived the night, and “that’s a start,” she remarks. Zane is less hopeful, counseling her to “say goodbye to him while you still can.” That’s cold, Zane! (Side note: Before we found out that Jacob survived, was anyone else starting to suspect that maybe Harrison Ford was doing another Han Solo, The Force Awakens-type, “I’ll be in this, but only in the beginning” thing in this show? No? Just me?)

Outside, poor Emma has slept in the wagon all night. It’s only when she makes a move to bury John herself that Zane and some of the other ranch hands figure out it would be a good idea to help her. And upstairs, Elizabeth is feverish but doing OK. Cara says she’s sent for the girl’s mother, and Jack — who’s also doing all right and has been by his fianceé’s side all night — runs to fetch water for a bath.

MEET DONALD WHITFIELD | During all of this, Banner Creighton is regrouping and realizing that he’ll need help to take down the Duttons. So he rides his horse to a mansion and tells the very rich-looking man inside (Donald Whitfield, played by Penny Dreadful’s Timothy Dalton) that Jake Dutton is dead and that he’ll have control of the Yellowstone ranch in six months. He offers the Whitfield the mineral rights to the land, provided Whitfield gives him either money or men to fight the family.

“Killing a king doesn’t make you a king. It makes you an assassin. And I never heard of an assassin running anything,” Whitfield says, sneering. Nevertheless, he agrees to bankroll Creighton’s coup, provided that Whitfield gets the right to mine wherever he chooses on the land. They shake on it. And just in case the sheep man was thinking of lying to him, Whitfield threatens to kill Mrs. Creighton and “bury your children in her f–king hide.” Nice guy!

‘I’M TOO STUBBORN’ | Creighton and his men sneak around in the night and steal a huge chunk of the Duttons’ — and other farmers’ — cattle herd, a theft Zane breathlessly reports the next day. Jack wants to join him and the other cowboys to go fight the sheep men, but Cara says she needs a minute, and goes to pray by Jake’s bed. “We have no leader,” she laments aloud, holding her ailing husband’s hand. “You be the leader,” a gruff, quiet voice responds: Jake is awake!

He’s still in a lot of pain and not completely out of danger, but he’s alert enough to counsel her that they can stand to let the cattle-robbing go for now; there should be no fighting until Spencer comes home. She tearily tells him she’d abandoned all hope for him, and he shoots back that she’s not getting off that easy. “I forbid you to die, do you understand me?” she commands. “I won’t die,” he tells her, sounding wearily resigned. “I’m too stubborn.”

The new plan: Cara will tell everyone at the Livestock Association that Jacob is in Wyoming, and she’ll attend the meetings in his absence until Spencer is back. Then she kneels in the grass and has a word with God: “You brought him back. I will believe in it. I will trust it.”

TEONNA REACHES HER BREAKING POINT | God is being invoked in a very different way at the school for Native American girls, where Teonna uses a metal pail to brain a nun that was hitting her friend, then gets a shovel to the face for her trouble. She wakes up tied to a chair with Sister Mary telling her she needs to be saved from her own demonic nature. Teonna resists until the nun hits her with blow so hard it breaks the ruler she wields. “OK, OK, save me!” she cries. So some sisters read Bible passages about the Devil while Mary hacks off Teonna’s hair and scrubs her back with steel wool.

Turns out, that’s the girl’s breaking point. That night, she rises from bed and swipes her fingers inside a cold lantern, using the soot to paint her face. Her friend tries to stop her from leaving, saying she’ll go to jail. “Show me the law that says we must learn to be a servant or get a beating,” Teonna whispers back, adding that she’s “making war.”

Her meaning becomes very clear when she creeps into Sister Mary’s room and uses a sack of Bibles to pummel the woman’s face and head. Then she stuffs her mouth with cloth, suffocating her. “I am the land,” Teonna says in her native language, “and I am killing you.” For good measure, she heats a ruler and holds it to the dead woman’s cheek, branding her, before blowing out the lamp, pocketing an envelope opener and taking off.

CARA’S THE MAN | Back in Bozeman, Cara marches into the Cattleman’s Association meeting and announces both that Jacob has gone to Wyoming to pursue cattle thieves and that the thieves killed Bob Strafford, Elizabeth’s father. She calls for a “forceful, lawful response” that involves the creation of a police force to keep all of the ranch folk in line. The assembled members are divided on the matter, and Creighton and his faction storm out of the hall, but Cara deems the vote a success and announces that she’ll be back in a month for the next meeting. “That’s not what Jake said,” Zane whispers to her on the way out, and she admits that she came up with the idea on the way over and then forged her husband’s signature on some official papers.

Outside, Banner is waiting for her. He calls her a liar and says Jacob is dead; she challenges him to prove it. “Your little charade can only last so long,” he taunts. She spits in his face. “When my charade is over, so are you,” she counters. When he talks a big game about the coming fight, she muses that she can’t wait for him to meet her nephew. Jack isn’t that impressive, he sniffs. “Not that one,” she says smugly as she rides away.

CATCHING UP ON CORRESPONDENCE | Let’s check in with the lovebirds. Alex and Spencer spend a significant amount of time wearing nothing, or next to nothing, and making love by the ocean on an African beach. In between the “ravaging,” as she playfully calls it, they discuss where they might live. We learn that Spencer was stationed in London before being shipped to the front, and that her brother died in the war.

That night, she finds a stack of unopened letters from Cara in his bag. He explains that “missing home and dreaming has killed more soldiers…” and that he felt that NOT reading them was the key to his survival. Then the war ended, and he felt guilty about it. “Now, I don’t know what I feel. I spent most of my time trying not to, ‘til you,” he says, a little sheepishly. Alex wins yet another huge thumbs-up from me when she states that she’s “a very jealous lover. I will not share you with your demons. So let’s find them and chase them all away.” No time like the present! She pours them both a drink and stretches out on the bed, the missives in front of her. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

She reads the letters in order, aloud, and it’s not long into the first one when they both start crying. Cara’s questions about the war bring Spencer’s battlefield memories flooding back, but when Alex apologizes and suggests stopping, he asks her to keep going instead. Some are funny (such as Jack getting nearly done in by a cow). Some are sad (like when Emma has a baby and it dies).

They read all night, but Spencer falls asleep before dawn. Unfortunately, that’s when Alex gets to the latest letter — aka the one Cara asked Zane to mail at the start of the episode. She wakes him up and tells him he needs to read it himself, but he asks her to do so. So she does, and they both cry some more before he asks when it was written. Three months ago, she tells him.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!

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