“The Crossing” is a slow, sad episode, proving that despite the best efforts of everyone, the destination might not be worth the journey — and that’s if anyone makes it to the destination at all.
This recap of 1883 season 1, episode 4, “The Crossing”, contains spoilers.
Last week, there was a lot of fuss around the fourth episode of 1883, which was delayed without warning. Having watched it, the eagerness to see “The Crossing” seems a little overblown, since very little happened in it. That’s not to say that it’s bad, obviously; on the contrary, it’s a nice extension of the conflicts and dynamics established in previous episodes. But it isn’t the kind of all-action outing that would have paired well with the Yellowstone finale, which is probably why Paramount elected not to air them one after the other. A contemplative episode like this needs a week of tense build-up and its own prime-time slot just to properly get across the gravity of watching immigrants drown in a river.
1883 season 1, episode 4 recap
I’m not even being facetious there, by the way. As you can probably guess given the title “The Crossing”, this episode is really the dramatic payoff for the conflict that emerged between Shea and James, and it’s also the stiffest test that these travelers have encountered thus far. Then again, as Thomas says at one point, it’s a wonder they haven’t given up already. If they can make it across the river then they’re in it for the long haul, even if they’re predictably poor swimmers and can’t quite fathom the idea of leaving their heavy belongings behind so that the wagons can ford behind them.
Here’s the thing, though. As Josef points out to Shea, these possessions that he sees as dead weight are in some instances the only means these people have of making a living. What’s a musician without a guitar? What are a group of people with zero relevant skills in a place like Oregon? And if they can’t even retain any of their own identities on the journey there, what’s the point in going? Shea has become obsessed with their survival at this point, but he’s failing – or perhaps refusing – to consider the idea that survival might not be enough. After the crossing, after the journey, the survivors must thrive. If they’re just going somewhere else to die, they might as well not have bothered.
Before the crossing, the episode devotes some time to burgeoning subplots such as Thomas’s relationship with Noemi, who seems determined to find a man after Shea’s rejection of her hand in marriage, and Elsa’s growing romantic connection with Ennis, risky as it might be. Their problems, though, are more likely to come from Margaret than James. The latter interrupts their first kiss, and he’s mostly unbothered about it as long as Elsa’s happy – after all, he can’t expect her to be an adult when it suits him and then a child the rest of the time.
The Duttons cross the river ahead of everyone else since it would be dangerous to do so behind the inexperienced immigrants, so James is able to guide them across from the other side. Still, many of them drown. It’s an unabashedly sad moment, and “The Crossing” plays it for maximum emotion, perhaps overly so. It also proves Shea right, since there’s no way that any of them would have survived while carrying all their physical burdens. That, though, perhaps makes the whole thing sadder. While there’s a slim chance that a handful of them might make it to where they’re going, none of them will be the same people that set out on the road. Just as many of their friends and families have died along the way, most of who they are will be left on the roadside, or to sink to the bottom of the river. Will the destination be worth the journey?