Threats both natural and manmade combine in “Lightning Yellow Hair”, which is perhaps the best episode of the season thus far.
This recap of 1883 season 1, episode 7, “Lightning Yellow Hair”, contains spoilers.
The vast, unending plains are nothing but grass and bones, untouched and unspoiled by the dirty hands of men. So Elsa’s narration explains to us in the cold open of “Lightning Yellow Hair”, anyway. But the landscape isn’t truly empty. And new guests mean new rules, new dynamics, and new problems.
The guests here are local Comanches to whom a tax must be paid for the crossing for their land. A dead cow and a few steaks later, the Comanches are honored guests, which means they don’t have to follow the rules that are laid out in crude terms by the group’s new chef, Cookie (even at the ends of the earth, you can’t swear in front of the Dutton children.) Josef is a bit perplexed by the idea of letting the Comanches flout the rules that they have to abide by, but that’s why he has smarter men to tell him what to do.
1883 season 1, episode 7 recap
One of the Comanches is named Sam, an unusual moniker he stole from the man who killed his wife. This he explains to Elsa after she beats him in a horse race, and he nicknames her Lightning Yellow Hair. Instant sexual chemistry here, folks. When she lops off a lug of hair for him, he gifts her a new, better knife. Hopefully, she doesn’t have to use it any time soon.
There’s a storm coming. “The sky is angry,” says Sam before he departs (after leaving Elsa a horse woven from her own hair), and it’s another ominous reminder that the worst is yet to come. And this isn’t just inclement weather — a tornado swirls in from the horizon, sending the animals frantic and cleaving the group in two. James, Margaret, Shea, Thomas, and the immigrants are forced to flatten themselves to the ground while the winds decimate the convoy. Elsa, Colton, and Wade ride off with Sam, are eventually forced to abandon their horses, and take shelter against the lip of a little hill as the tornado passes overhead. Elsa places her screaming mouth over Sam’s, having evidently found a new way to grieve.
When the weather and that brief moment of romance subside, they leave devastation in their wake. The wagons are demolished. Belongings are scattered everywhere. Luckily, Elsa’s horse, Lightning, survives, and she takes Sam astride it with her to find a few more. They do, and while they part ways, Sam tells her that everything she sees is his home, and she’ll always be welcome in it. Aww — young love!
Unfortunately, it’s only Elsa who sees any positive aspect to all this. Everyone else is in dire straits. The wagons are almost all gone, and unless they can recover the cattle, nobody will have anything to eat. As luck would have it, thieves are rounding up the cattle two miles north. James, Elsa, Shea, and Thomas set out to thwart them, while Wade and Colton return to the pioneers in case the thieves double back and attack them. But Margaret isn’t keen on the idea of Elsa being out there, so she takes Colton’s horse and sets out after them, leaving the cowboys in charge of John.
Cookie miscounted the number of horse thieves. His estimate was six, but there are really thirteen, forcing the group apart and leaving Elsa alone. Luckily, Sam returns in the nick of time to save her, and everyone else. James, Shea, and Thomas all take bullets, but none too seriously. As Shea and Thomas quip, though, they seem to have used up all their luck.
If you’re wondering about Margaret, don’t — she eventually encounters the last horse thief and is forced to shoot him dead, lamenting the fact that little John is now the Dutton family’s only chance at heaven. In her closing narration, Elsa postulates that perhaps we’re already in heaven, and hell too, and that God is the land itself.