1923 season 1 review – a magnetic western with honest to God Hollywood star power

By Marc Miller
Published: December 18, 2022
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1923 is a magnetic western with honest-to-God Hollywood star power. Taylor Sheridan has done it again.

We review of the Paramount+ series 1923 season 1, which does not contain any significant spoilers.

I was skeptical that Taylor Sheridan couldn’t come back to that strangely profitable Yellowstone well without tripping up a bit. However, with each new series, he seems to be gathering more steam and becoming one of Hollywood’s great mainstream storytellers. Do you disagree? With Yellowstone and 1923 under his belt, he brought Harrison Ford, a Hollywood legend, to helm his first television series. Shrug that off all you want by the mere suggestion Ford is past his prime — he is not — how about signing the most acclaimed actress of the last twenty years, Helen Mirren, to lead the Dutton clan through one of the most turbulent times in American history? The result is a series brimming with magnetism, flawless writing, and genuinely engaging storytelling.

1923 season 1 review and plot summary

The year is 1923, and the Duttons are only concerned about the herd. That is the unwritten rule in Yellowstone, Montana. Family, personal lives, and dreams are cast to the side when it comes to their prized collection. If there are no cattle, families will be unable to survive a harsh, cold winter. That’s what Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren) tells Elizabeth (Michelle Randolph, a movie star in waiting), who is upset she now has to delay her wedding by two weeks to Jack (Darren Mann). You see, the Duttons are fighting crippling droughts as locusts ate the herd’s crops. There is also the end of Prohibition, and the Great Depression has no end in sight. The herd comes first and never second.

That’s when Jacob Dutton (Harrison Ford, a commanding presence as ever) makes the call to move his herd up the mountain. The issue is there are dangers, like giant grizzly bears and mountain lions, that will endanger their livelihood. Not to mention a spry gang of sheepherders led by Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn), who keep stealing the grass off Dutton’s land. In a phenomenal scene where Banner confronts Jacob in front of the courthouse, Dutton tells him that his family had fought for the land. Ford’s Jacob then delivers a line only he knows how saying, “Do you want to fight me for it?” That’s called a chef’s kiss, sir.

1923 is full of cinematic-quality moments like that one. Sheridan brings his standard depth when it comes to writing well-drawn characters and jaw-dropping thematic depth. For instance, the pilot has an armrest-grabbing opening sequence with Mirren having a killer confrontation with a man on her land, most likely a sheepherder; that’s a visceral scene full of sorrow and rage. It’s pure Sheridan, up there with such quality moments like Ben Foster’s shootout on the side of a hill in Hell or Highwater or the ominous choice of Jeremy Renner’s Lambert giving a wrongdoer a choice even Sophie couldn’t make in Wind River. It’s that good.

There is also Sheridan’s wicked smart lens he uses. For instance, the one to view how organized religion and the cross-sectionality treatment of indigenous women. In the subplot of extraordinary power, he takes you inside that unforgiving world. In what could be the series breakout character, Teonna (Aminah Nieves, phenomenal here) defiantly stands up to a sadistic nun (a terrific Jennifer Ehle) who beats her wrists mercifully for not remembering information from her homework assignment and the class discussion.

It’s a stunning scene, but nothing tops the eye-opening treatment of the school’s headmaster (Sebastian Roché), who rules his staff and students with an iron fist. And most importantly, these scenes are authentically relevant and matter. If you google papers on the indigenous, colonialism, and the displacement of putting children in Christian orphanages, the treatment is horrifying and shameful. These are the scenes that make Sheridan a master storyteller, which separates 1923 from not just other series but from Yellowstone and 1883.

Where the show falters a bit is the story of Mirren’s son, Spencer (a charismatic Brandon Sklenar), which seems oddly out of place and doesn’t quite fit. He plays a hunter who tracks down big game cats that endangered villages and tours carrying around wealthy aristocrats looking for grand adventures (and getting more than they intended). Don’t get me wrong, these scenes are entertaining and generate a fair amount of suspense for something that seems like a misplaced puzzle piece.

Is 1923 season 1 worth watching?

Sheridan and company are in fine form with their latest edition of the Yellowstone universe. With magnetic Ford and Mirren, a quality deep bench of actors, and engaging storytelling with deeper themes, 1923 should satisfy diehards and bring in new ones alike.

What did you think of 1923 season 1? Comment below.

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