1923 episode 5 recap: ghosts and monsters threaten the Duttons

Brandon Sklenar and Julia Schlaepfer holding hands walking through a market in 1923
Brandon Sklenar and Julia Schlaepfer in 1923 (Image credit: Emerson Miller/Paramount+)

NOTE: this post contains spoilers for 1923 episode 5, "Ghost of Zebrina."

Much like Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren) making her carriage rides to the post office waiting for Spencer (Brandon Sklenar) to cable he is on his way, 1923 fans have been eagerly awaiting the show's return after three weeks off. That wait is over with "Ghost of Zebrina," which immediately gets us back into the sprawling epic of the Duttons, the toll this war is taking on the family but how their strength comes from their reliance on one another.

As Elsa (Isabel May) says in opening narration, the family on the ranch have settled into routines, and not for the better. Cara continues to tend to an ailing Jacob (Harrison Ford); Jack (Darren Mann) is angry and wanting revenge, ignoring Elizabeth (Michelle Randolph); Emma (Marley Shelton), meanwhile, is distraught after John's (James Badge Dale) death. She eventually takes her own life, another blow to this family. Spencer can't come soon enough.

He and Alex (Julia Schlaepfer) are doing what they can to make their way back, arriving in a port city to book passage back to America. However, there isn't a passenger ship leaving for three weeks, which is not soon enough. As they try to figure out what to do next, we as fans can only dread, as Elsa says this journey for her brother "will be his last."

We then head back to the Indian school, where the nuns and priests find the nuns that Teonna (Aminah Nieves) killed before she escaped. Father Renaud (Sebastian Roché) beats Teonna's friend to find out where she has gone, then sends a few priests out to look for her and bring her back. Thankfully Teonna has a good head start and is covering her tracks. Unfortunately, she is alone in the wilderness, and at night a wolf comes for her. She is able to get on top of a rock, but the wolf decides to wait her out. The next morning, to Teonna's surprise, the wolf is gone and a herd of sheep are beneath her. She meets a Native American named Hank (Michael Greyeyes), who knows her father and says she can stay with him and send word to her father.

Aminah Nieves and Michael Greyeyes stand in a valley in 1923

Aminah Nieves and Michael Greyeyes in 1923 (Image credit: Christopher Saunders/Paramount+)

Back in Africa, Spencer tries to book passage on a smaller ship to the Suez Canal where they can get another one to take them to America. He manages to secure a spot on a tugboat captained by a man named Luca (Peter Stormare). Spencer can see Luca is sick, but it's his only choice.

Banner (Jerome Flynn) and Whitfield (Timothy Dalton) continue to make their plans, with Whitfield telling Banner he doesn't into to stop at the Yellowstone, he wants the whole valley. For Banner's loyalty, Whitfield gives him a house with a gas stove, electricity and running water, telling Banner he is a master now.

While things are looking up for Banner, the Duttons struggles are also financial. Jack sells a number of their cows as they can't manage them after many cowboys left. This is one of the things that makes him so angry, confronting Jacob that they need to fight back. But Jacob says they need a leader — Spencer — as men won't follow Jack yet. He also tells Cara that someone must be backing Banner, another monster as he puts it, and that she needs to find men who will fight with them when the time comes.

Jack may be itching for a fight, but he gets one he doesn't expect from Elizabeth, who gives him an ultimatum that he start acting like the man she fell in love with and stop ignoring her or she will leave. This finally snaps Jack a bit back to reality, as the two finally say their vows, in front of God if not an actual priest and the law (though Cara spies from afar to bear witness). We also learn later that Elizabeth is now pregnant.

Michelle Randolph and Darren Mann embrace in 1923

Michelle Randolph and Darren Mann in 1923 (Image credit: Christopher Saunders/Paramount+)

Spencer had the brief thought to leave his own bride to make the journey alone and send for her later, but Alex says he either take her now or their life together is over. Spencer chooses the former (thank goodness because the two of them have been a highlight of the show). Before setting sail with Luca, Spencer sends a cable to America.

At sea, they come across a ghost ship, abandoned by its crew and now just drifting through the water. Luca tells them a story of other eerie instances he saw at sea, including another ghost ship, the Zebrina, he believes was actually hunting him. They are able to avoid this one and the trio split watch for the night. Spencer joins Alex for her watch, where she says if he doesn't doubt her, she won’t doubt him, to which Spencer agrees.

The next morning, Spencer wakes, noticing the engines not running. On the bridge he finds Luca dead. He calls for a mayday, but then sees the ghost ship from before is bearing down on them. He attempts to speed around it but it crashes into their boat.

The final scene of the episode is back in Montana, as Cara once again heads to the post office. Before she arrives, she meets Whitfield, who tells her he has acquired the Strafford ranch. As they leave, he tells Banner that by the spring he believes Cara will be ready to sell the Yellowstone. However, hope springs in Cara as she receives Spencer's cable telling her that he is on his way home. Little does she know though their boat has capsized in the middle of the ocean.

This is the second Spencer cliffhanger 1923 has used to end an episode, and while we're betting he is going to survive this one as well, poor guy (and Alex now as well) has gone through the ringer already this season. What lies in store when he presumably gets back to Montana?

New episodes of 1923 drop exclusively on Paramount Plus on Sundays in the US, Mondays in the UK. 

Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.