What to Watch Verdict
1883 lays out what’s next within the show and outside it in a thoughtful, enjoyable episode
Diverging, exciting paths emerge for many characters
Tim McGraw gets some of his best scenes since the premiere
Saying goodbye to Martin Sensmeier’s Sam, at least for now
Big picture ideas presented in obvious ways, but tolerable
This review contains spoilers for 1883 season 1 episode 8, “The Weep of Surrender.” Catch up with What to Watch’s previous recaps for 1883 season 1 here.
In her opening narration to 1883’s eighth episode, “The Weep of Surrender,” Elsa (Isabel May) says there are two kinds of people — those working toward a destination and those who make the journey their destination. It’ll be no surprise to anyone who’s been keeping up with 1883 that she puts herself in the latter category. It’s this ideology that separates Elsa from her family and the rest of the wagon train. As big choices are made about their respective journeys, it's another strong episode from Taylor Sheridan’s western drama.
The episode begins with Elsa, Sam (Martin Sensmeier) and others catching a herd of mustangs, with Elsa and Sam taking the stallion. Everyone can see her confidence and daring grow. Shea (Sam Elliott) tells Dutton (Tim McGraw) that Elsa rides like a Comanche, which Charlie (Sheridan) quickly confirms is meant as a compliment. In fact, she’s so good she keeps ripping her pants — Sam’s fellow Comanche, Two Feathers (David Midthunder), says she rides too well for white men’s clothes.
All of this is taking place where we last left the wagon train — still making repairs following the tornado. And, as Shea said in episode 7, he is worried they may have to turn back as winter is coming. After inviting Native Americans to come and trade so the immigrants can get more provisions, he tells the immigrants he believes they should go to Denver, where they can either settle permanently or wait until spring to go to Oregon. Dutton, however, invites them to come with him — as he continues on to Oregon — but he states that if they do he won’t baby them as Shea did. The immigrants opt to go with Dutton.
Shea initially thinks he’ll leave the group, but after some convincing from Thomas (LaMonica Garrett), decides he will stick with them and go to Oregon. Talking with Dutton, Shea says he does not trust the immigrants, but he trusts him and will help, but it will be up to Dutton to lead from now on.
Elsa isn’t so sure she wants to join her family. As she and Sam grow their bond (including him getting her a pair of proper riding chaps and teaching her how to hunt buffalo), Elsa decides to enter into her second marriage in eight episodes and plans to stay with Sam. Of course, this doesn’t go over well with Margaret (Faith Hill).
Margaret argues that Elsa doesn’t understand the concept of love but at least asks that they have a proper wedding ceremony before God. Elsa responds that God sent Sam to her, so a ceremony is unnecessary. What she does do is agree to Oregon with them so she can know where to find them.
Dutton and Sam then have a talk. Dutton asks what Sam will do if Elsa changes her mind (he and Margaret separately talk about how Elsa appears to have a habit of falling in love very quickly with someone new), to which Sam says he would bring her back to them. When asked if there was no way he would come to Oregon, Sam says that this is his land, he has fought for it and he will not leave it. He believes Dutton may understand that idea at some point (an obvious reference to 1883’s sister series, Yellowstone).
Between taking on the leadership role and the situation between Elsa and Sam, this is the best material McGraw has had to work with since the premiere. He does quite well with it.
Ready to travel again, Dutton and Shea find wagon tracks they can follow. This is where Elsa and Sam must say goodbye, agreeing to meet again in June. Elsa tells Sam that she loves him in his language, while he tells her that he will wait for her, that she is a warrior and this land is now her home. While it stinks we’re losing Sam (for now), it is a powerful and lovely goodbye between the two.
"The Weep of Surrender" offers a good bit of plot and character development, but the episode also features some pointed moments that, as mentioned above, both reference Yellowstone and speak to many real-life events that changed the American west. Charlie brings up barbed wire to Shea, saying it will cut off everything they love about the land and put it into rectangles. A Native American Dutton trades with shows him a Spanish conquistador helmet, telling him that people have already tried to take their lands but the white man will kill everything until only the wolves are left, though ultimately the land will be free of them. These moments are pretty blatant attempts for the show to make larger points, but 1883 manages to pull them off without too many eye rolls.
Ultimately, it’s another satisfying episode of 1883. With just two episodes left in its first season (though not confirmed, it would be shocking if there isn’t a season 2), there’s plenty to be excited about.
All episodes of 1883 are now available to stream on Paramount Plus.
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 Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.