The group faces their toughest battle yet in episode 4 of 1883 “The Crossing“. It’s just as the title gives away with the episode focusing on the group crossing the river with their wagons and belongings. So far they have been venturing through all the devastating elements the Texas land has to bring in 1883, onto facing a whole new best. The treacherous waters of the Brazos.
"This place seems confused by the rules of night and day. Or perhaps it simply ignores them, refusing to cool when the sun fades. It’s as if God has not yet decided what this place should become. Will it be desert? Will it be prairie? Every living thing is armed with thorns and horns and fangs as the land wages war on itself, seeking the answer. I knew that war. That war between what you should become and what you could become. I looked at this place and saw my unfinished soul. I looked at this place and knew, for me that war was over. I know what I am now. I’m a cowboy."- Elsa Dutton
Elsa does what she does best, traveling and wandering, taking in the beautiful sights and eyeing all the people that she passes by. But she has a simple need weighing on her mind. If she wants to live the cowboy life, she has to look the part. Not to mention saddle riding can’t feel good to a woman’s thighs. So Elsa trades some gold of her father's with a woman named Alina for some pants to wear. Not what you would call a fair trade but desperate times call for desperate measures. She strikes up a mutual business connection with the Italian seamstress and asks her to make some adjustments to her dress.
Shea, Thomas, and James have a meeting about how to push the herd and the people across the river. Noah thinks it’s the smartest bet to push the people in wagons over first. Shea and James of course have a difference of opinion in what time to cross over. Ultimately James gets the final say like always. They’ll go over mid-afternoon when the sun is hot allowing the herd to want to jump into the river even more.
James gets a fire under his belt at the tags Shea keeps giving him. He doesn’t see himself as that, nor does he see himself as a captain. But the fire inside him is good, and maybe Shea did that for a reason. Possibly his experience in wartime has taught him that the more anger a man has the better chances he may have of getting out on the better end of this.
Once they cross the Brazos there is no turning back. Starvation will come quickly and they will have to hire a cook in Abilene to ration out the food. As hard of a time as Shea gives the immigrants, the more he learns about them the more his heart grows a little. Yes part of him still thinks they are useless, but the fact they’ve never really been allowed to live and think for themselves, or that they are still alive now and not fighting to get back to the home they once knew shocks Shea. Maybe they have more fight in them than he ever realized.
1883 episode 4 recap: Cause it’s a hell they know.
Thomas doesn’t understand why they would ever want to go back but the answer is not complex to comprehend. The unknown is more terrifying than the hell you can live through. To them that life is probably comfortable, you follow rules but you know what to expect and what’s expected of you. Though Thomas isn’t too impressed, he’s a man who has had a whip to his back. He can’t find the compassion for them the way Shea can.
James decides the best time to move is at night. Shea might not like the idea but he has no say in the matter. Elsa is singing the cattle into calmness and Ennis is completely mesmerized by it. Though she is shy about singing, she has the voice of an angel. During the singing session, they share their first kiss as James watches on at exactly the wrong moment.
James and Elsa have a talk about Ennis. She can’t stand when her father is mad. “I can’t treat you like an adult when it suits me and a child when I’m worried,” James tells her. He knows she’s growing and as hard as it is to adjust to he’s not going to be mad at anything that makes her happy. Margaret however, will be a different story. It’s her and Ennis’s job to hold the herd until every animal is across the river while the rest of the family crosses.
"“I just want to watch you eat.”"- Noemi
Noemi offers Thomas a meal after all the help he’s given her. She watched him almost in amazement. He tells her that being with a black man wouldn’t solve her problems, it would only create more for her. But she doesn’t care, she carries a lot of admiration for Thomas. Noemi doesn’t quite understand how this is a free country and a government can tell you who to love. Thomas thinks it’s wrong but there are levels to freedom in this country and that’s something that’s gotten better but discrimination still remains.
Noemi offers they go somewhere where they can’t be told what to do. Deep down I think Thomas thinks she can do better. He’s too old, and too set in his ways according to him.“Men have no idea what women want.” Noemi tells him. No truer words are spoken even to this day. But Thomas lives the life of a cowboy and that’s not something she or her boys need. That life wouldn’t make a woman happy unless you were Elsa.
1883 recap: What is Oregon like?
"Oregon is mountains and green grass to your hips all the way to the ocean. Where you walk in ankle-deep in water. Oregon is paradise."- Josef
Margaret takes the wagon over at night with James and John on the horse. It takes a lot of her but she goes straight across the river with no issues. James is right she really could park a wagon through the doors of a corral.
We see Shea having a nightmare of the war and jerks himself awake. Shea did not expect James to already be across but he reminds him there was no agreement for them to cross at noon only the rest. In all actuality, it was smart that James did. He knows what it now takes and has a feel for the water, his knowledge can help guide the others across.
"If it’s not absolutely necessary it does not make the trip."- Shea
Shea informs Josef that have got to release everything they can from their wagons. Anything that is not absolutely necessary or the water will take them under. It’s heartbreaking for them because it’s everything they own. If they want to make the journey, they have to let go of the past. Shea doesn’t care if they hate him for it, at least they can still be alive to do it. They are pioneers now and nothing more until they complete the journey.
The time has now come to make the great cross. They connect a long rope from each side of the river so the Europeans can cross. None of them know how to swim because it’s illegal where they’re from to do so. But that was the easy part. It will be Margaret’s job to help anyone who falls out of the wagon and toss them the rope to get them onto shore. She’s great imagery of a strong woman being just as capable as the men.
Elsa plays some Beethoven once more before they cross. As the wagon reaches the water it happens just as you’d expect. The wagon falls under and the group has to save people from drowning. It is pure chaos. Even with her dress half off Margaret couldn’t save a woman from drowning and nearly could have drowned herself. Just as James predicted, they tried to pull her under in a panic to do everything they could to hold onto something and fight to not die. Fortunately, the herd remained in tact and they crossed with little effort.
"I had abandoned every memory of Tennessee as though I was born on this journey. But I wasn’t. We were leaving a place and seeking another. And the journey was the necessary, miserable road between the two. Somehow I felt immune to the dangers of this place. As if the land and I had struck a deal. I could pass unharmed so as I loved it. And I did. I loved everything about it. But crossing the Brazos taught me there was no deal. No matter how much we love it, the land will never love us back.”"- Elsa Dutton
In this time Margaret Dutton was one of the strongest women you could meet. She could cowgirl, she could take the lead on the Oregon Trail. But watching death unfold in front of your eyes and not being able to save lives that could be saved takes a profuse toll on a person. The mission has now been completed even if everyone can’t join the next. It’s the toughest battle they’ve ever faced and it’s only going to get tougher.