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S01E03: The War Has Come

With the Dutton’s starving cattle successfully moved up the mountain to greener pastures, 1923’s third episode begins with a happy reunion. To the delight and relief of the their worried better halves, Jacob (Harrison Ford,) John (James Badge Dale,) and Jack (Darren Mann) return from the dangerous journey. Elsewhere, Banner (Jerome Flynn) also reunites with his family. But having barely escaped death by hanging – a fate his men did not avoid – the sheepherder is bloody, out of breath, and barking vengeance-fueled orders to his boy. When his frightened wife asks him what’s happened, he yells “The f—ing Duttons happened.” Unaware of Banner’s escape – and whatever revenge he’s cooking up – Jacob, his family, and his cowboys head into town for a rootin’ tootin’ good time, complete with a swanky night’s stay at the Hotel Bozeman. Fueled by drink and dance at an underground speakeasy, Jack and his fiance Elizabeth (Michelle Randolph) take advantage of the outing to tentatively, but passionately engage in some premarital fun.

The young couple aren’t the only ones getting busy though, as Spencer (Brandon Sklenar) and Alexandra (Julia Schlaepfer) are also taking their relationship to the next level in Africa. More than just some casual sex on the savanna, the pair have decided to make it official and get married. But their happy moment is cut short by a rampaging elephant that flips Spencer’s car. The great white hunter manages to slay the beast, but with his transportation reduced to a smoking heap, the couple’s forced to spend the night in the wild. They seek safety in a tree, where they share a flask and watch a pride of lions and clan of hyenas come to feast on the elephant. The pachyderm’s just an appetizer, however, and the hungry creatures soon turn their attention to the tasty humans. While Alexandra screams in terror, Spencer’s able to fend off the animals just long enough for help to arrive. On the drive back to camp, they agree it’s time for Spencer to find a new profession. Back in Bozeman, Jacob and his crew are up early and preparing to return to the ranch. The ladies get comfy in the wagon, Jack takes the reins, and John and Jacob ride alongside them. The latter also sends his cowboys up ahead to ensure the path home is danger-free.

His plan backfires, however, and they’re soon ambushed on the trip back. Banner has positioned his men along the route and ordered them to open fire on the Dutton family. Caught off guard, confused, and severely outnumbered, they scramble for cover after Elizabeth takes a bullet to the abdomen. Everyone but the wounded woman exits the wagon, which races off without a driver thanks to the frightened horses. Jack also takes a bullet, but manages to catch up to the runaway transport and ferry his bleeding-out fiance to safety. Meanwhile, Jacob, Jack, and their wives take shallow cover behind some branches. They take out as many of Banner’s men – who are now quickly approaching on horseback – as they can, but things aren’t looking good. And that’s before Banner pulls up in a car and exits with a Tommy gun. He unloads on Jacob and Jack, riddling them both with bullets. The cavalry eventually comes in the form of Jacob’s cowboys, who hear the shots from a distance. While the ranchers and sheepherders battle it out, Banner drives off and one of his men heads for the woods. Cara (Helen Mirren) spots the man – who is wounded – chases him down, and kills him. It’s the same tense encounter, now with full context, that opened the series’ premier.

When the dust settles, it’s revealed John didn’t survive Banner’s hail of machine gun bullets. To the absolute horror of his wife Emma (Marley Shelton), he’s found lying on the ground with a fatal wound through one of his eyes. Things aren’t looking much better for Jacob. He and the other wounded are taken back to the ranch, where the doctor soon arrives, surveys the carnage, and offers a not-optimistic “Lord help us.” He sends one of his nurses to tend to Elizabeth and takes another to help with Jacob. Jack’s in comparatively good shape, so his care is put on the back burner. The doctor also orders Cara out of the room. Before she leaves though, Jacob manages a few words, telling her Spencer must return home to fight a range war that’s only just beginning. Believing she’ll never see her husband alive again, Cara reluctantly goes to the porch and pens a short, to-the-point letter to Spencer. “Spencer, your brother has been killed. By the time you receive this letter, I suppose your uncle has been killed as well. Your nephew has been wounded. This ranch and your legacy are in peril. War has descended on this place and your family. Whatever war you fight within yourself must wait. You must come home and fight this one.”

Source: Entertainment Weekly, Matt Cabral (January 1, 2023).