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S01E02: Nature’s Empty Throne
Paramount+  ·  60 minutes  ·  Original Broadcast: December 25, 2022

Directed by: Ben Richardson | Written by: Taylor Sheridan | Cinematography: Corrin Hodgson, Ben Richardson | Editing: Chad Galster | Costume Design: Janie Bryant | Production Design: Cary White | Music: Brian Tyler, Breton Vivian

Official synopsis: Jack is saved by Jacob and the Yellowstone cowboys. They capture the herders and hang them as justice for trespassing and for attacking Jack, although Banner manages to escape. Teonna continues to endure mistreatment at the hands of Mary. Meanwhile in Kenya, Spencer meets a woman named Alexandra and the two become smitten with each other. Alexandra leaves her fiancé and joins Spencer and the two start a relationship.

Episode Recap
Please note that recaps feature spoilers on the individual episode.
This recap was written by Matt Cabral for Entertainment Weekly, December 27, 2022

The second episode of the Yellowstone prequel 1923 picks up right where the premiere left off, with Spencer Dutton (Brandon Sklenar) about to become a leopard’s late-night snack. During a fast-paced, dimly lit scene punctuated by screams, growls, and gunshots, the hunter is able to down the beast, but not before sustaining a few gangrene-inviting injuries. Sadly his friend and guide is not so lucky, dying soon after the animal brutally attacks him. Back at camp, Spencer downs a bottle of whiskey while having his wounds tended to. The man who hired him shows no sympathy for the guide’s unfortunate demise, and instead wants Spencer to regale him with details of the encounter. Spencer isn’t amused. He calls the man out for his insensitivity, as well as the fact he failed to share that there wasn’t just one leopard, but a pair on the prowl. Spencer aims his gun at the man’s face, forcing repeated apologies from him. Back in Montana, we’re treated to another cliffhanger resolution. The shot fired at Jack Dutton (Darren Mann) by the trespassing sheepherder apparently missed the cowboy, but hit his horse. Jack is now trapped beneath the steed, and the shooter is rapidly approaching on his own horse to finish the job. But Jacob (Harrison Ford) is alerted by the initial gunshot and arrives with his posse in the nick of time.

They save Jack and wrangle the sheepherders, including their leader, Banner (Jerome Flynn). Jacob pistol-whips him, then orders his men to gather the sheep and deliver them to the local reservation as a gift. On top of stripping Banner of his livelihood, he places him in a deadly predicament. More specifically, he puts nooses around the necks of Banner and his men, tethers the ropes to a tree, and leaves them atop their anxious horses. As Jacob and his crew ride off, the fate of Banner and his boys is left to the horses. The next time we see Banner, he’s still alive and in the saddle. But the noose is straining against his neck, and he’s surrounded by swinging, deceased mates. The horses are apparently more loyal to the herd leader, as his steed has not only remained still beneath the tree, but another trots over and gives him access to its saddle bag. Banner is able to fish a blade from the sack and escape with his life. The episode also catches us up with Teonna Rainwater (Aminah Nieves), who continues to suffer at the hands of Sister Mary. Following laundry and sweeping lessons — part of the government boarding school’s wife-training curriculum — the students and nuns are saying grace at supper. But Teonna isn’t feeling especially grateful for her meal, a bowl full of mush and maggots.

Her and Sister Alice get into another vicious throw-down, leaving the latter with a shiner and the former with an escort to the “hot box,” a solitary-confinement-like cell that looks like an outhouse. Before locking Teonna in the box, Father Renaud (Sebastian Roche) threatens to bury her alive if she steps out of line again. When she’s finally released — presumably a day or so later — she’s suffering from a fever and can barely stand. She’s bathed by a nun, who sexually abuses her, before Alice interrupts to give her a beating and also threaten to kill her, or at least purge the “the Indian” from her. Thankfully, it seems poor Teonna may have someone on the outside looking out for her. An older woman arrives at the school to speak with the superintendent. She appears to be the girl’s grandmother and primary guardian, who’s lobbying to get her placed at a school on the reservation. The superintendent treats her with great disdain, initially dismissing her request outright, but ultimately sending her off to navigate a series of bureaucratic hurdles to have her request considered.

The episode closes with another lengthy stretch in Africa, where Spencer is still drinking heavily, this time at a hotel bar. A British woman named Alexandra and her friends approach him and quickly identify him as “the American war hero who kills the man-eaters.” Alexandra is clearly growing fond of Spencer, so her fawning friends remind her that she’s engaged and whisk her away. Later that evening, during her engagement party, the bride-to-be downs her drink and abruptly excuses herself. After meeting a friend and expressing her lack of enthusiasm for her future husband, she finds Spencer at another hotel bar. The pair again get close, but Alexandra’s fiancé arrives and breaks them up. He’s not as successful the next morning, however, when Alexandra spots Spencer leaving for his next job: hunting a hyena that’s bothering railroad engineers. As his driver heads down the road, she grabs her bags; abandons her family, friends, and fiancé; and gets in Spencer’s vehicle. He warns of the dangerous journey he’s about to embark on, but she’s undaunted. “Lets look death in the eye then, shall we?” she asks rhetorically. The brooding hunter flashes a rare smile, and they drive off as she yells to her pursuing fiancé to go find someone who actually loves him.

Cast: Helen Mirren (Cara Dutton), Harrison Ford (Jacob Dutton), Brandon Sklenar (Spencer Dutton), Julia Schlaepfer (Alexandra), Jerome Flynn (Banner Creighton), Darren Mann (Jack Dutton), Isabel May (Elsa Dutton), Brian Geraghty (Zane Davis), Aminah Nieves (Teonna Rainwater), Michelle Randolph (Elizabeth Strafford), James Badge Dale (John Dutton, Sr.), Jennifer Ehle (Sister Mary), Sebastian Roché (Father Renaud), Bruce Davison (Arthur), Marley Shelton (Emma Dutton), Leenah Robinson (Baapuxti), Kerry O’Malley (Sister Alice), Tim DeKay (Bob Strafford), Michael Spears (Runs His Horse), Amelia Rico (Issaxche), Nick Boraine (Richard Holland), Jo Ellen Pellman (Jennifer), Caleb Martin (Dennis), Raymond Watanga (Kagiso), Kondwani Phiri (Linda), Potsch Boyd (Mr. Worth), Amie MacKenzie (Abel), Adam Neill (Benson), Mike Peebler (Richard Harlow), Rendani Mufamadi (Gatimu), Stephen Small Salmon (Old Man), Scott Buechler (Sheep Herder), Rafe Soule (Young Arthur), Jane Carlson (Countess of Sussex), Bianca Bosch (Rachel), Nikita Faber (Rebecca), Brian Knoebel (Groomsman 1), Nicholas Adams (Groomsman 2)