Even though this week’s episode of 1923 doesn’t take place around the holidays, the Paramount+ drama still gives us a gift: one of Spencer Dutton’s very rare smiles.
Sure, it won’t last. Yes, we are pretty sure that he has had nine bad things happen for every good thing. You could also say that the fact that he lived through the attack at the end of the first episode is a gift in and of itself. (But who really thought he was dead?) Anyway, let’s go over the events and people that lead up to that happy moment when Spencer shows us his teeth, as well as the rest of the important stuff that happens in Episode 2, “Nature’s Empty Throne” (all the sheep drama!).
LIFE NUMBER NINE? CHECK! | The episode starts with Spencer being attacked by the leopard. They fight, and the leopard gets off of Spencer and runs away. He shoots but doesn’t hit? Just then, Spencer’s helpers run up and start calling his name. He had just said, “I’m here!” when the sneaky cat came back and killed one of them. Spencer and the other assistant follow the jerk as he drags the man away.
They spear the leopard and then shoot it dead, but it’s too late for their friend. Spencer takes off his shirt and uses it to stop the bleeding and stop the leopard from tearing the man’s throat, but it’s too late. Spencer walks into the dining tent, grabs a bottle of alcohol and glass, pushes everything off a table, and then asks the other tourists in a calm voice if they have a cigarette.
They do, and when they look at him in shock, he lights up. Spencer then requests that Holland, the safari director, send them back to their tents so that a doctor may clean the deep, filthy scratches the leopard left on his body. When that’s done and plans are being made to bring the dead Kagiso home, all Holland wants to talk about is how Spencer felt when he went up against the beast.
Spence won’t take it, though. First, he says that Holland hasn’t apologized for killing Kagiso. Then, he says that the cats were a breeding pair that always hunted together, but Holland only showed them one set of tracks. Spencer points his gun at the man and says, “You knew.” The man turns pale and looks guilty.
Things get worse until Spencer shoots just past the man’s head and holds his gun to his throat. He only let’s go when Holland apologizes over and over again. But he makes sure Holland knows that the only reason he’s still alive is that Spencer needs a ride to Nairobi in the morning.
‘LET’S LOOK DEATH IN THE EYE’ | When we see Spencer again, he’s drinking at a hotel bar in Nairobi, where a group of British women is crazy about him. One of them, whose name is Alexandra, comes up to him to flirt and ask what he does for a living. Once she knows for sure that he is a hunter (because he volunteers that he works for the Protectorate of Kenya), the others rush in. Spencer’s reputation seems to go before him.
One woman gushes, “You’re Spencer Dutton, the American war hero who hunts man-eaters.” Alexandra doesn’t seem as crazy as her friends. She asks him why he does what he does if not for the romance of it. Spencer says, “Because death is the most alive you’ll ever feel.” He seems to be a Hemingway novel in human form. “And you don’t see the romance in that?” she asks. The atmosphere between them is so tense that one of her friends runs over to remind her that she’s engaged, and the women leave.
Later, Spencer’s boss tells him that he is going to Tanganyika to kill a spotted hyena that has been attacking railroad workers and that his car will be waiting for him in the morning.
In another part of the hotel restaurant, Alexandra’s father throws a fancy dinner party to celebrate her engagement. She smiles at his toast, then drinks all of her Champagne at once and quickly leaves the table. She runs to the balcony and tries to take deep breaths, but she can’t. Alexandra tells her friend Jennifer that she doesn’t want to get married when Jennifer comes after her.
She starts crying and says, “I’m a real estate deal, Jennifer.” “That’s it,” he said. Jennifer says that her fiance is kind, which is different from a lot of men. She tries to cheer her up a bit, then goes back to the party so Alex can have a moment to herself. At that moment, she goes to another bar in the hotel, where she meets Spencer. They have a heated conversation, almost kissing before her fiance finds them and takes her away.
The next morning, they see each other across the parking lot and share a nod (how can they make it even that flirtatious?) before he leaves. But as soon as his car pulls out of the driveway, Alex makes a decision. She grabs her suitcase and runs after Spencer’s car.
It looks like her engagement party is going on a safari. When the car comes to a stop, she asks, “Is there room for one more?” Spencer says, “Not really,” but she still throws her bag in the bag and climbs in. He tells her, “Where I’m going is dangerous.” “Then let’s look death in the eye, shall we?” she says in a sly way. So he smiles and starts the car up again while Alexandra yells “Find someone who loves you!” at her ex-fiance as he runs after the car.
NO MORE MR. NICE DUTTON | Back in Montana, the gunshots we saw at the end of the last episode are heard by Jacob and the other men farther back in the cattle drive. As they race to the top of the mountain, we can see that Jack is stuck under his horse and can’t reach his gun. A sheep herder aims at him, but one of Jake’s men kills him with a bullet.
After a short firefight, the oldest Dutton rides up to Banner Creighton, who puts his hands up in surrender. Jake still pistol whips him over and over while yelling about the “Prairie Maggots” (sheep) he’s been grazing on Dutton’s land. Banner says that they didn’t start shooting, while Jack says that they did. Jake has some of his men drive the sheep toward the reservation.
He then puts nooses around the necks of Banner and three of his friends as they sit on their horses. “You hurt my relatives. Jake tells him in a calm voice, “It’s going to be the last thing you ever do.” He then shouts “Ya!” and rides away.
When his horse rides off behind the Dutton group, one of the men who has been tied to a tree is immediately hanged. Banner tells the others to stay very still while they try to get their hands untied, but it doesn’t work. Soon, the other three men will be blown off their horses, and he will be the only one still sitting on his.
Jake tells Jack that night as they sit by the fire, “I gave those men a chance because I wanted them to tell the world what happened when they crossed me.” Jack looks a little scared as if he didn’t know his uncle could be so scary. John Sr. also has a very interesting look on his face, though it is a little harder to read.
Back at the site of the hangings, Banner is lucky enough to be able to reach into the saddlebag of one of the other men’s horses and pull out a knife. He uses it to cut his hands free, and then he climbs his own rope high enough to cut himself down. He falls hard to the ground and coughs and wheezes a lot, but he is alive and happy.
LADIES IN WAITING | Cara sits outside because she heard the dogs barking at something back at the ranch. Emma comes over to her and tells her that Elizabeth is practicing for her wedding reception by singing and waltzing upstairs. They say that she is so soft because she was mostly raised in Boston and spent her summers in Montana.
Emma says that she had hoped Jack’s future wife would “take some of the fire out of the next generation,” but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Cara says, “It looks like your son is marrying gasoline, my dear, and the fire will only get worse.” Then she says that she is sitting outside because the house feels too empty without the men there. Emma agrees with her.
NO HELP AT ALL | A Native American woman walks into an office and says she wants to see the superintendent. The white woman at the desk doesn’t look like she wants to help, but she tells her to sit down and wait. An older Native American man is also waiting. He tells the new person that he, too, has an appointment and has been sitting there for two days.
When the woman finally goes to see Superintendent Worth, she tells him that her granddaughter goes to school in the Dakota (“North Dakota,” he corrects her) and that the girl lived with her “before they took her.”
She wants her granddaughter to go to a Baptist day school on the reservation, but he says that can’t happen because the girl’s mother is dead, her father is away working on the reservation’s herd, and the girl was living with her grandmother, not with her family in their primary home.
It’s annoying to type, but it’s even more annoying to hear Worth’s superior tone as he repeats this nonsense to his grandmother. The woman says, “I am her family.” His only idea, which wasn’t helpful, was? That the grandmother should adopt her granddaughter in a legal way. She goes away. (She must have a granddaughter named Teonna, right?)
In another part of the story, Zane and the sheep get to the reservation, where he gives the flock to a group of Native American men on horses. They look a little confused, which is normal, but then one of them gives Zane a knife to thank Jacob with. Jacob decides that they have reached a good place to stop for a while when he gets back to the main herd. He tells John Sr. to choose three cowboys to stay with the animals. The rest of the cowboys cheer as they get ready to go home.
TEONNA’S LIFE GETS WORSE | Sister Mary is back to being mean and strict at the torture chamber, er, Catholic school for Native American girls, but she seems a little scared of Teonna after what happened in the first episode. The girls are taught how to be good, obedient prairie wives by doing things like sweeping and laundry, but Teonna is getting angrier and angrier the whole time.
At dinner, when she sees maggots moving in the food she’s supposed to thank God for in English, she instead says in her native language, “I’d rather be hit than eat this.” Sister Mary comes over to slap her, and Teonna hits the nun with her whole body.
That evening, she has to go to the “hot box,” a narrow building that looks like an outhouse. Father Renaud tells her, “If you say that filthy stuff in my school again, I will bury you alive.” And everyone will stop caring about you.” She is taken out after who knows how many hours when she has a fever and can barely stand. She is soaking in an ice bath when a nun pretends to help her clean up but uses it as an excuse to touch her in a sexually inappropriate way.
Only Sister Mary’s arrival stops the abuse from getting worse. Sister Mary, who has a nice shiner, tells Teonna that she is there to help her learn the skills she needs to “thrive as a mother and wife.” Then she beats her and says, “I swore to kill the Indian in you, and I’ll do it.” Before she leaves, the nun says, “I’ll kill the rest of you if you ever touch me again.”
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