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What You Need to Know About Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren’s ‘Yellowstone’ Prequel, ‘1923’

Check out this recap of the first episode of TV’s historic Montana cowboy epic

spinner image Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren star in the TV show 1923
(Left to right) Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren star as Jacob and Cara Dutton in "1923."
James Minchin III/Paramount+

Yellowstone, the smash hit Kevin Costner TV series about modern Montana rancher John Dutton’s feisty clan, already spun off one prequel, 1883, starring Faith Hill and her real-life husband, Tim McGraw, as John’s great-grandparents. Now Harrison Ford, 80, and Helen Mirren, 77, portray Jacob — the brother of McGraw’s character — and Cara Dutton, the great-great-uncle and great-great-aunt of Costner’s Yellowstone character. Here’s what happened in the debut episode on Paramount+ Dec. 18, along with hints at what’s coming up next.

What’s going on in Montana in 1923?

People are still reeling from World War I and its Spanish flu pandemic aftermath. Horses share the dusty streets with newfangled horseless carriages. Long before the Great Depression hit the nation, a 1920 depression strikes Montana. Electricity is coming, and Prohibition is rearing its ugly head. You think Duttons are fierce? Try suffragettes who’d like to burn down every barroom and squash sin like a bug. Montana was the first state to repeal Prohibition in 1926. Cowboys like their drink!

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What’s worrying Ford’s Jacob Dutton?

All of the above, plus cattle thieves, drought, locusts and a dastardly, mustachioed East Coast interloper, Donald Whitfield (former 007 Timothy Dalton), who says, “I want the whole valley!”

spinner image Harrison Ford and Jerome Flynn have a staredown in front of each other in the television series 1923
(Left to right) Harrison Ford as Jacob Dutton and Jerome Flynn as Banner Creighton.
Emerson Miller/Paramount+

Any other enemies for Jacob?

The irascible Scots whose sheep graze on Dutton land, eating his cattle’s grass. “Stealin’ grass?” snaps a sheepherder (Game of Thrones’ Jerome Flynn). “Man doesn’t own the grass; the mountains own the grass. God owns the grass. And you’re no God, Jacob Dutton!” Wearing the cowboy version of Indiana Jones’ heroic hat, Ford — in his first TV series — snarls, “Graze on another man’s lease again and I’ll have your whole flock, and I’m a man of my word!” Age has only improved Harrison Ford’s snarling ability.

spinner image A group of people riding horses overlooking the sun in the horizon in the television series 1923
Emerson Miller/Paramount+

Jacob’s cattle are dying fast in the lowlands — what can he do?

“I’ve got the ground,” he says, referring to his grasslands up on the mountain. “It’s high. Bears and wolves will be plaguing us; we’ll have to sit with them all summer. I say let’s push the herds together, take them up there and sit with them till the fall.”

spinner image Helen Mirren holding a shotgun in a wooded area in the television series 1923
Helen Mirren as Cara Dutton.
Emerson Miller/Paramount+

Ford plays the patriarch. Does that mean Mirren plays his meek helpmeet?

No. Jacob calls her “the boss.” In the first scene, she blows a guy away seconds before he shoots her.

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These Duttons are childless. So, do they have anything to do with Montana’s youngsters?

Plenty. Jacob tells a young man he’s got to defer his wedding by two weeks to get the cattle up the mountain to safety. The lad thinks it’s no biggie — she’ll understand that this is what she gets for marrying a rancher. “That may be true, but you gotta find a better way to tell her, or there ain’t going to be any wedding at all,” says Jacob sagely.

Who could be wiser than that?

Mirren’s Cara Dutton, who bossily tells Jacob, “The weddin’s for the woman, Jake. If it were for men, we would have spat on our hands and shook on it, and then you would have bent me over the first thing you could find that would hold our weight. It’s the one day in a woman’s life that is dedicated solely to her, and you’re going to let that boy tell her that moving cattle is more important?”

Is Cara that brusque with the sobbing bride-to-be?

She’s firm but warm: “You will miss more than weddin’s for cattle, my dear. If you give birth during calving season, it’ll be a month before he sees his first child. You will drive wagons through blizzards with hay for cattle and hear them screaming their gratitude when you approach — and you will be free in a way that most people can barely conceive. If this is not the life you want, you must tell the boy now because you have to want more than the boy, you have to want the life too. Because in this life there’s no debatin’ which is more important, the weddin’ or the cattle. It’s always the cattle.”

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spinner image Aminah Nieves standing on a rock in the television series 1923
Aminah Nieves as Teonna Rainwater.
James Minchin III/Paramount+

Native Americans are important in the modern-day Yellowstone show. What happens to their forebears in 1923?

Teonna Rainwater (Aminah Nieves), an ancestor of Yellowstone’s Chief Thomas Rainwater, is in a boarding school where nuns and a still-scarier priest try to beat the Native American out of their captives so they’ll be civilized. The school’s brutish, warden-like priest also beats nuns. To young Teonna he coos, “I have compassion for you, my child, I do. But I have no mercy.”

Besides ruining the Montana ranching economy, what does World War I have to do with it?

Jacob’s nephew Spencer Dutton (Brandon Sklenar) is a World War I vet tormented by PTSD and flashback dreams of killing countless Germans in the trenches. Wake him up and he sticks a gun in your face, then apologizes. “I don’t wake up well.”

Instead of coming back to the ranch after the war, he’s in Nairobi, using his sharpshooting skills to kill lions. Mirren’s Cara pens him a letter: “This house is empty now and I have no chores left. And so I think of you and wonder why won’t you come home to us? I can’t help but think your absence is punishment, that somehow we are the reason you won’t return. … I can only assume you’re seeking the part of yourself you lost, and I can only pray that you find it and come back to us.”

spinner image Brandon Sklenar pointing a shotgun as Spencer Dutton in the television series 1923
Brandon Sklenar as Spencer Dutton.
Emerson Miller/Paramount+

So, will Spencer slay his own demons as well as lions, and leave Africa for Montana?

In the last scene of Episode 1, a lion jumps up and knocks him down. He’d shot a lion that jumped him before, then wriggled out from under its corpse. Did he survive the second attack, so he can go back to the ranch — and enlist in the Dutton clan’s war against nature and their fellow man?

Only the second episode, coming up in January, will tell.

Watch it: 1923, on Paramount+

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