Even that is short lived, however, as fans lose more than anyone likely expected. Shae finally sees the coast and the calm of the ocean, as he promised Elsa he would. It is a sense of calm and accomplishment after the long emotional journey. It was a moment of serenity and peace. Then, after seeing a hummingbird and believing he’s connecting with his family once again, Shae takes his own life. As mentioned, Sheridan did leave hints. He foreshadowed how Shae’s story would end, by how Shae dealt with the death of James’ sister Claire (Dawn Olivieri) but to be honest, Sheridan seemingly threw this particular character’s conclusion at us strictly for the sake of misery.
In what some might see as a merciful end to a man who has seen so much tragedy in his 75 years, I felt it was a betrayal for a character that inspired others and that saved so many. It felt empty, perhaps much like a real suicide would. But after so much death and loss at this point, the audience didn’t need yet another reminder of death in such a profoundly hollow manner. This was one time where I questioned what purpose it served. Granted, Sheridan’s writing often pushes what the audience needs, rather than what the audience wants, so there is something to be said not only about how Shae’s death evoked such a gutteral emotional response, but my connection with Shae as well. Perhaps there’s some solace in that.
In the final act of sadness, we tragically lose the beloved Elsa, as she and her father make the journey to the piece of paradise Spotted Eagle spoke of. As Elsa and James slowly trot through the field surrounded by the pines, fans of Yellowstone will undoubtedly recognize the iconic valley where the Dutton stronghold looms, and where the dynasty begins. While Elsa’s death is yet another thread in a tragedy-soaked tapestry, the acting in this goodbye is beautifully heartwarming and personal. Isabel May has been an absolute force this entire season, often holding the reins and leading the powerful drama, and Sheridan gave her the fitting tribute she deserved.
I realize that Sheridan wanted to create a sweeping mini-epic, documenting the struggles of these pioneers, but I felt he forgot what drove those people in the first place. This was not only a pioneering in building a life, this journey was the seeds of the American dream. The seeds of hope, and freedom. Without any kind of hope, there is no dream to begin with, and Sheridan could have struck a healthier emotional balance by simply allowing audiences to retain a bit of hope, even for just a moment.
Even if I didn’t always agree with the tone he berated the audience with throughout this episode, overall, I can’t help but recognize Sheridan’s laser-like creative focus this season. With such a strong grasp of what he wanted to accomplish with 1883the question becomes – why didn’t Paramount simply leave it alone? This finale seems to be such a concrete way to end this chapter in the Dutton story, and yet the idea of future episodes, even if they are merely meant to lead audiences into the next chapter of the book (announced spin-off 1932), is actually off-putting at this point.
Elliott, in particular, gave a touching performance every opportunity he had with Shae. This show introduced Isabel May to millions of viewers who will now look forward to her work in the future. Tim McGraw silenced critics proving he has the acting chops to stand toe to toe with a legend like Elliott and often lead the show.