1923 has been a compelling and dramatic look at the life of Yellowstone’s Dutton family in the Prohibition era. A great part of that drama, of course, has come from the excellent cast of actors and their portrayal of the struggles the family had to go through to survive in the 20th century before they could ever get to Yellowstone’s 21st. The roles of the villains of the story have been equally compelling, as Jerome Flynn’s Banner Creighton has escalated from inconveniencing the Duttons to making an all-out war against them.
So too for Sister Mary (Jennifer Ehle) in pushing Teonna (Aminah Nieves) to her breaking point. The antagonists of the two storylines have done all that has been necessary to make more than enough problems for the protagonists of the stories to deal with. Which, admittedly, makes what I am about to say rather strange: Banner and Sister Mary aren’t the real villains of the story.
That’s not to say they aren’t villainous; they have certainly done their part to make life difficult for all the other characters in the story. Despite the obvious villainy of Banner and Sister Mary, the plot itself has increasingly been suggesting that the true villains of the story have been waiting in the background. So far they have only been looming, but don’t be surprised if they swoop in soon to replace their counterparts.
Banner Isn’t Going to Be the Duttons’ Biggest Problem
One of the more important moments in the story so far came when Banner formed what seemed to be a deal with the devil in his agreement with Donald Whitfield (Timothy Dalton). While the deal was key in giving Banner the backing he needed to take on the Duttons, what was more impressive was how incredibly menacing Whitfield appeared in his only scene in the show so far. Banner had been the main antagonist of the story, but immediately looked dwarfed and out of his depth in the conversation with Whitfield.
It was a strange story choice to make the main villain look incapable and unimposing next to anyone. The story might be running the risk of undercutting its own dramatic tension if the villains come off as incompetent. Interestingly, though, the Banner/Whitfield deal actually wasn’t the first time that a villain had been overshadowed by another character in the course of the show. The series has shown a curious tendency to introduce parallel plot developments among its various storylines, and even the Whitfield/Banner dynamic was paralleled elsewhere. In the very first episode, in fact.
Sister Mary Isn’t Teonna’s Biggest Problem, Either
When Teonna was first punished by Sister Mary in Episode 1, both ended up in front of Father Renaud (Sebastian Roché), the priest in charge of the school. Just as in the conversation between Banner and Whitfield, it soon became apparent who was the more intimidating villain. As brutal as Sister Mary was being with Teonna, the sister’s cruelty paled in comparison to that of Father Renaud, as Sister Mary was clearly terrified of him. Curiously, then, both of the main villains of the show in the first half of the season have already been overshadowed by far more menacing characters, and the developments of the plot may suggest why. It does potentially undercut the villains if they are overshadowed by other characters within the story, but Teonna’s story in particular suggests what is likely to happen in both storylines.
In Episode 4, Teonna finally reached her breaking point and made her escape from the school; on the way, however, she stopped to take her vengeance on Sister Mary and earned extra points for both poetic irony and creativity by beating her to a pulp with a bag of Bibles. And then branding her with a red-hot ruler, for good measure. The net result, unsurprisingly, is that Sister Mary is down for the count, but strangely enough, that may be only the beginning of Teonna’s problems. She has taken care of the most immediate problem in her life, but in so doing she has also cleared the path for the villain who has been in the wings the whole time: Father Renaud.
As Teonna looks to be on the run from the school now, and with Sister Mary out of the picture, the main antagonist in her storyline appears to be Father Renaud going forward, and the setup from the first episode is likely to pay off. He was already an imposing background figure in the first half of the season, and now he is poised to be an imposing foreground figure in the second half.
This Doesn’t Bode Well for Any of ‘1923’s Protagonists
The direction of Teonna’s storyline, then, also provides a framework for what is likely to happen in the struggle between Banner and the Duttons, as well. Spencer (Brandon Sklenar) has already proven himself to be extremely capable, and when he returns to the ranch he may well be able to deal with the problems presented by Banner and his men. Cara (Helen Mirren) certainly seems to think that Banner ought to be running scared from her nephew. The trouble, though, is that however Banner may be removed from the picture, a far more powerful and villainous antagonist in Donald Whitfield is waiting to swoop in and take his place.
As such, the show has already set up a natural way of raising the stakes and the tension of the story as it progresses. The Duttons are in peril, but a competent relative is on the way to support them in the crisis. Banner and Sister Mary pose a threat, but they aren’t invincible. With Father looming behind Sister, and Whitfield behind Banner, both of the distant antagonists have already proven to be more dangerous than their immediate counterparts in the story, and both look to be about to swoop in from the wings; it provides a boost to the tension of the story as well as a natural escalation of problems if and when the immediate antagonists are eventually dealt with. Spencer may be coming, but so are Whitfield and Renaud.