1923 enjoyed a terrific first season and a lot of that has to do with the brilliant writing of Taylor Sheridan. But, much of the show’s success can also be attributed to the stellar performances of its leads. Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren are as advertised, and the fact that they shine as the elder Duttons comes as no surprise. What has been a little bit unexpected is the fact that Spencer Dutton (Brandon Sklenar) has emerged as 1923‘s best character. There’s something about him that reminds us of some of our favorite old Western heroes. In addition to the gripping storyline surrounding Spencer and his new wife Alex (Julia Schlaepfer), the young Dutton has some of the best characteristics of the performers we fell in love with in the earlier days of the Western genre.
What Makes a Great Western Hero?
There’s a long checklist that one must navigate when determining how endearing a Western hero is. Let’s start with whether Spencer meets the first and probably the most important prerequisite. Is he rugged enough? Well, we think a stoic man of few words who is also a big game hunter making his way through the savannahs of Africa alone is plenty rugged for our taste. The “1b” aspect of the rugged quality entails a broad-shouldered and fit man who is at least six feet tall and preferably with a five o’clock shadow that doesn’t ever need to be manicured — like he was born with it. This is beginning to sound a lot like Spencer Dutton already. Second, and equally important is what we’ll call the Swagger Factor. You know, like John “The Duke” Wayne. Does he saunter with a slow but purposeful gait that somehow oozes coolness? Again, that is another check in the column, and we’re well on our way.
Another very important box to check on the list of what makes a great old Western hero is whether he has a quiet charisma that resonates with the females. The way that Spencer swept Alex off her feet is all the proof that we need to proclaim him a bona fide hit with the opposite sex. This isn’t just some unscrupulous hussy working at a rundown saloon or brothel; this is Alexandra, a Brit born of high and proper order who was to be the wife of the son of one of the most influential and powerful men in all of England. The way he draws the apple of all men’s eyes away from a life of privilege and prestige with nothing but a rifle and the clothes he’s wearing makes a very strong case that even the most discerning woman can’t pass up the raw and effortless machismo of Spencer Dutton. He is a young Steve McQueen from The Magnificent Seven in this regard. Or a Paul Newman or Robert Redford from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — take your pick.
Does He Brood Over Past Underlying Stress or Anxiety?
If you’ve watched 1923 you know that the reason that Spencer is in Africa on a veritable sabbatical instead of with his family at the Yellowstone Ranch is because of the PTSD that plagues him from his time as a soldier in World War I. He is on a journey to try to remember who he was before the war, similar to Audie Murphy
Is He Good With a Rifle, and How is That Scowl Coming?
Chuck Conners of The Rifleman and the co-Godfather of the Western hero Clint Eastwood himself have nothing on Spencer as far as shooting straight and true with a heavy rifle in their hands. The opening scene of the first season captures Spencer the lion hunter displaying his marksmanship under extreme duress as a massive lion is bearing down on him. And since we’re on the topic of Eastwood, let’s go ahead and address the veracity and intimidation factor of Clint’s famous scowl. Nobody furrowed a brow and chewed on a cigar like “The Man With No Name” or spit out tobacco juice like The Outlaw Josey Wales, so we’re not about to get ahead of ourselves. There will be no recency bias on this one as we’re pretty sure that Spencer doesn’t even smoke. But we’re only through one season of 1923, so there’s plenty of time for Spencer to work on what is already a formidable scowl. Maybe he’ll even take up the tobacco habit moving forward. Everybody chewed the nasty tabacky back then, so we’re thinking it’s just a matter of time.
Notice we haven’t compared him to any of the other Dutton men — or anyone else on the show, for that matter. It’s because our case for Spencer being the best character in 1923 isn’t debatable or really even close. The combination of everything listed above along with his epic romance and globetrotting travels with Alex have him leaps and bounds ahead of the next best character, which would have to be Jacob. (Though we do love his partner in crime and in romance, Alex, the wild-at-heart woman seeking to break free from her unwanted birthright.) A quick recap on why Spencer Dutton gets top marks after 1923 Season 1: Ruggedness? Check. Swagger Factor? Check. Nagging, troubled past? Check. Tough as nails and good with a rifle? Another check. That’s a pretty comprehensive and exhaustive list and the best argument we can present in favor of Spencer running away with the best character crown after one season of the great Yellowstone prequel.
1923 Season 1 is available to stream on Paramount+.