1923 Episode 3 Review: The War Has Come Home

The Dutton family cornerstones of passion and violence arrive to remind viewers what makes the Yellowstone universe so successful.

Brandon Sklenar as Spencer Dutton and Julia Schlaepfer as Alexandra of the Paramount+ series 1923.
Photo: Emerson Miller | Paramount+

This 1923 review contains spoilers.

1923 Episode 3

Being finite, even by definition, should never be seen as a limitation. There’s something to be said about the simple fact that all things must end, something can be reassuring within it, and there is something almost beautiful about that fact.  

It’s also a fact that fans of Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone universe will recognize from the last few seasons of television that he has written. While Yellowstone’s current season stops to smell the roses, 1923 continues its premiere season with purpose and drive. If you missed last week’s episode, “Nature’s Empty Throne” – the show gave its audience a Christmas gift so large, it required a specialty-sized roll of paper just to gift wrap it. 

Last week, change was in the air all over the world for members of the Dutton family, as Spencer (Brandon Sklenar), fresh off his latest hunt in the shadows of the African savannah, ironically became the hunted. Alexandra (Julia Schlaepfer), an Englishwoman already betrothed to a life of tea parties and pristine white linens decided that she could no longer live without adventure, and that meant that the wild American needed to be a part of her life. Spencer, recognizing that a long dead spark within him was suddenly lit when with Alexandra, let the runaway bride hop into his car, his life, and his heart.

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“The War has Come Home” is a clever name for this week’s episode, as the title “war” is being fought on a couple of different fronts for the Duttons. For Spencer, it means the battle of having to open his dying heart to anyone other than the drink and darkness he has been letting in. Their torrid love affair is reminiscent of the classic story of Jane and Tarzan – an English woman of means meets a savage wild man, yet the two awaken something primal within each other to foster an unbreakable love. 

Schlaepfer and Sklenar should be commended for how they say so much in just a look. Sklenar especially embodies what a Dutton man is known for within this universe – someone who loves deeply, but often hides it within a stoic exterior. The glances between the two actors are enough for the audience to be caught up in the passion, even if the love story is somewhat overplayed already at this point.

As much as there is something to be said about being ‘finite,’ Sheridan should be careful to ensure he is giving his subplots enough time to breathe. The unbridled lust between Alexandra and Spencer is as steamy as the parts of Africa the show portrays, but often it bordered on the melodramatic nature of a Danielle Steel novel. This also doesn’t seem like a relationship that is built to last. After a harrowing situation where the two are stranded in the middle of the savannah, sleeplessly hanging onto a tree with one hand and a rifle with the other to fight off predators, it seemed that Alex was already second guessing her choice to join Spencer. It made this reviewer question if she has already had too much of the dark reality a Dutton man could bring, as well as questioning the logistics of making love when you’re 12-feet up in the branches of a Marula tree. 

Yet, while the acrobatic coitus is certainly the most adventurous story of passion within the history of this family so far, the rest is somewhat familiar. The locale has changed, but the character dynamic or family characteristics certainly haven’t. Avid fans of the Yellowstone universe quickly recognize how hard and fast (stay with me) the Duttons fall in love. We’ve seen it with Spencer’s older sister when Elsa fell madly in love, twice within 1883’s 10-episode arc, and before she was finished being a teenager. 

Sheridan needs to be careful, as there is a very thin line between homage and recycling. It is one thing to mirror the adventures of different generations of the Duttons – to show a genetic predisposition to these torrid love affairs, but considering we’ve had 4 and half seasons of Yellowstone, an entire limited run of 1883 and now three episodes of 1923, Sheridan must ensure the pool from which he draws these Dutton stories is not too shallow. 

Similarly, when we last saw Jerome Flynn’s Banner Creighton, he was dangling precariously out of a tree, next to his hanged compatriots. Jacob (Harrison Ford) promised Creighton that he may still live if Creighton has the will, mirroring the type of cowboy justice his ancestors brought down on future enemies of the ranch.

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The rivalry between Creighton’s group of shepherds and the Dutton ranch is just as fiery and combustible as the romance between Spencer and Alex, and in an otherwise slower episode, the final act of this episode is certainly explosive. Flynn plays an excellent rival to Jake Dutton and his clan, and it should come as no surprise considering the great character acting Flynn has become known for over the last decade of work. Unfortunately, the Paramount marketing team has played their hand a little too much, as their trailers have revealed how long Flynn is going to survive this intense rivalry (and which left last week’s hanging as less of a cliffhanger, and more of a rope ladder) knowing that he still has key exchanges coming up with certain main characters.

That does not preclude, however, that this episode is the best of the early season to truly create intrigue. After the climactic gun battle between the Duttons and Creighton, one riddle is answered as to who Cara (Helen Mirren) shoots in an incongruous scene in the premiere, but we’re also wondering who has survived the spray of bullets from Creighton’s tommy-gun. 

This was an instance where a familiar story thread may actually benefit pushing the story forward for Sheridan. Like the explosive season 4 finale of Yellowstone, here we have Jacob, the patriarch of the Dutton family apparently mortally wounded. This could be an extremely bold choice for the show should Ford’s Jacob die in only the third episode. It seems unlikely, but knowing that Sheridan has killed off main characters off in his other miniseries within this universe could easily mean that no one is safe.

The benefit to this finite type of series for Sheridan is that even if the episode may have a shortcoming, even if storylines seem less believable because they are merely a whirlwind tempest of blood, bullets and desire, you have no time to dwell on it. It’s the type of storytelling that perhaps suits Sheridan’s writing style best, and certainly created the most interesting episode of 1923’s run.

New episodes of 1923 premiere Sundays on Paramount+ in the U.S. and the day after in the U.K.


4 out of 5