Consider Spencer Dutton and Alexandra’s love bubble popped. After weeks of an uninterrupted whirlwind romance in Africa (save for a tense night with some lions), it’s Montana or bust for the engaged pair in 1923 Episode 5 (premiering February 5 on Paramount+). By the looks of the trailer, it won’t be an easy trek across the globe. Brandon Sklenar spoke with TV Insider to preview the danger ahead for him and co-star Julia Schlaepfer, as well as help us get to know his brooding Dutton a little bit better.
Sklenar plays the youngest nephew of Jacob (Harrison Ford) and Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren) in the Yellowstone prequel. He’s the younger brother to the late Elsa Dutton (Isabel May), his sister he never met, and John Dutton, Sr. (James Badge Dale), who was killed in a gunfight in 1923 Episode 3, and youngest son of James Dutton (Tim McGraw) and Margaret Dutton (Faith Hill) from 1883. Spencer has been living as a hunter in Africa while dealing with symptoms from post-World War I PTSD.
He’s given a reason to live, not just survive when Schlaepfer’s Alexandra comes into his life. Their bond has only strengthened through their picturesque honeymoon phase, but what started as a raucous reading of letters from Aunt Cara ended with the tragic news of his brother’s murder. Now, the only time we could see the Dutton brothers on-screen together would be in flashback form. Sklenar says it’s “entirely possible” we’ll learn more about their brotherly bond as the series progresses. “Everybody’s got a long road ahead of them, and there’s a lot to be discovered,” he shares.
Spencer is the heir apparent to the Dutton ranch. Unlike Kayce Dutton (Luke Grimes) at the beginning of Yellowstone, Sklenar says the veteran is more than willing to take on the responsibility of continuing the family legacy.
“He has to. There’s not a question about it,” the actor tells us. “As soon as that letter’s read, the past six years of him digging his own grave and running from his shame and his guilt are done. That happening to his family is all that he needs to switch on a dime and do whatever he has to do to defend them and to protect them.”
Up until Episode 4, it wasn’t clear how long Spencer and Alex’s courtship had been going on nor how much time the stateside Duttons had been waiting for Spencer to receive their distress signal. Their sea travels in Episode 5 will delay their homecoming even more. “It’s a long journey, and it’s not an easy one,” Sklenar says.
“Taylor [Sheridan’s] definitely not going to make that a smooth journey,” he adds. “Spencer and Alexandra are challenged in a very serious way, pretty relentlessly, throughout the journey. They’re constantly tested, and they’re constantly put in situations where they really gotta show up for each other.”
And things won’t ease up once they’re back. “Classic Taylor fashion, he doesn’t make anything easy,” Sklenar says, saying the second half of 1923‘s first season is “filled with twists and turns and stops and starts and surprises around every corner.”
Sklenar says Spencer is constantly worried Alex will realize she’s had her fill of him at any moment. But her resilience in the face of mortal danger and her staying with him afterward is a relieving surprise — and part of why he loves her so much already.
“That initial connection at the bar is to such a degree that he’s willing to put aside any sort of logical, rational thought and just lean into whatever that feeling is,” he explains. “I think over time, she does surprise him in how she is able to adapt because he’s constantly terrified that he’s going to get her killed. And that continues as the series progresses.”
“At times, he thinks it might be best if she left, but at the same time, she gives him so much reason to live, to fight,” he continues. “She makes him stronger, which is the beauty of their relationship. She opens him up, and he becomes way more emotional and vulnerable and expressive, as you’d hope that a relationship on that level would do for you.”
Spencer and Alex haven’t figured out exactly what this intense feeling between them is just yet. It could be lust; it could be deep love. But they want to spend all of their time trying to figure it out. And they knew that from the moment they met at the bar in Episode 1.
Sklenar attempts to put this instant connection into words: “I think on the surface, when he initially sees her in that bar, it’s her abrasiveness and intensity and trying to get through to him, even though everything in his body language and demeanor is saying, ‘Please get away from me.’ She just continues to pry, and she doesn’t back away from his seemingly cold, hardened exterior. When he finally really looks at her and takes her in, she’s not backing down. She’s just fully there with him, staring into his soul. I think that’s what hits him. I don’t think he’s had that happen to him.
“He hasn’t had that level of connection with anybody in his life, someone who — just in that first conversation — is really showing up and trying to see him. I don’t even know that it’s something she was consciously trying to do, either. That’s the unexplainable, mystical element to their connection. They’re kind of like, ‘I don’t know what this is, but there’s this intangible thing here that I can’t define.’ You see it, but you still can’t define whatever it is.”
Sometimes, you don’t know what you want until it’s standing right in front of you. Hopefully, there’s a happy ending for this pair on the other side of their treacherous travels. But like the Montana Duttons, the couple will have to fight way their way to it.
1923, Returns Sunday, February 5, Paramount+