Netflix Review: Frontier
By Jessica Alewine @awkwardalewine
Netflix recently released the sweeping epic, Frontier, through a partnership with Discovery Canada. The series, fronted by Game of Thrones favorite and future Aquaman, Jason Momoa, follows an array of characters as they fight bitterly to come out ahead in the brutal Canadian fur trade. Much like Momoa’s former show, Game of Thrones, Frontier follows multiple characters and several plotlines within the show that all converge in the tense season one finale. The characters, the superb acting, the stunning shots of the Canadian landscape, and the intriguing, although convoluted, storyline will leave viewers intrigued, but the brevity of the season might leave viewers frustrated with the seemingly endless stream of characters and plotlines.
Frontier offers viewers a slew of characters to both adore and detest. Jason Momoa’s character, Declan Harp, is the brooding hero of the series. Harp is a fur trader seeking to form an alliance with local Natives to gain more power in the fur trade. His desire to progress in the fur trade is fueled by his hatred for Lord Benton, an officer in the Hudson Bay Trading Company (HBC). Benton helped raise Harp, trained him in the HBC, and, upon Harp’s departure from the HBC, killed Harp’s wife and son in a power move. The HBC controls the trade in the Americas, which gives Benton control over the fur trade industry in Canada. Benton is a torture-obsessed maniac, who is famous for his cruelty, violent nature and, ironically, his Christian principles. Harp and Benton are both motivated by their mutual hatred of the other, and the show revolves around their rivalry as they both seek to destroy each other and gain control of the Canadian fur trade.
There are many supporting characters who propel the show forward, including Michael Smyth, portrayed by Landon Liboiron of Netflix’s Hemlock Grove. Michael is an Irish criminal who smuggles aboard an HBC ship on the way to Canada, where he is discovered by Benton and forced to infiltrate Harp’s group. Michael is drawn in by Harp, however, and becomes loyal to him and his cause. There’s also Chesterfield, played by Evan Jonigkeit, the power-hungry second-in-command to Benton. Chesterfield captures the attention of the audience through his brooding intensity, brutish violence, and conniving ways. He spends all of his time simultaneously kissing up to Benton while plotting to overthrow him with the local barkeep, Grace Emberly. Samuel Grant, a wealthy American businessman, seeks to surpass all of these men to control the fur trade in Canada and attempts to do so through murder, manipulation, and imprisonment of his competitors. Each character comes to play a role in the feud between Harp and Benton, and it’s intriguing to see how each character, big or small contributes to this overriding plot. At times the vast amount of characters can be overwhelming and I found myself struggling to determine the importance of each one, but the pivotal characters stand out and eventually dominate the plot.
That said, the series does have a slow start. Since the series features so many characters with varying degrees of importance, it takes the majority of two episodes to introduce them and their corresponding plot lines. This lengthy setup leads to a very drawn out introduction to the series and might leave viewers feeling bored. However, if you can make it to the third episode, you will find yourself sucked into the world of Harp, the Hudson Bay Trading Company, and the sick minds of Chesterfield and Lord Benton. When the show writers are finally able to tie the many story lines together into one connected story, the show really shines. The second half of the season, and particularly the season one finale, is as grabbing as it is poignant, as we see Harp struggle to defeat Lord Benton and the HBC, families crumble, relationships end before they’ve even begun, and alliances fall apart. Each character’s past comes to a head during the final episodes, and as they struggle to overcome their previous decisions and fight for a right for a future, we are left with several characters’ lives hanging in the balance.
There are several other positives of the series that will draw viewers in. The Canadian landscape is showcased throughout the series with sweeping shots of the forest, mountain tops, and cliff sides. The beauty makes a stark contrast for the death and violence displayed in the series. While not at all pivotal to the progression of the show, these gorgeous shots add to the overall enjoyment of the season.
There’s also a small amount of the humor in the show that comes as a welcome relief between some of the serious deaths, torture scenes, and trading negotiations. One of the pithiest moments of the season occurred at the opening of the third episode. Each episode opens with a relevant quote, and episode three opens with a quote about entitlement. Right before the action of the episodes starts, it is revealed that the quote is attributed to none other than rapper and actor, Ice Cube. It was a comically charming moment that felt out of place in the show, but managed to lighten the mood before the heavy episode began.
The show also uses a few well-placed romances so the heavy subject matter doesn’t become too overwhelming for viewers. Michael, our Irish charmer, is torn between Clenna, his fellow robber and Irishwoman, and Sokanon, a companion of Harp’s. The chemistry between these characters allowed for a few brief breaks in the plot, and I was relieved to have some romantic tension to distract myself from Benton’s brutality from time to time.
Frontier’s story is as vast and intimidating as the Canadian landscape the show so lovingly showcases. That said, I wouldn’t say that the plot or the characters are too overwhelming to be enjoyed. If anything, the plot was not too big, but the six episode season too short. The show has already been renewed for a second season, so we will hopefully see the plot reach its full potential next season. The season one finale masterfully tied up many of the loose ends of the season so it wasn’t a frustrating cliffhanger, but it does leave the door open for a natural continuation in any future seasons. I look forward to seeing what the writers have in store for Harp, Michael, Chesterfield, and Benton in future seasons.
Fans of multi-character dramas like Game of Thrones and Vikings should place this series at the top of their Netflix watch list.