Frontier, Season One (2017)

 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

Some shows have potential but aren't quite sure what they want to be; Frontier has a lot going for it, a terrific and often under-seen setting, a decent cast, truly loathsome villains, and plenty of excitement and intrigue, but it's got too much plot.

 

Young Irish-born Michael Smyth (Landon Liboiron) gets more than he bargained for when he tries to steal gunpowder off a fur trade vessel headed overseas to the northern wilds. His best friend is killed, his girl (Lyla Porter-Follows) is tossed in jail, and he winds up an unhappy stowaway bound for parts unknown, or the brig, until his honesty and quick-thinking bring him to the attention of the ruthless Lord Benton (Alun Armstrong). A man with a grudge, Benton wants to get his hands on a fur trapper, Declan Harp (Jason Momoa), and believes Michael might be just the right person for the job. He'll let Michael go, and pay him well, if he can deliver Declan... and as a bonus, his girl back home won't be "mistreated."

 

Benton's right hand man, Captain Chesterfield (Evan Jonigkeit) is running a secret fur trade operation off the books, with the local pub owner, Grace Emberly (Zoe Boyle), but she has bigger plans for him, and for their operation... she wants to recruit a lucrative trade deal with an American financier. Alas, for everyone involved, you can trust no one in this wild, dangerous place, and all of these men are more likely to stab you than close the deal with ink. The result is a sprawling epic, which never establishes itself in any particular time period (the costumes are fun but all over the place), and has too many characters for six episodes. Instead of focusing on a tighter plot, it opens storylines in four different locations, then brings them together at the end... a little bit. It spends an episode with an Indian tribe, then brings in a widow elsewhere, introduces Scottish trappers, and returns to political intrigue back at the fort, while still having time for occasional comedic moments and for Lord Benton to prove just what a horrible human being he is!

 

It held my interest throughout, but I found it hard to care about some of the subplots, and for being the focus of the entire premise, Declan is a bit of an enigma, mostly there to stab people or be tortured. I will say that the ending episode is terrific, full of tension, intrigue, and naturally, a cliffhanger, and I'll be back next season for more, but I'm getting a bit tired of f-words taking the place of intelligent dialogue in recent costume dramas. I'll say this, though: the series has great female characters -- feisty, intelligent, and strong-willed, and I need more of those on television.

     
Sexual Content:
A priest leers at a woman in a low cut dress; she wears that dress often, and tries to seduce a "godly" Christian man (she speaks to him of temptation, they kiss, it becomes passionate; he lifts her onto a table, and starts to rummage in her skirts, before they're interrupted; it was entrapment for blackmail purposes). Another woman, earlier, tries to touch him inappropriately; she and another woman kiss and caress one another's breasts on board a ship. A man shoves a woman against a wall, and threatens her with rape. Two characters have premarital sex (off-screen). Discreet references to rape.
 
Language:
Dozens of f-words; Jesus' name is abused 8 times; GD used once; common profanities, crude insults (tw*t).
 
Violence:
Gory and frequent; men's throats are slit, they're knifed in the back, stomach, forehead, and armpit; a man is strung up and tortured; men strangle or threaten women for information; a character is stabbed in the face; another has the back of his head blown off; another is smothered; lots of blood and brutality.

 
Other:
The only priest drinks, lusts after women, and even occasionally swears; another Christian character is introduced as pious, but given no room for character development (other than nearly falling into "fornication").