A Kingdom Unto Itself
Little Brother War
Frontier sets itself up as a historical drama rife with thrills and political intrigue but the execution comes up short on this promise. There are moments of brilliance; the vile Lord Benton (Alun Armstrong) is deliciously evil in his role opposite anti-hero Declan Harp (Jason Momoa) but these fleeting moments between the confrontations are littered with uninteresting or hard to follow subplots that dwindle the tension built between the two main characters.
Set in the Canadian port town of Fort James and the surrounding unforgiving wilderness, the story revolves around rival factions fighting for control over the lucrative fur trade. When the story focuses on Declan and Lord Benton it excels but with so many subplots and different locations all wrestling for screen time, it quickly becomes a little too convoluted for its own good. Stowaway Michael Smyth (Landon Liboiron) is tasked with finding Declan to save his captured girlfriend, there are secret conspiracies at play behind the scenes and another plot involving a rival fur company. There’s a lot going on here and given the relatively short run time of 6 episodes, there’s a lot crammed in. Its a shame too because when Frontier focuses on its main plot line it excels and really steps into its own. The time period helps too, with a largely untouched setting and historical event, Frontier boasts a unique premise. It all builds toward a climactic finish that leaves the story wide open for a second season. The story is still enjoyable though despite some anachronistic issues with the female characters, and the way the characters weave in and out of the plot line is believable and interesting.
Featuring a damaged past and clear vengeful motivations, Declan is easy to root for as the makeshift hero of the show. Lord Benton certainly must take some credit for this too with a great script emphasising his ruthless persona. Too often nowadays the cookie cutter villains just aren’t antagonistic enough but Lord Benton defies these expectations with a surprisingly hateful character. His indifferent shrugs toward some of the shocking actions he befalls upon others is really well written and more importantly believable. It helps to give his character an edge over other villains and in this respect Frontier deserves to be applauded for its character work.
Technically the show is certainly well made. The set design and costume design are on point and despite most of the action taking place inside houses and other areas, the exterior shots are well composed and make great use of the beautiful scenery surrounding the area. There are times where Frontier suffers with its lighting; shadows obscure large parts of character’s faces making it difficult to gauge the acting but its a minor point in an otherwise competently made historical drama.
Despite some of the issues inherent with the show, Frontier manages to overshadow most of these with a largely entertaining vision of 18th Century America. The unique setting is certainly an intriguing prospect, especially for later seasons, and when Frontier focuses on the main plot line there’s a great sense of urgency. It’s easy to root for Declan too, with a brilliant depiction of evil in Lord Benton that make the damaged past of Declan all the more believable. There’s certainly glimmers of brilliance here and when it settles into its rhythm Frontier makes for a great watch but its issues hold it back from being as good as it could have been.