The Wolf And The Bear
“Keetom Takooteeoo Maheekun” (Return of the Wolf)
After a decent but flawed first season, Frontier returns for a second season with a different narrative focus away from the blood-lusting vengeance story to a more rounded focus on the continuing struggle for dominance of the fur trade. The lack of a key figurehead with as much charisma as Declan Harp (Jason Momoa) for vast periods of this season does hurt the overall appeal of Frontier but the other characters do a pretty good job of filling the void when he isn’t in the scenes. With more exterior shots, better dialogue and a more urgent, immediate plot line, Frontier’s 6 episodes are certainly an improvement over the first season, despite its shortcomings.
A beautiful, slow moving shot through the snowy wasteland Declan now finds himself in opens the show. With a £200 bounty on his head, Declan’s forced into hiding whilst the group he belonged to are now scattered between the three parallel narrative perspectives running concurrently. These beautiful shots depicting the Canadian wilderness crop up throughout the season and one of the gripes last year was the lack of establishing shots and scenes taking advantage of the location so its great to see the creators taking some of the critique on board and improving the shortcomings inherent last year. The settings of the first season return here with the majority of scenes taking place in the English occupied Port James, the aptly named Disputed Territory , Montreal and the Northern Territory.
With less screen time early on for star Declan Harp and the deliciously evil Lord Benton (Alun Armstrong), the spotlight switches and focuses on the other key characters caught up in the war for the fur that appeared in the first season. Filling the boots of Lord Benton as this season’s antagonist is Captain Chesterfield (Evan Jonigkeit). Following a coo that sees the power shift from a now-imprisoned Lord Benton to Chesterfield, the new Governor of Port James is graced with a well written script and his character progression is interesting to watch as things go from bad to worse under his new leadership. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and that message is clear from the offset as Chesterfield takes over. Much like the first season, it all builds towards a climactic ending and late on in this 6 episode show, Frontier really comes into its own and picks up the pace following a sluggish opening.
The shift in narrative perspective from revenge fuelled vengeance to the political side of the fur trade both helps and hinders the show’s appeal. Seeing how the characters scheme, manipulate and wrestle for control over the fur in any way possible is fascinating and really well worked into the story, providing some pretty surprising plot twists late on. Although some of the subplots are a little lacklustre and there are a few random, dozy outbursts of dialogue that don’t really fit the narrative, its surprising to see how many of the issues from last year have been ironed out or at least tackled to some degree.
Last year saw the anachronistic rise of women power in 1700 America and it was all a little messy and poorly written, given the time period. This year, although the women in the show still have an aura of power about them, the decision to put these women through hell and literally slap them around by sadistic men and soldiers definitely helps provide a sense of authenticity to the show lacking lack year. It also improves the production value of Frontier dramatically. Although the show does right a lot of the wrongs from last season, it also suffers from a weaker plot line, typified by the lack of a compelling, truly evil villain like Lord Benton.
This season sees Netflix and the creators of the show take on board all the critique and try and right the wrongs. The dialogue is snappier, there’s a better pace to the show and the decision to include more external shots and focus on the fur trade itself is certainly a welcome change of pace and one that, on the whole, is a smarter move for the show. As the season draws to an end, Declan does become a more prominent part of the narrative and the finale leaves it open for the inevitable third season that will surely follow. Despite a few mis-steps along the way, Frontier certainly improves on last season and produces a compelling 6 episodes of entertainment, even if it can’t quite reach the level of excellence other historical dramas have managed to achieve this year.