Period pieces are nothing new. Tales set in olden times, such as “The Tudors”, “Marco Polo”, “Jane Eyre”, “Reign” and “The Crown”, are as normal as the vigilante overload trending in theaters and on television networks.
One new historical drama, however, veers away from the typical game of blood, royalty, and prettied-up ladies. Netflix shows beyond a doubt that it can hold its own with its latest binge-worthy series that has no problem dumping you in the mud, snow, and pools of blood.
Peter and Rob Blackie’s “Frontier” lands in America with admirable cultural immersion, intriguing character relationships, entertaining brutality, and beautiful environments.
The six-episode series chronicles the North American fur trade of the 1700s, following Declan Harp (Jason Momoa), a part-Irish, part-Cree outlaw who is fighting to destroy the Hudson Bay Company’s monopoly of the fur trade in Canada.
What “Frontier” gets right: Momoa as Declan Harp. Momoa was born to slit throats and snap necks, all the while looking deliciously intimidating in fur. The Hawaiian born actor is known for appearing shirtless as characters like Conan in “Conan the Barbarian” (2011), Khal Drogo in “Game of Thrones”, and Aquaman in “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice”, but Frontier gives him the opportunity to don the finest pelts money can buy while embracing his inner savage.
Momoa completely embodies the cruelty of his character, finding dark humor in the splattering violence that follows him. His frightening demeanor and unpredictability—because he has no problem bashing soldiers’ brains in—makes even the most nonviolent moments thrilling.
However, note that “Frontier” is not the bloody massacre that many were hoping for, considering the unhygienic colonial setting, shady authorities, and unforgiving storyline. Despite the themes of obsessive retribution as seen in Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Revenant”, “Frontier” does not reach the same level of ambition, nor does it provide its audience with enough blood shed. Instead, it settles for teases with occasional, but often entertaining scrimmages.
Despite being a six-episode revenge tale, the relationships are arguably the most intriguing and plot-pushing element of “Frontier”—some more interesting than others. The relationship between Declan and Michael (Landon Liboiron) is surprisingly heartfelt. It was written and executed to intentionally express the genuine camaraderie between them.
Lord Benton, played by Alun Armstrong, was absolutely ruthless and respectfully hated on screen. Armstrong’s performance was one of the best in the series, wearing the face of a man who took no prisoners. He was obsessive, dirty, greedy, and dangerously vengeful towards those who dared to cross him. By the end of the season, any would wish him dead.
One noticeable contrast to the rough characters is the beautiful, untouched landscapes of Canada’s territories captured on screen. The settings—even the filthy roads and unholy Ale house—are aesthetically-pleasing to the eye and are worked in such a way that successfully immerses television viewers into the world of colonial Canada.
Speaking of immersion, unlike period pieces like “Marco Polo”, “Frontier” actually takes the time to incorporate a good amount of non-English languages. Instead of lazily assuming that all Native Americans spoke English, the Blackie brothers rightfully integrated an anachronistic language for Canada’s Lake Walkers—no butchering included.
“Frontier” deserves props for the accents. Outside of the woods, the lack of modern American accents coming from the people of Jamestown gave a refreshing look into colonial society. Englishmen had clear English accents; the same for Irishmen and the Scots. “Frontier” did not commit the crime of butchering or giving up halfway on accents.
Another impressive feat was that Rob and Peter Blackie cleverly sprinkled their script with anachronistic swearing. Understanding when men, women, and children swore like sailors they accurately painted the supposed God-fearing society that we know from history books and documentaries.
The icing on the cake: time period signature rotten teeth.
Let’s be real: “Frontier” is not going to be your favorite show. It probably does not have enough throats cut, heads bashed, and bodies impaled to capture one audience, and too much vulgarity and throat slashing for another. It does not have enough half-naked Momoa moments, though. “Frontier” carries plenty enough intrigue, beauty, and brutality to keep period piece fan girls (and boys) waiting for its second season.