Jason Momoa (“Game of Thrones”) has practically made his career off of being the most badass guy in the room. From “Stargate: Atlantis” to his star-making turn as Khal Drogo, Momoa now lends his dominating presence to the new series “Frontier.”
Set in the freezing cold and the wide wilderness of 18th–century Canada, “Frontier” details the fur trade — one of the period’s most lucrative industries — in which, if the weather didn’t kill you, one of your many competitors likely would.
Few actors can capture the intensity Momoa conveys with a single look, and the show takes full advantage of this. Decked in furs, leather and more knives than you can count, Momoa cuts an intimidating figure as Declan Harp, a rogue fur trader looking to make his mark through any means he can. However, as striking as Momoa is, the series holds Declan at arm’s length early on, favoring the character’s imposing presence over dialogue and exposition. Outside of Momoa’s talents, the audience isn’t given much to latch onto his character, with the few details the writers drop feeling overly familiar and tired out.
Competing against Declan are several clashing parties, all trying to get the upper hand in the bloody business of fur trading. From the far-reaching Hudson Bay Company to the desperate Brown brothers, everyone is looking for an advantage in “Frontier,” the most-prized being trade with the Lake Walker tribe. All of this is framed against a wilderness that can turn into a freezing whiteout at a moment’s notice. And while “Frontier” mostly does a fine job visually of capturing this expanse, less can be said for its struggling narrative.
“Frontier” frames the world of fur trading as one of intrigue and back-stabbing — with maybe a little too much stabbing for its own good — as characters bloody their hands while moving from one underdeveloped plot to the next. The scheming by several characters, especially that of Declan’s former Hudson Bay employer and cold company-man Lord Benton (Alun Armstrong, “Penny Dreadful”) and his ambitious subordinate Captain Chesterfield (Evan Jonigkeit, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”), feel rushed and truncated early in the series. Maybe it’s the fact that there are only six episodes in this inaugural season, but very few early plot points are given the time to properly grow and resonate despite their initial potential in the first two episodes.
These hurried storylines tend to undercut chances for major tension in the series, notably the first steps in the arc of audience surrogate Michael Smyth (Landon Liboiron, “Hemlock Grove”). Forced into working as a spy for Benton, Michael sets out to find Declan and become a part for his group. However, the chance for shifting alliances and intrigue quickly dissipates as Michael comes clean in the first episode. As far as plotting goes, “Frontier” often aims for expediency over drawn out tension as characters and alliances are introduced and cut off with the quick thrust of a knife while motivations are continuously murky. It might keep some viewers on their toes, but it also cuts off potential in its race to the finish line.
Compare “Frontier” to “Peaky Blinders,” another Netflix import with a similar amount of episodes per season, and some of these weaknesses become more apparent. “Blinders,” especially in its first two seasons, is a series that makes each episode feel like it’s contributing to a bigger game, that every subplot and narrative arc is methodically placing a piece together into a larger puzzle. Meanwhile, “Frontier” seems to drop and pick up random bits and pieces in an attempt to find something that fits into a larger picture. It’s not completely hopeless, and Momoa is always exciting to watch, but I’m unsure of the payoff that’s to come as the season moves along and whether it’ll be worth it all in the end.