Frontier Season 1, Episode 1 Recap: “A Kingdom Unto Itself”


Frontier’s premiere episode has a lot of exposition, several deaths, and also quite a lot of scheming and planning. Did we mention the exposition, too?

The fact that Frontier opens with not one, but two screens of text briefly explaining that the Hudson’s Bay Company has a claim to land makes you think that this show may be more educational and dry. The first thirty seconds of the actual show, however, involves Declan Harp (Jason Momoa) slitting a soldier’s throat, ordering the camp raided, and then sending off one survivor so the company knows that he’s around. Welcome to Frontier, everybody!

This is even before we get to the credits, by the way, which are suitably ridiculous for this show. Word of Declan’s exploits reach London what appears to be regularly, with some slight exaggeration. Netflix and Discovery Canada probably drew the line at showing Declan removing somebody’s genitals as in the London report.

Basically, the first London scene makes for a lot of exposition, mostly about Declan and not our antagonists, Lord Benton and Captain Chesterfield.

Still from Frontier episode 1. Image via Netflix.

Even Declan can’t get away from the exposition bug. He tells a Frenchman there’s a new American, Samuel Grant, in Montréal, and Rivard knows about Grant already. In fact, Declan wants a meeting with the rich guy. Other than that, Declan’s general job is to be a man of few words and make friends with people like the Cree. Also, slit throats when need be.

Exposition also buys Father Coffin — let’s all say possible symbolism together, everyone — a drink. Alas, he also has to listen to exposition from a drunk governor and the lady barkeep, Miss Emberly, about Benton. Excessive exposition is a problem all around the world, really.

Michael Smythe starts off unrelated to the plot. However, a botched job kills his buddy and separates him from his thief buddy slash love interest. He unintentionally stows away on the ship he just tried to rob, which also carries Benton and Chesterfield, then saves Benton’s life after being accused of stealing something he didn’t actually steal. Welcome to the plot, Michael! At least you have Clenna’s hairpin as a memento.

You do have to do some of your own exposition, though.

"Benton: “Wait. Where are you from?”Michael: “Ireland.”"

Benton, at least, gives Michael a real bed, though he also kills the thieving, lying cook and has two lady companions hanging out in his cabin. Of course, his being nice to Michael is only to use him as the “Trojan horse” to infiltrate Declan’s camp, since Michael’s Irish and Declan, as we know from the London exposition, is half-Irish. Sorry, Michael, no money for saving Benton’s life. Well, not right away. He at least secures release for the cook’s boy and Clenna. (There’s some relevance.)

Rivard’s rich man, Samuel Grant, has many different fur coats, to make sure we know he’s rich in case his house and the previous mention of him didn’t tip you off. Grant also repeats that Declan used to work for the HBC, then calls him a “notorious cutthroat”. But Declan has access to different tribes in Canada, and that’s enough to entice Grant…as long as Declan comes to him.

Still from Frontier episode 1. Image via Netflix.

Father Coffin also involves himself in the plot by saving Michael from getting hauled in for a murder he didn’t commit and explaining that fur is gold around these parts. He says he has a side job as a guide, but he definitely has a third job as a pickpocket.

"Father Coffin: “Some people have no self-discipline.”"

Miss Emberly also goes to Benton and concocts a plan to work with him. Benton sends her off with Imogen, one of the lady companions previously mentioned, and Chesterfield gets a new job: find Michael.

Michael, however, wakes up with what looks like a nasty hangover in the middle of the woods. Coffin shows up, and the two start running, since they’re being shot at.

Chesterfield, though, is already on the hunt at Emberly’s tavern. He makes sure we know he’s a bad guy by harassing a barmaid. Emberly at least tells him to stop that part, though he quickly devolves into threats of more murder and choking the barmaid.

"Emberly: “You and I don’t need to be enemies, Captain Chesterfield.”Chesterfield: “Friends like you, I don’t need.”"

Coffin tries to send Michael back to England, but Michael sadly says he can’t go home, confirming that Clenna really is his love interest and spilling everything to the priest. Before they can actually bond, though, Chesterfield’s men arrive. Surprise! Coffin isn’t the guide Michael was supposed to have.

A second surprise! Harp’s men raid Chesterfield’s camp and take Coffin and Michael prisoner. Declan appears, a bloody apron on. Although he sends Coffin off immediately to die, Michael makes a point of name-checking Benton after getting his face bloodied.

Declan demands to know about Benton, threatens death if Michael doesn’t comply, and the episode ends there.

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Tune in tomorrow for our recap of the second episode of Frontier on Netflix.