The stakes were the highest they’ve ever been in Frontier season 3, but did the show live up to fans’ expectations?
At the end of Frontier season 2, Lord Benton had escaped his prison and captured Grace Emberly, while Governor Chesterfield let Declan Harp go free in order to get her back.
In other parts of the world, the Brown Brothers and Josephette struck a business deal, Clenna stayed with Grant and Pond for her own safety, and Sokanon and Michael had to figure out if they could work around the tension between them in order to secure the Black Wolf Company’s status.
Frontier has always been a high-octane series, full of violence, sex, and political intrigue. Many an important character has died, usually in the most brutal way possible, and betrayal occurs in just about every episode. Everyone has to figure out how to survive the frontier, after all.
So it doesn’t come lightly when I say Frontier season 3’s stakes seem higher than ever. Lord Benton, ever the powerful and clever villain, is going to the ends of the Earth (or, rather, Scotland) to trap Declan Harp once and for all. Michael is nearly losing his mind trying to secure trade routes and buyers all across North America when it seems like everything that can go wrong does. And Sokanon leads a one-woman battle against the white men selling Native people to so-called “good” Christians looking for a wife.
It comes as no surprise, then, that some of the darkest moments of the entire series happens in season 3. We see Declan holding aloft a head he pulled off a man’s body — spine and all. We also see him manhandle another character in a way that, to be honest, did not sit well with me.
It’s Declan’s state of mind that makes me feel as though the series has gotten darker with season 3. Harp has always been a brutal character, but his heart is in the right place. He may kill his enemies without remorse, but he tries to do right by those he cares about. He refuses to spill innocent blood, and his driving force outside of avenging his family’s murder is to protect the Native people of the land.
More than once throughout season 3, we saw other characters rein in Harp. He’s always been a bit of a one-man army, and bull-headed at that, but he’s listened to reason in the past. He might have taken risks, but they were always calculated. And, let’s be honest, he’s come out on top so far.
But in season 3, his rage over the prospect of losing Grace has clouded his vision. We see him nearly kill a young Red Coat before one of his men stops him. We see his treatment of Chaulk, who has done wrong by him but is ultimately just another one of Lord Benton’s pawns. We see him starting to lose himself to his anger. And, without a doubt, if his friends had not been by his side, he would have crossed a line he might not be able to come back from.
Strangely enough, season 3 also gives us some of the lightest moments in the series. Harp and McTaggart’s ribbing speaks to the depth of their friendship but is also just flat-out hilarious. At one point Harp mocks Chaulk when she tries to provide her opinion, and in an ultimately tense scene, it provides the perfect amount of levity. Not to mention a moment where Lord Benton threatens to force Grace to eat someone’s tongue and proceeds to give his best “Wassup” face.
But the best moment — and perhaps the highlight of season 3 — is when our hero gets into a drinking match with one of McTaggart’s Scottish frenemies. Not only is it hilarious, but it shows a softer side of Declan Hart. Amidst the brutality of Frontier, it’s nice to be reminded that our hero isn’t all revenge and bloodshed. This lifestyle must take a toll on him, mentally and physically, and I’m glad he got to experience a time where maybe all of that disappeared for a moment or two.
While Declan is off getting drunk and rescuing damsels in distress, other members of his ragtag group of heroes are back home, where life is just as dangerous.
Separated for most of the series, Landon Liboiron’s Michael Smith is forced to stand on his own, and though he stumbles his way through most of it, he ultimately finds his voice as a leader. Michael is new to this world, both North America and the fur trade, but as he said back in season 1, he’s a quick learner. In Harp’s absence, he must find a way to unite opposing parties, using his words instead of his fists. He’s not quite as intimidating as Declan Harp, so it’s a good thing he’s got a silver tongue.
This show will always be Harp’s, but Michael has proven himself as a force to be reckoned with. No longer just one of Declan’s acolytes, Michael has gained knowledge and respect outside of Harp’s teachings. The student hasn’t surpassed the teacher, but we can no longer say he’s just a naive Irish boy whose only goal in life is to rescue Clenna from the clutches of evil and whisk her away for a dream life that will always be out of reach.
Speaking of Clenna, her character was one of the most delightful surprises of the season. I don’t want to give too much away, as it’s wonderful to see it play out in real time, but Ms. Dolan shows her true colors this season, for better or for worse. I always knew she was clever, if only she would stop being afraid for two seconds, and this year we got to see her lean into that intelligence. We also see her struggle with her morality, and the consequences that come with aligning yourself with Grant and Pond.
The other character who goes through an equally disruptive change in character is Mary. In season 2, we saw her kill two men and quickly dispatch of their bodies. She’s always been unassumingly strong, but it’s obvious now that she’s gotten a taste for the power inside of her. By the end of last year’s finale, I was concerned she had a bloodlust that would drive her down a darker path. I’d be lying if I said my instincts had been off.
Mary has always been one of my favorite characters, and though it’s obvious she needs Grace to help her stay on the right path, I can’t say I’m all too disappointed to see another side of her. She’s thrown into a terrible situation this season, and while she comes out stronger, she also comes out more damaged. Her final moments in season 3 speak to her mental state, and it makes me even more excited to see what happens to her next.
Not everything in Frontier season 3 was an improvement on the series, however. Grace Emberly is a staple character on Frontier, and while she’s still in the majority of the series, it feels as though she’s being relegated to the kind of woman Grace despises.
As Benton’s captive, she must play the long game in order to survive her ordeal. I don’t blame her (or the writers) for making smart choices, even if they are ultimately corrupt ones, but with everything having been taken away from her, it feels very much like she’s just waiting around to be rescued. Grace has always been cunning, and this season it feels like she set that aside in order to bide her time until Declan shows up.
I missed her decisiveness, her sharp tongue, her political machinations. Grace Emberly has never been one to be content to sit on the sidelines while the world spins out of control around her, but it seems that in the chaos of Declan and Michael’s storylines, Frontier season 3 forgot to provide Grace with enough narrative to satisfy me.
Without giving away the finale’s twists, allow me to say that while I’m intrigued for what a possible Frontier season 4 could bring us, I am worried about the future of the series. The ending seemed too easy after everything these characters have been through, and while I’m sure that if Netflix and Discovery Canada provide us with another season, they’ll throw more obstacles in the way of our heroes, I hope we can return some of the characters to form and give others the spotlight they deserve.
All in all, Frontier season 3 provided us with everything we come to expect from a show like this. We saw our heroes win and lose. Some lost their lives, while others found a way to continue the fight. We saw the consequences of betrayal and the promise of new alliances. It was full of action and violence, but it was also full of hope and compassion. It gave us yet another snapshot of life on the frontier, complete with all the desperation that comes with the need for survival at any price.