3:30 pm EST, November 29, 2017

‘Frontier’s’ best characters continue to be the women

By Karen Rought | Edited by Donya Abramo

Frontier’s top billed actors are Jason Momoa and Landon Liboiron, but its female characters are the best part of the show.

It’s hard to outshine Jason Momoa, both in real life and on screen, but while I love Declan Harp with a bloody passion, I can’t help but be drawn to the women on this show.

This article contains major spoilers for all three seasons of Frontier.

Life in the New World is not easy on anyone, but least of all for the women. They must be cunning and strong, both physically and mentally. Or at least really, really lucky.

Life at Fort James, and especially outside of it, is daunting, to say the least. Frontier’s female characters always seem to find a way to hold on as best they can, and for that, they continue to be the best part of this show.

Grace Emberly (Zoe Boyle)

Anyone who has seen even one episode of Frontier will know why Grace deserves her time in the spotlight. Taking place in the late 1700s, Ms. Emberly is a bit of an anomaly. She’s a businesswoman and an entrepreneur. She pays to learn the town’s secrets so she’s never out of the loop, and she always seems to find a way to get what she wants. Oh, and she refuses to wear a dress.

Trouble always seems to find Grace, usually in equal measure because of her beauty and cunning, but she typically gets out of it one way or another. In Frontier season 2, she marries Captain Chesterfield so he’ll lift the bounty on Harp’s head. What follows is a back-and-forth between the two that continues to escalate until it begins affecting everyone around them.

What I love about Grace is that she never waivers when it comes to her own morals. She refuses to be anything other than what she is. She marries Chesterfield to save Declan, but she refuses to bed the Captain. She fiercely protects the women she employs and makes it well-known that her establishment is an alehouse, not a whorehouse. The people of Fort James would probably be a lot better off if they just listened to Grace Emberly from time to time.

Frontier season 3 pushed Grace out of her element. She was kidnapped by Lord Benton and taken to Scotland, put in a dress, and forced to lie to Lord Fisher in order to protect her captor’s reputation. This is the most out of control of her own life we’ve ever seen Grace, but she knew she had to play the game in order to survive. Here’s to hoping Fisher will grant her position as Governess of Fort James.

Sokanon (Jessica Matten)

Is there anyone more fierce than Sokanon? Where Grace’s strength lies in her ability to manipulate the people around her, Sokanon has a warrior’s spirit. That’s not to say she isn’t intelligent — her tactical brain is part of what makes her so important to Declan Harp. Her loyalty to her brother-in-law has caused some friction with her people, but Sokanon knows Harp would get himself into too much trouble without her.

I love Sokanon’s quiet demeanor. She speaks when she has something to say, and when she has something to say, people listen. Her relationship with Michael felt right for a time, but that time may be past now. After the death of Wahush, whom she had been promised to, and Michael’s betrayal over selling the furs to their enemy, Samuel Grant, I’m not sure there can ever be anything else between them.

But Sokanon has a bigger battle ahead of her. After discovering that white men are kidnapping and trading young Native girls, sometimes forcing them to work as whores and sometimes selling them to Christian men as wives, she sets off to stop them. Even though she has other responsibilities to the Black Wolf Company, Sokanon will not stop until she frees the women being held captive. Despite everyone telling her she needs to help them with their problems, she perseveres and eventually brings down O’Reilly’s whole scheme.

Elizabeth Carruthers (Katie McGrath)

Mrs. Carruthers isn’t a particularly likable character, at least when we first meet her, but she’s as shrewd of a businesswoman as Grace Emberly. When she’s first introduced in Frontier season 1, we quickly learn that she is not to be trifled with. She may be be a widow, but she’s not in mourning. As a matter of fact, she’s fully prepared to take over her husband’s business, and in her capable hands it can truly thrive.

Unfortunately, a prospective investor will only talk about business to her husband. To solve this problem, she “enlists” the help of the Brown brothers. Like many of the other women in this show, Elizabeth is cunning, but unlike many of the others she’s also incredible wealthy. She uses her money to manipulate the men around her into doing her bidding, and it works like a charm.

Or, at least, it works until it doesn’t. Unfortunately, Mrs. Carruthers (never Brown, though I did enjoy seeing a softer side of her when she was with Douglas), meets her untimely demise in Frontier season 2. It’s a violent end for the character, and it was a death I was hoping we could avoid. She had a way of getting under men’s skin, as Josephette put it, and Elizabeth poked and prodded Samuel Grant one too many times. It’s particularly unfortunate because she had him right where she wanted him, but in the end, his swings were deadlier than hers.

Clenna Dolan (Lyla Porter-Follows)

Poor Clenna hasn’t had control over her own life since we first met her in the Frontier season 1 premiere, but she’s made do with her situation as best she could. While in London with Michael, Clenna was nothing more than a street rat. Then her brother was killed and she was thrown in jail. After that, she was brought all the way to America as a bargaining chip against Michael, found herself with a broken leg, and ended up in the middle of the feud between Elizabeth Carruthers and Samuel Grant.

Clenna hasn’t taken hold of her own agency yet, but I hope that moment is coming soon. She’s allowed both Elizabeth and Samuel to use her to their own ends in order to survive the New World, but now that her leg has healed properly and she’s been trained as a proper lady, the world may very well be at her feet.

But Clenna may have bitten off more than she can chew. In Frontier season 3, Clenna took everything she learned from Grant and Pond and used it on Douglas Brown. It was nice seeing her in charge for once. I wouldn’t have minded seeing her tap into the darker parts of herself, but it wasn’t meant to be. Clenna ended up falling for Douglas, and by the time season 3 came to and end, both he and Samuel Grant were at her feet. But probably not the way she was hoping.

Mary (Breanne Hill)

If ever Grace Emberly had a protege made in her own image, it’s Mary. Not only does she help Grace run the bar, but she’s invaluable in gathering information to make sure Ms. Emberly is always one step ahead of everyone else. Mary is not above using her body to manipulate men, but she stays true to herself. At the end of the day, Mary has kept autonomy over her body, despite the situation she’s been forced into.

That situation season 2 has presented to Mary is one where Imogen in running a whorehouse out of Grace’s establishment while she’s away in Montreal. Mary doesn’t agree with Imogen’s tactics and does everything in her power to keep her virtue, as well as that of a young Native girl. Part of the reason why I love Mary is because she’s so unassuming — beautiful, quiet, pure — and yet she can take care of herself. She’s killed more than once in self-defense. It was only a matter of time until we saw how she was affected by that.

In season 3, Mary gives into the bloodlust in her veins, feeling more and more comfortable with violence. After being kidnapped by O’Reilly’s men, Mary teams up with Sokanon to fight them off and doesn’t even flinch as she puts a bullet in one of their brains. By the end of the season, we see her drunkenly celebrating with Michael and the boys as they announce their new company. It seems Mary’s innocence is slowly slipping away.

Imogen (Diana Bentley)

It’s not easy to like Imogen. When we first meet her in Frontier season 1, she’s sent as a spy for Lord Benton to work in Grace’s alehouse. There came a time when Imogen was forced to choose sides between Lord Benton and Ms. Emberly, and thank goodness she chose the right side. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long, as Imogen decided to sell out Grace in season 2 in order to keep the whorehouse running so she could be in charge of the girls.

On the other hand, I can respect Imogen for her self-assurance. Where Grace uses her wits as a weapon, Imogen uses her womanhood. She knows her sexuality can manipulate men into doing what she wants. Can we truly blame her for her tactics? Just because she doesn’t hate being a whore doesn’t mean she wouldn’t rather be living a better life. She’s making do with the life she’s been given. She truly cares about the girls in her service, and that, at least, is a very thin silver lining for her character.

But season 3 didn’t do her any favors. She was constantly at war with Mary, which ended in Mary’s kidnapping. She always tries to ally herself with the most powerful people at Fort James, but she has a habit of picking the wrong side. At the end of season 3, it all finally caught up with her when she was kicked out for good.

Josephette (Karen LeBlanc)

We don’t know much about Josephette other than what we learned in the Frontier season 2 finale. Mr. Carruthers treated her like a slave, while Mrs. Carruthers treated her like a confidante. After Elizabeth’s death, Josephette was put in charge of running the business, much to Malcolm Brown’s ire. It’s certainly a large task, and for a Black woman, she’ll find plenty of obstacles standing in her way if she can’t convince the Brown brothers to stand with her.

In season 3, we see her put her foot down more than once, trying to make sure she keeps the Brown brothers focused on their new business venture. Even though I wish she got more screentime this season, that slap was enough to tide me over for now. It can’t be easy to stand up to a white man like that, but Josephette is confident in her station, and she’s going to fight to keep it, no matter what it takes.

Chaulk (Kathryne Wilder)

We know as much about Chaulk as we do Josephette. We know Chaulk is not a boy like everyone believes, but rather is a young girl in disguise. It’s a good disguise, too, but Lord Benton, trapped in a cell on a boat headed to London, guesses the truth about her. She begs for his confidence, and he grants it to her, which earns her loyalty. A large part of the reason why Lord Benton is able to escape is because of Chaulk.

In the final moments of the Frontier season 2 finale, we see Chaulk in a boat with Lord Benton, who has captured Grace and stolen her away to another fort where he has men loyal to him. Season 3 forces Chaulk to bear the consequences of her actions. She was torn between her fear of Lord Benton and her fear of Declan Harp, and she often didn’t make the right decisions. Her heart is in the right place, but she’s a survivor like a lot of the other women on this list. I don’t envy her position.

Kahwihta (Ellyn Jade)

Kahwihta is a bit of a tragic character throughout most of Frontier season 3. She is O’Reilly’s wife, given by her people in the hopes of better trade relations. She’s been converted to Christianity and spends most of her time defending her husband’s actions and even thwarting our heroes on their journeys, especially Sokanon’s crusade to free the Native women who have been captured.

But it’s clear that Kahwihta is not happy with her lot in life. She is quiet and submissive, but it bores the trademarks of brainwashing and abuse. She fears for her life, and the lives of her people, and decides to stay silent in order to protect them. It must have been a relief once O’Reilly died, and Kahwihta used her newfound freedom to finally help Sokanon and Michael rid themselves of the British and keep their alliance with O’Reilly’s men. I hope we can see Kahwihta return to herself in Frontier season 4, as I’d love to know more about this mysterious woman.

What did you think of ‘Frontier’ season 3?

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on December 3, 2018 in order to reflect new storylines and characters from Frontier season 3.

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