Frontier On Netflix: A Freakout/Episode Guide
Frontier, the first scripted series by Discovery Canada, made its US premiere on Netflix last week. The historical drama (emphasis on the drama) is ostensibly about the rivalry between independent fur traders and the monopolistic Hudson Bay Company (HBC) in Canada in the late 1700s. But at its heart, it’s about the about how the brutality of men can stem from the deepest emotional wounds. The main conflict lies between Lord Benton, whose behind-closed-doors cruelty has positioned him high up the ladder at HBC, and the openly bloodthirsty Declan Harp, a half-Irish half-Cree fur trader with a score to settle. Before long, everyone in their path is drawn into the feud, including a young Irishman named Michael Smyth.
These are not the only main characters, nor are they the only important ones: but it is through them and their relationships with one another that the season plays out. But the cast of characters is huge (as is the body count) so you’ll likely find someone to connect with, no matter how bad they might seem on the surface. Hold onto your hats (and your ears) and travel with me through my deep-dive of an episode guide. (FYI: spoilers ahoy.)
Episode One: A Kingdom Unto Itself
Because the cast of this show is so sprawling, the first episode is a little heavy on the exposition and a lot chaotic as it jumps to establish a dozen important characters. But it doesn’t mess around: we’re thrust immediately into the action in the opening scene as Declan Harp and his men strip an HBC outpost of muskets, gunpowder, food rations, fur pelts, and anything else of value before they burn it to the ground. Three bloodied soldiers are on their knees: one pleads for his life, but Harp dispassionately tells the man that this isn’t his land and he shouldn’t be here in the first place. He reassures the man that he’ll be seeing him soon before he cuts the man’s throat and frenziedly stabs the other two soldiers. He lets a fourth soldier go, not out of compassion, but because he wants word to get out that he’s responsible for the outpost’s destruction. And that’s our introduction to our protagonist, a brutal man intent on taking down as many of his enemies as he can even though the events he is putting into motion may will likely cost him his own life.
And words of his actions do spread fast. In London, the unctuous Captain Chesterfield reads a graphic letter recounting the destruction of the outpost while Lord Benton calmly eats lunch, unbothered by the gore. Chesterfield, eager to ingratiate himself to Lord Benton, says he and his men will travel to the HBC’s settlement in Fort James and have Harp drawn and quartered. Benton, however, says that HBC profits have been on the decline thanks to independent fur traders encroaching on their territory and thinks it’s time he made a personal visit. Really, though, you can tell he is most eager to find Harp and personally make an example out of him. It’s worth noting that Chesterfield calls Harp as a wild animal: this is far from the last time someone will refer to Harp as wild or savage. It’s also worth noting that Lord Benton cuts his hand on the sharp knife he’s using to eat his lunch with so from the first time we see him he has literal blood on his literal hands. Literally.
As soldiers at Gravesend Pier load provisions onto what will be Lord Benton’s ship, a canny kid named Michael knows that he, his girlfriend Clenna, and her brother Tommy won’t survive another winter on the streets without a big score and he sees the ship and its supplies as their ticket out of poverty. He’s smart enough to know that the gold onboard will be heavily guarded, but that gunpowder is just as valuable. Remember this: gunpowder is, specifically, what he intends to steal. It may be important later. There may be a quiz. At any rate, that night the three of them slip on board. Clenna uses her hairpin to quickly pick the lock and they manage to get a keg of gunpowder but Tommy is a terrible lookout and the three get nabbed pretty quickly. Michael tries to fight off the soldiers, but while he buys enough time for Clenna to escape, Tommy is killed and Michael is stranded onboard, hiding belowdeck. At some point he falls asleep and when he wakes up the ship as at sea and the cook and a soldier are gossiping about how Clenna got caught and taken to jail. Michael clutches Clenna’s forgotten hairpin and tries not to freak out. He knew it was a risky plan, but he figured they’d all get away or they’d all get caught and killed. Somehow, this actually even a worse scenario, because all they had was each other and now they don’t even have that.
Michael’s not the only thief onboard. The cook has been threatening the galley boy into helping him steal things, and they’ve taken a ring from Lord Benton’s room. The cook notices Michael hiding, just as Lord Benton calls all hands on deck. Benton has noticed his missing ring and wants everyone on board searched. The cook decides to pin the theft on the convenient stowaway. Benton orders Michael thrown overboard, but tells the soldiers to stop when Michael’s protests reveal his Irish accent. Michael swears he’s innocent, and says the cook and the galley boy are responsible. The cook, cornered, takes out a knife and lunges for Benton but Michael jumps in and disarms him. Benton guts the cook with the man’s own blade which is just extra mean, and now he has literal blood on his literal hands for the second time this episode.
Later, we find that Benton was less interested in Michael’s innocence than in his accent. He offers to overlook Michael’s attempted gunpowder theft as a misunderstanding if Michael will act as a spy for him. He needs someone to find Declan Harp and provide details on his location and the number of men at his command and thinks a down-on-his-luck countryman is the perfect Trojan horse. Michael agrees on two conditions: one, that the galley boy be spared punishment as the cook had forced the galley boy into thieving, and second, that Clenna Dolan be freed from prison. For a moment everything seems great, and Michael assures Benton he won’t let him down. Benton, with leverage from an unwitting Michael says he hopes not or Clenna Dolan will pay the price.
When the ship lands, one of Benton’s soldiers has been tasked with taking Michael to a guide who will help him find Declan Harp. Not even ten yards from the boat, the redcoat spits insults at a local and gets stabbed in the back of the neck by a local. Father Coffin, the settlement’s resident priest, hustles Michael away lest he be accused of the crime. When he learns Michael has silver and is looking for a guide, he swiftly offers his services and suggests they rest up before they depart in the morning. His idea of resting is drinking ale on Michael’s dime at the local tavern. When Michael balks at providing the priest with more ale, Coffin neatly steals a pouch of silver from a man nearby. In Fort James, even the clergy are drunks and thieves.
It seems Michael can’t hold his ale, because he wakes up the next day facedown in the woods. He’s found by Father Coffin, who is only in the wilderness because he’s being chased down for a gambling debt. Father Coffin is the worst at being a priest. Before long, they encounter some British soldiers led by Chesterfield who has been sent to track Michael down and connect him with his guide. They make camp, but that night a small group of people attack the camp and take Michael and Coffin hostage. Conveniently, they belong to Declan Harp’s Black Wolf Company and take them right to him. He’s covered in blood, but at least this time it’s from the dead animals he is in the process of taking pelts from. Not so fortuitously, Harp is inclined to kill them since they apparently hang around with British soldiers. Michael tries to stick with the story Benton fed him: he’s an Irish lad looking for his successful fellow countryman so he can make his fortune in the fur trade. Harp doesn’t buy it, and things aren’t looking too good for the priest and the boy, but before Harp’s men can kill them Michael blurts out that he has information on Lord Benton. That’s enough to gain Harp’s attention and stay their execution for now.
Other Events Of Note: Grace Emberley, the ambitious proprietress of the local tavern, attempts to ingratiate herself to Lord Benton as she knows everything that happens in Fort James. She only succeeds in earning Benton and Chesterfield’s distrust and leading Benton to place a spy, a former prostitute named Imogen, amongst the staff at the tavern.
Number of Times Chesterfield Grabs A Woman By The Throat: One, a barmaid named Mary, as he tries to find out where Michael Smyth has slipped off to. He slinks off when Emberley pulls a knife on him to protect her girl.
Number Of People Michael Saves From Certain Harm: Four — Clenna from the soldiers, Benton from the cook, the galley boy from Benton, and Father Coffin from both the soldiers and from Harp.
Body Count: Seven soldiers total at the outpost, including the three onscreen; poor, hapless, Tommy Dolan; the cook; one more soldier at Fort James. Total: Ten.
Episode Two: Little Brother War
Michael and Father Coffin are still alive, but they’re tied to stakes next to some dead animals that are hung up and waiting to be skinned so their lot in life hasn’t improved all that much. The only information Michael has shared so far is that Benton hates Harp’s guts, which Harp already knew. He menaces Michael with a hot knife and Michael keeps a stiff upper lip for a hot second before he spills everything — Benton sent Michael here to learn about Harp’s operation and report back to him. Harp asks why Michael agreed, assuming it was for land or money, but Michael reveals that Benton has promised to hang Michael’s beloved Clenna if he doesn’t come through. Harp softens, almost imperceptibly, and cuts Michael free from his bonds.
This episode introduces three more important characters in the form of the three bickering Brown brothers. Their fur trading business, the Low River Company, is on the brink of failure. Douglas Brown thinks establishing trade with the influential Lake Walker tribe is the only thing that will keep them in business and out of debtor’s prison, Douglas tasks his brother Cedric with trying to engage the Lakewalker tribe into a trade agreement and persuades his other brother Malcolm to continue to manage day-to-day business operations while Douglas himself attempts to procure an investor. This would look good on paper, except Cedric’s brilliant idea for getting the Lake Walker tribe to enter a trade agreement is to kidnap Kitchi, the tribe leader’s grandson and ransom him in exchange for the trade deal.
Harp and his right-hand woman Sokanon are also approaching the Lake Walkers in hopes of setting up a trade deal, but they’re doing it the polite way by bringing gifts to the Okimaw (leader) of the tribe as a sign of respect instead of kidnapping her grandson. Machk, one of the more outspoken Lake Walkers, wants nothing to do with Harp because of his European heritage. Kamenna, the Okimaw, doesn’t share his concern, but won’t discuss trade while her grandson is missing. Harp straightens when he finds out the boy has been taken and vows to find Kitchi if he is still alive and bring him home, and immediately takes his leave. Samoset and Dimanche, two of Harp’s most trusted men, are convinced that Lord Benton is responsible for Kitchi’s disappearance but Michael disagrees. He thinks Benton is too consumed by wanting to kill Harp to consider planning anything like this, and points out that there are plenty of independent trappers that might have made a grab for Kitchi in exchange for a trade deal. Harp is impressed with his quick reasoning.
Harp and his crew have traveled to Fort James to find intel on who might have Kitchi. They have to lay low though, on account of how Harp is all murderfacey and everyone in town is afraid of him or wants him dead or both. He leaves Michael and Father Coffin around an outdoor fire pit with Sokanon, Dimanche, and Samoset. The priest makes a break for it and Samoset says to let him go, mainly because he’s so annoying. Harp, meanwhile, is paying a visit to Grace Emberley at her tavern She’s usually cool as a cucumber, but she’s visibly emotional at the sight of him and Harp is quiet and almost tender with her. Clearly there is a deep history here, but when Harp says he’s just there for information on Kitchi her guard goes back up. She knows that what Harp really wants is to go after Benton and says that won’t bring Harp’s wife back. She does share that Cedric Brown brought a wounded Kitchi to her and she tended to him for a few days before he was discovered by Captain Chesterfield. Chesterfield stabbed Cedric and took the boy to the governor’s house on the edge of town where Benton himself has taken up residence.
Outside the governor’s house, Harp, Sokanon, Dimanche and Samoset plot various ways to get in and find Kitchi even though they are vastly outnumbered by the soldiers quartered there. Michael comes up with a plan of his own: he can just walk through the door, ask to see Lord Benton under the pretext of having information on Harp, and see if he can ascertain exactly where they’re hiding Kitchi. He’ll ask to stay the night, and then let Harp and his people in when everyone’s asleep. Dimanche thinks Michael can’t be trusted, but Harp decides to give him the chance. Against all odds, they’re able to free Kitchi but Samoset is fatally wounded in the process as are several soldiers.
Harp returns Kitchi to his joyful tribe. They’re saddened to hear of Samoset’s death, and welcome Declan and his group to stay and honor him. While the Lake Walkers celebrate Kitchi’s return, Harp reveals to Michael the reason the Lake Walkers are so sought after: they don’t just provide pelts and trade, they also come with an army. It goes unsaid that Harp will use that army in his vendetta against Benton.
And then, after we spend a whole episode with Harp and his crew as they find and save Kitchi, the show yanks the rug out from under us. Michael wakes up to a strange noise and finds Kitchi with his throat slit. Before Michael can react, he’s knocked unconscious by an unseen man, and the screen goes black. This show does a lot of things so well, including balancing several intricate storylines, but the sudden shocking endings that send you scrambling to find the remote are a definite highlight.
Other Events Of Note: Lord Benton is now acting Governor of Fort James after he had the ineffectual and drunken Governor Threadwell hanged on his ship and intimidated his soldiers into calling it a suicide.
After Harp’s crew ambushes his men and takes Michael, a bloodied Captain Chesterfield comes to the tavern for a drink. Emberley hustles him to the back, cleans his scalp wound and plies him with whiskey. She and Chesterfield still clearly distrust each other, but she still proposes a business partnership where the two of them skim some of the fur pelts off each shipment that comes into the settlement. Lord Benton will be discredited by the impact the thefts will have on already dwindling profits, and Emberley can sell the pelts to earn the money and power needed to secure a governorship for Chesterfield. What’s in it for her? Presumably enough power to do whatever she wants once she has her own puppet Governor installed.
Number of Times Chesterfield Grabs A Woman By The Throat: None, though he does grab Emberley and bodily slam her against a wall when he finds out she was hiding Kitchi from him.
Number Of People Michael Saves From Certain Harm: Mostly just Father Coffin several times when his whining annoys Harp and his crew.
Body Count: Governor Threadwell at the hands of Benton; Cedric Brown at the hands of Chesterfield; five soldiers in the attack on the governor’s house; poor, sweet Kitchi; a half dozen other members of the Lake Walker tribe. Total: Fourteen.
Episode Three: Mushkegowuk Esquewu
Michael, who is super good at getting kidnapped by this point, is being held hostage by the same four men who helped Cedric Brown capture Kitchi. Harp comes to the rescue though, distracting their leader, a man named McLachlan. Dimanche and Sokanon dispatch two of the other men, and Michael manages to knock down the fourth man and wrap his bound wrists around the man’s throat. He’s rather half-heartedly strangling the guy and Sokanon moves in for the kill but Harp stops her from stepping in. He rather cheerfully coaxes Michael through choking the man, pointing out that he’d have to have to save himself if Harp wasn’t there. Michael finally puts his back into it and the man collapses. Michael, panicked, asks if he killed him. Harp reassures him that the man is just unconscious and then matter-of-factly finishes smothering him to death while urging a shivering Michael to grab himself a fur coat off of one of the dead men. Looks like Michael got a promotion!
Harp’s trying to get to the bottom of why McLachlan and his men stormed the Lake Walker tribe and took Michael. They’re wearing the Low Country Company tartan, so Harp postulates that they were sent by the Browns. McLachlan spits in his face rather than answer, and Harp kind of hilariously steals McLachlan’s hat to wipe the spit off, then suddenly and brutally slices off the man’s ear clear off. He continues to question the man, but talks into the severed ear for the rest of the scene which is when this show finally becomes amazing.
Harp plans to pay a visit to Malcolm Brown to see if he’s responsible for the attack on the Lake Walkers and try to broker peace between the groups. Sokanon points out that Brown is their competition and it would make sense to let the Lake Walkers destroy him. Before Harp can answer, Michael pipes up that Lord Benton wants all the independent traders to fight amongst themselves. Harp looks on approvingly and continues this line of thought. HBC has unlimited resources and it will take everyone working together to take them and Benton down, and that means preventing war between the Browns and the Lake Walkers.
When Harp does find Malcolm Brown, he says he fired McLachlan months ago and disavows any responsibility in the attack on the Lake Walkers. He’s distraught to hear that his brother Cedric is dead at Chesterfield’s hands and is ready to head to Fort James to avenge him. Harp tells him before he does anything else he needs to make peace with the Lake Walkers but it’s too late: Machk has led some of his men to Brown’s camp and open fire on it. Harp believes Malcolm didn’t arrange the attack, but needs definitive proof that he was set up.Sokanon suggests that they let McLachlan go so she can trail him until he leads them to his real employer. Harp signs off on it but tells her to take Michael. Sokanon scoffs that he’ll slow her down. Harp grins, probably the first real smile we see from him, and tells her she can teach Michael. Sokanon is decidedly unimpressed.
Sokanon and Michael have been tracking McLachlan through the wilderness. Sokanon admits that Michael learns quickly and she can tell why Harp sees something in him, a revelation which pleases Michael. Sokanon finally fills in the details of why Harp hates Lord Benton so much. Benton murdered Harp’s wife and young son. Sokanon says that Harp became “wild and dark”, but she thinks he sees in Michael the kind of man he used to be. This line of thought is interrupted when McLachlan rendezvouses with Chesterfield, confirming their suspicion that Benton was behind the attack on the Lake Walkers.
Harp, Sokanon and Malcolm Brown, all unarmed as a show of good faith, meet with Kamenna and explain that the Brown brothers were set up by Lord Benton and had nothing to do with the previous night’s attack. She believes them and agrees to accept peace, but Machk and his men want to kill them all. Kamenna says Machk is acting like the Europeans he disdains so much, but he refuses to back down. Kamenna tells Machk if he lets the trio go, she will step aside and Machk can be Okimaw. Malcolm, Harp, and Sokanon go free, but not before Harp warns Machk that he won’t be Okimaw for long.
Other Events Of Note: Benton suspects Emberley of colluding with Harp in the attack on the governor’s house, and not-so-subtly warns her that she can be replaced.
Imogen discovers that Chesterfield and Emberley have stolen pelts from the HBC and hidden them in a disused storeroom. When Benton treats her cruelly though, she decides to keep it to herself and later swears her fealty to Emberley who has treated her fairly even though she knew Imogen was a spy.
In Montreal, Douglas Brown has successfully gotten Samuel Grant (who has, hands-down, the flyest fur coats on this show) to invest in his company, and now Grant essentially owns him. He strongarms Douglas into arranging a meeting between Grant and a successful independent fur trader named Carruthers. When Carruthers rudely turns down Grant’s offer to work together, Grant dispatches his weird henchman Cobbs Pond to kill him in front of Douglas Brown, just so Brown realizes how scary Grant can be.
Number of Times Chesterfield Grabs A Woman By The Throat: None, though he does grab Emberley by the arm and manhandle her and breathe heavily at her for awhile. This may be his version of courtship.
Number Of People Michael Saves From Certain Harm: Just himself, kind of, but he really needs to work on his strangling skills if he’s going to make it in the wilderness.
Body Count: The three men on McLachlan’s crew; McLachlan himself at the hands of Chesterfield; four Scots in the attack on Brown’s camp; Carruthers. Total: nine.
Episode Four: Wolves
Lord Benton has grown comfortable in Fort James when news arrive that another company ship is headed their way. Benton is visibly rocked at this development, as it indicates a certain lack of trust from the company in the way he is handling things. He’s right to be nervous: the ship brings Captain Johnson, a religious and punctilious man who isn’t happy with the lawlessness and immorality in Fort James.And just to show how much scrutiny Benton is under, Johnson has brought a surprise guest: Clenna Dolan. Johnson knows that Benton has asked after her in correspondence, but doesn’t realize quite how significant she is to Benton’s plans.
Now that Machk has assumed leadership of the Lake Walkers, Harp knows forging an alliance with them will be impossible. Just like the white Europeans disdain his native blood and call him a wild savage, Machk thinks Harp is no better than the brutally invasive white men. Harp doesn’t care: even without his army, he still plans to return to Fort James and kill Lord Benton. Dimanche, who was already losing faith in Harp after Samoset’s death, has had enough at this point and takes off into the wilderness, never to be seen (by us) again. Harp has Sokanon on his side, and probably Emberley and Michael too, but that’s about it when it comes to allies.Harp warns Michael that Fort James will be dangerous. Michael knows, and swears that Harp can trust him. Harp asks what will happen when spring comes — will Michael be on a ship to return home to Clenna? Michael has no answer for that, and Harp, gruffly but almost kindly, tells Michael he has a decision to make. They make their return to Fort James, just in time to see Clenna being brought from the ship to the governor’s house, so it looks like decision time will be sooner rather than later.
Lord Benton knows he’s on thin ice and that Clenna is basically the only bargaining chip he has left: if he can use her to control Michael, he may still be able to get to Harp. He pulls out all the stops when it comes to charming her, and he is almost creepier in people-pleasing mode than he is in torture-murder mode. Clenna hasn’t fared well — she’s grimy and jumpy and starving — but she’s still smart enough to know that a wealthy, powerful man like Benton likely has ulterior motives.She can’t control her joy though when Benton tells her that Michael is alive and near Fort James.
Harp has gone to visit Emberley — though he calls her Gracie, a liberty afforded to no one else — and asks her for ten barrels of gunpowder. She asks why, and he jokes that he was going to throw her a party but she’s ruined the surprise. This Harp is not the brutal killer of the first episode, or the firm but fair man who serves as Sokanon’s friend and Michael’s mentor. He is gentle, wounded, and you see what he might have been like before Benton murdered his family. Emberley begs Harp to give up on his vendetta against Benton, but Harp says killing Benton is the only thing that will bring him peace. Emberley says she’ll get him the gunpowder, but only if he lets her in on his plan.
Michael has gone on his own to try and rescue Clenna. He sneaks into her room and they have an emotional reunion, overjoyed to see one another. They share some happy moments together, before Michael sneaks off into the night, telling Clenna to meet him in the woods in the morning. He’s not that stealthy though because Benton totally sees him leaving. The next morning Clenna has zero chill and is like, “I’m going for a totally innocent walk but please don’t send anyone with me, everything is cool, nothing suspicious happening over here.” Benton’s like, “Okay, sure,” and then immediately sends someone to spy on her anyway.
Michael tries to drag Clenna off into the woods so they can meet back up with Harp and Sokanon but she balks. She points out that the last time she followed him somewhere, she ended up in jail and her brother died. She’s basically fallen for Benton’s act of being a good guy even though she’s usually smarter than that. You can’t blame her, really: let the poor girl enjoy more than one day of being clean and well-fed and before taking her to live in the cold woods with a bunch of smelly people. Clenna walks away, and it seems Michael does have a decision: follow her back and risk Benton’s wrath, or return to Harp and possibly lose Clenna again for good.
Back at the tavern, Harp’s pretty sure Michael’s not coming back but Sokanon has faith. Sure enough, Michael tumbles through the door a moment later and tells them Clenna’s been fed too many lies and wouldn’t come with him. Michael declares he’s with them, but when they go to leave they see he’s accidentally brought dozens of British soldiers with him thanks to the tail Benton put on Clenna earlier. The three of them put up a good fight, but there are too many soldiers to fight off alone. Harp holds them off long enough for Michael and Sokanon to flee, but is captured by Benton’s men. He swats at their musket barrels like they’re as insignificant as some pesky mosquitoes and looks like he might be willing to keep fighting and probably die trying, but finally submits when Emberley implores him to stop.
Other Events Of Note: Samuel Grant has decided to take advantage of the opportunity he himself created by having Carruthers killed. Douglas Brown is dispatched to arrange a meeting between Grant and Carruthers’ grieving widow so Grant can take the business off her hands. What he doesn’t count on is the fact that Mrs. Carruthers hated her husband and is far sharper and more business-minded than he was, and has no intention of giving up one iota of the power she has suddenly gained.
Emberley’s not psyched about Captain Johnson’s arrival and the resulting threat to Chesterfield’s potential governorship so she decides to get something to hold over his head. She’s told her girls that the tavern isn’t a whorehouse, and she reiterates that to Imogen; she doesn’t have to sleep with anyone she doesn’t want to. But, if she could lure Captain Johnson into a compromising position, that would be enough. Imogen comes on too strong and scares him, so Mary decides to play at sweet, religious virgin. She demurely confesses to Captain Johnson that she’s been having impure thoughts, and that apparently does it for him. He and Mary get hot and heavy, but then Emberley and Father Coffin walk in and bust them: now, Emberley has the leverage she needs.
Number of Times Chesterfield Grabs A Woman By The Throat: Surprisingly none! He even makes it through two conversations with Emberley without physically threatening her which is a record.
Number Of People Michael Saves From Certain Harm: Negative one: his carelessness has gotten Harp captured.
Body Count: Also, surprisingly low! Two nameless soldiers in the tavern, and that’s it.
Episode 5: The Disciple
Lord Benton finally has his hands on Declan Harp and he is super psyched. He has his men suspend Harp from the beams, arms above his head, so he can’t escape or fight back. He sends the soldiers out and now the two nemeses are alone at last. Lord Benton speechifies at Harp about his bad attitude while unrolling a kit filled with various pointy implements of torture.
Benton: “We’re going to have a discussion about respect. Or, more precisely, your lack of respect for me.”
Because in the end, that’s what this show is all about, right? Power, respect, control and fear. Everyone wants power, and to get it, you have to be the most cutthroat, the most ruthless. And once you have that power, anyone who doesn’t kowtow to you is a threat because they’re not afraid. Some of the men on Frontier believe that respect can be earned by being a savvy businessman, but those are the ones that fail. It’s the people who are literally willing to kill for power and control that succeed. But respect earned from fear can’t last forever, which is why Benton’s control is starting to slip. He has acted too violently too many times, and people aren’t overlooking it anymore. Michael has sided with Harp, Captain Johnson has come to investigate what’s going on in Fort James, and even Chesterfield is willing to gamble to take Benton down, with Emberley’s urging. Yes, Benton has Harp, but at what cost? Harp may be trussed to a beam overhead, but Benton won’t be walking out of this unscathed, either.
Chesterfield and his men scour the town looking for Michael at Benton’s behest, but Emberley has smuggled Michael and Sokanon into a secret underground storage area and tells them to stay quiet and stay put. So, if you ever wondered if Emberley really planned on being loyal to Chesterfield, this is a pretty definitive nope. Sokanon is legitimately ticked off at Michael for his carelessness in leading Benton’s men to Harp. Michael knows he screwed up and wants to go out there and find Harp, but Sokanon shuts him down that they can’t go anywhere until it’s safe and hisses while she angrily tends to her wounds. In the meantime, Emberley tells Mary and Imogen that Harp’s not in the jail and no one’s seen him but that he can’t be dead: Benton’s too obsessed with him to kill him right away. Emberley sends her girls out to do some discreet recon.
Chesterfield shoves Clenna into the tavern and shouts to the crowd that he has a message for Michael Smyth -if he wants his girl to live, he should turn himself in. You know Emberley’s not going to tolerate that nonsense, not even for a woman she doesn’t know. She tells Chesterfield if he doesn’t leave the girl alone, Emberley will expose him for stealing pelts, even if it means risking people knowing about her involvement. Chesterfield backs down and storms off, leaving Clenna with Emberley.
Emberley brings food and ale to Sokanon as well as some news. She thinks Harp is being held in the magazine. It’s still not safe to stage a rescue, but she does have something else to distract them. She’s also brought Clenna, who joins them in their hideaway while Emberley goes to see what else she can learn. Michael is overjoyed to see her, but Clenna and Sokanon eye each other warily.
Chesterfield pays Emberley another visit and sort of apologizes for being rough with Clenna. He asks her, point blank, if she’s in love with Declan Harp because he can’t think of another reason for her to be on Harp’s side instead of Chesterfield’s. Backing Harp is foolish, and Emberley isn’t foolish. Emberley rather unconvincingly denies having any feelings for Harp, and distracts Chesterfield by pointing out that Captain Johnson is a real problem that needs to be handled sooner rather than later.
Benton’s been merrily torturing Harp for some time, handily providing a tally of the series’ body count so far, only he can’t just use a pen and paper like a normal person, and is instead carving marks into Harp’s skin. He’s still not wringing any begging or pleading from Harp, so he switches from physical torture to psychological. He talks about how Harp’s father was killed when Declan was just seven or eight, and how he begged Benton with his last words to take care of his boy. And Benton did. Only Harp left him and married a native woman and started a family with her even though he knew Benton thought of the natives as savages, less than human. It literally never occurred to Benton that Declan might marry for love: he thinks Declan did it solely to piss him off.
Benton: You were my disciple. My shining star. And I was your mentor, your new father. I gave you everything. And what did I get in return? Nothing but disloyalty and disrespect.
Harp: I always hated you. And as soon as I could get away from you, I did.
Frustrated that he’s still not getting the reaction he wants, Benton taunts Harp with the details of the night he murdered Harp’s wife and son. He says even though the boy was young, he fought hard and reveals that Harp’s wife was pregnant with a daughter. Think about that for a moment if you can stomach it: what Benton had to do this woman’s body to know that. The savagery that he himself has perpetrated. Harp has remained stoically silent through much of the physical torture but these revelations prove too much for Harp who screams and sobs.
Rescue seems like it may be on the way, as Michael and Sokanon have grown tired of waiting and convinced a reluctant Clenna to go with them while they free Harp. Their impatience gets the best of them, as they are almost immediately spotted by Chesterfield’s men. Michael fights them off long enough for Clenna and Sokanon to escape, and is brought to the magazine. He’s horrified to see Declan, hung up like one of the animals they skin for pelts, wailing and out of his mind with grief. Even Chesterfield, who is tying Michael to a post, seems disgusted by what Benton is doing. He tells Benton that Captain Johnson is demanding to see him immediately at the governor’s house, and Benton needs to handle it personally. Benton washes the literal blood off his literal hands and leaves. Chesterfield pauses before he follows and regards Harp inscrutably before showing an uncharacteristic moment of kindness and offering him a sip of water from a pitcher. Perhaps it hits close to home, seeing what happens when you’re close to Benton and then you cross him.
Back at Emberely’s Sokanon has regrouped and is ready to storm the magazine alone to free Harp and Michael. She dismissively tells Emberley to look after the girl, but Clenna points out that Sokanon’s going to have a hard time getting into the magazine unless she knows how to pick an English lock and declares she’s going, too. Sokanon quickly dispatches the two soldiers standing guard outside of the magazine, and Clenna uses her trusty hairpin to pick the lock. Clenna rushes to free Michael who helps Sokanon cut an unconscious Declan down. Before they can figure out what to do Captain Johnson and another soldier have entered, presumably having ascertained Harp’s whereabouts from one of Chesterfield’s men. Sokanon takes the other man out and Johnson points a gun at her: before he can shoot, Michael knocks him to the ground and plunges a sword right into the man’s face. Guess that moment of niceness paid off for Chesterfield, because now his Captain Johnson problem has been handled. Michael looks stunned and a little sick at having killed a man but regroups: shortly thereafter, he and Sokanon are dragging a badly wounded Declan through the wilderness on a makeshift pallet with Clenna bringing up the rear.
Other Events Of Note: Back in Montreal, where everything at least as the veneer of civility, Elizabeth Carruthers has come to pay Samuel Grant a visit and let him know she intends to fight him tooth and nail for her late husband’s company. Grant points out, she’ll need a man to handle some of the legalities of the business. He insinuates that if she married him, they could run things together. She’s not even remotely fooled into thinking he’s trustworthy and shows herself out.
In the meantime, Grant has decided he’s had enough of the Brown brothers, and has had them thrown in debtor’s prison, but salvation comes from an unlikely place: Elizabeth Carruthers. She’s arranged to pay off their debts to Samuel Grant and have them released from prison. In exchange, she will require control of their company — and also a husband. She doesn’t particularly care which one, either one of them will do. Elizabeth wastes no time in returning to Grant and showing off her brand-new fiance, Malcolm Brown. Grant is charmed by her fighting spirit: Malcolm clearly thinks he would have been better off staying in prison. Grant picks up on that and pays Brown a visit after dinner. It’s better for him if Elizabeth doesn’t get married, and since he has some matters to attend to in Fort James he offers to take Malcolm with him. Malcolm after all, has unfinished business there: he still wants to avenge the death of his brother Cedric. Malcolm has to decide whether he’d rather stay in the frying pan or jump into the fire.
Number of Times Chesterfield Grabs A Woman By The Throat: He drags Clenna through town by the back of her neck, so close enough. One.
Number Of People Michael Saves From Certain Harm: He helps rescue Harp, but really, that was 99% Sokanon and Clenna.
Body Count: Just the two, but that sword to the face was a real doozy.
Episode 6: The Gallows
Harp regains consciousness in the wilderness, where Michael, Sokanon, and Clenna have set up camp.They must be super tired, because none of them wake up when he drags himself away from their shelter and builds a fire. He heats up his knife and presses it to the worst of the stab wounds Lord Benton inflicted upon him, cauterizing it, then stumbles off alone.
It’s apparently been ten days since Harp slipped through Benton’s grasp, and his thin veneer of civility is rapidly slipping. The late Captain Johnson’s men are freezing in their barracks and slowly starving from the insufficient rations Benton has allowed them, because he has to take his sadistic tendencies on someone. When one of them dares to question him, he’s taken into custody and given fifty lashes. Benton doesn’t even seem to be excited about giving out such a cruel punishment which is how you know he’s losing the plot. He tells Chesterfield that if any of his men find Declan Harp or his associates they are to be killed on sight. Chesterfield points out that they’re already under scrutiny from England and it might be wise to lay low but Benton quotes a line from the company. This one’s on the quiz, so pay attention.
Benton: We do give and grant unto said Governor the powers to make peace or war with any people whatsoever that are not Christians.
Chesterfield points out that while Harp is a native, Michael and Clenna are irish, and definitely Christian, but Benton dismissively says they won’t be missed. At this point, he just wants Declan Harp’s head on a bayonet even if he doesn’t get to be the one to make it happen. Is that so much to ask, Chesterfield?
Harp is basically at death’s door, but he’s managed to make it back to Fort James and Emberley’s tavern. She’s shocked at his condition and begs him to stop going after Benton. She tells him she’s made an arrangement with Chesterfield and is close to getting him to arrest Benton, but that’s not enough for Harp. Nothing will change if Benton stays alive. He breaks down a little and tells her that Benton tortured his wife and son before he killed them. Emberley tearfully begs him not to do whatever he’s planning, but Harp says he has to.
Sokanon, Michael and Clenna have woken up to find that Harp is gone and are hustling back to Fort James but Clenna is already slowing them down when she takes a bad tumble and breaks her leg.
Samuel Grant and his deliciously creepy henchman pay a visit to Lord Benton who is unimpressed by them rudely showing up unannounced. They posture at each other for a while before Grant takes his leave, asking to meet in the morning to discuss a business proposition. Outside in the woods, they’re approached by Declan Harp who saw them at the governor’s house. Grant points out that they would both benefit if the Hudson Bay Company was no longer in business and proposes a partnership. Harp agrees on the following conditions: Grant only deals with Harp’s Black Wolf Company, Grant arranges safe passage for Grace Emberley to Montreal or anywhere else she may want to go, and Grant lures Benton to the woods tomorrow so Harp can bury a knife in his chest and cut off his head. Grant thinks this sounds totally reasonable. Grant takes his leave and Harp deflates, wheezing with the pain he masked during their encounter, before he spots Sokanon who has finally caught up to him. She tells him Grant can’t be trusted and implores him to take her with him tomorrow. She’ll finish Benton with one arrow. But once again, Harp says he has to do this himself.
Because this is what it all comes down to in the end. Harp didn’t start his own company just so he could take down the HBC. He did it because he wants to kill Benton, and he doesn’t care if he dies in the process. If anything, he is actively courting his own death. He’s already been tormented over the loss of his family, and now he can’t get the details of it out of his head. Sokanon says she gave everything up to follow him and she doesn’t want to lose him, but he says she has Michael now. He makes Sokanon promise to finish what they started once Harp has killed Benton. Blow up the garrison, establish trade with the Lake Walkers, and burn HBC to the ground. He’s speaking like his own death is a foregone conclusion and it’s clear at this point that he would welcome death if it would end his internal torment.
Back at the tavern, Malcolm Brown and Chesterfield have a run-in on account of how Chesterfield killed Malcolm’s brother, but Emberley drags Chesterfield into the back room and tells him to keep his focus where it should be: on arresting Benton and taking the governorship for himself. Chesterfield is on board with that, and has an even better idea: Emberley should become the governor’s wife. They can plot and scheme together without sneaking around, and perhaps even start a family. Emberley is completely blindsided by this and scoffs at him, Chesterfield reacts as you would expect by grabbing her by the throat and shoving her up against the wall and says he could take her right there if he wanted to but he suspects she’d prefer the comfort of the Governor’s bed. For the first time Emberley is genuinely shaken by his abusive behavior, and we are right there with her. This show is often brutal, but it has avoided making any of the women into victims. They all have agency over their bodies and their actions. Because there has been no real implicit or explicit sexual threats against any of the women until now, it’s even more shocking and sickening, even with all the violence we’ve seen.
Michael arrives with a badly-injured Clenna. Mary, Imogen and Emberley handle the situation like champs, feeding her brandy and giving her a towel to bite down on as they reset her leg and casually chatting about how they hope it’s not too late or else they’ll have to go get the saw. For all that the men are bloodthirsty, the women on this show are not fainting flowers either. They have ice in their veins which must come in handy during the cold winters. Emberley proves this the next morning when she meets with Malcolm Brown. She tells him that Captain Chesterfield has a habit of walking through the Fort alone, checking on his sentries. The place where they’re standing is the easiest place to surprise him and avenge Cedric’s death. She walks off, willing to abandon all her well-laid plans, rather than stay in league with a man who has no compunction about hurting her when he doesn’t get his own way. Back at the tavern, Emberley commends Clenna for surviving everything she has. She might be in pain, but most men couldn’t handle the pain she’s endured. Women can take more pain, she says, and in a place like this that’s the greatest advantage a person can have.
Michael has reconvened with Sokanon and can’t believe she let Harp go alone to Grant’s meeting with Benton. He finally says what no one else will: that Harp is on a suicide mission. Sokanon says she swore she wouldn’t follow him. Michael says being loyal doesn’t mean letting him die and says he’s going after him. He finds Harp who isn’t happy to see him, but Michael says he chooses to be there. Unfortunately, that means when Michael’s about to get stabbed, Harp saves him instead of killing Benton when he has the chance and is once again taken into custody while he tells Michael to run. Meanwhile Malcolm Brown has launched an attack on Chesterfield, but the Captain manages to get the upper hand and beats Brown nearly to death. Of all people, Father Coffin intervenes and gets Brown back to Emberley’s.
As night falls, Sokanon and Michael trudge through the woods. She saw men building a gallow at the garrison and knows that they’ll hang Declan that night. Michael says that he’ll head to the magazine where they were held captive last episode. He noticed it was full of gunpowder, and it will be easy to blow up. Remember back in the first episode when Michael was going to steal some gunpowder? Now he’s going to explode a building with it to create a diversion. That’s not the end of his plan: at the tavern, Michael gives Father Coffin a small blade to smuggle to Harp when the priest reads the man his last rites. Michael tells Emberley he’ll need her help as well as Mary and Imogen’s. She readily agrees, but asks him what he plans to do about Clenna.
Michael slips upstairs and tries to get Glenna into her coat but she refuses. She says she wants them to be together, but she wants them to have children and a home. She says they can lie low until spring and go home, but Michael says he won’t go back to England. This is where he belongs now. In that case, Clenna says, this is goodbye. Choked up, he gives her a swift kiss and presses something into her hands before leaving. It’s the hairpin she used to pick the lock on the ship back in England all those weeks ago when they went to steal that single keg of gunpowder.
At the garrison, Harp is being marched to the gallows. He sneers at Benton, who of course has a front row seat. What neither of them knows is that behind the scenes, Emberley is finishing rigging the magazine to explode while Michael and Sokanon slay soldiers who are guarding the perimeter and Mary and Imogen head into the woods with heavy fur cloaks and guns. Harp hesitates for a moment when the Father Coffin slips him a blade, but on seeing Benton’s triumphant face begins to saw through the rope binding his hands behind his back. Michael made his choice to stay with Harp, and now it seems like Harp has made the choice to keep on living, at least for a while.
At the magazine, Emberley lights the fuse.
Back at the garrison, everyone sees the explosion and begins to panic, thinking they’re under attack. Mary and Imogen reinforce the charade, firing guns from deep in the woods. People scream and scatter and Chesterfield sends his men off to secure the fort. Not even the chaos can distract Lord Benton, though: he orders the executioner to drop Harp now. Benson watches avidly as the platform falls away and the noose tightens around Harp’s neck. Soldiers are trying to take Benton to the protection of his home but he won’t leave without seeing Harp hanged. Harp finally manages to free his hands and kicks his feet up onto the platform. Enraged, Benton finally cannot hide his violence behind closed doors any longer. He pulls a gun and fires on Harp, but Father Coffin, in maybe his only unselfish act ever, instinctively throws himself in front of the bullet. Benton grabs a soldier’s musket to try again, but from his vantage point in the woods Michael shoots Benton before he can get a shot off. The soldiers drag Benton away and only Chesterfield is left to see Harp finish struggling free of his noose. Chesterfield raises his own gun and fires but in a split second Harp is gone and there is nothing left but smoke. Michael and Sokanon flee through the woods, pursued by soldiers. Mary and Imogen coolly discard their guns and cloaks and slip into the crowd unnoticed. Emberley, alone in the tavern stares into the fire.
Morning has broken. Far outside Fort James, a bloodied Harp struggles along the shoreline, losing his footing. He turns his eyes to the sky before falling to the ground, unmoving.
Other Events Of Note:
We broke our remote controls trying to get to the next episode. What do you mean that’s the end, Netflix?
Number of Times Chesterfield Grabs A Woman By The Throat: One, but this time he’s getting grabbed back.
Number Of People Michael Saves From Certain Harm: There’s no doubt about it: Michael rallied his few trusted allies and staged a truly spectacular rescue of Harp with their help. And by setting off that gunpowder, he may have even awakened Harp’s will to keep fighting.
Body Count: Unknown. Lots of people are at death’s door, but who knows what next season will bring? It’s pretty safe to say though that Father Coffin has shuffled off this mortal coil. RIP, Father. You were a thieving, gambling, drunken, degenerate lout and a pretty terrible priest, but in the end you may have found the salvation you were always secretly seeking.