Barkskins Series Premiere Review: All About Second Chances

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So much hope getting overshadowed by death.

That was the message emanating from Barkskins Season 1 Episode 1 and Barkskins Season 1 Episode 2.

As the series depicts, New France in the 1690s was all about second chances.

Looking To Escape - Barkskins

As the show opens, the idealist among the new settlers arriving at Wobik Settlement was Rene Sel. A woodcutter like his father and his grandfather before him, Rene wanted to be something more.

Three years of hard labor as an indentured servant was a small price to pay for freedom and a piece of land to call his own.

New Workers - Barkskins

Then there were the scoundrels, such as Sel's friend Charles Duquet, a thief who chose exile over jail, then whined about it all the way from France to Canada.

Finally, there were the Filles du Roi ("Daughters of the King"), young virgins seeking to marry the right husband, start families, and prosper.

But Barkskins goes far beyond the settlers' personal stories.

It also has a geopolitical flavor, with England and France battling, sometimes literally, sometimes financially, to take away the New World and its natural resources from each other and the indigenous people, too often a pawn in this bigger war.

And the series' setting, the small settlement of Wobik, was a powderkeg, rife with these warring factions.

Legal Permission - Barkskins Season 1 Episode 2

Barkskins reminded me of that gold standard of historical drama, David Milch's Deadwood, full of mud, violence, and big personalities.

The biggest of Barkskins' personalities must be David Thewlis's loony Frenchman Claude Trepagny, who pulled Sel and Duquet (at least for a time) into his wake.

This loon appeared to think he's on a divine mission to tame the New France wilderness all by himself and set up his kingdom there.

Plus, how about that Philo-babble coming out of his mouth?

He had a good life with his half-French, half-Indian lover Mari and their son Theo.

Fond Memory - Barkskins Season 1 Episode 1

So why is he petitioning for official permission to wed one of the Fillet du Roi? That's bound to screw up his life.

Especially since Mari already set her sights on his new indentured servant Sel, who was resisting despite the chemistry between them.

Then there's Marcia Gay Harden's Mathilde, who seems to have her fingers in every prune tart in Wobik.

That must be easier to do when all those interested in potential commerce pass through her inn.

Despite her tough exterior, there's an inner sadness to Mathilde, which must come from having lost her daughter Veronique.

Mother Again - Barkskins Season 1 Episode 2

It appears she's going to get a second chance to be maternal with Renardette, the mute girl found near the massacre site. It will be intriguing to watch their relationship develop.

Besides, she already had something of a child in her prissy husband Francis, woefully out of place in Wobik.

The biggest enigma remains Thomas M. Wright's Elisha Cooke, the venal British barrel maker who has been gobbling up property using French proxy buyers.

He was behind the settler massacre orchestrated by his henchman Gus.

It's that massacre that's the mystery at the heart of Barkskins.

Unexpected Arrival - Barkskins

Inadvertently, that massacre was what brought Hamish Goames (Aneurin Bernard) and his Indian "equal" Yvon (Zahn McClarnon) to Wobik, as they came seeking a missing Hudson's Bay agent.

Hamish is fierce, coming across as a Colonial Dark Knight as he doggedly seeks the truth of what happened to Cross, unafraid to step on any toes and speaking truth to power.

And the Milton-spouting Yvon is too cool and acerbic to be deemed anyone's sidekick.

It took them no time to locate a priest and a teenage girl, both in shock, survivors of something than not of the massacre.

There's definitely more going on that just Cooke's diabolical landgrab, and Hamish and Yvon will get to the bottom of it.

Uncomfortable Situation -- Tall - Barkskins

That didn't stop Gus from attacking the inn with the hope of silencing any potential witnesses. But the only one who got silenced was Francis, so no great loss in the bigger scheme of things.

How amusing that Renardette's kidnapping actually got stopped by the small end of Trepagny's walking stick as he was happily wandering home.

What isn't clear is what fallout there will be for the massacre. The Iroquois aren't going to take kindly to their braves getting strung up like that.

Also, it was apparent that the French and the English don't like each other much (no big surprise considering their history). So how long because the fragile peace collapses in the region?

Delphine seemed earnest enough, wanting a husband who would treat her right. But as Claudette discovered, that's easier said than done.

Bringing Life - Barkskins Season 1 Episode 1

Melissande was certainly a conniving little witch and wasn't even a virgin. She even knew how to make potions and did Claudette a favor.

Whose handful is she going to be?

And will Trepagny be right after Duquet? Will that little rat find a way to not only survive but prosper?

Also, how about the look of Barkskins?

Executive producer Elwood Reid found a portion of Northern Quebec that resembled New France from 325 years earlier, which is amazing.

That setting, and shooting everything outdoors, added to the authentic feel of the production.

Life Change - Barkskins

Who was your favorite character?

Which storyline did you like best?

What's going on in the woods?

Comment below.

New France Review

Editor Rating: 4.6 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.6 / 5.0 (17 Votes)

Dale McGarrigle is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.

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Barkskins Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

Behold, I am arrived ... in glory.


Duquet: I want to go back to France.
Sel: There's no going back. We must ready for our new lives.