Barkskins on Hulu: The Turtle King

Everything is awful today (except for the snow showers earlier, I liked those), so I finished up episode two of Barkskins: “The Turtle King.” It’s a great episode! There’s a lot that felt really accurate to me, and I truly appreciated that the chracters stayed dirty once they got dirty—or they were just grubby all the time. (That works, too.) I still think Goames is too decent for his company and his era, but that might be a me problem.

Trepagny, the guy who owns René Sal and Charles Duquet’s indentures, has fully proven himself a trashfire: not only is he rather batty, but he’s put in an application for one of those filles du Roi, because he’s a fancy French dude, and he’s gonna populate New France with white kids—never mind that he already has a woman (Mari) and a little son. Mari, though she can read only a few words, has an idea of what’s up, and René’s refusal to read the letter confirming her suspicions probably tells her even more than the contents of the letter. (I assume she’s also clued into René’s decided interest in her.)

Sleazeball Charles takes off, which also strikes me as relatively par for the course: not everyone, after all, cares to hang out and chop down trees for randos in New France. (Or New Spain, or the thirteen colonies, or Australia, or any other penal colony.) Charles’ less-than-brilliant escape leads to a group of young Wendat men, who, though they don’t get a ton of screen time (I really wish they’d gotten more), come off as people rather than caricatures. I will note that their clothing really struck joy into my cold, hard heart: I spent many a happy childhood hour studying clothes in the Mitchell Museum of the American Indians, and the Field Museum, and oh, those clothes felt right.

We also get a momentary visit from a dude I assume to be a coureur de bois. The Wendat really want to off-load this whiny Frenchmen; the coureur de bois really doesn’t want anything to do with him. The interaction was believable, and well-drawn, and gave me one of my favorite lines: Häa’tatoyenhk (so identified by the subtitles I’m too lazy to turn off) tells Charles: We speak your language, and we speak it well. (I kind of enjoyed the moderate Midwestern accent there, too, in the midst of all those English accents. Because apparently a bunch of future Québécois have—English accents? Okay then.)

Barkskins doesn’t hesitate to kill people off, and we lose a few this episode—but the violence feels, to be honest, pretty par for the course in a rough frontier. Yvon continues to be the most elegant and refined character in the show; he’s even reading poetry to our resident scared-to-death priest, saved from the wreckage of that town that wasn’t really destroyed by the Iroquois by Yvon and Hamish Goames, who also retrieved a young girl—Rendarette, thanks to Mathilde, whose tenderness with her shows us much greater depth than she was given in the first episode.

“The Turtle King” moves from horror to horror, with moments of hilarity and danger and snark. Goames continues to be way too decent for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and I continue to like him and Yvon way more than I probably should. One of the characters, grousing about Goames, says that he serves the truth, which is clearly meant to be an insult. It seems like a compliment to me, but I’ll say it once more: I don’t think it’s terribly historically accurate.

Or maybe it’s just that my ancestors tended to serve their own passions, and so I have a lot of trouble imagining anyone serving no master but the truth.