Review: Strange bedfellows on Strange Empire

I’ve been away for a few weeks and it’s nice to come back to see that Rebecca is free from Thomas’ constant belittling  (I mean, RIP Thomas) and has found herself a nice young man. Wait, what?

Yes, Rebecca now knows what a sharp-eyed viewer alerted us to after Morgan Finn’s first appearance: her man is a woman.  Rebecca’s shock is equal only to Morgan’s after noting the young doctor’s literal interpretation of “he gave me his heart.”

With Thomas’ actual heart added to her study materials — the “seat of sin.” Slotter calls it — Rebecca accepts a deal with Captain Slotter to be the town’s doctor, set up in her own crib with her very own couch and gun as well as a steady supply of bodies to cut up, assuming she can’t save all the injured and sick . Plus she gets the bonus of the mysterious Slotter making creepy reference to her purity. At least she’s not married to this protector (“protector”?).

Strange Empire has slotted its unusual characters into supposedly familiar roles — Rebecca as town doctor, Kat as law(wo)man, Isabelle as both lady of the manor and madame — but the ways in which they subvert those stock roles adds to the surreality of the show. Rebecca is no Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

The financially strapped Slotter sees the newly arrived “prophet” Mr. Young as his savior, selling him on investing in the mine.  Young agrees only if he’s allowed to marry young Kelly, who’s willing until she discovers she’d be wife number three of the polygamist pedophile — the two “strays” Kat picked up earlier, mother and daughter, were both married to him after he killed their husband and father. “If he marries you he won’t come to me so much,” young Martha tells Kelly in a heartbreaking moment.

Is is possible Isabelle and maybe even Slotter’s sense of justice is roused by Mr. Young’s depravity? Or did Slotter kill him purely to get his money?  Either way, the vigilante justice came up empty, financially speaking, as Mr. Young was a financial fraud, too.  But Rebecca gets her first body and Kelly gets her freedom without her or Kat incurring the wrath of the Slotters.

With the investment a bust, Slotter is left to reluctantly accept Ling’s offer of a silent partnership. So now both Slotters are in bed with Ling. The deal allows him to hire Chinese workers to replace those who walked off the job over safety concerns, spurred on by Kat. When the two sides battle, she’s left to look on helplessly, a keeper of the peace where there is little.

There’s a sense of impotence throughout Janestown, as characters struggle to create a destiny and a community without ever quite gaining the freedom a new land promises — each new situation they find themselves in seems to come with its own type of trap.

“How Far Is Heaven” begins with an almost dreamy landscape shot, sepia with yellow flowers popping from the screen as Kat and her daughters discover Martha and her mother, and ends with the newcomers returning to that landscape to seek another prophet to follow, followed by the battle between factions for unsafe jobs digging up coal. The promise of the land remains, but so does the reality of the struggle.

Strange Empire airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.


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