Review: A divided Strange Empire

What does it do to a person to take a life? Strange Empire’s “The Resistance” shows the agonizing conflict – young Neill, who is celebrated for killing a Chinese man; Franklyn Caze, who meant to kill Ling but instead kills his hidden mother; and Chase Sloat, who refuses to kill Mary, the mother of Isabelle’s purchased son.

John Slotter is, shall we say, slightly less conflicted, though he outsources his murders — to other men or to unsafe mine conditions.

So what does it do to a town when life is expendable? It makes the Janestown Slotter presides over not exactly a paradise found.

The dispute over those unsafe conditions has led to a town more sharply divided between Chinese and white, scabs and striking workers, with Ling and Slotter vying for supremacy, intrigue and broken promises and tangled relationships on all sides.

Mrs. Briggs is in league and in bed with Caze, Isabelle with Slotter and Ling, and Sloat with Mary in a weird and sweet and weird budding romance.

Kat – who has been relegated to the edges of the show in the last couple of episodes — wants Slotter to negotiate with the minors and end the fracturing of the town. “There is no town,” says Slotter. “There is me.” And when a man who can order the murder of a young woman —the mother of his son, in fact – is the town … yikes.

I doubt his silent partner Ling would bring harmony to Janestown, but he vows to take all that is Slotter’s, including his wife: “It’s in your nature to belong to yourself,” he tells Isabelle, “to be free of anyone who would hold you. I would show you freedom.”

The women of this strange empire are not unstrange themselves, and that seems like a fair description of headstrong, ingenious Isabelle, who seems to be inventing a pregnancy – protection from her violent husband? She’s terrified at Cornelius Slotter arriving to collect the money they owe, money she secured with sex. Hmm, could Cornelius be the father of her non-existent baby? How deep does Isabelle’s intrigue go?

When Rebecca tends to the shot Chinese man without hesitation and demonstrates her facility with languages, Ling becomes yet another person entreating her to be more “proper.” “A proper life seems not to suit me,” she says. Expressing her desire for travel, her dreams are quashed by Ling until he adds: “Stay here, doctor — the world will come to you.”

The music seems especially fitting in this episode, dissonant in accordance with the on-screen dissonance. Kat forces a settlement on Slotter by threatening to blow up his mansion, but her victory is short-lived when the mine blows in with workers trapped below. “Your spirit turns the earth,” Ling whispers to his dead mother, though with all the safety concerns we hardly need to reach for a spiritual explanation. Life in the Strange Empire is worth far less than money and power.