Oh John Slotter, you sure put the strange in Strange Empire. The morally challenged character played to creepy perfection by Aaron Poole seems to be going off the deep(er) end in “The Cage,” directed by Anne Wheeler.
The episode begins with the aftermath of the mine collapse that ended the previous, pre-holiday episode. Actually, if you’re counting crows it begins with one for sorrow in a striking treetop tableau before cutting down to Slotter sitting with clasped hands as the other folks of Janestown frantically retrieve the broken men and broken bodies from the mine. When one head-smashed-in unfortunate is stacked in front of him , he digs into the skull to retrieve a bone fragment in a scene I may have watched from behind outstretched hands.
Ruby, as she so often does, has one of the best lines of the episode: “Pretending everything’s rosy don’t make nothing pink.” Isabelle has secured funding for the mine by promising repayment, with the mine and her body as collateral. It culminates in a battle between the Slotters, with John telling Cornelius “You’re the part of me I’ve tried to root out my entire life” but pulling the final punch and accessing the better — I didn’t say good — part of his soul.
The bone fragment reappears when Slotter crosses into the Montana territory to shoot the marshal’s friend the smithy and kidnap the man’s daughter as an offering for his own father, to make amends for Isabelle’s sake if not his own. How sweet, if you ignore the twisted family dynamic, murder, kidnapping, and placement of the bone inside her mouth before he gagged her.
Miner Franklin remains underground long after only dead bodies are being retrieved, causing Mrs. Briggs to realize she loves him and to be snide to Rebecca in her grief: “It’s good you don’t feel. God blessed you that way. It’s like not being a woman at all, isn’t it?” Her distress results in the most touchingly awkward attempt at comfort by the doctor who seems to feel a great deal, just not in a way Briggs can understand.
After Briggs has agreed to halt the rescue in order to not jeopardize the rescuers, Robin has one of her visions that leads to his rescue, very much alive and able to receive Briggs’ affections. How sweet, if you ignore that she’s been quite the judgmental harridan to Kat and Rebecca in particular and is not one of the woman on my most deserving of a happy ending list.
Is Kat destined for one? It seems unlikely on this show but she’s got a protector in the marshal, who heads off bounty hunters who are after her for murder. With the help of Isabelle’s right hook, she has a favour for the marshal as well: Slotter delivered
on a platter in a cage.