Chekhov is quoted as saying that if you have a gun on stage in the first act, it must go off in the second. Well, Strange Empire‘s guns are starting to blaze.
To mix my metaphors horribly, all the threads we’ve seen since the inciting incident of the show — the slaughter of the men — are coming together into what looks very much like a noose, as secrets are revealed and consequences start to unfold.
There’s a tangle of race relations in this strange empire, too. Kat is eager to see John Slotter hanged for killing the smithy, but Marshal Mercredi points out no jury will convict him of killing a black man. Justice will only be served if Kat can connect him to that slaughter of white men. And how disturbing is it to watch a scene between two half-Native characters forced to value white lives above others? They also happen to be two very attractive characters doing that post-coitally. At least there’s some solace.
So Kat lets Slotter free from his cage: “Let all hell break loose, I suppose.” She and Briggs plot to get Isabelle on their side to help implicate him, and Isabelle “needs pressing from within that house.”
Pressing she gets. Though Kat doesn’t make good on her promise to reveal that the baby wasn’t born a Slotter, Ruby does. She was Cornelius’ lover and the mother of his child, and exchanged blood with his son. “I will not turn on John Slotter. We are wove together.” She turns on Isabelle instead, who is brutally beaten and discarded by father and son. They in turn bond over her betrayal, cementing the Slotters as the most dysfunctional of families.
Tattiawna Jones plays Isabelle at her most regal and most fragile in this “Confession” episode. All along she has fought to maintain the standing she won by entering into the Slotter clan, and now she seems to have lost it. Kat and Rebecca come to her aid and find Jeremiah’s glove in his possession thanks to their new reluctant ally — one breadcrumb on the trail to proof leading to his confession to Rebecca. He sees in her a glimmer of his own fascination for life and death — though hers takes a slightly less murderous turn.
Robin, meanwhile, happens upon a collapsed Chase and his bag of tongue. He’s haunted by the little boy whose tongue he cut out and through Robin’s spying, second sight and some trickery by the Janestown women, he confesses all, implicating Slotter in writing. Fiona’s fictionalized story Massacre on the Plains forces her to confront the truth of what happened that night, and the deception of Chase leads him to reveal the truth.
The deception the women act out gives us a glimpse we may have forgotten since that first episode, too, of what these women have lost and what they’ve had to do to survive since that loss — the printer’s wife, now a whore, was the most striking to me. Jeremiah remains a mystery — a gun still to be fired — but though Kat and Briggs have found other men for their beds, they mourn still their absent husbands.
Despite the women’s desire to see Chase hanged with his master, Ruby and Robin set him free with Mary’s baby, allowing us to hope for one happy ending at least when that strange, sweet new family is reunited.
In the end, Isabelle goes to Ling. His assumption — and mine — was that she was fleeing to the protection of another man, given her limited options to not revert to the whore she’d become at 11. She dismisses that assumption with a welcome and disdainful: “I haven’t come to you. I have come to devise their downfall.”
The noose is tightening. But will John Slotter end up the one inside?