Review: Strange Empire’s last stand

It felt inevitable and yet impossible. The just-completed season one of Strange Empire seemed to build toward Captain John Slotter self-destructing and being brought to justice, whether by a noose or by Kat’s hand. It ended up being that hand, taunted into drawing a bow and snuffing out whatever light was left in that tormented heart, at the wagon camp where their fates were first entangled.

It turns out Aaron Poole signed on for that one great arc, and if there’s a season two — not a sure thing, given the ratings, but never something to rule out in the mysterious world of Canadian TV — the series will evolve without Slotter running the strange empire he shaped. He is putting his affairs in order and cutting all ties to people and things, turning everyone against him, in preparation for the strange kind of redemption he sought.

This last episode, “The Dark Riders,” hints at what a new driving force may be: the long-lost Jeremiah Loving turns up at the end, stumbling toward a Kat who had given him up for dead and accepted Marshal Caleb Mercredi’s proposal before he’s captured (once again, presumably) by Indians on horseback.

But to begin at the beginning, the episode starts with love, or as near to it as some of these characters can get. Mercredi is off to Washington for a political career, to help fight for Native people, and Kat can’t refuse the love and stability — probably more the stability — he offers her and her children.

Morgan still longs for Rebecca despite what she witnessed in last week’s episode, and despairs that she’s the wrong sex for her. “It is not a man I want but a mind,” counters Rebecca. Which could be the start of a declaration that she feels the same for Morgan but no, the good doctor means John Slotter. “You would hold me back from all I am,” she tells Morgan, whereas Slotter provides her with fresh bodies and a license to take what she likes from them. Not what most women mean when they want a man to give her his heart, but Slotter leaves his body to her in his newly revised will. (Though in the most Rebecca-ish signs of affection, she leaves him buried in peace.)

He has reason to believe she’ll benefit from that promise soon: he announces his intention to stop Isabelle from inheriting his estate, and makes his father nervous about a change that could affect the money he’s sunk into his son’s mine. Both make attempts against his life. Both fail. Isabelle looks pleased, perhaps admiring this man she’s loved.

But Slotter’s creepy lawyer points out Slotter can’t disinherit a wife, so he picks the most devious solution: Isabelle will get 49% but only if she marries, Cornelius gets his 26%, and Ling — to the surprise of the other two — is revealed to already have a 25% stake. No one person holds a majority share, but any two combined would. Cornelius instantly proposes — never mind the fact that his son is still inconveniently alive — but Isabelle looks less than thrilled at that prospect. Ling also proposes, but she points out no investors or landowners would do business with a black woman and Chinese man.

Instead, Isabelle saves Slotter from the noose but if her intention was to keep his will from coming into effect, she fails again. She sets him up for a more fitting death — one where his downfall began, the site of the massacre that made Kat his enemy and also his redeemer.

Captain Slotter is no more creative than Mrs. Slotter: Isabelle marries Kat in the end, fulfilling her legal obligation in the eyes of the law and gaining her share, while providing Kat the means to leave with her girls and set up her ranch (so much for the poor Marshal?). That is, until Jeremiah shows up. Bad timing, Jeremiah.

The biggest legacy Slotter leaves, though, is the birth of Janestown and the new direction of its inhabitants. Rebecca blames the untamed land for bringing out savagery in Slotter, Kat and herself and bonding them together. “He’s something to us that we are not yet sure of”; she believes they’re cut from the same cloth. There’s no doubt, however, that though John Slotter dies, he has influenced the women profoundly.

Rebecca has embraced her dark side and more comfortable attire (pants!), Isabelle has set herself up for independence, and Kat has the justice she sought and her dreams in sight — though again carried off in front of her eyes. Without Slotter, though, what will hold Janestown together? And more importantly — will CBC give us the opportunity to find out?


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