In its latest episode (November 24th), one of the themes that the new CBC Western series Strange Empire explored was the professional-personal dynamic that exists between specific characters. Set in the Alberta-Montana border region of 1869, the newest installment, entitled “The Oath”, examined the tension of when professional skills and personal sentiments collide.
One of the strongest examples of this dramatic mix occurs early in the episode when US Marshal Mercredi (Tahmoh Penikett) arrives in Janestown while on a search for cattle rustlers. He rides into the settlement just as newly-appointed Janestown sheriff Kat Loving (Cara Gee) is attempting to break up a fight in the mud between Fiona Briggs (Ali Liebert) and Miss Logan (Christie Burke) – a fight over a stolen garter. Startled by his greeting, Kat gets up from the ground surprised and perhaps slightly embarrassed. Self-consciousness quickly turns to suppressed defiance toward Mercredi. He asks if she has seen the rustlers and she replies that she hadn’t been looking. The professional then segues into the personal when he states he had expected for Kat to visit him over the past few weeks, alluding to the romantic encounter of her last call. Kat’s dismissal of his presumption is blunt: “You thought wrong, I guess.” Gee’s acting in that scene’s moment is very effective – her eyes are defiant at Mercredi’s expectations and her body language includes a slight shoulder shift that might be interpreted as a “so there”.
The mix of professional and personal tension continues as the scene closes. Mercredi mocks Kat slightly, teasing about her need to deal with the “hardened criminals” he just witnessed fighting and that he doesn’t want such work to get in the way of a friendly visit. Brazenly and in a public voice, Mercredi then declares to Kat as she walks away, “You are allowed to long for a man, Kat Loving, as strong as you are.” Kat turns to ask, “Are you here to give advice or look for cattle thieves?” In that moment, Kat rebuffs Mercredi’s focus on their personal dynamic. Mercredi bids adieu with a courtly “Ma’am” as Kat returns to her exit and she offers up the back of her hand in a dismissive wave as he does – an 1869 version of a “whatever”.
Two other examples of the professional-personal tension involve the other two lead female characters in the show; Rebecca Blithely (Melissa Farman) and Isabelle Slotter (Tattiawna Jones). In the case of Blithely, she is called upon to apply her professional skills to amputate the gangrenous leg of her adopted father-turned-husband Thomas (Bill Marchant). While the operation is successful, it reveals that the gangrene has spread into his body and will prove fatal. Spending time together at the close of the episode, a touching mix of the personal & professional occurs when Thomas administers the Hippocratic Oath to Rebecca, thus endorsing her ability as a doctor.
For Isabelle Slotter, the mix of professional and personal leans heavier to the personal side. She visits Ling (Terry Chen), with whom she shared a previous tryst, in the neighboring Chinese settlement under cover of night. He senses that she has at least partly come for a professional opinion as to whether she may be pregnant, as Ling has knowledge of science and medicine. Examining Isabelle, he informs her that he does not think she is pregnant and the scene cuts as they appear to move into another romantic coupling.
A return to the dynamic between Kat and Mercredi will bookend the episode. With both the direct and indirect help of her adopted children, Kat is able to capture the two cattle rustlers. Mercredi awakes from his tent to discover that Kat has brought the outlaws, bound by rope, directly to his camp while he slept. The professional skills of Kat have trumped his own. As Kat prepares to leave, Mercredi, looking flustered, pauses and then informs her that two bounty hunters had recently passed thru Station House (on the US side) on their way to Texas. He relays that they are looking for a Métis “murderess” that killed a white man in Batoche (located in present-day Saskatchewan). Kat replies that she will keep an eye out for that woman. Mercredi states that a $1000 reward will simply bring more bounty hunters.
Thus, the episode closes with a question about the professional and personal mix between Kat and Mercredi. In the warning to Kat, Mercredi, who clearly suspects she may be the wanted woman, is demonstrating his personal care toward her. However, given Mercredi’s earlier statements about the need for law to apply equally to all, would he exercise his professional authority to arrest Kat if she was to visit him again on the US side? The professional-personal dynamic between the two is now very tense.
Strange Empire airs Monday nights on CBC at 9E and previous episodes can be streamed at Strange Empire. Its first season is now half-way done and Westernsreboot has reviewed each episode to date, beginning with SE – E1. The next installment is Monday, December 1st.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)