Following its eleventh episode, “Confession”(January 19th), the new Western series Strange Empire on CBC television has set up the show for a number of dramatic conclusions with just two installments now left in its debut season. Set in the Alberta-Montana border region of 1869, Strange Empire launched in October of 2014.
SET-UP #1 – A major narrative thread since the beginning of the series has been the suspicion by the women of Janestown that John Slotter (Aaron Poole) was responsible for the death of their men (husbands and male sons) in the first episode. That their situation left the women vulnerable to work as prostitutes for Slotter in exchange for housing on his land was only circumstantial to him, as he continued to proclaim his innocence throughout the series – until now. In a declaration to Rebecca Blithely (Melissa Farman), Slotter says it was he who masterminded the killing and that he has now come to embrace that part of himself that sees power and purpose thru the taking of life. With that respective inner conflict now removed, the potential is now set for even further violent Machiavellian action by Slotter in order to consolidate control and develop his coal mine.
SET-UP#2 – Led by the ability of young Robin (Matreya Scarrwener) to see spirits, the women of Janestown convince Chase Sloat (Woody Jeffreys), a slow-witted hireling of Slotter, to sign a detailed statement of Slotter’s culpability and confession of his own role in the earlier massacre. Sloat believes this confession will release him from the haunting image of a young boy whose life he took. Kat Loving (Cara Gee), sheriff of Janestown, imprisons Sloat in the nearby prison cage but he is released by Robin and Ruby (Marci T. House). Sloat takes the male baby used by Isabelle (Tattiawna Jones) to deceive Cornelius Slotter (Duncan Ollerenshaw), goes to the baby’s mother, Mary (Anja Savcic), and the three leave the area.
The signed statement can now be used within Montana territory by US Marshal Caleb Mecredi (Tahmoh Penikett) to set-up John Slotter for prosecution. At the opening of the episode, following a romantic coupling, Mecredi, a mix of Indigenous and white like Kat, explained to Loving that the racial politics of the justice system means he needs proof that white men were murdered to arrest and convict Slotter; his previous killing of the African-American blacksmith won’t be enough, as white victims matter the most. It can be argued that Strange Empire makes a direct connection to the racial discourse of today with acknowledgement of this dynamic, given that in both the US and Canada there has been much contemporary discussion as to whether race still determines justice.
SET-UP#3 – A minor thread of the episode, yet one that sets up the community of Janestown for increased contact with the much wider world, was the effort by Fiona Briggs (Ali Liebert) to create a chronicle of the women’s experience saleable to a newspaper. Fiona, who endures painful memories of having panicked during the massacre and running away without her two babies, creates an account that sees her comforting one of the fallen men (Kat’s husband Jeremiah, played by Richard de Klerk), when in actuality she panicked at seeing the wounded man and fled. When Miss Logan (Christie Burke) declares that she will travel to Billings in the Montana Territory to ensure its publication, the selling of the “Wild West” in a Janestown context has begun. What and who will it bring to them?
SET-UP#4 – In what could be termed the set-up of “Fortress Slotter”, John’s wife Isabelle has been expelled from the house for her duplicity and romantic involvement with both father and son. Cornelius and John have reconciled and Ruby has declared her allegiance to the family – particularly John. In a very powerfully-acted scene, Ruby, the house-servant, calls out Isabelle, chastising her as “a revulsion, acting the little girl for that man (Cornelius) to win his bed”. She then spits in Isabelle’s face, an extremely significant act against the ‘woman of the house’; the shocked Isabelle slaps Ruby and tells her to leave their employ immediately. However, it is Ruby who is able to drive out Isabelle, revealing to Cornelius that the baby son he thought was his grandson is not of his bloodline; the child had been taken by Isabelle from another woman in order to win favor and a payroll for John’s mine from the grandfather. At the close of the episode, Isabelle goes to Ling (Terry Chen); she does so not to be with him, but to plot the destruction of the Slotter household.
Strange Empire airs Mondays at 9pm (local time) with CBC streaming each episode at Strange Empire following its original airing. Westernsreboot.com has reviewed each episode to date, with the first episode available at E1 .
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)