Episode Six, in which Kat wonders if she fights for justice or is just a cold-blooded killer, and Captain Slotter appoints a particulatly ruthless henchman as Sheriff, airs tonight (17 November) on CBC at 9pm. No new episode of STRANGE EMPIRE aired last Monday, however, and I found that surprisingly disappointing. With the Slotter saga on hold for a week, I had time to contemplate westerns in general.
The most successful American TV westerns, RAWHIDE and BONANZA, had great theme songs that outlived the shows. The opening of GUNSMOKE (the longest running of all) had a completely unmemorable theme, but the opening showed Marshall Dillon gunning down a (presumably) bad guy and that was the hook. There was little attempt by any of these shows to realistically depict anything.
Times change, and the last major American attempt at a TV western, DEADWOOD, took a shot at realism. Or at least the show created that impression. Their trademark was extensive use of the f-word, and it was so effective that I remember nothing else about the show. Someone at the West Virginia Surf Report took the trouble to count, and found that, in the show’s three seasons and 36 episodes, the f-word was used 2,980 times (a rate of 1.56 utterances per minute of air time).
There is virtually no cussing in STRANGE EMPIRE, and the intro is a lovely Orphan-Black-style aninmation featuring a gun transforming into rose petals. The music is pleasant, but not really hummable, and there are no words to it. So what is the hook? Historical authenticity? Well-drawn characters?
The writers indulged themselves a bit when naming characters. Slotter is another way of spelling slaughter, which is what John Slotter (Aaron Poole) does. (His victims are people, not cattle. There are no cattle to speak of in this show.) There is a gunfighter named Kat Loving (Cara Gee). She’s a mostly non-lethal, philosophical gunfighter who is always saving people and may or may not love cats, but her outfit always reminds me of Yul Brynner. Then there is Rebecca Blithely (Melissa Farman), who does things, well, blithely. Don’t get me wrong. Doctor Rebecca is a fascinating character and the best reason for watching STRANGE EMPIRE. Her name is quite appropriate, though.
Ali Liebert was why I originally tuned in, and one hopes her role as Fiona Briggs will expand (it has been quite small up till now). Both Liebert and Ann Marie Deluise (who plays Fiona’s mother) are listed by IMDB as being in only nine of the thirteen episodes of Season One.
SERIES HIGHLIGHTS THUS FAR:
— Rebecca declaring to Kat “I am no believer”. This outburst of skepticism occurs after she is struck across the face by her husband, apparently because of her impious curiosity.
— Kat’s mushroom-fueled spirit quest. A lovely dream sequence that gave us a small insight into the mind of Kat, as she learns to accept the death of Jeremiah.
— Rebecca’s developing relationship with Finn Morgan (Joanne Boland), whom she apparently does not yet realize is a woman.