Wednesday, January 14, 2015

RECAP: Strange Empire 1x01 - The Rise of the Feminist Western

New year, new shows to recap. And this one is pretty awesome a show to talk about. For starters, almost no one in this country has heard of it, probably because it’s a Canadian production and for some reason Americans are really good at pretending Canada is just a large culture-less hat. Which it isn’t. For the record.

But the other reasons why Strange Empire in particular is worth recapping are more complex and interesting. It’s a show that inhabits the very new frontier of television: prestige shows made for and about women. Something that Outlander and Orphan Black have hinted at, but this show really signals the arrival of that movement. Mostly because, as opposed to those other shows, Strange Empire arrives mostly unheralded. It’s just another show, albeit one that is concerned entirely with the lives of women. And I find that fascinating.

Yet for all that this is a really cool show, and the first feminist Western I’ve ever seen, it’s not a perfect show, which makes it interesting as well. It’s no Orphan Black, is what I’m getting at, nor is it Deadwood or Carnivale or any of the other many many shows to which it could be compared. It’s good, but it’s not perfect, and that’s worth discussing.

So, basically, all of this is to say that for the next ten weeks (or so, given my spotty track record with finishing things on time) we’re going to be analyzing an obscure Canadian Western and it’s going to be great. Strap in!

The show starts in media res, as it were, with horses galloping through the woods and out into the fields. The horses are ridden by Kat (Cara Gee) and Jeremiah (Richard de Klerk) and they’re going to the Station House, a wayhouse for wagon trains and stagecoaches on the Montana/Canada border. They’re rushing, going as fast as humanly and horsely possible, because their baby is sick. Probably dying. But there’s supposed to be a doctor at the Station House.

It should tell you something about the tone of the show right off the bat that when they finally arrive at the Station House, there’s no doctor there. Just a woman in a very pink dress (later introduced as Mrs. Fogg, played by April Telek). She’s been stranded there for days, waiting for her ride. And as Kat and Jeremiah collapse in each other’s arms and sob over their baby’s dead body (I told you this was bleak), Mrs. Fogg watches Kat’s horse keel over and die as thunder rumbles in the distance.

Yay! New show! Aren’t you excited?

We come back in on Kat, clearly emotionally affected, running through the woods and then slowly picking her way towards where Jeremiah and a priest are standing over a very small grave. The priest says some words, but Jeremiah has other things on his mind. He turns to Kat with a pair of wedding rings and asks if she’ll finally marry him. He’s been wanting to marry her since they left somewhere or other, and now they have a priest. She says yes. They’re married now. Because I guess they weren’t before.

Elsewhere on the plains, we come in on Rebecca (Melissa Farman) studiously drawing a very detailed (and gorgeous) picture of a woman’s internal organs. She looks up from her drawing and sees that one of the wagon train women at the campsite is making a face at her. Rebecca makes a face slowly, as if trying it out. Then the stagecoach driver comes into frame and shoos two teenage girls off the top of the stagecoach where they’ve been playing. 

I say teenage, but really I have no idea. Probably teenage. Teenage-ish. It’s really hard to tell.

The girls make a really striking difference to the figure that Rebecca cuts - they’re all long loose hair and flowing smocks, running down to tough boots. Clearly girls of a working class origin, and just as clearly, half feral. By contrast, Rebecca is in a prim black dress buttoned up to her neck. Her hair is neatly styled and her lace collar is stark white and probably starched. Yet here she is, sitting in the dirt with everyone else.

Rebecca’s husband, Thomas (Bill Marchant) brings the girls over to eat with him and Rebecca. He’s clearly much older than she is, but he’s just as clearly a very kind man. After all, he has invited two rough girls to come share their dinner, and when they finish slurping it down (as Rebecca watches with interest) he offers them more. The girls, Robin and Kelly (Matreya Scarrwener and Michelle Creber respectively), might be low on tact, but they do manage to ask some questions we want answered. Why is Thomas married to a woman so much younger than him and what the heckity heck are they doing in the wilderness?

Well, Thomas is widowed and Rebecca is his new wife. From their faces during that pronouncement, it’s clear that neither of them is thrilled about this. Thomas is putting a good face on it, but Rebecca really isn’t. Unclear if that’s because she’s upset to be married to him or because she misses his wife too. Hard to say at this point. But something is up.

Also it’s a little funky that they decided to take their wedding trip to the middle of nowhere, but maybe they’re just strange people. That’s the conclusion Robin and Kelly seem to come to, at least.

Of course, turnabout is fair play, and Rebecca immediately springs into asking the girls what they are doing out here in the middle of nowhere. Don’t they have parents?

Er, no, it seems they don’t. Their mother has been dead for years, and implicitly their father has also just died or someone of that nature, because the girls are being taken up a man called “Slotter” to be sold as whores. The driver’s been paid to deliver them, and they are none too pleased. But there isn’t a lot they can really do about it.

Me too, Kat.
It is, for the record, worth noting that this scene is not really very well acted. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love this show already (and I’ve seen about half of the series so far), but this was clearly not one of their more shining moments in acting or writing. Kelly’s pronouncement, “We’re to be whores, ma’am,” is stilted and weird, and in strange contrast to her performance later in the show. So I’m figuring it was just an off day. Anyway. 

Mrs. Fogg is still stranded at the station house and passes the time by flipping tarot cards. Just another way that this show binds itself indelibly to Carnivale in my mind. But upstairs, Kat and Jeremiah are “celebrating” their wedding. As they lie in bed, they plan for the future. They’ll make it to their final destination, and then have more children, ones to make up for the baby they lost. 

It’s a subtle costuming point, but it’s worth noting that when we see Kat in her underwear (which is pretty comprehensive, actually, since it’s a skirt and a corset and a tanktop, basically), we can see an armband with Native American beading on it. Kat, though we could have figured this out from the casting, is an “Indian” then, and apparently comfortable enough with her heritage to keep the armband.

Night has fallen on the wagon train campsite, and with it some more dubious stares at Rebecca and her husband. This time, though, for good reason. Thomas has Rebecca in a head-measuring contraption, and Rebecca wonders if she should tell everyone why. After all, she is the proof of “female ability”, the phrenological explanation of why some women can be almost as smart as men, golly gee!

It actually makes me like her husband more that he’s like, no, Rebecca, you probably shouldn’t go around telling people that, but in a gentle and kind way. After all, female ability is hard to quantify, and also that’s no way to make friends.

They’re also both upset about the fact that Robin and Kelly are to be sold into sex slavery and Rebecca insists they do something about it. The driver’s clearly a part of it, but it seems Thomas has an idea on how to help the girls. Good. I like this couple, for all that they’re not very couple-y. They’re good people. Good, weird people.

He steps away, and Kelly comes up to Rebecca in his absence. She claims that Robin is having a cramp and needs her help. Then, when Rebecca goes over to Robin, Kelly rummages in her jewelry box and steals a necklace. What’s interesting is that Rebecca looks back over and sees her do it, and says nothing. Like I said, good people.

Morning at the station house. Mrs. Fogg is saved! The wagon and stagecoach train has arrived. All of our characters converge. Rebecca and Thomas come out of their carriage to find that the man who’s going to take them on the next part of their journey hasn’t arrived yet. And since Rebecca is dressed in respectable Victorian clothing - all in black, with a cloak and a hat - she’s sweltering and needs help getting to the shade. Fashion isn’t very useful when you’re dying of heatstroke.

Rebecca’s clearly an odd duck to begin with, but I’m starting to suspect that she might be neurodivergent. As in, when Mrs. Fogg gives her a funny look for staring, Rebecca seems utterly baffled as to why. Doesn’t everyone stare? Isn’t that a normal thing?

It’s fashionable these days to say that every strange character is on the autistic spectrum somewhere, but I feel pretty confident diagnosing Rebecca there. Uninflected speaking voice, confusion with social gestures and facial expressions, unawareness of social cues, etc. We’ll have to see how this plays out.

On the other side of the station house, Kat and Jeremiah are buying a new horse to replace the one that died. The man keeps trying to sell them bad horses, but Kat knows her stuff and immediately picks out the two she wants. Of course, the horse dude won’t deal with Kat. He talks about her instead with her owner, Jeremiah. Kat’s good at horses and has picked out ones that will make it easier to breed horses and start their ranch. But it’s insulting that he won’t say it to her face.

Jeremiah and the man talk while Kat looses one of the horses, the one the man claimed wasn’t fully broken yet, and proceeds to ride it around the camp. Jeremiah and horse guy watch in awe and the horse guy admits that his wife was a Blackfoot Indian*. It’s unclear whether or not Jeremiah and Kat are hoping Kat will “pass” as white, but clearly this guy doesn’t buy it.

Hang on, is this scene in here because they think the audience needs telling? The audience doesn’t need telling. We figured this one out all on our own, thanks.

Anyway, horse guy is so impressed with Kat’s abilities and so lonesome for his wife I guess that he decides to give them one of the horses for free. After all, as he tells Jeremiah openly, he stole them and brought them here to fence. So who cares? He’ll just make them pay for the mare. Jeremiah just sort of looks on weirdly at this guy who dumped a year’s worth exposition on him in two minutes.

Rebecca’s found a rain barrel or trough or something in the stable and is cooling off as Thomas comes in to confront her about her drawings. She has a medical illustration of a baby but it’s the wrong way in the womb. Rebecca tries to explain that it’s a breach birth, and she’s pretty sure she could actually get it out by operating on the mother. A Caesarian Section. But those haven’t been made standard yet, and certainly not by a woman, so Thomas is super skeptical. 

It is a good scene, though, because it makes it clear from the get-go that Rebecca is really gifted when it comes to medicine, and for all that she’s “odd”, she’s also brilliant. And Thomas is both proud of that and a little uncomfortable with it too. So they argue. And Rebecca decides that she’s done with Thomas’ crap, so she declares, “I’m very warm,” before glaring at him as she unbuttons her dress. Thomas immediately turns away and leaves. So, yeah. Not a normal married couple at all.

And now Rebecca is, by Victorian standards at least, standing in a stable topless (she’s actually still wearing a corset and a tanktop like thing). One of them men swarming around the station happens to ride past just then, and there is a very heated moment of eye contact before the dude rides on. Curiouser.

Kat’s still riding her new horse around the field when she comes across another women, one we haven’t met yet, getting up after having her picture taken with…a baby? A doll? Something weird and creepy. The woman is wearing a gorgeous green dress but also a long black lace veil, and she is really weird. Weird even by my standards. She walks right up to Kat and says, “My child was born astride the grave. I’m a mother to a corpse.”

Which are memorable first words if ever there were some. Then the lady gets even stranger and gets all up in Kat’s business, asking if she has “the sight”. She wants to know if Kat can hear the cries of her dead baby. Kat’s reaction? Just ride the horse away from the crazy lady, thank you. And crazy lady watches Kat go as she herself is pulled away by her handler or husband or whatever.

That was interesting. The woman rides off from the station house on a white horse, led by her manservant or husband or handler or jailer, a tiny black coffin strapped to the back. Charming.

From over the hill we see a group of men on horseback ride up. Their leader, a young-ish guy with lank dark hair framing a face made for playing villains, asks impatiently if his father sent the payroll through. Upon the answer that he has not, the man is angry, and demands instead that the driver hand over the girls, presumably Robin and Kelly. So this must be Slotter (Aaron Poole).

The driver is unhappy to announce that the girls have run off. He can’t find them anywhere. Slotter figures he’ll be able to find them pretty easily. All he needs to do is shoot his gun into the air and scare everyone half to death. He demands all the women take off their bonnets - does he have a photograph of the girls with which to compare? - and when he can’t find them he and his deputy speculate about whether all these nice girls would be a good enticement to get investors for their business. Oh sketchy sex traffickers. 

Mrs. Fogg breaks the uncomfortable silence by announcing her presence loudly and wondering why Captain Slotter has taken this long to pick her up. I guess she was waiting on him all along, and it’s been three days. Is Mrs. Fogg a prostitute? This is unclear. 

What is clear is that Slotter is a terrible person. He reacts to Mrs. Fogg’s complaints with about as much grace as an angry toddler, and hits her upside the face. Then he turns around to see a little boy mocking him while his brother tells him to shut the hell up. Slotter is displeased. He approaches their wagon, as if to search it. But he’s pulled up short by a warning shot. This is Kat and Jeremiah’s wagon, and they do not want Slotter looking through their stuff. They have feelings about that.

Jeremiah even lets Slotter sneak a peek to show that he’s got nothing to hide. And it seems like the tension has ended when the little boy again pipes up and says, “Are you afraid of girls, sir? So am I.”

Everyone just backs away and keeps their hackles up. As Slotter retreats, Jeremiah warns Kat that one day she’ll go too far. Her response is simple (and after my own heart): “Better too far than not far enough.” Also Jeremiah pulls back the sheet over their wagon just a touch further and we see some socked toes waggle a hello. So apparently the girls were there after all.

Mrs. Fogg’s lot in life looks pretty grim, to be honest. She’s still disheveled and unhappy when Slotter’s lieutenant waggles an apple in her direction - after her complaint that she hasn’t eaten in literal days - and motions for her to follow. It’s insulting, and to make it worse he knocks her on the ground then drags her to the horse like a piece of livestock. As they ride past, Slotter announces that “this here is the real treasure of the West”, pointing at Mrs. Fogg’s legs kicking in the air as she struggles to get upright. 

Thomas turns to Rebecca and begs her finish buttoning her dress, which she does, quickly. Not hard to guess why.

After one last long glare at Kat, Slotter rides off. 

We cut to later in the day, at camp. It looks like the wagon train, now with Kat and Jeremiah in tow, has moved on from the station house. The bridge ahead is out, so they’ll have to wait the rest of the day there. Kat’s taken charge of the girls (and gotten them some bonnets to hide their faces), while Jeremiah works with the two boys. Well, they did say they wanted kids…

And that’s the subject of discussion when Kat and Jeremiah approach Rebecca and Thomas. Who’s going to take the girls? Rebecca and Thomas are kind and good, yes, but they’re also not from around here, and Rebecca isn’t really the mothering sort, while Thomas is a bit old to be raising teenagers. They’re not a good fit. Also apparently Rebecca is in medical school. That’s awesome!

He will pay for the girls to go to San Francisco, if they want, but that’s not a good option either. After all, they can be whores in any city, and without parents to look out for them, that’s all they’re apt to become. Not because they’re inherently slutty or anything, but because they have no other way to provide for themselves in this time and place.

Have I mentioned recently how happy I am to have been born in this century and with this amount of privilege? Because I am so so grateful. Just saying.

Kat’s frustrated with Thomas’ refusal to do anything concrete with the girls and stalks off angrily. I get the feeling she’s going to do that a lot. Later, as she watches the boys and the girls play in a field, she decides that yes, actually, she would like to adopt all of them. Fortunately Jeremiah is completely on board, and moments later we see them all posing for a family portrait with the photographer guy. And Kat makes it completely clear that they are her children now and they can call her Ma.

It’s stinking adorable looking at the kids pleased faces and Kat’s look of muted joy. Jeremiah’s just all but beaming.

And their happiness is infectious. Thomas takes one look at the happy family and decides to organize a wedding celebration for them - after all, they haven’t yet had the opportunity to celebrate. All the men go off for a hunting party to get game for the dinner, and the women stay back to make up a nice table and all that stuff. It’s cute.

Rebecca is unhappy to see her husband going off for the hunting party, and Thomas comforts her with the most ominous explanation ever: “It’s a fitting goodbye to be among these people, in the middle of life.” Rebecca sniffs a minute but then nods and sends him off.

Is Rebecca dying? About to commit suicide? Going to kill herself so that her brain can be used to prove the intelligence of women? None of these options are good, but I can’t think of that many other reasons why Thomas would say that to his worried wife. It might explain their extremely weird dynamic a little. A little. Also he kisses her forehead before he goes off, not her mouth.

Everyone else is super happy and excited, but Kat is not really in the partying mood. The woman she saw yesterday (the one with the dead baby) has given her the “feeling of death all around”. She’s worried. And since Kat is basically our main character, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that she should be worried. Everything’s been going too well, and you don’t start a show off super bleak unless you intend to return it there.

Jeremiah comforts her by telling her they’ll be together forever, “generations of us, til the end of the world.” And then he leaves.

Since the men are gone, the women of the wagon train all decide to go swimming in the river. Robin and Kelly splash and play, but Kat takes this moment to get to know Rebecca better, as she’s standing at the edge of the water being super awkward. But she asks Rebecca to tell her about herself, and Rebecca does. It’s…hard to hear.

When Rebecca was born, her father found her “strange”, and sent her off to live at Bedlam. The insane asylum. She lived there for a few years before Thomas and his late wife Emily came and got her and raised her as their own. Emily died two months ago, and now Rebecca is married to Thomas. Which sounds super duper sketchy, but I can’t imagine there isn’t something more going on here too. I mean, Thomas clearly has no sexual interest in Rebecca - he flinches when she threatens to take her shirt off and he gives her a paternal kiss on the forehead when he leaves.

So why’d he marry his adoptive daughter? Must be some kind of weird “propriety” thing - the remnants of Victorian society impressing themselves on life in places where society really doesn’t matter much. I have no idea what the real reason could be at this point, but clearly something is going on.

Also we find out that Thomas is “educating me in the way of experiments”. Which means either that Thomas does experiments on her, or that Thomas teaches her to do experiments. And she’s done her own amazing surgical experiments, which were published under Thomas’ name, of course. Rebecca gets super excited to tell Kat that she is called the “woman of genius” and exhibited at scientific gatherings. Kat just sort of smiles maternally and is like, “Okay you big dork. We’re totally going to be friends.”

And I continue to believe that Rebecca is somewhere on the autistic spectrum. 

The mood turns quickly, though, when Rebecca’s eye alights on Robin and Kelly, and she asks Kat what will happen if Slotter comes back for them. Kat insists, “He has no claim. They are my daughters.” And with an expression like that, I’d like to see Slotter try to take them from her. I have a sneaking suspicion I will.

Kat goes and gets a gun from her saddlebag and puts it in Rebecca’s hand.

“You would kill him?” Rebecca asks.

“Out here, that’s all you need,” replies Kat, nodding to the pistol. In other words, Slotter may think he’s the law out here, but there is no law out here. We’re too far outside civilization for things like that. The law is what we say it is. And he’s not getting those girls while Kat has breath.

Speaking of which, the girls run past, and Rebecca smiles to hear gunshots. The men have found game! Yay!

But as the evening drags on, and it gets dark, the men still aren’t back yet. Rebecca is worried and Kat has on her “I sense danger” face. At the wedding table, the kids have gathered, so this one creepy guy, who I think is the carriage driver, decides to tell them a story. About the Apache, and how horrible and brutal they are. It’s super racist. Just so racist. Kat clearly agrees.

Drunk guy points right at Kat and insists that she knows just what he’s talking about. He also accuses her of having the “dark power” to go from one dead child to four live ones in a single day. And apparently he’s seen Kat’s face before on a wanted poster. All good things to know, but the guy’s still a racist jerkface. And Georgie, the littlest of Jeremiah and Kat’s new kids, agrees. He gets up and steals the guy’s whiskey before running forward - They’re back!

Oh wait, no they aren’t. It’s much worse than that. Someone is attacking. Drunk racist guy screams “Indians!” before he bites it, but I’m not overly convinced. It’s all too convenient. There’s fire and fighting and people die and wagons burn and man alive this show is depressing. The men still aren’t back yet.

In the morning, Kat goes through the camp looking for her children and her husband - because in the terrible luck that is her life, she has already lost everyone she had. She picks up a plate from what was supposed to be her wedding party and wipes it off, only for the plate to slowly fill with blood falling down from a tree. It’s Georgie’s body. He’s dead.

Rebecca has found her man, though. She found Thomas in the tall grass. He has a concussion and a leg wound that she’s stitching up. He has yet to regain consciousness. Rebecca is efficient at sewing him up, but clearly rattled. She relies on Thomas to help her through these human interactions and stressful moments when all she wants is to zone out. What’s she supposed to do if he’s gone?

Kat insists that the reason all this happened is Slotter. He did this to them. Rebecca doesn’t exactly disagree, but she does reply simple, “It’s Indians we saw.” And it looks like Rebecca might have more thoughts on the matter, but there’s no time. Slotter and his men are riding up at that very moment. Kat strides off to “greet” him, and Rebecca’s like, “Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no.” Because it’s been about half an episode and she already knows Kat well enough to figure that this won’t end well.

Slotter stomps around the camp for a minute, pretending sympathy and cursing the Indians. But Kat pulls out a gun and aims it at him and demands to know where the hell her family is. Slotter pulls her down, grabs her, and takes her gun belt from her. Because Kat is grieving too much to be a good fighter right now. But she really wants to murder him. So she hits him across the face with her gunbelt. She accuses him in the loudest voice she has of killing Georgie. Cutting his tongue from his mouth for taunting him.

But no one will back her up, because they’re too scared. Slotter offers all the women, because that’s all that’s left, a place at his camp. A place to stay and recover. The women all agree to go. And while Kat is baffled by this, Rebecca points out that they really have no other options. She has to go with them too, because she needs somewhere to help Thomas recover. She wants Kat to come with them too.

Kat, however, isn’t ready for that. She replies to Rebecca’s calm practicality with, “They’re cattle. Too stupid to think for themselves. And so are you.” Which totally burns, because Rebecca’s entire identity is built on being the “woman of genius.” Kat knows that, and aimed it to hurt. Not nice, Kat. Rebecca tries to explain that they’re all just afraid, but Kat strides off in her pants, and Rebecca hurries off in her skirt, and the gender roles are pretty dang clear.

As the light falls, Thomas and the other wounded are loaded onto a wagon and tied down with rope. Kat, who still hasn’t left, asks Rebecca what she thinks of the fact that no women were killed. Only men and boys. Not a single woman. What does that mean? But Rebecca shakes it off by asking Kat once more to come with her. Because if Slotter has the girls, then they must get them back. And that means being where Slotter is.

So Kat does follow them, in the end. And when she gets to Slotter’s camp, she sees what looks an awful lot like the “Indians” that attacked them riding off into the night.

The women are all put in large open houses with beds and not much more. It’s a sort of camp? They come out in the morning to find their boxes and things laid out on the lawn between a bunch of cabins, and then we see good old Mrs. Fogg come out of one of the buildings. In her underwear. With a dude. Ah. So she is a prostitute after all, and this is the whorehouse. Whore village? Whore place.

Mrs. Fogg, who seems humiliated and unhappy to be seen like this after all the women saw her dragged off upside down, goes a little nuts and rants to all of them about how they’re in Janestown now, and none of them are getting out. It’s called Janestown, of course, because “You’re Jane, and you’re Jane, and you, and you…” Yup. Slotter brought them back to be whores. Wonderful.

And now we cut back to mysterious lady with a dead baby! Finally we can see her with her veil off, as she buries her child in the yard of a big fancy house, and it seems she’s African-American. Right on. This show is pretty diverse. Kat sees her too, and almost comes up to her, but then notices Slotter running up to her, calling for “Isabelle.”

She turns and faces him, slapping a little, as he tries to calm her? Interesting. It seems Isabelle (Tattiawna Jones) knows Slotter. He’s not super happy to have a grave in the yard of a pleasure house because it will absolutely definitely turn off investors. But Isabelle, who recovers pretty quickly from her rage, seems to have an even more practical mind than Rebecca. She demands to know who the women in the cribs are, and upon being told, makes Slotter understand very clearly that he is to let them finish their grieving before putting them to work.

Slotter demands that the two girls he brought be ready to work tonight, and when Isabelle insists that they’re too young to whore, he reiterates. They work. Tonight.

And since Kat was eavesdropping on all of that, now Kat knows that Robin and Kelly are at the big house and will be brought out that night. Which she tells Rebecca because somewhere in here Rebecca has become her partner in crime and possibly best friend? Which is great. I love lady friendships. Rebecca agrees that they can’t let the girls be whored out, but she isn’t sure what to do. Kat is. She and Jeremiah have a nestegg for buying stock for their ranch. She’s going to use the money to buy the girls back.

Cut to night time at the whorehouse. Men arrive on horseback and come inside to hear Slotter’s speech for the investors. Basically, he’s helping build the railroad, but he’s also running a coal mine, and he wants these men to invest in the coal mine. And since the men won’t invest for no reason, Isabelle brings out the whores to get their interest up. Including Robin and Kelly wearing nighties and serving drinks.

The girls look wide-eyed but stubborn, and when someone gruffly tells them to come with him, Robin tells him flatly, “You, sir, can piss up a tree.” Because Robin is the best and also my favorite.

But she needn’t have said that, because it’s Kat. The girls are super happy to see that, and take the money Kat gives them. They bring it to Slotter and tell him that the gentleman would like them both for an hour. Kat and the girls go upstairs, but a suspicious Isabelle has some idea what’s going on. And, coincidentally, Slotter picks this moment to go upstairs too. He’s getting a visit from the doctor. Which makes sense, as he hasn’t seemed well all episode, and it looks to be getting worse.

Kat tells the girls they’ll wait a bit and then escape out the window once everyone has forgotten about them. Sounds about right. But just down the hall, Slotter is surprised to find that the “doctor” he’s gotten isn’t Thomas but Rebecca. Thomas is still unconscious, and Rebecca is a trained medical professional. He’ll deal.

Isabelle bursts in, yelling at Slotter that the girls were too young to whore, and then pulling up short when she sees Rebecca. She has “no faith in a woman doctor”, and then we reveal that Isabelle doesn’t just run the whorehouse, she’s Slotter’s wife. Um, okay. Seems like a super happy marriage there.

Slotter has stomach problems, and Rebecca is professional and efficient in diagnosing them. He thinks it’s because he ate some bad meat a few days ago. And Isabelle blames it on his conscience, for something he did on the day the baby was born. Maybe the fact that it was born dead? Hard to tell. Anyway, he’s drinking a tonic Isabelle gave him, and when Rebecca sniffs it, it’s clear she surprised by the contents. Isabelle beats a hasty retreat.

At that moment, of course, Kat figures it’s time for she and the girls to hightail it out. And they get to the kitchen before Isabelle catches them. Kat begs her to let them go because she knows what it is to lose a child, but Isabelle isn’t swayed until Rebecca pops up and closes the door quietly. Kat reiterates her suspicions that Slotter killed their men, and Isabelle denies them. But she shuts up right quick when Rebecca tells her to let them all go, or she’ll tell Slotter what’s in his tonic. Arsenic, after all, is not particularly good at curing stomachaches.

Isabelle is trying to murder her husband. All right then. She’s mad at Slotter because when the child was born dead, Slotter put the body out and it was bitten by a coyote before she could find it and bury it restfully. She’s pissed and she lets the girls go. She even pours out the tonic and decides not to kill him. Not today. Then she brings him a drink.

Back at the cribs, which is what they call the cabins, the girls fall asleep immediately, cuddled by their Ma. Rebecca tends to Thomas, but Kelly wakes up after a bit and goes over to her. She returns Rebecca’s necklace, the one she stole, and apologizes for taking it. Rebecca tells her that it was a wedding present from Thomas, and Kelly smiles. “Hearts mean love.”

“A heart,” argues Rebecca, “is a pump.”

Kelly just sort of smiles at her and then goes back to lie down with her Ma and her sister. Cute. The girls will be safe for the night, even if Rebecca is nervous as all hell. Slotter’s not coming back tonight. Isabelle will see to it. And as everyone settles down for the night, Kelly pulls something else from her bag of klepto treasures. A marshal’s star. 

“This is Canada, Ma,” she says. “There’s no law here but our own.” Kat turns the star over in her hand as she thinks it over. My guess? The arc of this season is going to see Kat becoming the law here and the women building a society. At least I hope that’s what happens. Building a society is my favorite narrative thing. Ah.

Anyway. End of episode. Can’t wait to see what more bleakness and feminist commentary we get next week!

Yeah, this seems like a totally healthy relationship dynamic. Mmhmmm.
*For the rest of this recap, and probably the rest, I will be referring to Native Americans as “Indians”, because that’s what the show does and I want to be internally consistent. Some prefer the term American Indian, or First Nations, or other various terms, but I’m going to go with what the show uses at least for now.