Wednesday, March 11, 2015

RECAP: Strange Empire 1x05 - Can You Feel The Love Tonight

So in case you were desperately worried because I didn't post an article yesterday, have no fear! I just decided to take my computer into the shop to see if it was possible to get it running faster (it's very old), and they needed to take it overnight for observation. Hence, no article. But I did get to watch half of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and finally read Bossypants. It was a very Tina Fey day.

But now I'm back! And it's time to pick up where we left off and recap the next episode of Strange Empire. It's also time to make the sad announcement that apparently CBC has elected not to renew Strange Empire for another season. Which blows. But we'll cherish the episodes we do have, starting with this one which, in the spirit of last week's awesome showing, is actually really good.

Last week was all about belonging, identity, and the truth. This week the story revolves around love. Love for yourself, love for someone else, and love for a community or place. All of the storylines deal with some kind of love and the characters deciding whether or not to deny or accept said love. Also, while last week was very much the Kat Show, this week centers more on Rebecca and Isabelle, with a healthy dollop of Miss Logan and Mrs. Fogg. Which is nice because we haven't seen them in a few weeks.

The basic outline of the episode is this: Kat, having almost been lynched last episode, decides to take her girls and get the hell out of town. Meanwhile, Mrs. Briggs, scheming conniver that she is, strikes a deal with John Slotter to take control of the crib girls (the whores). That gets everyone thinking and excited about what the crib will be like under her control - and it inspires Miss Logan to talk about finding the crib girls husbands now that John won't be scaring them all off.

John and Isabelle are still reeling from the events of last week, where her poisonous words got into his head and lead to him shooting his best friend Jared in the head. John feels that Isabelle is trying to destroy his life, and Isabelle is rightfully terrified that John is going to do something to her. On the other side of camp, the Rebecca-Thomas marriage is also imploding, but this is more because they are two unsuited people who married for convenience and legal concerns, and both of them are now attracted to someone else...

And there are lots of other little plots besides, but those are the big ones. As you can see, they're all about love, but the nature of that love varies a lot in the execution of it. What's interesting is that all of these loves intersect. In order for Janestown to become the community that we all want it to be, the people in it must love themselves, each other, and the community itself. So, let's start with the characters who learned to love themselves this week.

This storyline was probably the least emphasized, but there was a definite strain of it in the conversations between Miss Logan and Mrs. Fogg. Both of these women are crib girls, women who have been put to whore because they have no man to legally provide for them, and both of them deeply desire the right to control their own lives. 

That's why when Mrs. Briggs bargains for control of the cribs, Miss Logan immediately decides to do something to improve her fate. And Mrs. Fogg, who we earlier learned became a prostitute after she was sexually abused by her employer, takes a big leap of faith by deciding to look for a husband. By doing that, she's deciding that she is worthy of love, and that's a big step for her character.

I think Miss Logan put it best in her line, which is one of the best of the episode and freaking poetry to read, when she said, "I've a body must persist - be fed and rested to carry forth the things that I should like to do and make and build...Does no one care about that Mrs. Fogg? Or see it in me?" It's a heartbreaking moment, but it's also so true. Miss Logan doesn't have anyone to care about just her, and it wears on her. But, by the same token, she isn't about to settle down with the first man who asks for her hand. She wants to do things. She's not sure what, but something.

The second part of love, the loving each other bit, is what consumes most of the episode. Once Miss Logan and Mrs. Fogg set up the marriage broker, it takes a little while to get going, but eventually it does. Turns out that Morgan's uncle (Morgan being the miner who has eyes for Rebecca), Pike, is head over heels for Mrs. Fogg. And after a couple of first attempts that totally bungle it (and deeply insult her) he manages to pull his foot out of his mouth long enough to propose marriage to her. Yay for both of them! But theirs is the simplest love story in the episode.

Like I said above, John and Isabelle Slotter spend this episode reenacting the War of the Roses with each other, albeit a cold war where they sort of pretend everything's fine, they just hate each other. So John sleeps with one of the whores up at the house, and Isabelle reacts by trying to murder the poor girl. John then camps out in a room with Jared's body and when Isabelle tries to convince him she's not evil, he smushes her face into the body while he demands the truth. 

And then later Isabelle goes into the cribs and performs the worlds angriest striptease, daring any man to take what her husband has spurned. When that doesn't work, she turns to Cheng, who validates her sexually, but can't make her feel better about the ache in her soul.

Because, you know, she did manipulate John into murdering his best friend after said friend caught her cheating on her husband with his father, after all. She does have reason to be guilty, but she's also not the kind of woman to take that without going a little nuts over it.

By the end of the episode, it's unclear whether Isabelle and John will stay married, or even if they should stay married. Isabelle takes her ring off and gives it to John, implying that he has the power to decide where their marriage goes. And, to the surprise of all, he decides to give it another go. While everyone is gathered for the wedding, John gives Isabelle back her ring and asks her to dance. They work best as a team, after all. A murderous, manipulative team.

And while his uncle Pike is wooing Mrs. Fogg, Morgan Finn takes this episode to alternately flirt with and run from Dr. Rebecca Blithely. He flirts with her because she's gorgeous and he's in love with her. And then he runs away because she is absolutely married to the most respected man in the camp. Which is a problem and a half. Rebecca, for her part, seems super into Morgan, and deeply resents the ties that bind her to Thomas. I mean, she's presumably a little grateful too, but mostly she's annoyed. She wants to be free to go off with that sweet young man.

Plus, as we've already established, Rebecca's attitude towards rules is generally, "What rules? Why rules? I don't think I care about this," she spends the episode blithely (heh) disregarding everyone's concern and pursuing Morgan. She finally gets her way at the very end when they run into each other in the newly constructed bathhouse - that Morgan and Pike built for their new neighbors - and share a kiss. And also some under the skirt action.

One note, though. There is something weird going on with Morgan, and I'm pretty sure I know what it is, but let's just say that the moment where Rebecca tried to get him naked and he was all, "Um, no, let's not, hey look a squirrel!" was suspicious.

It's not like Thomas is coming out of this episode smelling like a rose either. While Rebecca is off chasing a miner, Thomas is grieving his late wife. Emily, who raised Rebecca with Thomas and died only three months ago, was a lovely, kind woman who apparently looks just like Fiona Briggs. Rebecca points this out to Thomas, and while he denies it at first, it's clearly a denial based on grief and a reluctance to admit how much he misses her. 

Fiona goes to Thomas several times in this episode, actually, looking for consolation. She knows that she, a young woman with two small children, will have to marry soon, to find someone to care for her and feed her babes. She wants to know how Thomas did it, moving on so quickly. She doesn't think she can, and she demands to know his secret. The secret? He didn't move on. Emily made him promise on her deathbed that he would continue to care for Becca, and since she's a ward of the state and they never officially adopted her, he had to marry her. He could never live with her as a single man. 

This does put their marriage in an entirely different, and much more comprehensible, light. I'm not sure if we knew the whole story before - though it was super clear theirs was not a marriage based on passion or love - but this does make me more sympathetic to Thomas following Becca around all the time, telling her to be more proper. He's not just stifling her proto-feminist attempts at rebellion, he's also trying to make sure she doesn't get put in an asylum, which is apparently a very real threat for her.

There's a very sweet moment at the end of the episode where Fiona goes to see Thomas during the wedding, both of them unable to take the merriment and the reminders of what they've lost. She helps him to his feet, and they share a sweet slow dance, which seems to suggest the possibility that out here in the wild, some partners are about to get switched around.

Which raises interesting questions. Because, on the one hand, Rebecca and Thomas are married. It feels wrong to root for the dissolution of that union. On the other hand, they're only married because of an unjust law that demands Rebecca be legally protected. It's also clear that they are married on paper only, as Thomas makes it clear he's never actually seen his wife naked. So, what is the good here? Is there any way out that won't break all of their hearts? I have no idea, but I look forward to finding out, and I really appreciate the show for raising these questions.

Also on the topic of love for another, the episode gives us a few other snippets of stories on that front. Robin and Kelly travel with Kat to meet with her maternal relatives, all Indians, and the girls are also confronted with facts about their mother's past. They have to figure out whether or not they're going to keep loving their mother no matter what. Which, they do, but I like that we spend some time on this decision. 

And Mrs. Briggs, cold though she may be, is not immune to all the love in the air at camp. At the big wedding that ends the episode, where almost all of the crib girls are merrily married off to miners in a gorgeous celebration of new life and new hope, she gets her moment of romance when Franklyn Caze asks her to dance. It's super sweet and I love it and I ship it hard.

Finally, there's love for the community at large, and this plotline is best embodied by Kat. Kat has, as I said above, decided to hell with these people, she's getting out of Janestown while she still can. Robin and Kelly aren't in favor, but Kat has good reason. Kelly tries to tell her, "Well, they didn't hang you."

And Kat retorts, "That's the best can be said?!" Which is a very valid point. Literally the best thing that can be said for the actions of everyone except Becca last episode is that they didn't actually hang her. So Kat is understandable when she wants to leave. She takes the girls out into the wilderness, and while the girls are worried that without Jeremiah or Neill, they have no man to take care of them, Kat is intent on showing them that doesn't matter. She takes them to meet up with her aunties, a huge group of Indian women. Only women, as it turns out, which is a subtle touch but works well with the idea that this show is about the creation of a society where women call the shots.

Kat is trying to see if Jeremiah came by here, of course, and the girls just sort of chill for a while as Kat goes off on a spirit quest to find her husband. By which we mean that an old woman gives her a hallucinogenic mushroom. But while Kat is tripping the light fantastic in the woods, the girls meet some bounty hunters looking for their ma. Apparently Kat and Jeremiah killed a surveyor and are wanted for murder. Well that does explain why they were literally running in the first episode.

The girls ultimately decide that it doesn't matter what Kat did, she undoubtedly had her reasons. And Kat realizes that, as much as she wants to find her husband, she doesn't have to do it alone. There are people who might love her, or could learn to, and she's a fool for trying to throw that away. 

As Kelly says, "Ma! We ought to go back, considering there is nothing here for us yet, no stock and no money for it. There be people in Janestown - be our people. Maybe, one day. Watching out for us." And Kat sighs and agrees. She needs those other women. She can't do this on her own.

And so they go back in time for the wedding. The girls dance with each other in the swirl of dresses and boots and newly wedded couples, while Kat watches from the sidelines. She's still sad, there's no question of that, but now that she's admitted that Janestown is becoming home, she seems less heavy. Maybe that's just me.

So, yeah. This episode is about love. Like last week, it's very unified in theme and content, which makes for an episode much quicker to pass than the first three. Those are seriously a slog. But this one tells a strong story that I care about. I want these women to find love in all its forms, and I want them to build the lives that they want. I also like, however, that this is not a simple or straight-forward process. Sometimes building the life you want means giving up other things, or destroying parts of the life you used to have. And that's hard.

I look forward to seeing where they take all this next week - but I'm going to take a wild guess and say that the drama isn't over yet. Not by a long shot.

1 comment: