Happiness in a Strange Empire

Strange Empire, Ep. 105, Day 5 of 7 - August 12, 2014, Langley, BC

Strange Empire found a new strange twist in Monday’s “Lonely Hearts.” Despite the gloomy title, at least a couple of characters seemed to have their weekly story end on a happy note—quite the change from a series that has made “from bad to worse” a bit of a mantra for its leads.

If nothing else, it was immensely satisfying to see Rebecca act on her feelings for Morgan even after it became clear Thomas knew. We know there’s no love lost between the married couple, especially when Thomas admitted to Fiona he’d only married her after his wife’s death to keep a promise that they continue to look after the ward of the state. I’m guessing at least some of Thomas’ frustration comes from the fact that he might not even like his current wife, but didn’t want to lose his experiment. The episode tried to build up some sympathy for him as he bonded with the widow who reminded him of his first wife, and also suggested that he was at least in part trying to protect Rebecca from herself by turning her into what society wants. But his ideas of what she should be don’t fit in this world, and he seems incapable of realizing that, or at least trying to protect Rebecca in a way that doesn’t continuously cut her down.

Of course, there are still limits in this strange empire. We saw what happened last week with the way Kat was treated once they found out she was Métis and again this week when Ling let Isabelle know Slotter’s interest in Adeline had plenty to do with her white skin. And while those two are slowly being hounded for their race, Rebecca’s relationship with Morgan might make her vulnerable for reasons Thomas, and even Rebecca, aren’t aware of yet.

While we haven’t seen too much of Morgan Finn to date, the more the pair interacted this week, the more I started to suspect Morgan has a secret — seemingly confirmed when Morgan didn’t yet want to be naked in front of Rebecca (spoilers here). And yet, for all that the signs are there, at this point I’m far more interested in Morgan’s history and how this will affect things with Rebecca going forward. There’s a strange tension between how Rebecca is starting to openly flout convention and the ways Morgan is, for all that’s being alluded to, far more conservative. Despite all this, and the potential for things to end terribly, as per Strange Empire’s usual ways, it’s been this small romance with its minimal screen time that has me hoping hardest for at least one happy ending before the season is out.

Strange Empire, Ep. 105, Day 5 of 7 - August 12, 2014, Langley, BC

I’m still unclear on whether that might be the case for Kat, who apparently ditched Neil while he was on a supply run to head to the ranch with her girls. Intercepted by family on the way, Kat’s aunt (the wonderfully mischievous Tantoo Cardinal) saved her from a run in with bounty hunters while giving her a cryptic vision of Jeremiah. Last week it really felt like Kat had nowhere she fit, but the warm greeting from her family this week seemed to contradict that. Then again, with a bounty on her head, Robin and Kelly were right to say they can’t stay close to Kat’s family when there are people looking for her. Unfortunately Janestown doesn’t seem like the kind of place where she might ever really belong, let alone find happiness, leaving me to assume her return and eventual defeat of Slotter will be what it takes for her to find what she’s lost—if there’s anything left to find except a glove.

The new rift between Isabelle and Slotter might mean the former is at least willing to give Kat that clue about her husband’s fate. While it seemed Isabelle accepted Slotter’s apology, she’s already proven she can hate her husband and put on a nice face for him. With Ling lingering in the background of their dance, and Isabelle’s ready interest in one of the lone men to treasure her, I don’t know how much longer the tenuous relationship between the Slotters can keep going. The guilt that’s slowly building in Isabelle over the things she’s done and ignored to preserve that marriage might add its own inerasable taint as well, though how she might get transformed into a villain before then seems to be the more tangible mystery.

It might be a warning for the women in the cribs who executed a mass wedding in order to take Rebecca’s medical advice after Briggs took over as madam. In some ways “Lonely Hearts” undermined the original premise of the series as Robin and Kelly pointed out they couldn’t set up the ranch without a man to help, and Fiona Briggs realized she’d need to take a new man soon enough because of her kids. Instead of breaking free from that, Kat intensified her search for Jeremiah before turning her back on the ranch, Fiona danced with Thomas and the women of the cribs found some legitimacy through the men willing to have them. While I’d hate to deprive any of these women of whatever happiness they can find in the miserable camp, it doesn’t really feel like they’re overthrowing the system so much as gratefully finding a way back in. And that probably means things are about to go to pieces in spectacular ways.

What do you think will happen to Morgan and Rebecca? Is Isabelle better off with Ling? Was Briggs trying to help the women or line her own pockets even more? Sound off in the comments below!

Strange Empire airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.