Strange Empire comes full circle


Finally, after everything Strange Empire has put its characters through, things had to go back to the beginning to put John Slotter in his grave. Although it took quite a bit of running in circles to get there, and there’s still no real sense that we’re any closer to closure or resolution with that final revelation setting up a new quest for Kat that has the potential to pit her against her own people.

Then again, if this past season has prepared us for anything with this show, it’s that expecting anything in Janestown to end neatly with a bow on top is to grossly miss out on the series’ most prevalent theme. There are no happy endings here, only the just-missed possibility of them.

Kat is set to walk away from two more of them now that Jeremiah has suddenly staggered back to her. If things go forward, I’ve no doubt she’ll once again abandon the idea of moving on to the ranch with her girls (assuming Isabelle keeps her word). And it goes without saying that with either Jeremiah back or the ranch in her grasp, she’s not taking up a life in Washington with Caleb trying to make a difference with paper and handshakes instead of the feeble pointing of a gun. But that also means her resolve and her commitment to righting those wrongs, however powerless she actually is to do so, will keep her tied to that cursed plot of land.

Even the other women, who finally seemed to be making the right call by packing it in and daring the hard journey together, were drawn back to the brigs and their idea of a female-led sanctuary. Though expecting Cornelius to be any different than his son, when he’s the man who made John, is oddly naive for this group now. And Cornelius isn’t walking away now that he’s got a share to fight for. Isabelle may have found a way to marry into her share and gain her freedom, but the pull between the men in her life isn’t going to stop. She might have been better off dealing with the increasingly insane son than the calculating father who lacked the moral compass that drove his son to stand there, arms open, waiting for a bolt to the heart.

But there was no way a series like this could actually end happily ever after—there’s blood on their hands they can’t wash off, as Rebecca astutely observed when she told Kat that place had made them do thing they never would have done anywhere else. And there are bodies in that ground—and some now walking out on the land—that wouldn’t be easy to leave behind.

But there were signs that if Strange Empire carries on, it will be a far different world to what we’re used to (once again). With the women moving forward dressed in their men’s clothes, they too have been affected by the place in a way that might make it impossible to go home, but just might make it possible for them to survive. There’s less talk, less introspection and dithering and—finally—a sense that they simply need to get things done. The final days of Slotter’s insanity seemed to have done what months of his rage couldn’t.

To that end, if CBC does continue to explore the strange empire it created, I’m hopeful Janestown too will become a much different place. The back half of the series weaved in so many complexities of the region and the times beyond the vulnerability of the women in camp—the kind of things Canadians have become adept at sweeping away—that to see that take the foreground over the danger men can present would continue to make this Canadian western a vastly different show than anything we’ve seen before. The women finally have their commune, or as much of one as they could realistically get, and now it’s time to see them engage with the world again. It’s no easy thing to kill a man, as they learned, but that’s not the only struggle.


Do you want to see more of Strange Empire? Was Slotter’s death a fulfilling enough end for you? And who do you choose between Caleb or Jeremiah?