While Strange Empire has been wrapped up in the ideas of purity from the very beginning, it’s never been as overt as it was in Monday’s “How Far Is Heaven.” Both Kelly and Rebecca took centre stage as the Slotters looked for ways to take advantage of their new vulnerability and innocence.
Kelly just might be as adept as her sister Robin when it comes to having a sixth sense about things. After the onset of “womanhood” last week and Kelly’s calm certainty that all the men would be after her, that’s exactly what happened—and in the show’s now-trademark predatory manner.
I assumed after Slotter’s whole bit with Rebecca—where he bluntly inquired about whether she was still a virgin despite being married—that when Jordan Young (Luke Camilleri, Hemlock Grove) stated his interest in finding a pure wife Rebecca was going to be the sacrificial lamb. After all, Thomas had moved them in with the Slotters right before dying and Ruby had only just pointed out to Slotter how tenuous Rebecca’s safety was. But it seems Strange Empire isn’t done exploring all the ways these Victorian women can end up in danger, and Young ended up setting his sights on Kelly instead.
That alone would have been dark enough without the eventual revelation (seen coming when Kelly and Young kissed) that she wasn’t the only barely pubescent girl he’d gone after. From dead baby girls in the premiere to this, and everything that’s happened in between, the series seems determined to showcase how unsafe it was/is for women. But watching it happen to Kelly and Martha (Laine MacNeil, The Killing) brought back the sense of horror those early episodes managed to pass on before both we, and the women of Janestown, adjusted to the new threats.
It’s hard to say if Isabelle’s attempt to hand Kelly over to Young without Kat knowing made watching that worse or not. While she was obviously disturbed by what she saw between Young and Martha, we’ve already seen how much Isabelle is willing to hurt someone else if it means protecting her husband. It wasn’t entirely a surprise that as much as she was willing to turn on Young for raping Martha, she also had no problem putting Kelly in a similar situation—taking us right back to the premiere. Although, with Ling standing to gain plenty from Slotter’s desperation, I don’t know why Isabelle was willing to try so hard when she could have easily spared the girl instead and focused on using Ling to get away.
On one level, Isabelle’s unpredictability makes her far more fascinating than Kat or Rebecca—not to mention she’s clearly been affected by the brutality of the men around her more than the rest. But watching her help Slotter with these sorts of plans, knowing what sort of husband and man he is, and knowing that his schemes will only do to others what’s been done to her, I can’t help but wish Isabelle’s defiance would become more overt. Then again, Isabelle’s situation is also painfully realistic, even today, and I’m not sure something as simple as an affair with Ling or even her disgust with men like Young can have an effect when her survival is so tied up in her husband.
She really only has to look around her to see what other danger is out there, and Rebecca already looks like she’s being set up as the next example. Suddenly alone, Slotter was bringing her gifts and offering her the use of a crib if she’ stay in town—and we already know what that means. His fascination with her purity, to the point of making it a nickname for her, only heightened the sense that he was planning something while distracting her with gifts. And in between Morgan’s curt revelation before walking out and Kat’s helplessness in the middle of the fight between the miners, there’s no real reassurance that the women can really overcome the danger Slotter keeps arranging for them—in fact, with every passing week they seem less and less impervious to it.
Strange Empire airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.