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Series / Strange Empire

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"One day you'll go too far, Kat."
"Better too far than not far enough."
Kat Loving

Strange Empire (stylized as STR∀NGE EMPIRE) was a Western drama on CBC in 2014 created by Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik. The show, located on the Alberta-Montana border in 1869, centers in particular around three women: Kat Loving, a Metis woman with four adopted children, Rebecca Blithley, an autisticnote  woman who is learning to become a doctor from her husband, and Isabelle Slotter, the woman who runs Janestown and its prostitutes with her husband, Captain John Slotter (pronounced "Slaughter").

After most of the men of Kat and Rebecca's traveling group are murdered by supposed "Indians," the women and surviving men are taken in by the Slotters, though their grace and understanding doesn't last long. The show does not tend to follow a formulaic structure, but fully expect at least one scene of Kat showing up at the last minute when someone is imminent danger (especially if her kids are involved) but killing no one and at least one scene of Slotter and his men wrecking the town and terrorizing the women per episode.


Tropes found in this series include:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Played with. While Kat holds onto the hope that her husband is alive, she nevertheless gets involved with a half-Indian U.S. marshal she has more than a little in common with. She later agrees to marry him.
  • Abusive Parents: John Slotter seems to have his share of daddy issues from a lifetime of being browbeaten by his father. In particular, through Robin, we learn that his father once made him stand on a broken leg.
  • Action Mom: Kat. She's easily more badass than most men, especially in defense of her biological or adopted kids.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Technically not all, but it's a constant threat in Janestown. Every female character is threatened—or actually assaulted—at some point.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Thomas Blithley's leg eventually requires amputation. By the time he finally decided to have it cut off however, it was already too late to save his life.
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  • Attempted Rape: A common occurrence. The show is in no small part about the trials faced by women in a world where the power is held by a man who maintains his position through fear and violence.
  • Badass Longcoat: Kat wears one constantly.
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: Cornelius Slotter's favorite method of getting new women.
  • Beauty, Brains, and Brawn:
    • The three leading women are a blend of these three traits, being beautiful, intelligent, and at least somewhat capable of holding their own physically. But they each still have their specialty.
    • Isabelle is beauty, a prostitute so alluring that John Slotter took her to wife.
    • Rebecca is brains, the doctor's wife who is probably a more talented physician than he is.
    • Kat is brawn, acting as the sheriff of Janestown and getting more than a few Big Damn Heroes moments.
  • Bedlam House: Rebecca says that she once called one of these home before Mr. Blithley and his wife took her in.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Once per episode, usually Kat.
  • Big Fancy House: Slotter's house in the middle of nowhere serves only to show off his power and wealth to Janestown. It is also a brothel.
  • Black Widow: Isabelle makes an attempt in the first episode due to her grief over her daughter.
  • Bond One-Liner: From the end of "The Resistance", after he avenges his mother's death:
    The Chinaman: Wo ai ni, Mama.
  • Book Dumb: Kat's children are street smart and know how to take care of themselves, but the girls at least can't read.
  • Bounty Hunter: Two come after Kat over a $1,000 bounty on her head for murder.
  • Cain and Abel: Isabelle invokes this to win her husband's support against his friend Jared.
  • Chinese Laborer: The nearby Chinatown becomes a source of labor when the white men refuse to work Slotter's dangerous mine.
  • Company Town: Janestown. Much as the women try to establish independence, Slotter will sweep in to show this is still his town.
  • Cool Uncle: In a time when being transgender is barely a concept, Morgan's uncle helps him pass as a man.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Slotter is terrible at running his mine. Conditions are unsafe and wages don't get paid (and when they do, they're low).
  • Covert Pervert: Rebecca is very eager to approach Morgan in public about being touched in thrilling ways.
  • Creepy Souvenir: The man who killed Georgie has been keeping his tongue. It's been haunting him rather than a point of pride, but he still keeps it.
  • Defiled Forever: Being the 1860s, this is a prevalent mindset. It's even explicitly stated that the men won't marry crib girls. This is ultimately proved untrue when Morgan's uncle happily marries Constance.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The series runs on this trope, considering the show's primary purpose is to show exactly how awful the Wild West was for anyone who wasn't white, straight and male. (Specific attention is given to the female (especially prostituted women), Native American, Black (ex-slave), Chinese, lesbian, transgender, and mentally atypical perspectives.)
  • Determinator: The central conflict of the story is more or less Kat vs Slotter-who can Determinate harder?
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Kat's is the quote at the top of the page.
    • The first shot we see of Robin and Kelly is them innocently playing a clapping game atop a stagecoach.
    • Dr. Blithely shows that he is kind but ultimately restrained by what people will think of him when he feeds and protects Robin and Kelly, but refuses to go through with actually adopting them, even though he obviously has the means to provide for children.
    • Rebecca conversely is introduced as weirdly distant and cold with her medical drawings and awkward manner, but shows herself to be more focused on doing right than appearing right when she states plainly to her husband that whoever would buy the girls has no conscience.
    • Isabelle's introduction is not the madam, the manipulator, or the tyrannical mistress of the house. She's shown in mourning for her child. This moment of vulnerability and humanity establishes a softer side both for characters and the audience.
    • Slotter's introduction on the contrary sets up nothing sympathetic. He first line is about money, his second is about the children he bought to be whores, and then he terrorizes the party at the station house before immediately plotting to make whores of all the women present.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Isabelle is much more reasonable than her husband about Robin and Kelly being prostitutes, as she started her own career when she was twelve. She is complicit in the ploy to get the girls out.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Very few recognized Kat as having First Nations ancestry (aside from Caleb, who's of mixed heritage like her), although it's fairly obvious. They then act like she "lied" about it to boot.
  • Feminist Fantasy: The show is about a Métis gunslinger looking for her missing husband, a black woman who used to be a sex slave and now is married to the villain of the show, and an autistic woman who wants to be a doctor, and their struggles in the No Woman's Land of a small frontier township consisting primarily of miners and prostitutes. The show particularly stands out in the way it plays And Then There Were None... with its white male characters.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Kat and Jeremiah adopt the four children, they sit down for a family portrait. Georgie can't sit still, and his face is blurred. As it turns out, the results of the photo indicate who survives. Georgie is dead by the end of the episode while Jeremiah, who is seen clearly, is alive at the end of the season.
    • "Are you afraid of girls, sir? Me too." Thank you, Georgie, for setting up a major theme for the whole series.
  • Foil:
    • Kat and Isabelle are connected from the first with losing their newborn children in the first episode, and both become mothers again through adopting. What's telling is their different methods. Kat takes in four children who have nothing and no one because they need protecting. Isabelle takes a baby from his birth mother, then uses and punishes the girl, because she believes a grandchild will get her father-in-law's favor.
    • Kat and Rebecca are also established as foils with regard to marriage through being newlyweds. While Rebecca's marriage is one of convenience for the sake of propriety because Dr. Blithely can't bear the stigma of living with a girl not his natural daughter, Kat's is one of intense romantic love and sexual passion with little regard for societal convention (notably she and Jeremiah married only after becoming parents together). Kat and Jeremiah also seem to regard each other as equals, while Thomas very much looks at Rebecca as relatively ignorant and in need of his guidance.
  • Frame-Up: Slotter claims that all attempts to pin the murders of the men on him are this. He is of course a lying liar who lies. His men commit a real frame-up on two innocent Blackfeet men, claiming both were found with the loot they took from the men.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Kat's daughters are almost always seen with their hair done this way, underscoring how much they're still just kids and the Slotters are depraved enough to make them prostitutes.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Kat is a good and just woman, but she's also very, very good with guns.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: While Isabelle has to put up with some nonsense in the bedroom, Kat and Rebecca both have a great time every time we see them have sex.
  • The Gunslinger: Kat. She is extremely accurate, but she mostly survives as well as she does by being a Quick Draw.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: Kat considers running off with the Indians because she doesn't belong with white people. The Indians tell her she doesn't belong with them either. It's something she and Caleb bond over. It gets better later in Janestown at least.
  • Hated by All: No one actually likes Slotter. People who support him pretty much only do it because of money and free license to brutalize people.
  • Heroic BSoD: Rebecca practically shrieking, "It's black through the hip! It's black through the hip!"
  • Hollywood Atheist: Averted. Rebecca is an atheist, but also one of the most heroic characters. Franklyn is as well, but does very bad things. However it's never indicated to be a result of his atheism, and he's not portrayed with any stereotypical traits besides this. He's no different than many other characters, and does good too (along with him displaying actual remorse).
  • Incompatible Orientation: Morgan Finn assumes this to be the case with Rebecca, despite him being a man in all but cultural assumptions. It turns out she doesn't mind.
  • Indian Maiden: This is only seen in the form of a humiliating costume Kat is forced to wear.
  • The Ingenue: Played with with Kelly. Kelly is clearly not an innocent in all ways as she's a thief, she knows something of what happens between men and women, she was fairly resigned to her fate as a prostitute before Kat came along, and while she's upset about her first period she doesn't think she's dying. However, her first brush with romantic love shows that she's still very naive and someone very nearly does take advantage of her.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Slotter is always violent, but he gets even more violent as he starts mentally unraveling.
  • I See Dead People: One of Kat's daughters, Robin, sees visions of people who are dead. It's yet to be confirmed whether what she's seeing is real or not.
  • I Will Find You: Kat is searching for her missing husband, who was part of the otherwise murdered hunting party most of the men were at.
  • Kangaroo Court: When two Blackfeet Indians are captured and blamed for the massacre, they are sentenced to hang without more than the barest questioning and flimsiest evidence.
  • Karmic Death: "We end where we begun."
  • Lie Back and Think of England: There are clearly some sexual encounters between Isabelle and John where John is doing absolutely nothing for her.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Ruby claims this relationship with Slotter. Which makes his father having sex with Ruby all the more icky.
  • The Lost Lenore: Gender-flipped with Jeremiah Loving. Emphasis on "lost" — his fate is currently unknown; though Kat pretty much acts like he's already dead. The very last scene of the first season reveals he's alive — right before several Indians snatch him away just as Kat realizes it's him.
  • Mad Doctor: When he's awake, Rebecca's husband routinely accuses her of becoming this.
  • Mama Bear:
    • Kat Loving is definitely this, saving her daughters pretty routinely per episode.
    • Isabelle's one connection that is based purely in love and affection without the complications of money and survival is her love for her stillborn daughter. Even months later, she will tear you apart if you lay a finger on Ada.
  • Mammy: Ruby visually invokes this, but acts as an examination and deconstruction of the stereotype.
  • Marital Rape License: Isabella has to endure Slotter abusing this after he decides to father another child with her.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Several. It's that kind of story.
    • Isabelle probably married John in part for his money.
    • Thomas married Rebecca so he could continue being her legal guardian.
    • Kat and Isabelle "marry" to the advantage of them both. Isabelle gets to inherit her part of Slotter's estate and Kat gets to share in the proceeds of the mine to save up for a ranch.
  • Marry for Love: What John did in marrying Isabelle, a mixed race prostitute. Whether she in return did it for love or is just a Gold Digger is less clear.
  • The Masochism Tango: The Slotters' marriage is really terrible. Sometimes they are the perfect team, sometimes they're just shy of being the death of each other.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The supernatural elements of the show are never definitively explained.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The lead characters' surnames are a bit on the nose.
    • Kat Loving is the only one of the three leads in an unquestioningly loving relationship. She also unhesitatingly adopts four children she just met because they have no one to take care of them.
    • Rebecca Blithely appears to be casually and cheerfully indifferent to doing wrong and the suffering of others. She does in fact care very deeply, but she struggles with communicating this.
    • Isabelle and John Slotter... well. There's lots of dead people in their wake.
  • Missing Mom: Kat says her white mother ran off, leaving her to be raised by her Cree father, with emphasis on the former being a "good Christian" (not) when defending two Blackfeet men that were accused of murder.
  • Mixed Ancestry: Kat and Caleb are Métis (First Nations/White ancestry), and Isabelle (Black/White). Ruby's mentioned though unseen son would also count, as she's black with him having a white father.
  • Monochrome Casting: Averted. The show is not just a story of women carving out a place in the west, it's often about people of color. Two of our three lead characters are both.
  • Not So Above It All: Ruby often acts as the voice of reason and morality in the Slotter household until it looks like Isabelle might legitimately be out on her ear, at which point Ruby tries to establish herself as mistress of the house and moving in on Cornelius against Slotter.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Slotter tries to pull this on Rebecca as her interest in the inner workings of the body can look like disrespecting the dead. Rebecca's answering Shut Up, Hannibal! came at the end of the series when she rejects using his body for science because she doesn't want anything of his.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Thomas survives being shot in the leg. The wound ultimately kills him when it gets infected.
  • Parental Incest: There are undertones of it. Dr. Blithely and his wife did not formally adopt Rebecca, but for all intents and purposes, he is her father. Their marriage is strictly for the purpose of maintaining some propriety, though Thomas wavers on that point when Rebecca becomes attracted to Morgan. The implication is that the marriage was never consummated.
  • Pass Fail: Kat quietly passes for white, though some people guess. She outs herself when she speaks to two Blackfeet men in their own language.
  • Phony Psychic: Isabelle, though she does believe in a world beyond her own.
  • Promotion to Parent: Kat promotes herself when she adopts her children on the road.
  • Public Execution: The two Blackfeet men that are brought in for the massacre are going to be hanged in the middle of town. The scaffold is later used to almost hang Kat when everyone learns she is Métis.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: They survived a massacre, now they need to make a life best they can with who and what they have.
  • Rape as Drama: Sometimes those rape attempts are successful, but because we also have Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil, any man who does either is going to die by the end of the episode.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Marshal Caleb Mecredi. He tries to encourage Kat to do the same.
  • Reluctant Fanservice Girl: Kat takes a turn dressed up as a squaw after agreeing to sell herself in her daughters' place.
  • The Reveal: Morgan Finn is physically female, and a trans man (not that the concept was current in the era).
  • Scary Minority Suspect: The Indian men Jared finds to use as scapegoats.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: This is Kat's notable foible once she becomes sheriff. She wants to screw the rules, and she struggles constantly not to.
  • Settling the Frontier: The goal of the characters in the beginning. Janestown is as far as they can get, though.
  • Sex for Services: Isabelle offers herself to Cornelius to get her husband a loan.
  • Sexless Marriage: Thomas and Rebecca have one, as it's just so he can remain her legal guardian. When she grows interested in sex, Thomas is too hampered with his injury for it. Even after he feels that his manhood is threatened and he gets protective about her as his wife, they still never have sex.
  • Spooky Séance: Isabelle performs one of these in hopes of goading someone to invest in the Slotters' failing mine.
  • Stage Magician: The girls meet one and quickly impress him with tricks of their own.
  • Street Urchin: Robin and Kelly, before being adopted by Kat and her husband.
  • Suicide by Cop: Slotter is deeply messed up and unhappy and he knows it. By the end of the series, he basically gives up all ties to life, and in his final scenes he all but dares Kat to kill him, even though he's about to be hanged. She obliges.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: This is how most characters probably view Morgan Finn (the concept of being transgender was still pretty unknown at the time), while Kat also disguises herself as a man to marry Isabella for business reasons (since same-sex marriage didn't exist then legally of course).
  • Switched at Birth: Mary's baby is stolen and passed off as Isabelle's. Later this falls apart and Mary leaves with her son and the man she loves.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Rebecca cheats on her husband with Morgan Finn, though given their marriage was just so that he could remain her guardian and he initially has no apparent desire for her, she's sympathetic. It's indicated the marriage was unconsummated, so by the laws of the time might not even have fully counted. By the time he's interested in sex with her (due to feeling his manhood was threatened by her affair) he's unable as a result of a leg injury.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Isabelle is poison, but even so the women of Janestown never turn against her as completely as her husband because being a woman she is as much under his power as they are.
  • Take Care of the Kids: Kat's request to Rebecca when it looks like she will be run out of town for being Métis.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Slotter gleefully arranges his will in such a way to make sure his wife, his father, and Mr. Ling will tear each other to pieces in the event of his death.
  • Title Drop: In the first episode, Slotter claims Janestown and the mine as his empire, which a potential investor calls "a strange empire" for being made up of women and minorities.
  • Token Minority Couple: Kat and Caleb, who are the two Métis (i.e. the mixed white and First Nations people) on the show, get together over its course. However, to be fair Kat's husband before was white, and it's justified since they share a bond based on their heritage.
  • Tongue Trauma: Kat's son Georgie is found hanging from a tree with his tongue removed after he mocked Slotter, which convinces Kat even more that Slotter was responsible for the deaths of the town's men.
  • Trigger Happy: Unsurprising considering the genre, but the most trigger-happy character, Kat, has yet to actually kill anyone. OR HAS SHE?
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Ruby insists that Slotter was kind as a child, which is why she remains loyal to him when she knows he's a monster.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out: So. Often. It's practically Rebecca's job.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Slotter is primarily motivated by wanting his father to see him as a successful man, making it all the more painful that Cornelius only shows up when things are going particularly wrong. John puts a gun to his father's head and asks if Cornelius can say he loves him, just once.
  • Wham Episode: "The Dark Riders", the season 1 finale. Kat finally gets her revenge on Slotter, but not before he amends his will to make his father, ex-wife, and the Chinese fight among themselves for control of his assets. In order for Isabelle to retain 49% ownership of Slotter's mine, she marries Kat. And it turns out Jeremiah Loving has been alive all along, and Kat learns of this just as several Indians on horseback kidnap him right in front of her.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Slotter continues to inexplicably be alive in a genre of lackadaisical gun control. Kat finally shoots him down — with a bow and arrow — in the season finale.
  • Wife Husbandry: Played with in the case of Thomas and Rebecca Blithely. Thomas raised Rebecca as practically his own daughter and he does love her very much. However, he still misses and is in love with his dead wife; his marriage to Rebecca is meant to allow him to remain her legal guardian. He doesn't seem to take an actual romantic/sexual interest in Rebecca until his manhood is threatened by Morgan, his inability to protect Rebecca, and the condition of his leg.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: What Isabelle seems to feel toward her husband immediately following Ada's death.


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