Strange Empire

So I watched the first episode of a Canadian TV series called Strange Empire. It seemed like it would be something different and cool – a Canadian Western with female leads. I knew nothing about it other than the women would be left to fend for themselves when all their menfolk were killed.

Looking back on it, the whole “they’re the leads because the men get killed” was worrisome. I didn’t really think about it until after I had watched the show. Granted, if you are going for historical accuracy, you need to provide a reason for the women to be independent. Since I’ve never really thought of Westerns as historically accurate (not any more than the Hong Kong heroic bloodshed movies reflected the actual criminal underworld in 1980s Hong Kong), I don’t think you really need to twist yourself in a pretzel to justify female heroes. Heck, the Quick and the Dead did it while not ignoring the fact that an independent woman would be a huge social anomaly.

Anyway, the main protagonist of the pilot and her husband have to adopt two young ladies who were orphans destined to be delivered to a pimp to become whores. They also adopt a couple of young men, but the husband and the young men are soon dead, so that doesn’t matter so much.

There was only one aspect that really annoyed me at the outset: early in the episode the main protagonist, Kat, comes out shooting when she feels her adopted children are threatened. At the moment, it seemed like a cue that she was bad-ass. Later, when the camp gets attacked, she does nothing. Absolutely nothing. We don’t see her trying to protect the camp or fight the attackers or anything. She has her six-shooter right there in its fancy holster and we’ve had a scene showing she’s a pretty accurate shot, so why doesn’t she do anything?

It seemed like a cheat. If this is an origin story of her becoming a bad-ass, don’t tease us with a scene of her being uber-competent. Show us her desire and will to protect, but she doesn’t have the tools to do it. In the earlier scene, that was her husband. He has to talk his way out of the mess. If she didn’t have the gunslinger clothing, the gunslinger rig, and the big, bad six-shooter, I wouldn’t have expected anything from her when the camp is attacked. It’s not that she didn’t save the camp, she didn’t even try to protect it.

The rest of the episode just went totally downhill. The girls get kidnapped and Kat gets her ass handed to her by the badguy, again undermining the initial promise that this would be our version of “the Lady” from the Quick and the Dead (Sharon Stone’s character). Her plan to rescue the girls is frankly ludicrous. Not that it’s insane when it works, just that it makes no actual sense. Why didn’t they just walk out the freakin’ door? Since [SPOILERS, if you actually care]that’s really what they ended up doing!

To top this off, Kat and her adoptive daughters stay in the town (mining camp? I wasn’t quite sure) with the badguys. They pretty much move one block away from the guy who kidnapped the girls, the guy who Kat believes murdered all the menfolk. So, what, he’s not going to notice the two girls the next morning? It’s intimated that Kat and her husband had a plot of land to which they were going, so why not go there? Why not go work that farm?

I mean other than if the gunslinger (who, actually, isn’t really a gunslinger or bad-ass or anything expect apparently not that bright) leaves town, there isn’t a motivating force for conflict?

Really, really disappointed with this. It’s on Canadian Netflix right now, but I would give it a pass. Re-watch the Quick and the Dead, or if you’re looking for something on Netflix, check out the Magnificent Seven.

I give Strange Empire one poorly aimed six-shooter out of five. The premise had lots of promise that the actual execution pissed away.

You can read more about Strange Empire at the CBC website.

You can read more about the Quick and the Dead at Wikipedia or IMDB.

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