“Strange Empire” features lesbians, madams and Ali Liebert

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As we weather the long winter of mid-season hiatuses, our neighbors to the north have bestowed upon us a gift: Strange Empire, a show about badass lady pioneers and the horrible men they inexplicably tolerate.

The show is set on the Canadian frontier in the 1860s, and the main point it seeks to drive home is that life on the frontier SUCKED. Everyone smelled bad, a girl had two dresses at most, and wifi reception was all but nonexistent. If you were a man, you would die violently and young, and if you were a woman (or, god help you, a woman of color) you would be subject to the predations of all the soon-to-die men.

So you may be wondering what in this grim milieu would entice you to tune in. Well, it turns out that even in the darkest times, there was still the light of sweet lady kisses. With that in mind, you will watch Strange Empire for the following reasons.

1. Lesbianism Abounds.

All three main characters are rich in Sapphic potential. Kat Loving (Cara Gee), a Metis fugitive/sheriff/compulsive child-adopter has the swagger of a woman who would definitely cuddle up in your tent on a cold enough night. Isabelle Slotter (Tattiawna Jones), the local madame/charlatan/barb-slinger told another female character that she would “school her in the ways of pleasure,” which is one of the top five most erotic phrases in historical fiction.

But the character who has traveled farthest along the path of righteousness is Rebecca Blithely (Melissa Farman), an autistic physician who has fallen hard for Morgan Finn (Joanne Boland), a woman living in disguise as a man. Rebecca doesn’t know yet that Morgan is sporting breasts under her vest and that her stubble is just a fuck-ton of dirt, but she does know that when Morgan touches her, it causes electric shocks which she is very interested in experiencing as often as possible.  I knew going into this show that there was gay content, but I didn’t know precisely what it was until Morgan whispered to Rebecca, after knowing her for all of three minutes, “You are my true love,” and I was like, “THAT’S A LESBIAN, THAT IS.”

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I’m excited to learn the reasons behind Morgan’s masquerade, and even more excited to see the look on Rebecca’s face when it’s revealed.  I have a feeling she’s going to be super cool about it

2. Ali Liebert is there.

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Yes, our Most Favorite Canadian, who made us all a little braver on Bomb Girls and a little swoonier on Lost Girl, is one of the women populating the frontier.  Thus far, things aren’t going particularly well for her. She narrowly escaped being recruited into prostitution, and she got (her own) blood all over her only dress. But things may be looking up, at least now that the camera has recognized that hers is usually the most watchable face on screen. Now they just need to work on making her a little less defenseless. I mean, you don’t hire Ali Liebert to be on your show unless she is destined to become the shotgun-wielding empress of a tribe of sexually fluid Amazons. You just don’t.

3. There is so much room to grow. Strange Empire is just now starting to live up to its potential, after a sometimes-shaky start. The title sequence illustrates what the show should be about: strong women supporting one another, owning their sexuality, and armed to the (improbably white) teeth.

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It can take some of the grim realities of the Old West and mix them with an empowering message about women who can take care of themselves and each other.  Until recently, that empowerment was overwhelmed by the constant threat of rape from the male characters. (If you have issues surrounding this subject, I would not recommend the show.) But the ladies are starting to catch on that they don’t really need the men, except a token few of the better-behaved ones to help populate the wilderness. (I am not including Tahmoh Penikett in this number, since I have never/will never forgive him for being a black mark on Bomb Girls with his insufferable accent and rectangularity.)  If the show can focus on its best storylines and actors, and institute a socialist, anti-racist matriarchy get a second season, it could really be a story worth rallying around.

Strange Empire needs time and support to develop into the show it can be, so if you’re a fan I would highly recommend tweeting your support to the Canadian Broadcasting Company (@CBC).  And if you’re interested in full recaps, feel free to comment.

Strange Empire is airs Mondays at 9p.m. on CBC and is currently eight episodes in to its 13-episode season.

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