Klondike (Discovery Channel) Review Episode 2

Can there be civilization in the wild?

That is a question that was best answered by the late, great Deadwood, but Klondike takes a stab at it in its plodding second episode. The miniseries slows down considerably, offering up more character study than an adventure narrative as Belinda, Jack London, Meeker, The Count and Sabine move to the forefront.

The Count and Byron’s unseen (until the last frame) killer represent the worst of humanity. The Count in particular, connives, kills and humiliates with abandon. He wants to own the town of Dawson and all of the people in it. Tim Roth pulls of the role of the evil land grabber with flair; it is easy to despise the man as he attempts to manipulate Belinda, and even easier to cheer when she outmaneuvers him.

While there is much talk of the land and how the wild seeps into people until their humanity is nothing more than a distant memory, the scenery in this episode is all dreary wetness. Without the gorgeous vistas to look at, the weight of the story falls entirely on the shoulders of the cast. The dialogue is as hackneyed as ever, which makes it hard for the excellent actors to rise above the overwritten material they were handed. Philosophy goes down easier when it is shown rather than written out in the purplest of prose. (The worst line of the evening goes to the lovely Madden who does his best to sell: “We drink it when we want to take the sharp edges off the world.”)

What the episode does have going for it is the budding relationship between Belinda and Bill. Against her better judgement, she goes up to the mine in the middle of a rainstorm in order to deliver wood to Bill to keep him from freezing. Bill repays her with some sexy pontificating that leads to sex. Then we find out she has Typhus shortly after Bill erroneously believes she sold him out to the wicked Count. The illness claims a good portion of the camp and clears out even more as they leave the Klondike behind before winter sets in. Belinda is tougher than most though, so she survives, thanks in part to Bill visiting her bedside. Yes, I believe that is a factor. Madden hovering over anyone’s bedside would give them the will to live, I’m sure.

Back at the mines, the situation is quickly devolving into an apocalyptic one. Bill gets into an ax fight over wood and then he and his partner/new best friend Meeker are sabotaged by another miner who orchestrates a cave in. With Meeker’s arm injured, Bill takes the opportunity to send Meeker back home, getting him out of the wild before the Klondike can take another friend from him. But Meeker stays, proving to Bill that humanity can thrive in the wilds. For now.

The trouble is, Bill isn’t staying for the gold. It’s revenge he wants, which in turn is a base instinct he wants to feed. Byron’s killer confesses to the Reverend, and gesture that may or may not be enough to save the Tlingt man the Mounties have arrested. But the confession can’t save Bill’ soul. Just as Jack London’s dog wanders back off into the wild, so shall Bill, if it means bringing himself some small amount of peace. Never mind all of the people warding him off the path of murder, the need to take an eye for an eye is eating at Bill. So maybe civilization won’t win out in the end, maybe we are just animals. It’s a bleak viewpoint to take, but all poeticism aside, Klondike needs to go out with a bang and there’s no better way to do that than by taking your hero and turning him inside out.

Klondike concludes tonight, Wednesday, January 22nd at 9PM on Discovery.

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