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Canary In A Coal Mine (Behind The Episode)


Canary In A Coal Mine

Every country in Africa has its own unfortunate, tempestuous tale of colonial rule causing chaos and genocide, leaving behind a vicious cycle even after countries gain their independence. The DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) is one such example. Originally known as Zaire by the Belgians, the DRC was run into the ground through annexation in which the native Congolese died from exploitation and disease. The Congo turned to Communism in the 1960s for assistance against the U.S. and colonial powers (England, Belgium, France) who continued to exploit their people and resources. After much tension, neighbor Rwanda suffered a genocide, inciting Congolese Tutsi to respond in the DRC. After political unrest and assassinations, the country has attempted to stabilize. However, its people still suffer from starvation and disease. Many residents of the DRC have turned to mining for profit as the DRC holds a wealth of resources from copper to coltan, an important resource that makes much of our modern technology. Today, the DRC is ranked #176 on Human Development out of 187 countries. China receives over 50% of the DRC’s exports which are mostly minerals. Clearly, world powers are profiting off the country, yet it’s the 13th poorest country in terms of human development. Does something seem backwards there? In the coming decades, we will hear of more Russian, U.S., and Chinese mining operations growing in African countries. This race for resources in Africa may even cause the next world war, especially if these countries are not recompensed properly for their natural amenities.


This unsung issue of untapped resources in Africa is the central point of Episode 2. Each episode of Shifter hopes to break down the different perspectives and narratives surrounding each topic. Here, we meet mine owners from rural DRC, black market slave holders who have a hidden warehouse posing as a travel agency in Kinshasa, and the U.S. government hoping to intercede on the new mineral that these mine owners have stumbled upon. Who is the guiltiest and most immoral party? We have people who barter lives for money, others who make a profit out of mines which are the root cause of much devastation in the Congo today as rebel armies fight over ownership of each mine as it’s the only proven source of revenue in the country, and finally we have the U.S. government always looking to profit from others’ misfortunes and discoveries. Shifter is always put in a place where she must act despite dealing with individuals who do not want the outcome she must bring home. Shifter must prevent these people from doing harm to others.


At the same time, there are no villains. Ketia, Rolly, and Alain just want to make a living as mine owners despite their awful employment process. Jason just wants to make a quick buck through the black market so that he may eat dinner. How can we judge people in each of these situations? It’s easy for us to say they’re evil when we’ve been given privileged circumstances to survive honestly or thoughtfully. Some of these people grew up with nothing. They had to make something. So what do we make of them? Shifter herself grapples with these issues as she learns that not everything is black and white. People are still people and act out of desperation or survival purposes. Themes of having to act for the interest of a country over a person become imperative to understand. The theme of unmasking and covert agents is displayed in the hidden room of the travel agency as well as the unmasking of Shifter in an early scene with Dalton that hints at preferences of anonymity over identity.


The guttural violence in the finale of this episode is meant to remind the viewer that there is nothing glamorous about this job. Shifter must constantly battle foes despite their allegiances if it means her life over theirs. Even in a negotiation process, there is little to be said for winners and losers: it’s all sad. The most we can do is remember what Alain says, “No more blood today. Please.” Often times, we see secret agents displayed in sexy and surreal ways. Shifter hopes to dispel the myth that being a spy or agent is a fun and glamorous job. There are no extreme car chases that engage in manual revs that make hearts palpitate, there are no tall heels used in fights since these would make poor running shoes, and finally there are no sex scenes since this would make most agents vulnerable to almost anything… unrealistic, any? Shifter has no time to make friends; she only makes enemies in her line of work. And if she feels anything, she must repress it. For true fans of realism, check out Patrick McGoohan in Secret Agent or Edward Woodward in Callan.