Four days after being cancelled, ‘Republic of Sarah’ aired its final episode of its one season on The CW. It’s the story of a history teacher (Sarah) who rallies her town on the US-Canadian border to declare independence, to avoid destruction by mining interests. Is this the first micro-nation / teen romance / family drama? Does it have any logical or legal consistency? And most importantly, since this is The CW, is Sarah’s friend’s kid actually her nephew?
The basic premise
Sarah is a high school teacher in her hometown, but she’s young and cool and wears a jacket with a lot of patches on it, as some sort of millenial-ized Che Guevara look. CBS passed on the show, and The CW reshot the pilot with a new cast in their early to mid 20s. So someone felt strongly about the vibe of upstate New Hampshire.
The legal basis for a New Hampshire town becoming a country is that the river changed course between the US and Canadian surveys, leaving them in a neutral zone which just seemed American. So lucky that they weren’t 10 miles further south, or fracking in Oklahoma! Sarah read about this in college, so she rallies her hometown to vote, and they follow her into the chaos of being a separate country. You might have some questions:
- Why didn’t they just elect someone new as mayor?
A: ‘The Mayor’ was a show on ABC in 2017.
- Is founding a country a frame to discuss real-life issues of immigration, criminal justice, and companies using local jobs as political leverage? Or are we going to have an episode where a plot point is ‘we designed our own currency’ or ‘we refuse to extradite someone’?
A: Ughhhhhh the show can’t decide.
- After the town votes to secede, Sarah then assumes leadership, and effectively is an absolute dictator until called out on it a few episodes later. Did the ballot just say ‘new country now, idk’?
A: It’s OK because the mayor quit, someone had to do it
Areas where the show could improve
How the pilot lets a town full of ordinary people secede
This was a runaway train of events where the initial goal was small (stop mining) and blew up into a more serious movement. It got mixed up with family drama with Sarah facing her long-lost corporate fixer brother, and alcoholic former-politician / famous writer mom. I felt like the pilot had a reasonable ending (winning independence, but Sarah arrested), then the second episode laughs off any legal questions, making it look like the pilot just wasn’t long enough.
Here’s a fix! Instead of Sarah remembering reading about her own town’s border maps back in college, we make it a legendary town quirk that they voted to join New Hampshire by one vote. When the state government won’t act, Sarah asks them to remember the history, or when she was a kid they always told her government was a mutual choice. Maybe this would be too similar to Texas or sound too pro-secession?
How independent is this country anyway?
In an early episode, Sarah drives her mom to a rehab facility in another state without any passport or diplomacy issues. It is made to sound unfair when the US won’t provide power or disaster relief. It would be nice if later episodes did quick hand-waving about a compact of free association, similar to the Marshall Islands to avoid problems of passports, mail, work, and free travel.
My other idea would be that the governor, and corporation have some sinister reason for allowing the town to stay independent and not negotiating — like it allows them to use dangerous unregulated chemicals, or there’s an upcoming budget crisis a la The Chair. The unregulated part was raised in earlier episodes where reverting to the original town charter left the town powerless to stop drunk driving and other new crimes.
Evil corporate whatever
After forming a whole country to reject mining, the town has financial problems and is soon allowing the company to drill and install Sarah’s brother on the council anyway. There is some handwaving about how it’s different because we told them where to put the drills, and the episode’s conflict is mainly that Sarah’s friend will lose his house. The company and governor, one-sided villains in the pilot, fall to the background. For the viewer, it’s baffling and I wondered if they’re saying government is where ideals go to die or meet the new boss, same as the old boss or what?
The obvious solution would be for the town to pivot to solar or hydro-power. The problem is it’s too neat. Also Sarah’s brother needs to stay in town for his own plot thread to play out.
A more complex solution might be to host a clean energy research lab with Energy Corp, where the conflict would be that it’s a long payoff, environmental hazard, and the jobs would go to new residents.
Another solution would be for Sarah and the council to explore collective ownership of the mine but a show about seceding from the country can’t be political I guess.
Long-lost father meets long-lost son
When Sarah’s brother returned to town after years of no contact, the pilot made it clear to expect family drama on the show. Then halfway through the season something crazy happens: Sarah’s father returns after years of no contact. Not only is this repetitive, his WikiLeaks plot line plays on the worst elements in the show: ‘we are a country which can safely ignore the US’, ‘what is the mom doing’, and ‘Sarah came from a broken family and is cool so you know she is strong’. I can see that losing her father again was supposed to be the major conflict in the second half and final episode of the season, but the stakes of extraditing him affect few other people.
I would love if instead there was a soldier who went AWOL over illegal orders or a cover-up, and most townspeople had to be convinced not to extradite. And if the dad called on Sarah now that she’s a president, she could just ignore him and talk to her friend about that story.
Rights to the Land
One of the students is Native American, which led me to anticipate his family being involved in the history, sharing interesting thoughts on yet another colonizer, getting recognition in a new constitution…
Sarah is a history teacher and this is her classroom
After the pilot, we never see Sarah teach again. Did she have to quit school, or was it covid filming? I think it would be great to open or close more of the real-world issue episodes in a history class.
Instead the show’s narration is Sarah addressing the town by some kind of video platform. Is this the town website? Does she have a social media presence where the world follows every move?
Ranked Choice Voting
Make an episode about RCV and representation, you cowards
Things that I did appreciate
- A show about a micro-nation
- The plot line about the reporter, the New Yorker piece, etc.
- Sarah ending the series having destroyed her relationship with each of her friends by trying to do things for the greater good and that made it very believable
- Allowing 16-year-olds to vote — not only does this fit The CW’s audience and allow the high school characters to appear in the micro-nation plot threads, it was the most clear example of the country being different and DIY.