Spoiler Warning for all Three Seasons of Wynonna Earp
Last week’s episode of Wynonna Earp did something risky with its narrative. It took the season’s most overtly comedic episode and ended it with a gut punch of heartbreak. Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano), the hard-drinking, emotionally damaged protagonist at the show’s center discovered the closest thing she has to a romantic partner, Doc Holliday (Tim Rozon) had allowed his wife Kate (Chantel) to turn him into a vampire. Effectively rejecting growing old with Wynonna for immortality with Kate, Wynonna is devastated and angry and berates him for the seemingly selfish choice he’s made. He regrets his impulsivity, and hates himself for the mistake but would love nothing more than Wynonna to forgive him and continue to believe he can be a better person. Instead, she banishes him from her home, leaving him both literally and figuratively out in the cold.
If that plot description sounds absurd, well I suppose it kind of is. However, that’s where the best of genre television often succeeds. It wrings pathos out of the inherently preposterous, and Wynonna Earp may be doing that better than any other genre show on television.
I started binging Wynonna Earp on Netflix a couple of weeks ago. At first, I thought it was campy and fun, with an admirable girl power spirit and a good sense of humor about itself. It was diverting enough, and it earned kudos for its strong cast of female characters and its completely normalized central characters’ lesbian relationship.
Yet as season one wrapped and season 2 began, it became something more substantial. Wynonna Earp, with its central narrative of a supernaturally cursed young woman, romantic melodrama, and a cast of characters finding solace and support in a makeshift family, was filling a void that hadn’t been filled since Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Whether it’s now-sheriff Nicole Haught (Katherine Barrell), her fiercely loving, exuberant girlfriend/ Wynonna’s younger sister, Waverly (Dominique Provost-Waverly), the late, dragon-human hybrid Xavier Dolls (Shamier Anderson), Varun Saranga’s tech-savvy Jeremy Chetri (who has his own boyfriend this year Yay!), Wynonna (Scrofano), or Doc Holliday (Rozon), the series has an incredibly capable, likable cast of characters who give the show’s crazy world an emotional core.
I didn’t know how much I needed a Buffy replacement until I found myself devouring this on Netflix.
Now that I’m caught up, I’m stuck with the agony of waiting for plot resolution. It’s slowly killing me, and I’m left trying to figure out why the show hits me as hard as it does. We’re in a golden age of television, after all. I’m not lacking for entertainment. There’s just something special about Wynonna Earp, the show’s messy, complicated characters and the supernatural and real-world horrors they face. Now given my love of Buffy and a past obsession with Doc Holliday and the movie Tombstone, it’s possible there was no way I wouldn’t love it, but even with those admitted caveats, it’s just so good.
Many of the show’s strengths stem from having a female showrunner. Emily Andras took a comic book series and added her own unique spin, blending the humor and horror of Buffy, the hillbilly crime feel of Justified, and Supernatural’s emphasis on sibling bonding in a way that shouldn’t work. Instead, she does what the best genre shows do: they give us absurd scenarios and ground them with well-crafted characters. While most shows would have placed romance at their female protagonist’s center (and there’s plenty of romance, don’t misunderstand), Wynonna Earp’s true love story exists between Wynonna and her sister, Waverly.
The show is ultimately about two women reconnecting and reestablishing an unbreakable familial bond. Shows about sisters and their complicated, loving family dynamics are rare and usually reduced to caricatures. Here, it’s given all of the space it needs to develop into something lovely and believable.
Andras is also comfortable having a flawed, damaged female character at her show’s center. Wynonna may have a likably spikey sense of humor but it’s masking a lifetime of emotional baggage, including losing her older sister (twice, actually) and accidentally shooting her father. Melanie Scrofano’s portrayal, and gloriously expressive face, allows Wynonna to feel both endearingly cynical and heartbreakingly damaged.
She’s a character that makes mistakes, lashes out when she’s grieving, and tries to close herself off from the messy, complicated world of emotional attachments as much as she can.
The show even takes the time to acknowledge traumatic events and the affect they have on its characters, such as the memory of Alice, the baby Wynonna was forced to give up at the end of the second season. The child may be absent but its presence is simmering beneath every action Wynonna takes. Most importantly, though, the show always remembers she’s still worthy of family, friends, and people that care for her. Her flaws don’t make her unlovable, which is an admirable message to throw into a show about demons and a giant gun.
Then, of course, you have Doc.
Doc’s character exists as a fascinating, contradictory blend of selfishness and selflessness. At the series’ onset, he sort of exists as a high functioning sociopath. Embittered by being granted immortality and then spending a century at the bottom of a well, he initially serves as an inconsistent ally. He’d assist when it served him, but his underlying agenda for vengeance against the witch who put him in a well led to actions that placed him in opposition.
However, his ever-developing relationship with Wynonna and Waverly made him a better person, shifted him into a protagonist for whom it was easy to root. His old-fashioned, yet surprisingly open-minded acceptance of those in his inner circle and general attractiveness are just icing on the cake.
Doc is so like Wynonna, ruthless, impulsive, but fervently loyal to those he loves. Tim Rozon is phenomenally good at playing both Doc’s quick anger, fierce devotion to Wynonna, and damaged psyche. He makes a character that should feel patently ridiculous feel fully-realized and pathos-laden. If they actually get together, I’m not certain if they’ll complete each other or push each other towards disaster. All I know is, this is a pairing in which I’m emotionally invested and that I want to succeed.
There’s a moment in season 2, in which Wynonna has just informed Doc she’s pregnant, with a strong implication that it’s his child. He doesn’t immediately say anything to her, but later gives Waverly a note, with instructions to give to Wynonna when “she thinks she’s ready.” Later that evening, as Wynonna sits on the floor weeping about how little control she has over her life and how everything is connected to the Earp curse, Waverly hands her the note. “I am all in” is all it says, and Doc couldn’t have had a more perfect, lovely reaction.
I swooned and fell a more than a little bit in love with Doc Holliday in that moment. I always like to think I’m above getting emotionally fixated on soapy romantic pairings, but when they’re done as well, and with as much nuance, as Wynonna Earp, it’s hard not to be swept up in the melodrama which is why last week’s closing scene hurts so much. Characters you like are in pain, whether or not it’s self-inflicted. Every pleading, angry word between the two of them creates a wedge that pushes them farther from each other.
Each season of Wynonna Earp has had a kind of over-arching theme. Season 1 was about reestablishing emotional ties and reconnecting yourself to the world, even if it’s easier to be on your own. Season 2, which featured Wynonna’s pregnancy and the clearest presentation of the actions that ultimately led to the Earp curse, was about having to cope with events that happen outside of your control.
Now in its third season, Wynonna Earp has become a show about choices and their consequences. Decisions, whether advised or not, have fallout. Some characters are forced to acknowledge their mistakes, and some are making choices to face whatever is in front of them head on. Every character exists as his or her own person. They are fabulously undefined by their romantic pairings, and the fact that a show so dominated by female characters has been able to pull that off is something of a minor miracle.
I have no idea where the show will go, although I have joked that if Doc gets staked, I will quit this series as quickly as I embraced it. However, I’m actually pretty hopeful the show will continue to be as fun and compelling as it has been across the past thirty-two episodes. Emily Andras hasn’t given me a reason to doubt her.