This post was sponsored by one of our Patreon donors! One of the benefits that came with Will’s pledge was the ability to recommend any show he wanted us to watch and then write about. He picked SyFy’s Wynonna Earp. So, giddy up, gunslingers: we’ve got demons of both the personal and the hell-spawn variety to vanquish.
A girl rolls back into town on a sketchy late-night bus. It’s clear from her demeanor and the stilted conversation she makes with the woman across the aisle that this isn’t a homecoming that she’s particularly looking forward to. Then there’s a pit stop gone awry, a severed head, and a government spook who wants to keep it quiet, and you quickly determine that Wynonna Earp isn’t your average Western.
The SyFy original series based on the graphic novel by Beau Smith recently wrapped up its second season. (The first is up on Netflix and the second, you can check out on the SyFy app or onDemand.) And not a week went by during the newer batch of episodes when a thinkpiece or two didn’t cross my timeline. So Will’s recommendation was gratefully received; with this much worthwhile TV out there, it’s a relief to have a solid reason to bump something to the top of your list. (I first typed that as “top of your life,” which is also accurate.)
Feminist sci-fi/fantasy is our jam. In fact, Wynonna Earp may be filling the hole in that niche left by the sloppy fadeout of Sleepy Hollow. This series reminds me of the very best of Ichabod and Abbie (i.e., season 1), with its cheeky humor, diverse cast, and casual, matter-of-fact relationship to the paranormal. It’s a unapologetic blend of genres, borrowing pastiche from both the kinds of movies where white-hat sheriffs chase the interloping bad guys outta town and creature features, throwing in some hero’s journey mythos and modernizing the whole stew with smartphones, progressive gender roles, and shout-outs to the Rock. Oh, and it’s also SUPER GAY.
So if you’ve been making note of the fuss and wondering if Wynonna Earp is worth your time, I’m here to tell you that it is. Here’s why:
A Batshit-Crazy Premise, Taken Extremely Seriously
As you may have guessed from the title, our main character has something in common with a rather famous lawman. Wynonna is the great-great-granddaughter of Wyatt Earp, and thus has inherited the family mission AND family curse. Turns out ol’ Wyatt’s kills “live” on the outskirts of Wynonna’s hometown, and in Purgatory, we call zombies “revenants.” Their goal? To kill the Earp heir. Hers? To send them back to hell with the only tool that can do it: Wyatt’s gun, Peacemaker, which only the heir can wield. Problem is, Wynonna is a bit of a black sheep – an ex-delinquent with a lot of baggage, who’d walked away years ago from Purgatory and Waverly, her younger sister and the only family she had left. Because of the pull Wynonna has, however, she’s deputized by Xavier Dolls of the Black Badge division, a top-secret government agency that knows about the occult’s hold on Purgatory. (He’s got a secret of his own, of course.) Together, they keep the human residents of the town safe from revenants. Eventually they’re joined by Doc Holliday – THE Doc Holliday – who made a deal with someone or something to become ageless and had been living at the bottom of a well for decades before Wynonna showed up. Like you do.
And just like Sleepy Hollow did in the good old days, Wynonna Earp commits to its weirdness, completely. Everything is presented so simply that you find yourself going along with each reveal, without question: Doc cured of TB by magic? Why not. Face-stealing widow spiders? Cool. Head-exploding demon goo? Naturally.
As in any good genre series, the grounding comes from the relationships between its characters and the very familiar shit they have to deal with, on top of all the old-West demons. I’ve never been marked by a unbreakable family curse, but I DO have middle child syndrome. So Wynonna and I have at least that much in common.
Women who are allowed to be everything
See, where so many shows get it wrong is that they think you can just cast a female lead and start collecting praise. Wynonna Earp is awesome because it’s ABOUT a woman, yes, but it doesn’t stop there to pat itself on the back. Showrunner Emily Andras, her writers, and these actors have created a universe where women are free to just exist – there’s none of that painfully self-conscious writing that worries loudly about whether a female character is too sexual or not enough, too vulnerable or too strong, or is otherwise suitable feminist icon material.
There’s Wynonna, of course, a 27-year-old who was committed as a kid for reasons related to the curse, rose to her town’s expectation that she be the high school bad seed, and still relishes being the “crazy chick with a gun,” but would also die for her baby sister and gets flustered in front of her shirtless boss. Waverly is the town sweetheart – an ex-cheerleader turned bartender who spends her free time painstakingly researching her family history in case she’s the one who has to defend it. You’ll eventually meet Nicole Haught, a woman of the law with a soft spot for ex-cheerleaders; busty biochemist Rosita; and various female baddies too. Periods aren’t taboo on Wynonna Earp (you don’t know how much you were missing good menstruation jokes until you hear one) nor is any other aspect of female anatomy. These ladies drink, cry, swear, flirt, have sex, get angry, cuddle stuffed animals, pour their hearts out, curse men and each other, and try to take over the world.
The Bechdel Test is in ashes by the end of the pilot, because Wynonna also does right by women by making their relationships with each other a priority. The sisterly bond of Wynonna and Waverly is the show’s heart, and it’s given the time and consideration it deserves, considering how complicated those relationships can be, especially since the elder sibling skipped town for seven years and left Waverly on her own. And there are less significant but still refreshingly real girl-to-girl interactions elsewhere in the series. When Mercedes, one of her few high school friends, comes back into town, she and Wynonna fall back into their old pattern of affectionately calling each other “bitch,” a privilege which Wynonna has to tell Dolls when he oversteps that he has not earned.
The show takes great pleasure in upending tired tropes; I felt like someone was winking at me through my screen. Take the scene where Wynonna puts on her best pout and endeavors to charm and distract some workmen. She finds that they’re workwomen, and forges ahead with the plan. When the ladies remain unmoved, she reads the room and sends in Doc to coyly fiddle with his shirt buttons and complain about the heat. He has NO problem playing the seductress, and it works.
At the center of the show is this simple alteration: Narratives that involve stepping into the vacancy left by a father and taking up an inherited burden are usually pretty dude-centric. Guys usually get to carry their ancestors’ cool and sexy obligations, while girls just get told that they’re “turning into your mother.” And herein lies another Sleepy Hollow comparison, though the show abandoned Grace Dixon and her journals to its detriment. Wynonna and Waverly are the chosen ones, with all the pressure, glory, and angst that comes with it. It’s not just what they DO that matters, but how they choose to cope with what’s being asked of them. And it’s pretty cool to watch two crop-top wearing sisters save the world.
SO MUCH EYE CANDY
Everyone is hot on this show, and Wynonna Earp loves showing their hotness off. In an equal opportunity kind of way. Sure, Waverly’s bar uniform (and life uniform) is all painted-on booty shorts, but pair that with a lovingly shot shirtless fight club brawl between Dolls and Doc, and everyone’s happy. When Nicole is dressed for duty, she gets the same swoony consideration that a man in uniform would. There’s the obligatory fancy party where all the girls have to go undercover in sexy dresses that still fit each of their personalities. (Wynonna in that red though.) Dolls’ henleys look like a second skin, and Doc has this way of tipping his hat that wordlessly communicates decades of experience, if you know what I’m saying.
You Want Ships? We Got Ships
What to ship is probably the most important decision I make when I’m watching a series for the first time. This one did not make it easy. But there’s a little something for everyone, whether it’s canon or just excellent fic fodder. But before I get to the others, here’s the big question: to ship Wynonna/Doc or to ship Wynonna/Dolls? There’s SUCH GOOD STUFF about both of them.
Dolls is the work-obsessed authority figure (“At best, it’s just my girlfriend.”) who’s reluctantly impressed by Wynonna’s loyalty, courage, and yes, tendency to break the rules he loves so much. And Doc is this man who comes from the era that predicted Wynonna and made her who she is. (Take his feelings for her as shedding some light on his feelings for his departed ride-or-die Wyatt, like I do. Trust me, it’s fun.) He’s got that irresistible allure of a cad who’s found a reason to get settled. There’s some OT3 potential in there, which only gets more potent as Dolls and Doc start saving each other’s asses and actually forge a friendship. So pick one or don’t, it’s all up to you.
But if you go to the show tag on Tumblr, it’s not either of the most popular Wynonna ships that’s inspired most of the content. That would be WayHaught, the pairing of Waverly Earp and Officer Nicole Haught. (Yes, there’s a lot of milking of that last name.) When the audience meets Waverly, she’s still dating her male high school equivalent, who shows almost immediately that he doesn’t deserve her by hitting on Wynonna as soon as she gets back to Purgatory. But that’s over pretty much the second Nicole walks into the bar.
And while tragic lesbians are unfortunately all the rage, the magnificent straightforwardness of WayHaught (and the fact that they are – spoilers – both still alive on the show) is so much better, don’t you agree? I mean, Nicole full-on hits on Waverly when she meets her. She makes her interest in her known. There’s no dancing around it or brushed hands at a platonic sleepover. Nicole is an adult. She knows who she is. And that’s as attractive to Waverly as any other quality.
It’s fun to watch Waverly discover herself and see how happy she can be. Her exploration of her sexuality and this new relationship begin not long after her sister arrives back in her life; before that, Waverly probably thought she had a lifetime of serving drunks and watching her disinterested boyfriend fall asleep in front of the TV ahead of her. It’s worth risking a little demonic possession to escape that fate, especially when there’s a hot lady cop on the other side.
I hope Wynonna Earp will eventually incorporate a gay male relationship that isn’t just me squealing over Doc and Dolls touching each other and appreciating each other as honorable men, even though they’re in love with the same woman. (There’s also a sweet B-plot in one of the episodes involving a revenant who just wants to be reunited with the love of his life before he dies, but it’s over within the hour.) And that dream could come true thanks to one of the show’s Season 2 additions. Speaking of people who aren’t straight…
Meet Your Audience Insert Character
In Season 2, the show adds Jeremy to the team. Jeremy is us. He cannot believe that he is lucky enough to hang out with this people and for them to occasionally need his services. He can’t shut up about how cool they are. He has a signed Baywatch poster that he treasures. (The movie, he specifies, not the show.) He has a crush on the same boys you do. (“But the boss loves all sports. And I want him to love me. Professionally.”) He accidentally calls Dolls “daddy” once, and tells Doc to his face that he has soft hands. He just wants to take care of everyone and do everything in his power to keep his friends safe. In canon, he invented the term WayHaught.
Jeremy adds a completely different kind of humor to the show, but Varun Saranga’s performance makes the techie lovable and not cloying. In one particularly moving scene, he explains that he loves these people so much because he’s always felt strange and has been made by others to feel that way. Wynonna and friends just accept him as he is, even if Dolls does make fun of Jeremy for going to “cosmic-con.” Anyway, he’s like, .0001 on the weirdness scale of anything else they’ve got going on.
Having an audience’s voice IN a show isn’t always necessary, but Jeremy’s running commentary shows that Wynonna Earp knows how to handle its meta.
HERE IS A HUGE SPOILER WARNING, I’M ABOUT TO TALK THAT EXPLOSIVE SEASON 2 SHAKE-UP
I wanted to bring the baby up back in the feminism section for obvious reasons. It comes to light that Wynonna doesn’t know whether Doc is the father of her child for certain, since she’d spiraled out emotionally and fallen into bed with a strip club bartender who turned out to be a revenant. (Casual sex is HARD in Purgatory.) So Wynonna tells Waverly – and continues to remind her – that the baby is THEIRS. Hers and hers. They are their own family, and this child is a part of it. Though Doc tells Wynonna that he is “all in” (DIES), Waverly is the only (conscious) person with Wynonna when she gives birth, and she also takes on the responsibility of whisking Alice safely away.
In most other series, I’d be worried about how the next season would handle Wynonna’s baby-related depression. All the demons of hell want her child, even though it’s not the half-revenant that she feared. (Cool that Doc’s little guys are still swimming after several hundred years.) So when Season 3 starts, they’ll presumably still be separated, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to watch an adorably defiant badass bitch wallow for all 12 episodes. But I have faith based on what we’ve seen so far. Pregnancy and baby storylines are not my favorites, in part because they seem to follow particular patterns. But Wynonna Earp breaks all of those, starting with the enchanted sleep time jump and ending with Alice wrapped in what Doc had told Wynonna was the “girl” color of his day. (“Dainty and delicate in blue.”) The whole group is going to protect that baby like they’ve accepted this duty to protect the rest of the Earps. And I trust that our hero won’t have lost any of her spark, as tragic as her necessary decision was.
There seems to be this misconception that things can’t be feminist and fun at the same time. But feminism at its core isn’t a grim subject. And TV that has it in its DNA can be celebratory, snarky, sexy, and escapist too. Wynonna Earp is all of those things, and still has the potential to be so much more.
We’ll be doing some more WE content coming up, including a dedicated Fan Video Friday post. (SHIP ALL THE SHIPS.) Have you watched yet? Tell us what you love about it in the comments.