It's Time To Stop Comparing 'Wynonna Earp' to 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'
The most fun I have writing about TV is when I fall head over heels for a show that very few people watch. That’s probably not great for the bottom line of the websites that are kind enough to let me write for them, but it’s true all the same. There are enough people covering Game Of Thrones. My two cents on that show wouldn’t even be a pebble in the pond. Back when Breaking Bad was at its most popular, I likewise ducked out of the fray. That’s not anything against those shows, but rather an opinion that there’s a lot more TV to cover, especially when the critic actually feels passionate enough to write about it on an ongoing basis.
All of this takes me once again to Wynonna Earp, a show I’ve probably either written about or mentioned more than any other during my brief time here at Pajiba. I’ve babbled at length about all the great things it does, how smart it is, how progressive it is, how transgressive it is. Last Friday’s season two finale, “I Hope You Dance,” was a fantastic culmination in what can only be described as an improvised season. Showrunner Emily Andras incorporated Melanie Scrofano’s real-life pregnancy into the show in a way that ultimately felt organic, primarily because Wynonna Earp is a show that eschews plot for story. Because Andras knows these characters so well, she ended up crafting a tale that’s actually embedded in the show’s DNA: How does one sacrifice one’s own freedom for the protection of others?
I’ll be the first to admit that the show’s mythology confuses and confounds me. That’s more on me than Wynonna Earp. But I also don’t care to read what I am SURE are extensive wikis on the matter because the core concept is emotionally solid: Some people can never escape the place from which they are born, no matter how hard they try. That’s not a genre concept, but Wynonna Earp gives it a genre execution in the form of the Ghost River Triangle’s unique supernatural rules. It not only traps the revenants and the various demons to that area of the world, but also traps the Earp heirs as well. In Wynonna, the show offers up the return of the prodigal child. In Waverley, the show offers up the person that dreams of life outside her everyday but for one reason or another cannot truly break free of her geographical bonds. We all either know those people or are all those people, which gives the program its primary potency.
By making Wynonna pregnant, Andras and company pulled the trigger on something I would suspect might have come up in its final season. (That’s a LOT of assumptions, I grant you. But it’s fun to imagine all the same.) Part of what makes the Earp legacy so tragic is that its perpetuation is based on procreation, something that embodies life, yet in this case ensures death. A gun-toting, whiskey-swilling Wynonna is great fun, but once she’s forced to think about the fact that she herself will have an heir changes a great deal about how she understands her duty and we understand the show. Even with daughter Alice Michelle being helicoptered off to parts unknown, the show’s abstract endgame now has a face. A cute, adorable face. And that makes Wynonna and Doc more determined than ever.
For all the things Wynonna Earp does well, it’s also worth mentioning all the things it DOESN’T do well. Case in point is the scene in which Wynonna and Doc finally meet face-to-face after Alice Michelle is off to parts unknown. Doc tells Wynonna he would have done everything different, but doesn’t for a second question her decision nor make it about him. On almost any other show, that scene devolves into a fight that results in the two being estranged at the start of next season. Here, Doc admits that Wynonna not only had the right to do what she wanted, but that his disagreement stems from him being unable to make the hard choice that she did. He respects her at every single moment, and it’s something that is amazing to watch simply because so few scenes like this exist in television right now.
Because Wynonna Earp doesn’t scream to the hilltops that it’s subverting tropes in this manner, it can be easy to miss. Others are slightly more obvious yet still worth celebrating. Go back to the penultimate episode of this season, “Gone As A Girl Can Get,” in which the ostensible leads of the show are systematically removed. I watched that in the middle of my viewing of Netflix’s The Defenders, and the contrast could not have been more glaring. Both shows have really strong secondary casts, but the latter refused to deploy them as anything other than expository dumps or cheerleaders for the core four. The former? Well, the former filled the vacuum left by Wynonna, Dolls, and Doc and essentially exploded reality back into existence through sheer ingenuity, determination, and guts. Waverley, Nicole, and Jeremy weren’t just “who was left”: They were key all season-long, and that episode highlighted just how much they contributed to the success of the team.
(Would I watch a spinoff that involved WayHaught/Jeremy solving crimes in whatever the Canadian version of The Mystery Machine van is? You betcha.)
The fact that those three characters are all gay is important, primarily because Wynonna Earp doesn’t view it as important. Jeremy knowing that Doc Holliday is alive because his penis tells him so is a funny detail, but also has nothing to do with how good Jeremy is at his job. Aside from the fact that Wynonna seems to have an unerring talent on walking in on literally every WayHaught make-out session, nothing about anyone’s creed, color, sexuality, or gender seems to have any day-to-day impact on the way people conduct their business on the show. Having demons to constantly fight tends to make people choose the “there are bigger fish to fry than worry about who you want to bone” approach to life. It’s another way in which genre fiction consistently shows the world as it should be: These people trust each other for what they do, and what they do is have each other’s backs. Full stop.
A lot of people have made a lot of comparisons to a certain other genre show featuring an unlikely kick-ass heroine and her group of friends who tackled supernatural creatures that metaphorically stood in for real-world problems. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But it’s also time to let Wynonna Earp stand on its own. After two seasons, it’s earned that right. It’s that damn good. It might not ever make the cultural splash of its Sunnydale-centric predecessor, but far more people should venture into the Ghost River Triangle and find one of the very best shows television has to offer.
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