When I first saw the preview for Syfy’s supernatural Western Wynonna Earp, I was immediately intrigued. Ever since the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’ve been craving more shows with a strong and sassy female lead, and Wynonna Earp looked ready to deliver just that. As it turns out, I was right. In the first two episodes, the show demonstrates just how Buffy-esque it really is. In fact, with its reluctant heroine, ensemble cast, witty dialogue and detailed mythology, it would be impossible to ignore the parallels between the two. However, amidst these familiar story elements are glimpses of a promising originality—an originality that could allow the show to stand on its own two feet if given enough time.
Right now, though, Wynonna Earp is relying on its similarity to not only Buffy but other cult classic genre shows, such as Supernatural, Deadwood and Charmed, in order to appeal to a particular target audience. And that’s fine; doing so allows the show to fit into a niche right off the bat and establish a footing with viewers. Nevertheless, this dependence will only work for so long. Sooner or later, Wynonna Earp will need to take its first steps on its own, something that I think the show is more than capable of doing as it grows more comfortable in its own skin, as the first two episodes show.
So, what does the show accomplish over the course of its first couple of episodes? In the pilot, titled “Purgatory”, we are introduced to many of the show’s key players as well as its central mythology. We meet Wynonna Earp (Melanie Scrofano), the tough-talking, snarky “Heir” to the Earp family legacy, who finds herself having to defend her hometown of Purgatory from a group of zombies called Revenants. These Revenants, who are really the souls of the people that Wyatt Earp killed in his heyday, resurface as each new Heir turns 27—why 27, you ask? At this point, we don’t know, but this could be something that we will learn more about down the line.
We also meet Wynonna’s bubbly little sister Waverly (Dominique Provost Chalkley), who is committed to helping Wynonna bear the burden of the family curse; the mysterious and immortal Doc Holliday (Tim Rozon), who hasn’t revealed yet if he is friend or foe; Agent Xavier Dolls (Shamier Anderson), a professional demon-fighter in the Black Badge Division, who recruits Wynonna to help him fight the Revenants; and Gus (Natascha Girgis), the girls’ gruff yet protective aunt.
As a whole, the pilot is all about exposition; its primary responsibility is laying the groundwork for the show, providing backstory, explaining how this universe operates, introducing its characters and showcasing their default dynamics. Once all of this is established, the writers are free to build and explore as they see fit. In the second episode, “Keep the Home Fires Burning”, the writers slow down the pace a bit and settle into a comfortable rhythm, permitting us to become acquainted with the characters without it feeling overwhelming. Moreover, we start seeing potential in the show that wasn’t initially apparent in the pilot. For example, we learn that Purgatory isn’t the only haven of supernatural activity; according to Dolls, demons and the like can be found all over the world (and perhaps in many incarnations), hinting that the show can expand beyond Purgatory and the Revenants.
We also delve more into the characters and the undercurrents governing their relationships. Waverly in particular seems to be harboring some deep-rooted resentment toward her family. Her comments about not being included in the height measurements at the Homestead and feeling left out all her life were both startling and intriguing. Why did Waverly feel this way, and what was their life like before the demon attack that killed their father, sister and brother?
And then there was that intriguing scene between Waverly and Detective Nicole Haught (Katherine Barrell), in which Waverly half-heartedly resists Haught’s advances. It’s apparent that Waverly is as attracted to Haught as Haught is to her, even if Waverly isn’t willing to admit it to herself yet. With any luck, this will be something that the show will happily examine in this season or the next.
In addition to getting to know Waverly, we start to learn more about Agent Dolls and his involvement in the Black Badge Division. In his work, he firmly believes in secrecy and stealth, something that Wynonna doesn’t do very well. His motivation for this approach is an incident in which the government discovered that demons existed in New Mexico and responded by erasing that town from the face of the earth. He wants to prevent this from ever happening again, implying that he either had a history with that town or was somehow responsible for what happened.
We also see the beginning for what could become a romantic relationship between Dolls and Wynonna, or at least a friendship. Despite Wynonna’s efforts to connect with him on a personal level, he holds her at a distance, declaring that he “doesn’t do relationships.” Nevertheless, he still is very concerned for her safety and is quick to back her up at every opportunity. Therefore, I foresee the two of them growing into partners and confidantes.
As for Doc Holliday, the jury’s still out on him. I love Tim Rozon as this character; he is elegant, charming and unerring entertaining, which make his scenes some of the most enjoyable in the first two episodes. His motives, however, remain unclear. Is he an ally to the Earps or is he an enemy? “Keep the Home Fires Burning” seems to imply that he is walking a dangerous edge between the two for his own personal gain and that his history with Wyatt Earp is less than savory. In fact, Doc appears to be committed to making sure that Wynonna and Waverley never discover exactly what he did to their “great-great-grandpappy,” suggesting that he might have betrayed Wyatt while he was still alive. Regardless of the state of his allegiance to the Earps, though, he is definitely a character that I want to see more of in the future.
Altogether, the first two episodes of Wynonna Earp do an excellent job of striking a chord with viewers and carving out a place for the show in the sci-fi genre. Granted, it does this by patching together elements from other cult classic shows, but rather than feeling like a carbon copy or a cheap knock-off, Wynonna Earp embraces its status as part of this legacy and goes from there. As the show progresses, I predict that it will be able to establish itself as an ingenious story deserving of the same amount of admiration as Whedon’s Buffy and Kripke’s Supernatural. And if it doesn’t—well, it will still be loads of fun, which is something that can be appreciated, too.
New episodes of Wynonna Earp air on Fridays at 10:00 pm ET/PT on Syfy