I’m gonna be honest – for anybody interested in women-positive and/or queer-positive television, 2016 has been, in short, devastatingly awful. But thanks to Emily Andras of Lost Girl fame and her SyFy series Wynonna Earp, I’m happy to say we got at least one bright spot. I’m also happy to share my fun with you in this rewatch-recap series. Needless to say, MEGA-SPOILERS ahead.
Right out the gate, the first scene of the series passes the Bechdel test. Kirsten, a young lady on a sparsely populated bus, introduces herself to a brunette who turns out to be our title character. They have – gasp! – a normal conversation, through which we learn that said brunette is on her way home because her uncle has died. Home is apparently “Wyatt Earp Country,” as a western-themed road sign tells us. Just after they pass into Earp territory, the bus blows a tire, and Kirsten exits the bus to relieve herself. The mystery brunette tells her not to. We know she should listen of course, because it’s night, and we’ve already heard ominous music. Something Bad is going on out there. And naturally Kirsten refuses the kindly offered advice.
The bus driver finds a railroad spike in the tire. So much for random blowouts.
We get an intercut back and forth between Kirsten outdoors and the bus interior. The young woman finishes her business, and we hear some creepy sounds – growling? moaning? The bus driver insists on continuing without the passenger. Meanwhile, Kirsten gets dragged away by … something. Soon-to-be-revealed-as-Wynonna defies the driver and goes out on her own to find the other woman. The bus drives away. Our gal grabs a stick for defense, yells seemingly at nothing, discovers Kirsten ripped apart, and gets dragged away herself. We see a glowing-eyed… something… that moves preternaturally fast.
Turns out our gal gets away from whatever dragged her and Kirsten. She grabs a piece of iron, falls back, hears her phone, pops back up and fights the … demon? … in a conveniently kung fu style. The creature briefly appears, just long enough for our girl to stab him. We find out from an ill-timed phone message it’s also her birthday.
A brief time jump, and our mystery lady has gotten away from the demon as she enters the town of “Purgatory” on foot. It’s the titular Wynonna. We know because she says to herself, “Welcome home, Wynonna.”
Cut to opener. We get some ominous western-themed iconography interspersed with images of a female-driven cast, fueled by the song “Tell that Devil” by Jill Andrews. It’s a feisty sequence, maybe a teeny bit campy or playful, a tad disturbing, and it gives a good feel for the tone of the show. This effective albeit very brief opener reminds me a lot of the credits from the first season of True Detective, and I mean that in a very good way. Also shades of True Blood’s credit sequence, also a good thing. Ominous, quirky, puts the viewer a tiny bit on edge.
Return from credits. Wynonna calls in a report of an “animal attack” on the girl, doesn’t give the authorities her name, and destroys the sim card in her phone right after the call. So now we know that Wynonna has had past entanglements with the law, and maybe that’s why she skipped town before.
Also “animal attacks” will become the new “gangs on PCP” you might recall from Buffy’s Sunnydale body count. Apparently people will buy this explanation for a series of increasingly bizarre deaths in a town the size of Purgatory… I guess.
Wynonna walks up late to her Uncle Curtis’s funeral in progress. We join her family and friends afterwards at a wake inside the house. Guests seem surprised to see Wynonna. Her aunt chastises her for her late arrival “as usual.” Wynonna and her Aunt Gus have a conversation about the legality of burying Uncle Curtis in the garden. It seems he really loved his tomatoes? We also learn that Wynonna is skeptical of the circumstances surrounding her uncle’s death (allegedly a stroke). Her aunt won’t answer a lot of questions and seems in denial about something.
We find the town sheriff checking out the scene with the dead girl alongside a handsome agent of some sort. Agent Dolls – I mean, he is pretty cute, after all – finds clues of something more sinister than a coyote attack. There have been three such attacks in the past few months.
Meanwhile, we see Wynonna stride across a street in downtown Purgatory. She enters Shorty’s Saloon to talk to Shorty himself. Wynonna is indeed avoiding the law for as yet vague reasons. She asks about her uncle. Some boy taunts her about Wyatt Earp’s sketchy reputation. Champ – an impossibly good looking, tattooed local rodeo champ, also not the sharpest hoe in the shed – shows up and chases off the heckler. Wynonna flirts with Champ to get info from him. He thinks he’s putting one over on Wynonna when he ushers her to a secluded room upstairs. She acts like she’s seducing him, throws him on the bed, then pulls a knife on him. This, we will learn, is Wynonna’s signature move. Champ blabs that he heard her uncle screaming, and that Curtis’s head was ripped off (like Kirsten in the woods).
In the midst of this kinky-knifeplay-turned-interrogation, a very small young woman busts into the room with a very large shotgun. It’s Wynonna’s sister Waverly, wearing an improbably proportioned Shorty’s T-shirt, and she blows a hole in the wall as Wynonna and Champ duck out of the way.
“You grew out your… hair,” says Wynonna, clearly not referring to Waverly’s hair at all.
Elsewhere, Carl the heckler from Shorty’s gets roughed up by some creepy dudes with weird voices and glowing eyes. They rip Carl’s tongue out for no apparent reason. And then – eww! Holy insult to injury, Batman! – they tromp on it. These guys have something to do with the missing girls and want something from Wynonna, but we don’t yet know what. We only know that they are The Worst. Because it takes someone really douchey to out-douche an already proven douche like Carl, for whom we now feel unlikely sympathy, what with his missing, tromped-on tongue and all.
Despite the shotgun intro, Wynonna’s reunion with sister Waverly is surprisingly chill. We learn that Waverly’s not that thrilled with her boyfriend Champ, anyway. You know, the fellow who just appeared to be cheating on her with Wynonna? But purgatory has “limited dating options” … heh heh – or so she thinks right now… Anyhow, Wynonna instantly forgives Waverly for almost splattering her guts / the entire apartment full of buckshot, so I guess they’re even?
Back at Aunt Gus’s house, we find out Wynonna has been gone for three years. She had gotten an e-mail from Curtis that “it caught up with me” just before he died. Waverly says “it’s happening again” and mentions a gun that Wynonna doesn’t want to talk about. What is “IT”? What gun? What? Wtf?!? Waverly also mentions a curse. What curse?
Agent Dolls shows up, and Wynonna pulls a knife on him, now the second knife-pull on a dude this episode. He flashes a badge and wants to know about the girl on the bus. Shit apparently just got real.
In other news, Wynonna drinks. A lot. And I’m more than a little bit concerned for her wellbeing
We find out that Dolls is part of the Black Badge division of the U.S. Marshals that monitors “unexplainable activity.” Yay – I love classified divisions of semi-nefarious government agencies. That can only mean one thing: nasty things are afoot, and The Truth is Out There.
Dolls believes Wynonna knows what really killed Kirsten but that she’s just not saying. He implies something about the aforementioned gun, and Wynonna denies any interest in firearms. Yeah right. Waverly comes downstairs, mentions that it’s Wynonna’s 27th birthday. This seems to have some significance.
Wynonna takes the truck. Where? “Home.” It appears to be an old homestead belonging to her family (We know because the shoddily dangling “Earp” sign above the entrance.) The place is a mess. We get flashbacks about the fabled gun and learn of “revenants” that only the aforementioned magical firearm can eliminate. We find out there was an older sister, Willa, “the next Earp heir.” Supposedly the demons couldn’t attack the homestead, but they “figured out how to get around the bedrock,” whatever that means. We also find out there are seven revenants that have to be dispatched. One of them takes Willa.
Wynonna finds a “welcome home, Wynonna” post-it note left for her in the house. Despite how friendly that might sound, Wynonna concludes, “We need that gun.” Sure enough, a creepy dude (the one who extracted Carl’s tongue) hides under a bridge, classic troll style. Apparently they’re trying to follow her to get the gun. This plan seems a bit too obvious. Also, this gun is really popular.
Wynonna tells her aunt about the details of Curtis’s death, borrowing some (spelunking?) equipment to go get the gun. Aunt Gus implies that Wynonna drank all the whiskey and offers her niece money to go back to Athens (Greece? Georgia?). “I love you, Wynonna, but you’re as broken as they come.”
So Wynonna has a dark past and personal demons. We just reached metaphor level, y’all. Demons. Get it?
Cut to Wynonna climbing out of the old timey well where the gun lives. Dolls shows up, and Wynonna casually changes out of her dirty well shirt on the other side of the truck door, which also has a window, as truck doors do. Dolls is a gentleman and doesn’t look, even as Wynnna blatantly flirts with him. Despite her lack of professionality, he asks her to join his squad. But bad-girl Wynonna is all, “I don’t do authority. These days, I barely do sober.”
I’ll mention here that I adore bad girls. Dolls says he’ll talk to Waverly if Wynonna won’t join, and that wakes her protective side, but she still refuses. I’ll also mention that the only thing better than bad girls are protective bad girls.
We get more memories of Willa’s disappearance. Little Wynonna shoots the magical gun but accidently shot their dad in the process. Waverly saw it. Major family drama alert, y’all!
Wynonna practices her skills with the enchanted gun and shoots the Purgatory sign (“You’ll never want to leave” it declares. Kinda like the Hotel California?) We find out Wynonna is really bad at shooting. Or at least the bullets keep ricocheting off of various things she didn’t aim at.
Back at the gun well, someone else is climbing out now. That person has man hands and some fancy, antique looking rings.
In town, Sheriff Nedley crosses a street specifically to chastise Wynonna. She flips him the bird as she walks off. You can flip the bird on cable. I forget that sometimes. “You’re one grope away from a heart attack,” she tells Nedley in the exchange. I LOVE WYNONNA. My heart is now won. My favorite bad girls are the ones who flip the bird on cable.
Wynonna goes to Waverly’s apartment and finds a bunch of research her sis has been doing. “I told you. I’m ready to help,” she says, after walking in to find Wynonna in her apartment snooping around unannounced for the second time this episode. Waverly is super chill.
So we find out that, in addition to being giftedly proportioned in such a way that T-shirts have to be tied in the back accordingly, Waverly is also very smart. Wynonna wants to get rid of the gun. Waverly: “This is our home, Wynonna. I’ll protect it even if you won’t.” I have to add that this scene is uncomfortably physical. Wynonna slaps Waverly on the arm and pushes her away when the younger girl tries to grab the gun. Wynonna takes off with it, as Waverly points out what we will learn is one of Wynonna’s many foibles: “Run. You always do.”
More drinking in Shorty’s.
In the bar, we see the man hands of rings guy from the well. It turns out, he is a walking homage to Val Kilmer in that Tombstone movie from 1994 – the one that made all my male friends grow out twirly moustaches and call each other “huckleberry.” He also appears to know a lot about the gun. The gun’s name is “Peacemaker,” for instance.
Strike against this guy: he assumes that Wynonna is a prostitute, which I suppose could be a logical assumption, considering that every woman in the Val Kilmer version was a prostitute, and I don’t think the Bechdel test even existed in 1993. Her nonchalant, matter-of-fact 2016 answer: “Prostitutes get paid for it.”
This just in: I can’t say I’m buying Doc here. I think because of Val Kilmer. Or every John Ford movie. He’s just a leeeeetle over the top in a Western cliche kinda way, but that’s only a tiny complaint in the greater scheme. Tim Rozon’s acting is nevertheless enjoyable.
Wynonna later finds Aunt Gus passed out. “They took Waverly,” Gus mumbles. Wynonna has to meet whoever it is “tomorrow, at high noon.” And then Gus passes out again. “Bring the gun” is casually written in blood on the windows. Casually. In blood.
Gus is in intensive care. Dolls mentions the demons and claims Waverly may already be dead. Wynonna gets pissed, punches Dolls, and – in what we will come to know as typical Wynonna manner – impulsively buys a black Harley from Shorty with the inheritance money Gus gave her to leave town.
Badass tableau of bike-riding chick (in a helmet) ensues. I. LOVE. WYNONNA.
She had me at leather jacket and boots, but add gun and bike, and well, we are now in Jessica Jones territory. Bye.
Oh, and right now Waverly is hanging from the Earp family ranch entrance. In true western fashion, by the neck of course.
In this scene we finally know what the birthday thing was about. When the Earp heir turns 27, the revenants killed by the last one rise again. 27 is a rough age. I can also tell you that from experience, though my demons were not literal.
The creeps demand the gun. Wynonna appears to offer it (and the bike). Mega-action scene ahoy!
Wynonna blows up the bike when one of the dudes goes to fetch it. The gun flies in the air. Wynonna tells Waverly to hold her breath and the rope. Waverly dangles. Wynonna goes for the gun. Shoots the pulley, it bounces several times and hits the revenant’s gun and cuts off the rope. Carl pops up, pulls a gun, and Wynonna can’t get Peacemaker to work a second time. Another bullet hits Carl. It’s Dolls, who drives them both away in a black SUV. Fine, so Dolls has to save them in this instance. But if there is a more perfect song than “Black Sheep” by Gin Wigmore for this scene, I have no idea what it would be.
I must say I’m sad about the bike. And the fact that we won’t see Wynonna sexily riding it anymore. What a waste. ::sigh::
Waverly and Wynonna are at their aunt’s house. Gus will be released the next day. Wynonna has to stay and fight the curse, not leave town as she planned. Her assessment of Dolls = “Big city, leather loafers douche” but acknowledges his “great butt” as pointed out by Waverly. So, the sexual tension, it will no doubt continue paying us visits.
Living up to her assessment, Dolls blackmails Wynonna with her previous charges to get her to get into the Black Badge division. Her assignment is to identify and eliminate the revenants. We find out they’re trapped in Purgatory due to the curse. She thanks him for covering them (flirtingly). He flirts / not flirts back and declares, “Welcome to the Black Badge division.”
We find out that the Tombstone extra (aka Hank, aka Henry, aka eventually Doc) is possibly in league with a bunch of demons. He’s staying at a trailer park full of them. So just so we’re clear: Demons live in the Purgatory trailer park. And they’re sketchy. So there’s some sort of class thing happening here that I may have to address later.
In sum, my friends, while the raddest episodes of WE come later in the season, this was a noteworthy intro to a series. If this episode had any weaknesses that’s just because it had so darn much to accomplish that it didn’t have a moment to breathe – but that said, episode 1 gives us a fantastic setup for a show that I was sold on immediately. I mean, to be fair, I was almost hooked already based on the premise alone. But in one episode, we already get the outlines of an ongoing plot, character conflicts are launched, and we are introduced to an ensemble cast with a badass female lead and cool / smart costars. That’s a lot for one episode, and yet this one delivered.
At this point I wasn’t sure if the show was doing self-conscious camp or just plain silliness, but it was enough of a question to lure me in for further episode(s plural).
Thanks for at least giving me this show, 2016, which will be otherwise known as the year we hit Bleak TV.
What a breath of fresh air – I mean, Purgatory? Demons, metaphorical and actual? Hot, Harley-riding leading lady with boots, leather jacket, gun, and a dark past? Western theme? Horror spin? Great one-liners? Comic relief?
Why the hell not, I say! All aboard the Earp Express!