WYNONNA EARP: The Weird, Weird West

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Season 1, Episode 1: “Purgatory”

Written by Emily Andras
Directed by Paolo Barzman

Season 1, Episode 2: “Keep the Home Fires Burning”
Written by Emily Andras
Directed by Ron Murphy

I’m actually not sure that I should be enjoying this show as much as I am.

Based on the series of comic books of the same title by Beau Smith, Wynonna Earp pits the descendant of famous gunslinger Wyatt Earp against an army of demons that are more or less trapped in her home town of Purgatory. Aided by Agent Xavier Dolls of the Black Badge Division and her sister Waverly, Wynonna looks to take revenge for the horrors inflicted on her family by the demons, and use Wyatt’s enchanted gun to send the demons back to Hell.

We’re definitely in Weird West/alternate history territory here, starting with a pretty amazing outlaw body count of 77 attributed to Wyatt – when in fact there are records for, at most, 6 people that Wyatt killed over his career as a lawman/gunslinger – to its location, as the only place in America actually named Purgatory is a resort town in Colorado, and this show is set in a “the West” of non-specific location. This is complicated by a reference to “Wyatt Warp country”, which would seem to indicate Kansas or Arizona, but the scenery isn’t right, likely because it’s shot in Calgary. It’s apparently somewhere north enough for a US Marshall to not have jurisdiction and be part of a “cross-border task force”, so the where is… somewhere. Add the backstory, which has Wyatt Earp settling in this fictional town, well, let’s just say that you’re not going to find much real-world historical accuracy here.

Of course, that isn’t much expected in a show where demonic versions of the 77 outlaws seek Wyatt’s magical Peacemaker pistol and the Earp descendants are under a curse that has the firstborn heir of each generation receiving Wyatt’s “abilities”to kill these demonic Revenants when they turn 27. Of course there is a slight problem, as the eldest Earp descendant, Willa, is killed by Revenants when they attack the family homestead when Wynonna and her sisters are children. Trying to save her older sister and her father, Wynonna is accidentally guilty of shooting her father with Wyatt’s gun.

Wynonna Earp - Season 1
WYNONNA EARP -“Purgatory” Episode 101 -Pictured: Diego Diablo Del Mar as Malcolm – (Photo by: Michelle Faye/Syfy/Wynonna Earp Productions)

Since then, Wynonna has been in and out of trouble, finally leaving town for years, before returning in the first episode. Back in Purgatory, she reunites with her younger sister Waverly and triggers the latest assault by the Revenants on the Earp heirs. Waverly is keen to fight them, while Wynonna just wants to run, but the arrival of Agent Dolls to investigate a string of recent murders in the area and the increase of Revenant attacks forces Wynonna to stand her ground and embrace her destiny.

And then there is the man, dressed as a 1800’s gunslinger, whose connection with the Earp family means that it isn’t only the dead that Wyatt killed who have returned: Doc Holliday walks the streets of Purgatory, but as an ally or enemy is… far from certain.

Wynonna Earp - Season 1
WYNONNA EARP – “Purgatory” Episode 101 – Pictured: Shamier Anderson as Agent Dolls – (Photo by: Michelle Faye/Syfy/Wynonna Earp Productions)

The strength of Wynonna Earp is in the casting, so much so that the contradictions evident between the first and second episodes are quickly forgotten while watching the chemistry between the characters. Our title character is played by Melanie Scrofano (Haven, Warehouse 13) and it is her quite frankly very dry, sardonic and very funny performance that makes the setup work. Both reluctant and not-so-secretly enjoying her new role as deputized demon-hunter, Scrofano’s Wynonna brings a fun mix of bad-girl attitude, sexy menace, and gallows humor to a character who is more or less making it all up as she goes. It doesn’t hurt that she now has a magical weapon that makes her terrible marksmanship matter a lot less and some slick new martial arts-esque moves, even if the latter seems a little odd in light of her ancestor being the source of her new abilities.

Wynonna Earp - Season 1
WYNONNA EARP — “Keep the Home Fires Burning” Episode 102 — Pictured: Melanie Scrofano as Wynonna Earp — (Photo by: Michelle Faye/Syfy/Wynonna Earp Productions)

Her sister, Waverly, is played by Dominique Provost-Chalkley (Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Seasoning House), and is a bubbly and happy counterpart to her troubled sister. Left behind in Purgatory, Waverly has become a bartender and amateur researcher into her family’s legacy, and where Wynonna initially wants to run from the Revenants, Waverly wants to face them head-on and avenge her family. The show visibly brightens every time Provost-Chalkley appears, even as her friendly nature both belies a hidden temper of her own, and a questionable judgement when it comes to men.

Speaking of the men, we have two male leads here, with Shamier Anderson (Constantine, Defiance) leading off as Agent Xavier Dolls. For me, Dolls was the weakest part of the first episode, but not because of Anderson’s performance, which was good old-fashioned gruff, no-nonsense, government agent with hidden-depths fun. Unfortunately, he was also saddled with the “Fed Confronts Local Police” scene, and the “Cryptic Exposition Exchange With Hero(ine)” scene, where we got our confusing town location bit, and standard jurisdictional conflict moments. He gets more to do, and more humor to show in the second episode, and his chemistry with Scrofano looks to give the show some fun areas to play with, both in sexual tension and conflicting operational techniques.

Wynonna Earp - Season 1
WYNONNA EARP — “Keep the Home Fires Burning” Episode 102 — Pictured: Tim Rozon as Doc Holliday — (Photo by: Michelle Faye/Syfy/Wynonna Earp Productions)

And then there’s Doc Holliday, who crawls out of the same well that Wyatt’s gun was hidden in, and whose seeming alliance with the Revenants poses some real questions about what his intentions are. Played by Tim Rozen (Being Human, Lost Girl), Holliday is charming and duplicitous, implying that while he is not a Revenant, he’s not quite human anymore either, as someone made him into whatever he currently is. While he tells the Revenant leader that he will help them get the gun from the Earp girls – apparently this will free the demons… somehow – he also seems to have been the one who shot a Revenant to save the Earp girls, so… we’ll see.

I am enjoying this show, even if it seems to have a few contradictions that jump out, like the Revenants being trapped in Purgatory… except when they aren’t, or Purgatory being a small town without any skyscrapers and pretty much one main bar… except when it seems to have a nightclub and skyscrapers. It could be another town that has the nightclub, except the Revenants are trapped in Purgatory… unless they’re not. It’s kinda odd, but I also was too busy grinning at the show to care all that much, nor did I care that much that we suddenly have a new, Nazgûl/Death Eater style Revenant who pops up with a weird blood-ritual that none of the others seem to have. We’re still in early days, so the fun parts really do outweigh the “huh?” moments for now, and the chemistry of the actors outweighs everything else.

Well, almost everything else. So far the bad guys seem to have a pretty bad habit of attacking either one-on-one or in small groups, when – even allowing for the ones that Wynonna has already killed – they outnumber her around 70-to-1. Considering that while Wyatt’s gun will kill them, it still needs to be reloaded, so a mass demon assault would probably overwhelm the Wyatt girls and their allies pretty damn quick.

But then, we wouldn’t have a show, would we?

 

Wynonna Earp airs Friday nights at 10/9c on Syfy.

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Timothy Harvey

Timothy Harvey is a Kansas City based writer, director, actor and editor, with a passion for film noir movies. He was the art director for the horror film "American Maniacs", and serves on the board of directors for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and the Kansas City Film Commission.

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