Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: The Weird West of Wynonna Earp

I didn’t know I needed a weird modern Western—complete with curses, demons, and complicated family dynamics—in my life. But apparently I didn’t know what I was missing! It turns out that this is exactly what I wanted, when it comes in the form of SEVEN24/IDW Entertainment’s Wynonna Earp, created by Emily Andras, based on the comic by Beau Smith, and starring Melanie Scrofano as the eponymous Wynonna.

I’d heard a great deal about Wynonna Earp—I’d first become aware of it through some entertaining episode recaps—so when I came across its first season on Netflix one recent Friday, it jumped to the head of the queue.

Then my girlfriend and I mainlined it over the next two days. It’s really satisfyingly entertaining television.

Wynonna’s the descendant of Wyatt Earp. Unfortunately, Wyatt Earp was cursed, and the curse is inherited by his descendants. The people that Wyatt killed come back to life when an Earp heir dies—and only Wyatt’s revolver Peacemaker, wielded by an Earp, can kill them properly again. The Earps call them “revenants,” and they’re pretty demonic.

Wynonna returns to her small rural hometown, Purgatory, after the death of her uncle Curtis. She doesn’t have fond memories: when she was twelve, her elder sister Willa was kidnapped when revenants attacked the Earp homestead, and Wynonna accidentally shot her father to death with Peacemaker when trying to save him. Her adolescence included involuntary psychiatric care, trouble, and drinking, and her relationship with law enforcement is strained to say the least. The whole town, it seems, either hates her or thinks she’s really, really weird.

Now she’s home, reconnecting with her younger sister Waverly (it seems the Earps have a W-thing for names, at least in this generation), being attacked by revenants, and being harassed by Marshal Xavier Dolls, who wants her to bring her demon-killing skills to join his “Black Badge” team.

Wynonna Earp has an excellent sense of humour. The batshit insanity of its worldbuilding would collapse in on itself were it not for the sense that the characters find it faintly ridiculous and arbitrary, too: Wynonna swigs whiskey from the bottle like a woman dying of thirst in the middle of a desert—or one who can’t stand to be sober while talking about demons, curses, and witches. Recruited for Dolls’ Marshal team, she clears a crowded club in pursuit of a revenant not by touting her law-enforcement status, but, when she grows frustrated, by firing a bullet into the ceiling and yelling, “Crazy woman with a gun!”

An immortal “Doc” Holliday also seems to view everything with a combination of jaded cynicism, frustrated impatience, and humour. All he wants is revenge for his immortality—a hundred years stuck down the bottom of a well might do that to a body—and to keep his hat.

To be fair, he has an excellent hat, though in the hat stakes, it might be an even tie between Doc and sheriff’s deputy Officer Nicole Haught, who rocks a cowboy hat and a shy grin as she flirts with a flustered Waverly. Their friendship slowly blossoms into something more, leading to one of the show’s funniest conversations: Nicole asking Waverly what is going on meaning, what the hell’s going on with the weird paranormal shit in this town, and Waverly understanding it as a question about whether or not Waverly is into Nicole, and the state of their friendship. (When Waverly says, “You’re a lesbian, not a unicorn!” to Nicole’s baffled face, I might have laughed out loud.)

What really works for me about Wynonna Earp are the relationships between the female characters. Wynonna and Waverly’s sibling relationship is based on love, but it’s strained sometimes by resentment and misunderstandings. Both Wynonna and Waverly have a different relationship with their aunt Gus, who raised Waverly—but who basically sent Wynonna away. Wynonna’s half-competitive professional relationship with Nicole. And then there’s Waverly’s relationship with her local friends, and with Nicole…

In the finale, a villain points a gun at Nicole and pulls the trigger. (Both my girlfriend and I exclaimed “Oh no!” in the same breath: we have seen this before.) But it turns out that there’s one queer woman on TV who knows when to wear a bulletproof vest!

When it comes to queer representation, Wynonna Earp‘s first season is a lot more inclusive, and a lot more sensitive and sensible than most other science fiction and fantasy television I’ve seen in the last few years. (Of course, as if to make up for that, it’s really rather white.)

This is a great, fun show. But alas! The first season ends on a cliffhanger, and the second season has yet to come to Ireland. DO NOT TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

I really want to find out on my own. Soon. Really soon.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

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