Monday, May 27, 2024

Wynonna Earp Loses a Character, Gains Unfortunate Implications

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Wynonna Earp Season 3, Episode 2 Review “When You Call My Name”

If you thought that Wynonna Earp would slow down after last week, you were wrong. Another day, another revenant to fight, this one with a messed up Little Mermaid vibe that’s creepier than both Hans Christian Anderson and the Grimm brothers put together. Be warned though, this one ends really, really rough. And I’m not entirely comfortable with it. In short: this review discusses major character death, as depicted on the show.

OMG, what?

As a mysterious figure drags Waverly away, screaming Wynonna’s name, we cut to Wynonna herself trapped on a ledge after being thrown from the truck. She hears Mama Earp, a figment helping her to stay awake and survive. She’s got a cliff to climb up, but first she pops her shoulder back into her socket. Waverly has been tied up by a man who tells her the car accident was actually a trap. Oh, and he’s kidnapped and killed a woman before. Wynonna begins her climb up the cliff while the creepy guy in the woods magically steals Waverly’s voice. He then uses her voice to answer her phone and tell Nicole not to worry about her.

“I don’t like being treated like a meat ornament.”—Waverly

Wynonna reaches the top of the cliff and finds her ‘mother’ but no Waverly. Nicole tells Dolls and Jeremy that Waverly blew her off, then Jeremy explains that the evidence points to a super-fast demon killing the people in Pussy Willows. Nicole goes to warn Waverly while Jeremy worries about Dolls’s inner dragon; unconcerned, Dolls heads to pick up Doc. Wynonna, meanwhile, talks to her inner Mama, who tells her that being the heir has made her soft, unable to protect herself. She had tried to teach Wynonna to never rely on anybody. Wynonna confronts her about abandoning them, but Mama throws Alice back in Wynonna’s face. Dolls meets up with Doc, who is currently obsessing over the fact that he went to hell when he died. Both of them, he says, are destined for the dark. Dolls tells him to do what’s right anyway.

“Whiskey from dad, crazy from mom. Wynonna Earp story now on sale.”—Wynonna

On her way to the homestead, Nicole finds a lost hiker and the wrecked truck. The hiker’s son, meanwhile, finds Waverly, but it’s a trap and he’s garroted. Creepy dude, a revenant (of course), then locks Waverly in a cage. Doc confronts Jeremy leaving the basement, the latter of whom admits that there’s something wrong with Dolls’ serum and he’s experiencing side effects. Before Doc can get the rest out, Nicol texts with the news about the crash. Wynonna finds Waverly, who wordlessly warns her about the booby trap, but then the revenant returns and without Peacemaker, it’s not looking good.

“One of the things I greatly admire about you, Jeremy, is that you are a terrible liar. Craft night is on Thursdays.”—Doc

The revenant leaves the cottage, and Wynonna tries to break the bars of the cage. Meanwhile, Nicole and Doc find the truck, and Jeremy directs them to seek out an outbuilding to the North, following Wynonna’s trail. Waverly silently asks Wynonna about the prison parking pass. Wynonna admits to hiding the truth to protect her then promises to kill the revenant who stole her voice. Jeremy seems cagey with Dolls and concerned that he’s going after Wynonna. Wynonna confronts the revenant, telling him that Bulshar has risen and impaling him in one of his own traps before stepping into one herself. Waverly gets her voice back, and Doc and Nicole free Wynonna while Bulshar looks on from a distance.

“Do you trust Wynonnna’s instincts?”—Doc
“I helped her kill a revenant she had sex with.”—Nicole

Waverly confronts Wynonna about their mom, who tells her that she’s known all along where Mama Earp was but Mama made her promise not to tell Waverly where she was. Hurt, Waverly asks Dolls to take her home. Nicole asks Wynonna what’s up, who only replies that she screwed up. Nicole gets gear ready to go over the cliff in search of Peacemaker but her line gets cut while she’s haflway down by Scarface—Bulshar’s lieutenant(?) from last week. Jeremy warns them that Dolls is unstable because of what Black Badge did to him. Wynonna saves Nicole from falling, but Dolls goes full dragon on Scarface. Bulshar appears then vanishes, and Dolls collapses. He’s no longer breathing, and Waverly says he’s gone.

“Oh, did one of you have a harness in your car for impromptu excursions?”—Nicole

Wynonna’s in denial and sees her mother again, telling her that Dolls is at peace and she has to let him go. 

Favorite One Liner: “I don’t need a threat of damnation to fight for the right side.”—Dolls

I Gotta Say…

That’s right, Dolls died. Before I dive into that, I’m going to focus on what I appreciated about the episode. Everybody prefers a compliment sandwich to just jumping down their throats, and I like to treat my reviews the same way.

Unsurprisingly, Wynonna’s inner life stands out as by far the strongest aspect to this episode. For Doylist and Watsonian reasons, Wynonna’s never really talked about her mother’s family. In universe, we know her guilt over hiding the truth from Waverly kept her silent. The Earp curse has always been a bit more pressing a concern than her mother’s side of the family.

However, her guilt over sending Alice away has clearly been wearing on her. Knowing how much finding out the truth will devastate Waverly has only increased her anxiety around her mother. It makes sense that as she’s fighting for survival, Mama Earp comes to both encourage and shame her. Given how similar her actions likely feel to what Mama Earp did years ago, Wynonna has fresh reasons to consider just how much like her mother she might be. We’re getting a front row seat of Wynonna finally considering her mother’s impact on her life, personality, and choices.

She clearly inherited her Mama’s sarcasm and bullheadedness, but also her fearlessness and drive to protect her family. We also learn that Wynonna’s belief that she has to rely on herself stems from her relationship with her mother as well. At the same time, it’s not entirely clear how much of what we see of Mama Earp is Mama Earp and how much is a projection of who Wynonna believes her to be. She’s not really seeing her mother, she’s seeing what she perceives of her mother in order to both help her physically and flagellate herself emotionally and mentally. She’s seeing her mother’s impact on her, who her mother made her. No wonder Mama Earp sounds and acts eerily like Wynonna.

One has to wonder, though, if her hallucinations of her mother have any relationship to Mama Earp’s inner voices that we learned about last week. Is this mental illness? Demonic? Stress manifesting as the embodiment of perceived failure? A little bit of everything or something else?

Nevertheless, the deeper question here that Wynonna’s wrestling with is: which legacy will she choose, her mother’s or her father’s? Or, will she carve one out that’s uniquely her own?

Megan Fellows continues to prove why she was the perfect casting choice for Mama Earp.

This same question carries over into Doc and Dolls’s storyline. Doc questions the value of doing what’s right if he’s already damned; Dolls believes that you should do the right thing anyway and doesn’t fear hell. Maybe being a dragon has something to do with not fearing fire?

Jokes aside, Dolls’s stance clearly more to do with the fact that he’s never struggled with motivation to do the right thing the way Doc has. And no, not because Doc has ‘suffered more.’ They’re different people with distinctly different personalities. Dolls has a lot of things to be pissed about—having been mutated by a secret government agency into a half-dragon for example. But Dolls is a paladin character: lawful good. He believes in doing the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do. Even if he knew he was going to hell, he’d still do the right thing because to Dolls, that’s just what you do. (RIP my valiant dragon knight; I love you.)

Doc, on the other hand, is more chaotic neutral. When we first met him, he did what would benefit him regardless of who it hurt. Over the past few seasons we’ve seen him change from self-centered and enfolding his friends and loved ones into his decision-making process. He’s displayed significant growth. Hell, then, feels like a slap in the face to him. To his mind, he became a better person. That he would still end up in hell understandably disillusions him. His choice moving forward, then, echoes Wynonna’s: which legacy will he choose, his old self, his ‘new’ self, or something different? Will he let his fear of damnation make him cynical or fearful? Or, will he live up to Dolls’ legacy of doing the right thing without fear?

Still, Doc felt a bit…off this episode. He has every reason to be struggling, but last week it was Alice and this week it’s something totally different. It feels less like layers of horror and pain slowly unfolding and more like a complete shift in focus. Granted, I’m nitpicking a bit. However, given where Doc ended last week—on a more hopeful note locking lips with Wynonna—him turning around and being as much if not more of a dick for a completely different reason felt abrupt and disjointed.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that most of the episode felt oddly paced and sloppy. Wynonna killed a revenant without Peacemaker (how???). Nicole knew something was up with the rope before Scarface had cut it. Wynonna, who had her shoulder pulled out of socket and then had to manually pop it back into place, was able to catch and hold Nicole as she was hurtling to her death. With that injured arm. Then, all it takes is Waverly to pull Nicole back up. Wait what? Dolls conveniently refuses to take his serum then falls down dead after doing something we’ve seen him do before on screen without killing him. As far as final episodes for a major character go, this one sucks.

Which brings me to Dolls. From a character perspective, his loss will be keenly felt. As I said, he’s the lawful good character. He’s the voice of doing the right thing because it’s the right thing. He’s the one to measure Wynonna’s worst instincts, get her to calm down, think more clearly, and not rush headlong into trouble. He gave her a reason to put her life back together and he’s continued to function as the better angel to Doc’s more impulsive, hot headed behavior. For Wynonna as a person and the show as a whole, I’m not sure what this means. I feel like the ground just got ripped out from under everyone and the moral center just died.

I also think his death was poorly executed and rushed. Pretty much every major ‘foreshadowing’ beat happened this episode. Yes, we learned last week that Jeremy was working on Dolls’s serum, but there was no cause for major alarm. Then we go from zero to dead in a single episode. The land of offscreen is not the place to develop unexplicated, and apparently deadly, ‘side effects’ heretofore unmentioned. I expect better writing of Wynonna Earp than this quite frankly.

More than anything, I’m concerned and frustrated. I understand that sometimes things happen. Actors no longer want to be involved, creative differences, etc. I admit I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, so I won’t speculate about why he was killed off or whose decision it was. Yet even if Shamier Anderson (who plays Dolls) did want out, there are other issues.

When the show announced they’d hired Chantal Riley as Kate, I celebrated. Wynonna Earp has struggled with racial inclusivity since the beginning. Adding Jeremy in S2 and now a black woman in S3 felt like steps in the right direction. They still are, only with Dolls’s death, the implications for hiring Chantal Riley don’t look great. It looks like people of color are interchangeable for representation. Wynonna Earp, a show that has struggled with inclusion in the past, hired a single person of color and killed off another while overall maintaining a majority white cast.

And it isn’t only about the perception of one to one ‘replacement value’ for characters of color. Time and again, Dolls has been sidelined in favor of Doc when it comes to the romantic triangle with Wynonna. Both on screen and off, Doc takes prominence. Setting shipping aside, the larger issue truly is about the racial dynamic being depicted and the implications of it. Whichever way you slice the pie, it’s still a white woman prioritizing her relationship with a white man over the one she could (and did) have with a black man. A black man whose arc included drug use and suppressing violent urges as well. Had they treated his addiction like a medical condition and his serum like a necessary treatment for a horrifying condition that wasn’t his fault, the implications would be different. But they didn’t.

When you strip away the layers of magic and demons, what you have is a story of a black drug addict wrestling with withdrawals that turn him violent, even to the point of killing. Even unintentionally, that’s effed up.

In short, a morally upstanding lawman who always did the right thing not out of fear but because it was the right thing. A man who acted as the conscience for the female protagonist and gave her a reason to do what’s right, protect her family, and get her life together. This man, a black man, was repeatedly sidelined in favor of the white love interest and was associated with drugs and violence in a way other characters weren’t. He may have had a heroic death—he did—and I trust his death will have ongoing meaning for the show, but damn. That doesn’t sit well with me.

Xavier Dolls deserved better.

Fans of color deserved better.

I’m angry, frustrated, and conflicted. This show does gut-wrenching inner conflict and complicated, nuanced, kickass ladies like nobody’s business but has completely dropped the ball with the representation of its only major character of color. And has done so since the beginning. I really hope the writers and Emily Andras take a long, hard look at how they’re writing characters of color and do better.

Finally, something positive to end. Like I said, I prefer a compliment sandwich. I thoroughly enjoyed the horrifically twisted Little Mermaid vibe they had going on. Creeped me out without being overly sexualized like the last time they had a serial killer of women on the show. In all honesty, I could have gone for more of the horror. With Bulshar looming in the distance, the true terror of a demon like this felt a bit neutered. At the same time, he worked decently well as a filler revenant of the week to hold off the impending confrontation with Bulshar. I’d be down for more creepy revenant versions of fairy tales.

I see you, Andras

  • I dig Nicole’s new uniform. It’s a good marriage between S1 and S2.
  • That symbol Jeremy had a photo of that recurred in the woods reminds me of something I used to see on a kids’ shirt when I was in middle school. Some kind of lizard or gecko logo. Why can’t I remember that brand?
  • “Lord talk to the fist Earp”—so we have more confirmation that he was physically abusive. The more we learn about Ward Earp the worse he sounds.
  • We also know now that Wynonna has always been more responsible, even than Wylla. She says she was the one to watch Waverly when Mama Earp had her episodes, with no word about Wylla. As much as this breaks my heart, it also warms it to know that the Earp sisters’ bond goes way back.
  • Good on Jeremy for confronting Doc. It takes a lot to confront someone you have a crush on, especially if that someone is as prickly as Doc can be.
  • Another thing I dig about Nicole? That she knows how to rock climb. That’s hot. Or should I say Haught?

See you next week for, lots of grief, guilt, gunslinging, and alcohol in “Colder Weather.”

RIP Dolls. You will be desperately missed and mourned by this reviewer at least.

Images Courtesy of SyFy

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