Saturday, June 22, 2024

Wynonna Earp Questions Reality with Murder Trees and Mama Earp

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Wynonna Earp Season 3, Episode 4 Review “No Cure for Crazy”

After the death of a major character, it’s not always clear how a show will move forward. Sometimes, it will linger or carry a through line of heaviness for a while. Other times, it will screech to a halt, do a one-eighty, and speed off in the other direction. This week, Wynonna Earp chose the latter, to mixed results.

OMG, What?

We open on Wynonna and Doc tracking down the last revenants who stole Dolls’ serum. A tree literally jumps in his way, but when Wynonna tries to shoot him, Peacemaker stalls. A young man sticks his finger in a mysterious hole in a tree weeping red goo; the ‘sap’ turns out to be blood. Elsewhere in the woods, Nicole talks with Waverly about surviving the Bulshar cult. She mentions there not being a fire there when she escaped—meaning Black Badge burned the evidence—and ponders the fast growth of the trees. They run into the young man from earlier—Robin, one of Waverly’s old friends—who asks to be taken to Nedley. Nicole tosses Bulshar’s ring in the woods.

“This is why you don’t do dragon drugs; jacking other people’s prescriptions can cause hallucinations.”—Wynonna

Doc and Wynonna discover they’re fresh out of bullets for Peacemaker, as Dolls, their supplier, is now dead. Nicole and Wynonna get into it about keeping secrets (the Bulshar cult and Mama Earp being in prison, respectively), but Waverly resolves it. Wynonna promises to take Waverly to see Mama in prison after they find more bullets. We cut to the prison, where Mama writes “Never ever get out” on the walls of her padded cell with what appears to be the blood of her cellmate.

“Just give her a minute, her purse is bigger than my vehicle.”—Wynonna

Wynonna and Doc flirt their way through piles of old things looking for bullets and/or something to sell to fund the team’s work. Wynonna finds a cradle Doc made for Alice and feels guilty, which gets her thinking about Mama. Flashback to seven years ago when Mama makes Wynonna promise not to let Waverly know she’s in prison or to ever come back. In the present, Nicole grabs Wynonna on Nedley’s behalf while Waverly plays matchmaker with Jeremy and Robin. On the way out of the lab, she gets a call from the Ghost River institute, so she heads down to finally see Mama Earp. Jeremy and Robin flirt about the murder tree? It’s fine. At the prison, when Mama sees Waverly, she freaks out, screaming “Get out!”, “I’ll kill you!”, and “Kill the demon.”

“I guess it’s only fair me walking in on you for a change.”—Nicole

Jeremy and Robin can’t find the murder tree in the woods. At the sheriff’s office, Wynonna tries to help Nedley defend the sheriff’s department from budget cuts and inadvertently makes matters worse by mentioning the marshals. Wynonna encourages Nedley to step down so Nicole can take a crack at heading up the police department. Waverly arrives and tells Wynonna that Mama tried to kill her. In the woods, Robin and Jeremy get lost in dense fog and find a creepy stone staircase. Wynonna heads to the prison, threatens mama for threatening Waverly, and then inadvertently lets Mama escape when she grabs Peacemaker. The guards then lock up Wynonna for being “an accomplice.” Nicole digs up the old, and incomplete, police report for Mama’s arrest; Nedley fills in the details: Mama was arrested for burning down the Homestead barn while Waverly was in it.

“The one available guy in town and he’s probably a murderer.”—Jeremy

Jeremy tries to direct Doc to find him and Robin, instead Doc hears the sound of a baby crying, then the sound of flames. Bulshar arrives and tries to threaten Doc into working for him. Before Doc can answer, Jeremy and Robin show up, the mysterious staircase is gone, and so is Bulshar. In the institute, one of the guards, a revenant, suggests killing Wynonna to cover up Mama’s escape. Nedley opens up about the night Mama Earp set the fire. Wynonna and the revenant fight, but she decapitates him with her handcuffs and gets the Warden to set her free.

“Does your car have seat warmers? Because I ripped my pants while decapitating, it happens.”—Wynonna

Jeremy hits upon the idea of a shared delusion being the source of the staircase he and Robin saw; when Robin leaves the lab, he coughs up black blood. Waverly listens to tapes of her mother’s therapy with Nicole. Doc stumbles in and hears a third voice on the tape. Looking for whiskey for Doc, Waverly finds Mama in the barn setting up the same occult paraphernalia from 10 years previous. A demon then shows up, one who had come “for Waverly.” Robin goes to visit his sick father and gets attacked by a large vine. Wynonna arrives at the Homestead to find everyone happily (scary happily) eating desserts baked by “Jolene,” who forces a brownie on Wynonna and jokes about them all ‘dying’ without her.

Favorite One Liner: “If I’ve learned anything over the past few months, it’s that evil wears many faces.”—Waverly

I Gotta Say…

I find myself once again ambivalent at the end of a Wynonna Earp episode. On the one hand, the demon-of-the-week plot this episode was better than the last two. Woods are a prime liminal space, and this episode used it to its’ full effect. Nicole’s comments about how quickly the wood grew back and the bleeding tree with a person’s eye inside set the tone right away. Rather than focus on fast-paced action with this demonic force, the show took a more eerie, atmospheric approach that worked well. I much prefer a creeping sense of horror and mystery to punching demons, so this episode gripped me. I’m invested in finding out the truth behind the walking forest of murder trees, the background with Bulshar, and how it’s related to the vine that grabbed Robin and Jolene.

At the same time, you can see the problem: there were a bit too many plot threads this episode to keep track of. Is the murder tree related to Jolene, the demon after Waverly, and/or the mysterious plants and vines outside Robin’s father’s place? How are any or all of these related to the stone staircase, Doc’s auditory hallucinations, and Bulshar? Any one of these threads could have worked as the primary demonic force for the whole episode, instead, we got multiple mysterious creatures and forces that could all be related or disconnected plus Wynonna and Waverly coping with everything to do with Mama Earp.

Thematically, the idea of not knowing what’s real or a hallucination ties everything together, and I don’t hate that as a unifying thread. In a town like Purgatory, one never can be sure what’s real. Is the past real or a delusion? Is the present stable or shifting? And if memories are unreliable, perception even more so. Doc’ has auditory hallucinations, as does Mama. Robin and Jeremy seem to believe they hallucinated the staircase, and the latter seems to think the murder tree might not be real either. And until we actually see the demon, we think Mama might be having visual or otherwise perceptual hallucinations about Waverly. Are our ‘demons’ real, imaginary, or some combination of both real and metaphorical? As an overarching theme, I can see what the episode was going for, and I like it.

Still, this episode was packed. Overfull, if you ask me, especially tonally. Mama Earp’s scenes and the murder forest are both eerie on their own. When juxtaposed without the proper resting period between them, it’s too much tension. Both ought to elicit a deep sense of horror. Together in one episode, I don’t think either had the full impact they should have had.

Plus, the cold open included multiple lines of dialogue ripped straight from song lyrics in a way that seemed flippant after last week. I know shifting direction after the death of a major character is tough. And I applaud the team for not making Dolls’ death a joke even as Doc and Wynonna cracked jokes. A generous viewer could read the situation as Doc and Wynonna coping the best they can: if you don’t cry, you laugh, and they got most of their emo out last week, so…irreverent jokes it is. I can see that, and I’m not mad at it as a direction. I’m not sure it was the best choice narratively, but it wasn’t the worst either.

I will say this: they haven’t just ignored Dolls’ death even if the emotional weight of it isn’t the primary emphasis right now. Focusing on the more tangible effects of Dolls’ death provides space for the show to continue grappling with the loss of his character without every episode being an emotional slog. I’m talking, of course, about the sudden cash flow problem. Theoretically, it works as a means of various characters coping with Dolls death. Even in practice, I find it an interesting narrative choice that creates space for metaphor. The lack of money is an analogy for Dolls’ absence, so frustration or anger or sadness about the former is a means of representing the latter.

Still, I have so many questions. Was it established that Peacemaker needed special bullets and I just forgot? I always assumed it was the gun that made Peacemaker special, not the bullets. How would the past Earps have gotten these magic bullets? Are we to assume BBD has always been the supplier or did they make their own? And if it just needs regular bullets, why would BBD need to supply them and is the team really such poor planners that they don’t have a stockpile larger than a quarter of a box? You’re telling me neither Waverly, Jeremy, nor Dolls know Wynonna well enough to not have a cache of bullets?

Secondly, why is the sheriff’s department suddenly short on cash, too? Was BBD funding their payroll? But how? Wasn’t BBD dissolved in season two and the team had to find a way to make things work on their own then? Suddenly, this is all feeling familiar. Plus, Moody revealed that BBD had never even been a government organization, so where did the money Dolls was supposedly bringing income from? I’m so confused.

Speaking of confused, holy whiplash, Docman! Look, I’m here for promiscuous Doc. I love that both he and Wynonna make no apologies for not being monogamous. My issue with the heavily suggestive dialogue and flirtation this episode stems from how rushed him jumping into bed with Kate last week was in the first place. The show barely spent any time establishing Kate as a potential sexual partner for Doc, rushed them into bed together, then rushed him back to verbal foreplay with Wynonna. Jeremy mentioned Doc’s sex afterglow right in the middle of Doc flirting with Wynonna. That just feels weird to me.

Delete that one comment from Jeremy and Doc sleeping with Kate last week and you have a seamless arc for Doc and Wynonna’s complicated sexual chemistry and history. The night with Kate might as well not have happened based on Doc and Wynonna’s characterizations. But it did, and I’m not sure why.

I’m also confused regarding Doc’s feelings about Alice. He’s either guilt-ridden or has a sense of peace about it, depending on the needs of the story. When Wynonna needs comforting, Doc evinces little to no guilt or pain. Yet when he’s the one in need of internal conflict, Alice’s loss and his descent to hell suddenly exist again. I suppose I could be generous and say Doc is coping better with his emotional struggles than he has in the past, but the more critical side of me says he’s just not being written consistently. I really like these as struggles for his character arc; I just want more. Which brings me back to the sense of the show trying to do too much, so there’s less space for characters’ consistently grappling with their internal struggles.

The one thing Wynonna Earp has done consistently well this season is the Mama Earp storyline. To my mind, this is the primary focus of the season, and it shows. The Mama Earp plot was truly horrifying. Believing that she was trying to kill Waverly the whole episode shook me to my core. (Can Waverly have one parent who actually gives a crap about her and is nice to her please and thank you?) Megan Fellows acted her face off, and Nedley played the role of the reluctant informant with heartbreaking accuracy. I look forward to seeing if his beliefs about Mama not having a mean bone in her body are correct.

As for what this episode means for Waverly’s heritage, I’m on the fence. I like the character work and internal conflict the plot creates. Wynonna defending Waverly is everything, and seeing Waverly struggle with Mama’s reactions to her broke me inside. Complicated family dynamics are my jam, and this episode delivered on that score.

Nevertheless, I don’t like the idea of Waverly being a demon as much as I did when last season’s arc with Bobo Del Rey started (Speaking of whom, where is he? What’s he up to?). After resolving the concern over her being a revenant in the season two finale, dangling the idea of Waverly being a demon feels too much like a rehash of last season. Same with the sheriff’s office having to once again deal with not having BBD support…BBD support they didn’t actually have because BBD was dissolved last season. Like Jeremy and Robin, the show feels like it’s walking in circles.

Maybe it’s because Mel’s pregnancy forced the writing team to change direction last season and we’re getting where certain plot threads ‘should’ have gone last season if they hadn’t have had to include the pregnancy. However, since these plot threads were dealt with last season—even if not fully to the writing team’s liking—revisiting them feels repetitive. I hope we get out of the woods soon, because there are some genuinely good things here to explore that feel like they’re being bogged down.

Overall, there are some elements I really liked on their own, yet they didn’t all gel together the way Wynonna Earp is usually so good at making happen. This episode juggled a lot of balls, and I’m not sure it caught them all.

I see you, Andras

  • Lots of song lyric references this week. Ngl, it got irritating after the first one.
  • New guy really needs to not put things in his mouth; he’s apparently also the infamous “potato licker” from this season’s teaser trailer. Guess no one told him to never touch the goo.
  • Nice to hear Wynonna say, “Make your peace” again. How long has it been?
  • Weird how quickly the WayHaught tension regarding talking to their parents was resolved with a joke about sportsball… the show reaaaaally isn’t allowing anything to last long? Not longer than an episode is one thing, but barely 10 seconds?
  • Flashback Wynonna looked on point.
  • The #MeToo line felt a bit too forced and weird tonally.

See you next week for “Jolene” (Jolene, Jolene, Joleeeeeeeene!). With Bobo back, it looks like I’m getting at least one of my questions answered, and I’m excited to see Mama Earp in a different context!

Images Courtesy of SyFy

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