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Set to debut its game-changing third season Friday, Wynonna Earp has made quite a name for itself in just a short amount of time. The show, an under-the-radar supernatural Western set in a small town that is aptly named Purgatory, has been favorably compared by critics to such iconic series as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That alone is a ringing endorsement of both the quality and depth of its storytelling, but what makes the Syfy series truly stand out in a crowded television landscape is the accessibility of the female-led show and its rather unconventional heroine.
Adapted by Emily Andras (Lost Girl) from an IDW comic series of the same name, Wynonna Earp follows Melanie Scrofano's titular character, a descendent of the legendary lawman and gunslinger Wyatt Earp, as she sends revenants — the men and women Wyatt killed who became demons upon his death — back to hell with a revolver named Peacemaker. It's an inescapable family curse that forces Wynonna into taking up the mantle of reluctant Chosen One upon her 27th birthday, but it's Andras' willingness to boldly take the story in directions rarely seen on TV coupled with Scrofano's dynamite performance that makes Wynonna a powerful entry into the TV superhero lexicon. And in 2018, when costumed superheroes are quite literally everywhere one looks, it's more important than ever that shows like Wynonna Earp offer refreshing and unique alternatives to the more classic ideas of what a superhero or heroine is or should be.
Not just an archetype, Wynonna is a three-dimensional woman with feelings and opinions who not only recognizes her flaws but embraces them and acknowledges how they've shaped her into the woman she is. "Most of the time when you see an action hero or superhero or something, you all of a sudden have to stand straighter and act ... like something that has never and will never exist," Scrofano told TV Guide at the ATX Television Festival in June. "Emily gave me and everybody else on the show the freedom to be like 'No, she's a real person,' so [we] have fun with that and make her kick ass, but [also] make her real."
"I often say one of the glories about Wynonna is she can be fully Wynonna, but Wynonna doesn't have to represent all women," added Andras. "We have Office Haught. We have Waverly Earp. So, I just think it's OK to write women as people, which seems like a crazy normal thing to say but — all the women I know are so flawed and interesting and they're heroes in their own right."
Of course there's a lot that goes into crafting a well-rounded character like Wynonna so she doesn't just feel like a list of intriguing-sounding qualities or hobbies stuffed into what is, frankly, a killer wardrobe. No, her accessibility as a heroine is not just the result of a close relationship with or desire to protect her younger sister Waverly (Dominque Provost-Chalkley). It's not just her impeccable (and often dirty) sense of humor. And it's definitely not just about her penchant for drinking whiskey like it's water. It's all of these things and more, but what really sticks out is the fact that, unlike her spiritual predecessors or costumed cohorts, Wynonna isn't actually particularly noteworthy.
That admittedly sounds kind of harsh, but it's honestly meant to be a compliment. Wynonna is proof that being a hero is a strength that comes from within. She wasn't granted much in the way of special skills beyond the ability to send revenents to hell via Peacemaker. She doesn't have superhuman strength or superspeed. She's not even all that skilled in hand-to-hand combat at the start of the show. She is, like the men and women who tune in to watch her kick ass every week, a flawed human being trying to do her job and make a difference in the world. She's a woman who's been thrust into an unpredictable situation and who rarely has any of the answers. As a result, she's had to feel her way through the dark, and it's this familiar existence and everywoman quality that resonates with a lot of fans.
"I think it's refreshing when the people you're looking up to mess up just like you do, but somehow things, in their own way, work out," Scrofano said of why she thinks the character has connected so strongly with viewers. "It just gives everybody a bit of hope that you know, I don't have to be Instagram- [or] Pinterest-perfect every minute of my life in order for me to maybe find my place in the world."
"I think that the characters are written [to be] strong, but that doesn't mean they're not wounded or they're not vulnerable either," adds Tim Rozon, who plays the immortal (and heavily mustachioed) gunslinger Doc Holliday. "I think that it is important to show both, that it's OK. And I think that's what Wynonna is: she's as strong as she is wounded, and that kind of makes her stronger."
As Andras is also quick to point out, this isn't limited to just Wynonna; it describes the entire cast of characters who make up the show too. "[The show] is about very flawed underdogs trying to make their way in a complicated world," she said. "And regardless of the fact that they're incredibly flawed and kind of screwed up, they get up every day and try their darnedest."
That resilient, underdog nature is baked into the foundation of the show and seen throughout its first two seasons, which found Wynonna taking on any number of supernatural baddies with the help of her ragtag group of friends, most of whom also don't have special abilities. In addition to Doc and Waverly, the team includes US Marshal Xavier Dolls (Shamier Anderson), a man-lizard hybrid (medical experiments, OK?); Waverly's girlfriend and local police officer Nicole Haught (Katherine Barrell); and scientist Jeremy (Varun Saranga). Together they keep — to the best of their abilities, anyway — the area known as the Ghost River Triangle free from supernatural threats.
Their unlikely team-up and the show's masterful ability to be both incredibly funny and emotionally rich at the same time makes Wynonna Earp an entertaining must-watch. But then last summer, during the show's second season, it took the female-driven narrative one step further and did something that has almost certainly never been done before on TV: it introduced the world to a pregnant superhero after Scrofano became pregnant in real life.
It seems strange that something as natural as motherhood could be considered groundbreaking storytelling, but the idea of writing Scrofano's pregnancy into the series was a potentially radical choice that initially worried Andras. She wasn't sure how it would be received by network executives who often have their own ideas of what should or should not happen. She ultimately went for it, and it worked in the show's favor, but there was no guarantee beforehand that it would.
"I think that so much of what makes Wynonna Earp successful is that it's a very female-driven show, [and] we really needed to put our money where our mouth is," said Andras of the decision to write it in. "I was scared about if we would be allowed to do it, but it really did feel like an opportunity. And it actually was so Wynonna, you know, like ... your lead being pregnant in the second year [isn't] very conventional, but that's the Wynonna [of it all]."
"And I really have to give credit to the networks, especially Syfy, because I didn't know what to expect when I said I want to do a pregnant superhero," Andras continued. "But they were so completely on board. They really knew that it was something that had not been seen before and they were so happy it was going to be Melanie who was doing it."
Once committed to the decision, the pregnancy was, as Andras notes, one of those things that originally felt like a challenge but now feels like a blessing. "I really think it grounded our second season and forced our storytelling [to] a place that was, I hope, inspirational and new," she said.
"I think anybody who gets pregnant gets insecure now of a wide variety of things," added Scrofano. "But then when I saw the fans' support and [that] they didn't just turn off the TV because they didn't want to watch a pregnant person, I was so inspired by the — support is just a cliché word to use, but it's like they had our backs. And as a woman you go, 'Oh my God, OK, I can be fully myself and have people still on board.' There's nothing greater for a woman to feel like 'I can have my life and my career and it's no longer a taboo and it's no longer you're going to be spit out at the wayside.'"
The support that the show and Scrofano received when the pregnancy storyline took shape midway through Season 2 is hardly surprising though. The show's accessibility and dedication to positive on-screen representation for the LGBTQ community has allowed it to reach a number of people across the world. And its dedicated fans, known as Earpers, have cultivated an incredibly supportive community online and off.
"The fandom has become something special," Rozon said of the entire experience. "We got to be a part of the show, and the fans, they found our show, but then they found each other. And now it's like I'm on the other side and I feel like I'm watching the fandom grow. It's just, it's such — 'kindness is contagious' is a slogan of our fandom, but it's real. That's the truth. It's just like a safe place in a time where maybe the world doesn't feel so safe."
"I think it's the sense of friends are the family you choose for yourself," added Katherine Barrell, who plays Nicole. "I think that's really what makes the Earpers so special, because they took this show and then they created their own things out of it. They are people who come to conventions and have become friends online, and then they hangout and share a hotel room the whole weekend. And it's really awesome to see people who have a community and friends all over the world because of their common love of Wynonna Earp."
Making lifelong friends through fandom is obviously nothing new, but as anyone who's spent any significant amount of time in online fan communities will tell you, fandom can also be incredibly toxic. The fact that Wynonna Earp has cultivated a positive environment, especially for women, is special. But when one looks at where it all started — with Andras' and Scrofano's dedication to telling an empowering story about the female experience via an unconventional but familiar heroine — it's not the least bit surprising that people have embraced it the way they have.
Season 3 of Wynonna Earp premieres Friday, July 20 at 9/8c on Syfy.
Additional reporting by Sadie Gennis