It’s hard not to root for , SyFy’s underdog supernatural series about the demon-fighting great-great-granddaghter of the Old West lawman Wyatt Earp, which just wrapped its third season. The series has raised the stakes with each season finale, and this time it pulled out all the stops. The show pits its titular heroine against the demon that cursed her family and sets up a major resetting of the entire premise for season four.
(There are spoilers for the first three seasons below, but it is generally mindful of major spoilers.)
” is not an easy show to describe in just one sentence, ” show runner Emily Andras admits. It has elements that made a cult sensation in the 1990s, including whip-smart writing and a killer theme song (“Tell That Devil” by Jill Andrews). There is a wise-cracking, reluctant Chosen One, or Cursed One, in the case of the Earp heir. Instead of battling vampires, Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano, ) takes on “revenants,” the repeatedly reincarnated outlaws that Wyatt Earp killed. They won’t stay dead until the Earp heir offs them with Wyatt’s famous 16-inch barrel revolver, dubbed Peacemaker (not an historically accurate name for a possibly apocryphal piece of weapon, but don’t get hung up on that).
‘s vampires can’t enter a private home without an invitation, and Andras gave the Earp family their own safe space from Revenants. The Earp homestead is built on a bedrock of ammonite, which acts as a powerful revenant repellant. Like Buffy, Wynonna becomes romantically entangled with a much older immortal being, Doc Holliday (Tim Rozon, ). There’s even an adorable lesbian couple in the Willow/Tara mold: Wynonna’s baby sister, Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley, ), falls for local deputy Nicole Haught (Katherine Barrell, )—a pairing dubbed “Way-Haught” by shippers.
But it would be a mistake to dismiss as just the Slayer stuck in the Weird Wild West. is every bit its own series, with its own rich mythical lore and lovable complicated characters, set against the stunning backdrop of Alberta, Canada, where the series is shot—a huge boon for a production on a tight budget.
“The landscape is worth a million dollars,” says Andras, who thinks of it almost as another character in the show. “You can point the camera in any direction, and you get prairie, you get the Rocky Mountains or the foothills.”
Wynonna herself is the Anti-Buffy. She’s a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, promiscuous, bar-brawling free spirit with a chip on her shoulder. She never even had a shot at being Homecoming Queen in high school. It’s to Scrofano’s great credit as an actress that she brings out the insecure vulnerability behind that tough belligerent exterior.
Wynonna has always been the town pariah, scarred by the childhood murder of her older sister by revenants and by the fact that she accidentally shot her own father with Peacemaker during the attack. Nobody believed her story about demons: she was the crazy Earp sister gone wild, with a stint in a mental institution to bolster that perception. Small wonder she left her small home town after high school, returning a decade later for a family funeral, only to find out she’s now the Earp heir stuck in Purgatory until Peacemaker sends every last Revenant back to Hell.
“I hope I captured the tone of what it’s like to grow up in a small town and feeling like you can’t leave.”
“There’s something about growing up in a small town where everybody knows you,” says Andras of this aspect of the series. “It’s hard to reinvent yourself. I hope I captured the tone of what it’s like to grow up in a small town and feeling like you can’t leave. It can be beautiful, or it can be horrible.”
The original comic book series created by Beau Smith in 1996 had Wynonna roaming the world hunting down revenants and other demons. The TV series is more tightly constrained, largely because of its limited budget. But those constraints have fueled the storytelling in some interesting ways. From a narrative standpoint, confining all those frustrated characters to the Ghost River triangle creates a tinderbox of bottled-up tension. You think the revenants enjoy coming back from the dead again and again, unable to ever leave Purgatory? Even the constraint of Scrofano’s real-life pregnancy proved a boon to the storytelling in season 2, as Wynonna gives birth to a daughter and must send her away for her own protection.
Crazy things happen over the course of the first three seasons. Witches, vampires, vengeful spirits, nutty sister-wife cults, possessed neighbors, and killer trees, among other threats, join the population of revenants that keep Wynonna and her merry band of misfits (her version of ‘s Scoobies) on their toes. But one thing has remained constant: the stakes are always deeply personal.
“I think the big bad has to be personal,” says Andras. “It has to be about protecting your family and choosing who’s going to actually be in your family, versus being told who is. That’s my rule of thumb: keep it personal, and keep upping the stakes.”
In the first season, Wynonna seeks out the band of revenants responsible for the deaths of her father and sister, only to find her sister’s fate was something quite different. In season 2, she wrestled with her mother’s mysterious abandonment of the family while contemplating her own impending motherhood. At the same time, she discovers that Waverly might not be an Earp after all. In season 3, we get some answers, as Wynonna finally gets to confront the demon Bulshar (Jean Marchand), the one who cursed the Earp family (and by extension the revenants) in the first place.
has never drawn the viewing numbers to make it a genuine smash hit series. What it does have is a vocal, incredibly loyal, and active fan base. SyFy in particular pays attention to fandoms, and it has rewarded the “Earpers” by renewing the series for a fourth season. The penultimate scene of Friday’s finale frankly could have worked as a (rather dark) end to the entire series, given that it neatly ties up a lot of narrative threads. It works even better as a set up for season four, since it pretty much blows up the original premise. The Earp curse appears to be lifted, the revenants have vanished, and Peacemaker is no longer a gun but a flaming sword that serves as the key to a portal leading to a lost Garden of Eden (yes, really—just roll with it).
The victory is Pyrrhic at best. As we heard constantly this season, everything comes with a price, and the personal sacrifice required is particularly high this time. What comes next is anybody’s guess, and Andras isn’t going to hold anything back. “I never take [another season] for granted,” she says. “I do the opposite. You have to assume this is the one shot you’re going to get, so if you have an amazing story, use it now, and just have faith that you’ll come up with an even better idea down the line.”
The ninth episode this season, “Undo It,” had Wynonna and Doc Holliday trapped by Bulshar in a shared mystical delusion that forcing them to repeat the same sequence of events over and over—a darkly twisted . Wynonna realizes that it’s structured like a video game, where she must beat subsequent higher levels to escape. It’s an apt analogy for the series as a whole, especially for how the storytelling has evolved over the last three seasons. If you thought was just about the Earp heir picking off a bunch of revenants one by one with Peacemaker—well, that was just level one. Given how the game has been reset, season four should bring us to a whole new level.