The last time I sat down to write about Syfy’s stellar summer slate, it was with the frame of the female experience firmly front of mind. The math is there: Each series is led by a complexly badass lady or Two (or Five, or Android) whose lived experience as a woman constantly fighting for her own agency and bodily autonomy dictates the shape of the series’ respective action-adventure narratives.
This time, though, as all three near their season finales, the frame I can’t shake is goo. Killjoys has some (green); Dark Matter has some (black). For all that it is the more serious, high-budget cousin of these summer romps, Syfy’s late winter space epic, The Expanse, even has some (blue).
“HA! Is it seriously blue goo, black goo, green goo? Is that true?” Michelle Lovretta, Killjoys creator and showrunner exclaims when I comment on it. “And I think Emily has goo, on Wynonna [Earp]!”
Fact check: true. Wynonna’s is demonic, and borne of Hell—at least when it’s not spit from the glands of immortal witch widows, or from body-snatching worm demons, or painted like a permanent bullseye on your forehead by a demonic cult leader—but it’s still goo.
This goes with the territory, of course, both Syfy’s and sci-fi’s. In sci-fi (the genre), some alien threat is all but required; on Syfy the network, production costs impose some hard limitations. “Not to pull the curtain back,” Lovretta says, “but the reality is, if you want aliens, and you don’t want to spend twelve hours in a makeup chair with the expense and production time that that takes, then you deal with aliens in a way that you can deal with the us versus them, the horror, all those deep, rich themes that we enjoy poking at while enjoying our romp on Killjoys—since we want fun to be the centerpiece—you do it in a way that you can manage.”
That Syfy’s summer shows all landed on goo as a solution to this production dilemma makes sense: Blending socio-existential analysis, horror, and pure, romping joy is exactly what all three excel at, and as far as foes go, goo is the path of least resistance to that excellence. Its form reduces physical limitations to almost zero; its literal blankness does the same for function. It is a mainstay of science fiction, but unlike little green men or giant space bugs or barbarous, swarthy humanoids, goo is not weighed down by established mythology or squint-and-it’s-obvious cultural metaphor. Sentient (or not), self-replicating (or not), shapeshifting (or not), extraterrestrial (or not): Goo can be whatever it needs to be, however it needs to be, whenever it needs to be. Plus, it looks cool.
For her part, Lovretta has made the goo on Killjoys both extraterrestrial and sentient, a hyper-advanced, neurally-linked, nearly immortal parasitic alien organism that is slowly taking over what humanity exists in the series’ post-Earth world. Cold, calculating and singularly focused on their species’ dominance, the Hullen are the diametric opposite of the messy, loving human family at the series’ center: Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen), Johnny (Aaron Ashmore) and D’Avin (Luke Macfarlane).
“For me, it is about relationships,” Lovretta explains. “A lot of what makes the Hullen different is their coldness, their inability to empathize with others. I’m a very empathetic person, it’s the core of my nature, and I am aware that the opposite of that is the Hullen. It is these people who, you know, maybe they might pair-bond, but they aren’t able to empathize—and then we’ve got this trio, who do nothing but worry about each other and love each other.”
And Lovretta isn’t afraid to explore the murky aspects of relationships across species lines, either. The beginning of this season saw D’avin mysteriously connected on a neural level with the Hullen, after having been tortured with the goo last season. Dutch, meanwhile, has a sociopathic doppelgänger who became Hullen generations back, the two intimately connected by way of a Hullen-goo bath. Now deep into Season Three, a war is brewing between the two species, but while the Hullen raze humanity without batting a goo-blooded eye at those of their own number lost in the fight, the collateral human damage Dutch and her team are responsible for has their souls bruised to the point of breaking. How heroes will approach the looming Hullen-Human war, with or in spite of these new entanglements—that’s the murk Lovretta is ready to explore.
Joseph Mallozzi, creator and showrunner of Dark Matter, is also out to explore the murkier aspects of humanity. It’s a task he began way back in his Stargate days, when he first started developing the story behind Dark Matter’s amnesiac crew of space mercenaries.
“Growing up, I was always a big fan of villains,” he explains. He was also struck by the theory that former enemies make the best of friends. “There’s that notion of redemption, which plays through everything I ever write. I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to take a group of people, the worst of the worst, and find a way to redeem them? Take these individuals who are so reprehensible, and give them a fresh start, and kind of chart their journeys? And because they are individuals, some of them will fail, some of them will succeed, but it’s all about the journey of discovery.”
Part of this journey involves goo, of course—one type, a sentient, pitch-black, Hullen-like alien organism with designs on overthrowing humanity, the other an abstract technological “goo” of self-healing nanobytes which make up the impervious synthetic humans the black alien goo aims to use as hosts. While both intimately affect the crew of the Raza—Two (Melissa O’Neil) is the first synthetic human to be created with the latter, and Three (Anthony Lemke) was briefly possessed by the former—goo is still just one trope among dozens that Mallozzi has intentionally subverted to get to the beating heart of the crew’s psychological and moral journeys. And while both goos have had more lasting power than the time loops, time leaps, and virtual reality runarounds that have made up Season Three’s “love letter to sci-fi,” time will only tell how much either will play a critical role in bringing the Raza’s crew closer together as an indomitable, redeemed-villain family.
Over on Wynonna Earp, there almost no type of goo Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano) and her pack of scrappy underdogs haven’t bonded over. This season’s Big Bads, a pair of witchy, face-stealing widows, spit gooey, paralytic acid like some kind of Wild West komodo dragons, and the intimate positions that’s locked our heroes into has been… formative. Meanwhile, the gooey demon worm that possessed Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkin) in the first half of the season not only threatened to overtake a literal host of humans within the boundaries of Purgatory, but, by transferring itself from Earp sister to Earp sister in its final bid for survival, ended up investing Waverly with more intimate knowledge of Wynonna’s life and future—a surprise pregnancy (speaking of goo)—than even Wynonna had, herself.
This groundbreaking “pregnant action hero” twist (Melanie Scrofano, our new action idol, did her own stunts while pregnant), has not been without its critics. “It’s funny,” creator and showrunner Emily Andras says. “I got a little bit of blowback on Twitter. Someone said, ‘I feel like this is the least feminist thing you’ve ever done,’ and I actually totally disagree, because nobody embodies more what it means to be a woman in 2017 America right now than Wynonna Earp. I think she gets up everyday and fights destiny and fights the patriarchy. And the reality of it is, sometimes women do not get a choice, and they have to FIGURE IT OUT.”
Figuring it out in the Earp family’s Purgatory means having to anticipate not just normal baby stuff, but also the possibility that, given a one-night stand with a stealth revenant, any baby—even Waverly, according to a recent DNA test—might be in possession of way more than its share of demon revenant goo. And with a family curse that can only end when all revenants are shot back to Hell, this goo-development threatens to complicate an already complicated (if raucously fun) narrative.
And this gets to the heart of the more metaphorical role goo plays in all three of these shows: as an avatar for our existential fear of being replaced by the Other, a fear which humanity has not historically faced with grace.
“It’s something that I think we are all trying to find our own balance on,” Lovretta says. “How much of it is about objectivity and distance and selfishness, and how much of it is about fidelity and brotherhood and worrying about other people. I think that those are important things to grapple with.”
In this way, the muddying of the divide between human and Other in Killjoys, Dark Matter, and Wynonna Earp serves as a tangible reminder of how few differences are ever a perfect binary, and insisting on thinking that any might be will only hurt our common cause. It also serves as a way to elide the 0.01% genetic difference that exists across the human genome and puts the audience all on the same side, one of empathetic humanity, against the truly evil forces that would look at all our messy, redeemable, scrappy human diversity and seek to destroy it.
Of course, you don’t have to think about any of this to enjoy the hell out of these shows. Each is a ride and a half, and each has a passionate fan base who will tweet and cheer every episode along with you.
“You create because you have a story to tell,” Andras says of her wildly queer and feminist “Frozen meets Supernatural meets Buffy” western, which has already been picked up for a third season. “And the most gratifying thing is that anyone finds it and gets it and celebrates it. I am only so full of joy and love that people have found the show and love it.”
Killjoys and Dark Matter, meanwhile, are both still awaiting news on the renewal front, but should they get picked up, both Lovretta and Mallozzi are ready. “I don’t want to ruin it for you,” says Mallozzi, who has had five seasons of Dark Matter planned out for a decade, “but we take the series in a totally different direction. Something happens in the end of Season Three that kicks off a fourth story arc that especially the true sci-fi fans are going to love. Basically, there are two sci-fi elements, and they both start with A.” Generously, he continues, “I’ll give you one of them: androids.”
For her part, Lovretta has big plans looming for the Hullen, but isn’t afraid of whatever might come next. “Ultimately, what I’ve come to realize as a storyteller is my brain makes the thread,” she explains, “so there’s always more story to tell.” That said, if she had all the time and opportunity in the world, two things she would really love to see Killjoys take on is some story with both Aaron and Shawn Ashmore (preaching to the choir!), and an alternate reality episode where Dutch and John are romantically involved. “That idea tickles me because I love things that are both deeply emotionally complicated or funny, and that’s something that would be both.”
Look: I’m no goo expert, but it really seems that if anything can make surprise twins and platonic-romantic pairings happen on a rollicking Syfy space romp, that could very well be it.
Killjoys, Dark Matter, and Wynonna Earp air Fridays at 8 p.m., 9 p.m., and 10 p.m. on Syfy. The season finales of Dark Matter and Wynonna Earp air Friday, August 25. The Killjoys finale will air Friday, September 1.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic whose writing has appeared on Forever Young Adult, Screener, and Birth.Movies.Death. She’ll go ten rounds fighting for teens and intelligently executed genre fare to be taken seriously by pop culture. She can be found @AlexisKG.