This may be a shit show, but it’s our shit show. — Wynonna Earp, Season Two (and the labels of the whiskey bottles sent to critics to promote Season Three)
I can’t believe I forgot to ask about the potato.
That—beyond Wynonna Earp’s place in the fractal of today’s pop culture landscape, beyond the audacity with which series creator Emily Andras approaches telling the story of Purgatory, beyond even the Sisyphean task of translating the pure charm of stars Dominique Provost-Chalkley and Kat Barrell into digital print—that was the thought looming largest as I sat down to write this.
What about the potato?
While I am recently on record declaring that I’m no longer certain how to identify “good” television, the potato is not that. It was, rather, this summer’s first (and most potent) watchword for Wynonna Earp’s mighty fandom, which took the Season Three trailer dropped at June’s ATX festival and latched not onto Deputy Haught (Barrell) standing in the middle of a massacre, Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano) drunkenly slaying a mechanical bull ride, Jeremy (Varun Saranga) sporting a Doc Holliday mustache, or even Waverly (Provost-Chalkley) being dragged away from a car crash, leaving a slick of blood in the snow behind her, but rather onto the one image, forty seconds in, of a raw potato being licked two inches from the camera lens.
In the weeks that followed the trailer’s premiere, Earpers embraced the potato. A @purgatorypotato Twitter account was born. An 85-minute podcast of Earpers breaking down the potato-iest parts of the 90-second trailer was recorded. The potato was all.
So, obviously, when I sat down with Provost-Chalkley and Barrell a few days before San Diego Comic-Con, I should have asked about the potato.
But then, the night before our interview and five days earlier than its scheduled July 20 debut, Syfy dropped the Season Three premiere. And if you think that trailer had a lot going on, just watch a whole Wynonna Earp episode (no, seriously—please watch one, and then several, and then all of them, on loop). That ATX trailer, frenetically rich as it was, is a zen meditation compared to a full Wynonna Earp shit show, and while the potato is Just and Good, by the time the premiere’s final credits rolled, approximately one thousand new things were vying for Earpers’ obsessive attention: Wynonna and Doc’s (Tim Rozon) deep but differing grief at having had to send their baby away from danger at the end of last season; Waverly and Nicole alternately discussing best ballistic practices against Revenants and happily lounging around together in bed; Jeremy’s mustache (!!!); the Cult of Bolshar massacring the entire Pussy Willows clientele (and Nicole dredging up a memory that she might be a Bolshar survivor); Eurotrash vampires and their stripper bus full of pink smoke; Waverly and Wynonna crashing in the snow after cutting the whole Eurotrash vampire arc off at the pass; Waverly being dragged away, screaming, in a slick of her own blood.
It was, Provost-Chalkley and Barrell agree, A Lot. And they were deep in the trenches, livetweeting the whole thing alongside Andras, their co-stars, and all their wildly passionate fans.
“We had just got off the plane from Rio, so it was a bit of a shock,” Provost-Chalkley explains as we marvel at the insanity of the episode premiering early. “I think I hadn’t quite processed that it was actually going live, because I think that once upon a time it was going to be airing Friday only. So it was a little overwhelming, I’m not going to lie, because ALL we wanted to do was watch it, because it was the first time that we had actually seen the episode, so we hadn’t even prepped ourselves for watching it. Like, it was nice re-watching it just now [before the interview] because we could actually sit back and enjoy it. I don’t understand how these fans are livetweeting at the same time—” (Barrell: “They go SO FAST!”) “—they go so fast! It’s incredible.”
Here, Barrell picks up the thread. “And they’re, like, quoting lines. Like, so fast! I think I was tweeting, there was this line about, I think, Chinese takeout containers, and then the next line is Nicole saying, ‘I think I’m the sole survivor of the Cult of Bolshar,’ and I literally was finishing my Chinese takeout container thing, and people were like, how can you be talking about Chinese takeout when THIS just happened?! Well, I’m NOT GOING AS FAST AS YOU GUYS.”
We all laugh, and I don’t say anything about the fans on tumblr who are not just absorbing the many wild complexities of the story while livetweeting, but are somehow simultaneously making beautiful gifsets almost as soon as each scene has ended. We already marveled together over the spooky fandom action at a distance of the Rolls with the BLK BDG license plate I saw on the drive over (Black Badge being the clandestine government organization the Earp sisters et al are occasionally wrapped up with), and I don’t need to invite any more cursed Ghost River Triangle drama into my life by invoking the cursed Purgatory magic I’m almost positive those gif-makers are calling on.
“Usually we watch it before,” Barrell continues. “I like to watch it before, because then I can participate in the livetweet, because otherwise it’s [impossible]. And you see all the actors on the show, they’re so amazing! I love them as people and I love them as actors and I just want to watch their work. Because there’s so much you don’t get to see and you’re like, ‘Oh that’s how that worked! Oh, I love that choice! That’s amazing! I love what they did!” And you’re, like, cheering each other on—I just get distracted!”
“We’re both very much fans of the show as well as in the show,” Provost-Chalkley says. “So sometimes you even forget that you’re in it. It’s just such a complex mythology to begin with so you kind of wrap your head around it episode by episode [when filming], so it’s nice to go back and rewatch it. I always find it really rewarding to see the story that we’re actually telling from all the different characters’ points of view.”
The fact that they—not just Provost-Chalkley and Barrell, but everyone involved in the creation of Wynonna Earp, both in front of and behind the camera—are in love with the show has been obvious for as long as the Wynonna, Waverly and Nicole have been making bitchin’ feminist waves on Syfy’s screens, and is easily one of the least-secret secret ingredients in its success. But I’m not one to stop either actor from waxing on about how that love has evolved, especially as Andras has only grown more and more audacious with her storytelling.
On that note, I ask if they’d be willing to share something Andras-level audacious coming for their character this season. Not wanting them to feel pressure to actually spoil anything, I ask them to come up with a kind of code word for what fans should look out for, something that means nothing now but will be immediately clear once the moment arrives. After a few moments of truly impressive careful thought (these ladies are giving nothing away), they begin:
Barrell: Well, I would, hm… Mine would be… Father.
Barrell: See! Even Dom didn’t get it! It’s airtight!
Barrell: You’ll have to see the episode!
Provost-Chalkley: Jeez louise! Um… [long pause] [longer pause] [longest pause]
Unlike every other person in Purgatory, I am not a monster, so I give Provost-Chalkley a break to gush about previous audacities before having to come up with her own word. Like: Introducing that stripper bus full of Eurotrash vampires in the Season Three premiere, only to kill them all off by the end of the hour. Most supernatural horror shows would introduce vampires in a season premiere to establish them as a Big Bad for the entire season. Not our Wynonna Earp!
“That’s what Emily does so well, though!” she jumps in. “I was exactly the same, I was like OOOH, VAMPIRES, this is going to be a whole season of—and then it’s like, nope! We just completely took them out in one episode.”
I float the idea that maybe the vampires’ purpose, as far as the long game goes, was not to establish a new Big Bad, but to shift the narrative perspective for Season Three to one of incursion, after Season One’s focus on being trapped in the Ghost River Triangle, and Season Two’s focus on trying to escape it. If Purgatory was a cage to start with, now, maybe, it’s a fortress.
“I think that it’s fair to say that every season the universe expands,” Provost-Chalkley says, with evident care not to spoil a single damn thing. “And we realize the depths of it are much more intense and dangerous, whether that is in the way that you [described]. You just realize that the first season is about the Ghost River Triangle, and then you realize, ‘Oh! There’s so much more than the Ghost River Triangle,’ and now you realize, ‘Oh! There’s so much more than that.’ And whether that be inside or outside, I don’t feel like I can really share that, but the stakes just get higher and higher, and you realize there’s just so much more to it than we originally thought, and we realize this season particularly that Wynonna gets very much overwhelmed by that, like—is this bigger than we can deal with? But obviously it’s not, you guys, because we’re amazing!”
This is Provost-Chalkley being flip, but only barely. She and Barrell are both well aware of the amazing things their characters have gotten to do—and, by extension, that they as actors have gotten to do—these last three seasons, and not just because they, with Andras’ help, established themselves as one of television’s most beloved, least mortally threatened lesbian romances (hashtagged, naturally, #wayhaught). Still, that on-screen connection clearly resonates off-screen, as they both gravitate to the same scene when I ask about the most audacious/memorable thing they each got to do in character.
“I never thought that I would be able to maneuver those sticks in the way that I did,” Provost-Chalkley says of her fight with the Widow Mercedes in Season Two’s tenth episode. “That was fun, that was one of those moments when you’re like, ‘This is really cool.’ I’m so fortunate to be able to play such a badass character that would just be able to break a broom over her knee.”
“Mine would probably be that same scene,” Barrell says. “I remember having a moment in that scene, with you and Dani [Kind, who played the Widow Mercedes], and thinking, ‘We’re doing a fight scene with three women! This is SO COOL.’ I have a similar moment, with Chantel Riley, who plays Kate, this season, where it’s like, ‘THIS IS AWESOME.’ And when we were doing the finale of last season, and there was that huge Revenant fight, and we were running through all those Revenants, it was like, ‘Fuck I’m so lucky, this is so great.’”
“The female thing, I think, is something we are all, often, blown away by,” says Provost-Chalkley. “I had a similar thing [this season] with [upcoming guest star] Anna Silk and Zoie Palmer—no, not Zoie Palmer, who was in that scene? Oh right, and Dani Kind—and Mel and I. And I was like, ‘All of these characters are so different, like such extreme, extreme differences, and we’re all just here having a chat, not about a man, which is just such a cool thing.’”
The female thing is, of course, the other not-so-secret secret ingredient to Wynonna Earp’s success, serving as the focal point not just of our coverage here at Paste, but deep in the bones of the fandom. Beyond the #wayhaught romance, there is also the fact of the central relationship being the non-romantic one between Wynonna and Waverly as sisters, as well as the fact that Season Two featured a genuinely pregnant Melanie Scrofano as television’s first pregnant superhero, doing all her own stunts.
“The real true heart of the show is the relationship between Melanie and I as sisters,” Provost-Chalkley says. “That is the real love story, and that is the best thing for our show, like the core being a sibling relationship, which has so many complexities and is such a deep, deep, deep love that you don’t get in a romantic relationship. Like, when Wynonna finds out that she’s pregnant and Waverly has to pick up the pieces of her heart and try to stick them back together by just saying that she’s going to be there, it was just an extremely special moment between both myself and Melanie as human beings, as well as the characters, because it was the first time that she got to show to the crew that she was pregnant, you know, openly. And she was actually pregnant. There was a baby growing in that tummy. It was just the most bizarre thing to experience. That moment was just so pure. I’ve never been able to experience an actress just show such true, raw emotion that came from such a deep place, because she was actually living it, as well. And I just remember wiping tears away from her face, thinking, this is unbelievable, I was just so present. And that’s just something Melanie does so well.”
Lest anyone be be too moved by this epic love poem to her co-star’s vulnerability, Provost-Chalkley finished with a true shit show chaser: “But there was another time, when I was doing a scene, and there were limbs coming out of her tummy. I was like, ‘Whaa-a-a-t is happening?!’ and there was like, a foot! Pressing out!”
For the Wynonna Earp set, that sounds about right.
As much as the female thing is important to the series’ identity, the men on the show—Doc Holliday, Xavier Dolls (Shamier Anderson), Jeremy, even Sheriff Nedley (Greg Lawson)—are as integral to the narrative’s network of emotional relationships as the women are. Barrell, especially, appreciates the relationship between her character and Nedley as the only two real officers of the law in such a lawless town.
“I think it’s a beautiful relationship, I think it gets—there’s so many more layers to it this season that I absolutely love. And I think it’s just a really nice relationship, as colleagues but also as friends. I think the more I learn about the police force, the more cops we talk to, the more research we do, the more I realize that they’re a lot like a film crew family, because we spend so much time together, and we often are with each other crazy hours, crazy conditions. It just forms a special bond between people, and I see the relationship between people who work together in these high-stress, high-danger jobs, like the police force, so I’ve really started to find that relationship between Nicole and Nedley so much more than colleagues, because they’re trying to hold down the fort together, with no resources, it’s just the two of them, and what’s that about for them.”
Beyond Nedley, the two are quick to praise the on-screen relationship between every other pairing, but especially Nedley and everyone (Provost-Chalkley: “Like a father”), Wynonna and Doc (“The chemistry is OUT OF THIS WORLD”), and Jeremy and Doc (newly of the matching mustaches).
“Jeremy and Doc, there’s just the quirkiness,” Barrell says. “I love, too, when Varun and Tim are working together as actors, they bring such different sensibilities to it, they’re so playful, they work really well together, and I love the energies of the characters. They’re so opposite, so seeing those two spirits bumping together, I just find really fun.”
“Listen,” Provost-Chalkley says, “ultimately there are so many characters, and we all work so well together, it just depends on the storyline, and whether it’s going to match, and whether you’re going to cross paths, basically is what it comes down to. I think Emily knows that she can stick any two people together in a scene now and be pretty confident that something good is going to happen. We just have to have more seasons so we can do more stuff!”
This is hard to disagree with, and besides, our time is up. Which means Waverly’s big Season Three character moment code word can’t wait any longer:
Provost-Chalkley: I don’t know. For me, this season… [to Barell] You’re still going with Father?
Barrell: I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s audacious, but it’s a big moment for the character, yeah.
Provost-Chalkley: OK, then, I would say… I think I am going to go with… Father.
Provost-Chalkley: [Smiles beatifically.]
Barrell: COOL. YES. INCLUDE THAT.
It’s no potato, but I’ll take it.
Wynonna Earp airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on on Syfy. The first two seasons are available on Netflix.
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.