And so: the second season of SYFY’s Wynonna Earp has ended, with the show’s donut-chomping, gun-slinging titular [sometimes] hero once again sending evil a-packing from Purgatory – or at least putting its timetable on hold. Victory never comes easy for Team Wynonna, and season 2 only cemented further for these characters that life is filled with difficult choices. Furthermore, showrunner Emily Andras and her writing team doubled down on their ability to induce shock and awe in their audience, week after week, whilst sustaining a narrative pace almost guaranteed to cause whiplash. Amongst their bold narrative choices were a number of surprising developments that in hindsight seemed inevitable, yet also scattered throughout the season were occasional moments so unexpected they elicited reactions that ranged from exclaiming “oh shit!” to pointing animatedly at the screen and thrashing around with uncontained glee. And that was just me.
Sometimes plot points that are designed to shock are ill-planned and used as a poor excuse to progress the plot to the detriment of character. We are all familiar with the cliched ‘shocking death’ so many of our favourite characters suffer, which is now so common it provokes frustration more than anything else. However, many of the most shocking moments I have selected are directly informed by the characters of Wynonna Earp, building on their multidimensionality and exposing their faults by showing how they act in difficult situations.
Of course this list is entirely subjective and solely predicated on my own reactions to the narrative beats that feature throughout the season. Originally I aimed to spotlight only 10, but narrowing it down proved difficult. This final list doesn’t even include the first instance (which wasn’t even a narrative choice) that had me whooping at the screen: the casting of guest star Rachel Skarsten as Eliza in the season opener. As a fan of Skarsten’s work on Lost Girl (on which Emily Andras also pulled showrunner and Executive Producer duties for a few seasons), seeing her name pop up in the credits early in the episode had me hollering. Her antagonistic, yet mildly flirty chemistry with series lead, Melanie Scrofano, was a delight to behold and helped deliver a bombastic start to the season. Little did I know that there were plenty more shocks to come.
So, if Skarsten’s appearance didn’t make the cut, then what did? Read on to find out …
15. Mercedes and Beth lose their faces (2.04 She Ain’t Right)
“Yup, it’s time we did … an about-face,” says Mercedes Gardner (Dani Kind), Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano)’s high-school friend, at the very end of the third episode, right before we see one of the Widows creep up from behind and yank her face around by the mouth. But it’s not until the next episode that we discover her fate, and that of her sister, Beth (Meghan Heffern): both women received the kind of face peel that nobody would go to the spa for. With their faces removed and subsequently sported by the Widows, Mercedes and Beth’s heads were entirely featureless, and a horrifying sight to behold (by those of us who still have our faces).
Though the show is not exactly preoccupied with body horror as a theme, it is nonetheless unafraid to get gruesome, and the fate that befell the two Gardner sisters is certainly the most viscerally unpleasant to be featured on the show, barring perhaps Widow-Mercedes and Widow-Beth feasting on the intestines of a still-breathing Juan Carlo (Shaun Johnston). Mercedes and Beth were left to rot in their basement, the latter dying before they were eventually discovered by Agent Xavier Dolls (Shamier Anderson) – though, as Wynonna says, Beth might have been the lucky one. The last we saw of Mercedes, she was hospitalised, with her head wrapped in bandages, but unless the next season makes reference to it, we may never know what the future holds for her.
That she and her sister were chosen to have their identities stolen because the Widows recognised the anger and darkness in the youngest Gardner sibling, Tucker (Caleb Ellsworth-Clark), is even more tragic. Tucker embodied the malicious, festering, and all-too-frequently ignored misogyny that permeates society, and despite the supernatural way in which it manifests, what happens to his sisters is emblematic of the many ways women are endangered by misogyny and made victims of its violence. Who else cheered when their deeply unpleasant brother finally met his gory demise at Widow-Beth’s hands? Karma’s a bitch, Tucker.
14. Waverly kisses Rosita (2.09 Forever Mine Nevermind)
Consider this scenario playing out on your TV screen: two attractive people, sitting in close proximity to each other, barely clothed, under the influence of alcohol, exchanging lingering looks, offering emotional support to one another. It seems inevitable that they will kiss, and indeed they eventually do. Now, how many times have you seen that scenario involve two women, or indeed two men? Straight couples get this kind of treatment all the time in TV and film, but rarely is such a situation so heavy with sexual tension afforded to queer characters. Wynonna Earp is one of those rare TV shows that allows more than two characters to be queer. It knows that simply having two token gay characters inhabit a world of straight people is an unrealistic representation of the world that we actually live in, and it knows that queer audiences want to see a spectrum of representation in the media they consume.
On Wynonna Earp, narrative tropes are subverted when they engage queer characters in situations we usually only ever see straight characters involved in. When Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkely) performs a private cheer routine in episode 3 – sans lingerie, no less – for her romantic partner, it avoids being a cliche because her partner is a woman, not a man. Women performing acts laden with sexual intent for the male gaze feature all too frequently in our media, but a woman performing for her girlfriend – and explicitly stating it’s for her enjoyment only – is something rarely shown on-screen.
When Waverly kisses Rosita (Tamara Duarte) at the spa, it’s not an act performed for a man’s enjoyment, and it’s not just an act of cheating on her girlfriend, Nicole (Katherine Barrell) (but it is cheating, even if Wynonna disagrees). People, gay or straight, make bad choices, and if we are to treat gay characters the same as straight ones, then that means that we let them make the same mistakes their straight counterparts do. Of course whether or not this particular plot point frustrated you no doubt depends on your level of tolerance for cheating storylines in general, regardless of the sexual orientation of the characters involved, so its mileage will vary.
Nonetheless, it is all too easy to imagine the scenario described above involving Waverly and Rosita not resulting in a kiss; we’re used to scenes involving two women that are dripping with subtext but which ultimately are afraid to deliver canon representation. But Andras and her team know several important things and are not afraid to write about them: Waverly is still exploring her sexual identity, which means she is realising her attraction to multiple women; queer people – like straight people – make stupid mistakes; and there is no limit on how many queer characters can exist in a fictional world (that Rosita began to kiss back before Waverly pulled away suggests that she too is not exactly straight). Ultimately, this scene was shocking not just because of the potential impact that Waverly cheating on Nicole (whilst they were in the middle of a fight) could have on their relationship, but also simply because it happened at all.
Though the couple has since moved on from their fall out and re-affirmed their love for one another (if there’s one good thing that came out of the kiss, it’s that Waverly realised instantly that it was wrong and how much she loved Nicole), Waverly does not seem to have mentioned the incident to her girlfriend, as of the season finale (EDIT: this has since been addressed). That’s not to say that the revelation may not still raise its ugly head in the show’s third season, or indeed that somebody else won’t spill the beans, considering that both Wynonna and Dolls (and obviously Rosita) also know, but for now it is Waverly’s dirty little secret, and no doubt always weighing on her mind.
13. Wynonna’s pregnancy (2.05 Let’s Pretend We’re Strangers)
Fans were prepared for a twist in episode 5 that would alter the show’s status quo, preempted by promotional interviews prior to the episode’s airing, but few likely predicted what it was: Wynonna’s discovery of her pregnancy. The person most shocked by it, however, was likely Wynonna herself, given – as she later tells Waverly in the following episode – that she has been on two types of birth control since she was a teenager. Of course, this plot development seemed less surprising once we learnt how it came about: because Melanie Scrofano herself was pregnant during production. Pregnancy storylines in television usually range from middling to terrible – who could ever forget the awful treatment of Cordelia (or indeed Charisma Carpenter) on season 4 of Angel? – so Wynonna Earp could easily have joined the garbage heap of examples that came before it, if it didn’t have writers who thought long and hard about how to best serve the characters.
I probably ought to confess at this point that pregnancy is not something I think about all that much. I have never wanted children, and the thought of being pregnant honestly terrifies me. Imagining pregnancy as something some people actually strive for is so alien to me that I am really bad at discerning if a woman is pregnant. I am always the last person to find out that somebody I know is with child because it just never occurs to me as a concept. This has resulted in some embarrassing scenarios in my personal life. And no, I will not reveal them here. (All that being said, I know fertility is a privilege, and that some of the deserving people who truly desire safe, successful pregnancies are sadly unfortunate in this regard. I’m not here to judge women who want to get pregnant.)
So, with this bias of mine exposed, you can probably understand why I generally do not care for pregnancy storylines. The desire to be pregnant is not something I can relate to; motherhood is not something I can relate to. A person’s life completely changes when they have a child and I feel like a lot of female characters are given pregnancy storylines when writers with limited heteropatriarchal worldviews have run out of ideas for what else to do with them. There is this persisting idea within our society that a woman’s primary purpose is to reproduce, and so many fictional narratives perpetuate this, often in their concluding chapters, even where their female protagonists have never expressed a desire for children, as though child-bearing is the only conceivable natural progression of a woman’s life-story – just think of the epilogues in the final installments of both the Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series.
Wynonna Earp, however, is a very relatable character, and I had faith that if there was to be a pregnant character I could relate to, it would be her. Boy, was I pleased to be proved right. I am the same age as Wynonna, although nowhere near as irresponsible as her. But I can totally understand how terrified she was by her own pregnancy. It was unplanned, and tragically before she had the chance to weigh all her options, time was fast-forwarded by the Sandman (of course) and before she knew it, she was much further along in the gestation period than she possibly would have ever intended to be, had her autonomy not been restricted. Her horrified realisation that her baby would ‘have hands’ and could therefore ‘grab things’ was comical but also highlighted just how unprepared she was, and how little time she had to get ready for the baby’s arrival into her life. One of the most understated scenes of the season was with her OB-GYN, Doctor Navalar (Imali Perera), a stern, yet kind and understanding (and amusingly sassy) woman who was not at all impressed with the secretive way that Dolls transported her out into the middle of nowhere to assess Wynonna’s health. When she asks Wynonna if she has drunk alcohol during her pregnancy, Wynonna unsurprisingly is not comfortable with the line of questioning, considering that the answer is yes, she has:
Wynonna: [sitting up] This whole thing took me by surprise.
Dr. Navalar: I’m here to assess your health and the baby’s, not to judge.
Wynonna: [visibly choked up] That’s … alright, just– it’s sort of a trigger word. [beat] You’re very nice, thank you for that.
It’s important to see examples of women who make mistakes during their pregnancy, not out of spite or intentional irresponsibility, but as a result of not being fully aware of or in control of their situation. Of course what happens to Wynonna supernaturally is not something any woman in our world would experience, but genre story-telling is powerful exactly because it allows us to explore ourselves in more heightened, potent ways. Wynonna’s is probably my favourite pregnancy storyline I have encountered, because it did not demean her or suggest she was capable of less because of her condition (in fact, it made pains to show clearly that she was still incredibly capable), it found comedy in her situation but also poignancy, and it didn’t dare to suggest that motherhood is the ultimate end-goal for a woman and something that Wynonna should have aspired to all along; sure, she eventually accepted that she was going to have a baby but she still knew that it was not the ideal situation for her to be in at that point in her life. And most uncharacteristically for me, I am interested to see how motherhood impacts Wynonna in season three, considering her baby is being raised far away from Purgatory by Aunt Gus, and given the emotional sending off Alice Michelle received from her mother, father, and auntie Waverly, book-ending season two.
12. Nicole is married (2.10 I See A Darkness)
It makes sense that in the season’s most intense episode there would be a number of surprises, and ‘I See A Darkness’ certainly did not disappoint. In a race against time, the team rush to find a way to save Nicole’s life after she is bitten by Widow-Mercedes and infected with deadly venom. Dominique Provost-Chalkeley in particular delivers a tour-de-force performance, as Waverly faces the difficult choice of either waiting for Wynonna to procure a cure in time, or – in exchange for the insta-cure – giving Widow-Beth the third and final seal that prevents the demon Clootie from rising again – and betraying Wynonna in the process. Before the doctors induce Nicole into a coma, she tells Waverly that she has never loved anybody the way that she loves her. It softens the blow for the audience when Waverly shortly thereafter discovers that her girlfriend has a secret spouse from whom she is separated, but given Nicole’s status as one of the more sensible, strait-laced members of the team, the revelation still comes as a surprise, especially considering the specifics. Nicole’s wife, Shae, reveals that the two of them met whilst rock-climbing in Nevada, and high on casino winnings and post-Britney concert jubilation (and presumably following the imbibing of alcohol), they got hitched in Las Vegas.
Yes, it’s the old Vegas wedding cliche, yet once again the trope is subverted by virtue of being used in a way we’re completely unused to seeing in media. It may not be the first instance of a lesbian having a shotgun wedding in Vegas mentioned on our screens (or perhaps it is – I don’t even know!), but how many other examples can you name? Entire films are made about the supposed inherent comedy found in the situation of people impulsively getting married when inebriated, but these films exclusively feature straight characters, no doubt in most part because same-sex marriage was not even legal in the state of Nevada until 2014. So where is our slew of new comedies about queer couples who got hitched when same-sex marriage was legalised nation-wide? Brooklyn 99 has a great joke about how Captain Holt and his husband had to make do with a very quick ceremony at their wedding when gay marriage was legalised, because they didn’t know how long it would be legal for, and honestly I want to see so many more stories like this being told. Once again by turning a familiar narrative on its head, Wynonna Earp exposes the total dearth of stories about the LGBTQ+ community that are available to us in pop culture. It also adds some colour to Nicole’s backstory, which – up until this point – we had known very little about, and it just goes to show that even the most steadfast, reliable people can be full of surprises.
11. Wynonna disappears (2.10 – I See A Darkness)
The revelation that Nicole had a wife was not the only surprising moment in the tenth episode. In fact, this blistering hour of television ended with a reality-altering twist when the Iron Witch, Greta (Rachael Ancheril), wished that Wynonna would disappear, and Marzaniok, the wish-granting demon trapped inside a hockey trophy, made it so. The main character! Vanished! In the following episode, ‘Gone As A Girl Can Get’ we see that Greta’s wish cast only a cheap glamour spell over the town, so although Waverly, Nicole, Dolls, and the rest of the Purgatory residents were living as though Wynonna had never existed and had an effect on their lives, cracks in the facade soon started to appear.
The reasoning behind this storyline was mostly practical, designed to give Melanie Scrofano some respite in the last stage of production during the final weeks of her pregnancy (the series’ block-shooting schedule meant that episodes were filmed two at a time, so much of this episode was likely filmed at the very end of principal photography – certainly the final scene shot before production wrapped was the one between Waverly and Doc Holliday (Tim Rozon) from this episode). However, narratively it offered an opportunity to see how Wynonna has changed Purgatory for good, despite her unpopularity as a citizen. An obvious comparison to make here would be Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s season 3 episode, ‘The Wish’, in which Cordelia wishes that “Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale” and is soon plummeted into an alternate reality wherein the town is overrun by vampires challenged by very little resistance without the Slayer’s presence.
The conceit of this narrative device is that in order to restore the status quo, and return the story to the fictional world we have come to know and love, the events in the alternative world must be so awful in comparison that the characters will want to return to normality, even if they do not know in full detail what they are missing. When Anyanka warns Giles in ‘The Wish’ that he doesn’t know how bad the reality he is trying to reinstate is, he decides that it cannot possibly be as bad as the one he is already in. In ‘Gone As A Girl Can Get’, Waverly drives the narrative, haunted by whispers of her sister’s name by characters who still remember Wynonna, until Greta eventually lifts the spell for a few short seconds so that Waverly can remember her ‘warm and funny’ sister and knows what she is missing in a world where the Earp heir didn’t exist. When Waverly is given a glimpse of the reality she is from, she realises that what she is missing is far greater than what she is currently experiencing, even though her alternate reality is not as bleak as that depicted in ‘The Wish’.
Removing the series lead – especially one as charismatic as Melanie Scrofano – from the majority of an episode (or indeed from the position of the main protagonist) is always a gamble, but once the initial shock of Wynonna’s disappearance wore off, we were able to see how much she truly mattered to every other character on the show, in ways that they were not even aware of. The one other major poignant truth this exercise shook loose was that Waverly and Nicole seem destined to meet and fall for each other in more than just one reality, and this reaffirmation of their love for one another hot on the heels of the rockiest period in their relationship solidified for audiences that things between them would not be ending any time soon.
Of course this disruption to the narrative balance could not last for too long, and so by the episode’s end, Wynonna had returned, thanks to Waverly, Nicole, and Jeremy (Varun Saranga) destroying the hockey trophy and thus breaking the Marzaniok’s spell. We may never find out where she and her unborn baby disappeared to, but if one thing is for certain, it’s that the world is far better off with Wynonna Earp existing in it.
So that’s the first five instances in my countdown of the 15 most shocking surprises in Wynonna Earp‘s second season. What do you expect to see feature in the remaining 10? Be sure to check back for the next installment!