One girl is chosen to defend a small town, which happens to be a hot spot for demon activity, from the forces of evil. Although only she has the strength to take down the bad guys (and gals), our hero is surrounded by friends who are willing to live and die to help the cause. She has a knowledgable, albeit occasionally stuffy mentor, a sister who isn't quite family or human, and a weapon she keeps closer than any lover. Sound familar? If this description sounds like Joss Whedon's beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you're not wrong, but I'm talking about SyFy's current cult favorite, #WynonnaEarp.
Wynonna Earp has a woman in the drivers' seat, one who is unapologetic and bold with her interpretation of the women in this show. The signature puns Buffy was known for are spouted from Wynonna's lips with a sharpness and sexual awareness we rarely get to see from a woman. She's crass, confident, and clever, owning her sexual appetite in one scene, but stumbling to find her gun with formal dress stuck over her head in the next to remind us that she's just as human as the rest of us.
Older, Wiser, And A Worthy Heroine
However much Wynonna Earp has succeeded in carving out its own route in an already forged path, the show boasts just as many examples of the show recycling bits from Buffy for no obvious reasons outside of simple homage. The penultimate episode played out an alternate reality where Wynonna didn't exist, almost an exact replica of one of the most popular episodes of Buffy, Season 3's "The Wish". While the episode was loads of fun, and it's empowering to see how things would fall apart without our heroine at the helm, why must we continue to copy a man's interpretation of what female empowerment looks like?
Recently, SyFy aired the Season 2 finale of the show about the heir of famous gunslinger Wyatt Earp, whose family is cursed to take down the 70 people he killed all over again as they rise from the dead as Revenants. Both Wynonna Earp's fan base, lovingly referred to as Earpers, along with series producer Emily Andras, proudly acknowledge the pages taken out of the Scooby Gang playbook.
Much of the inspiration works and is expanded upon in a progressive way since the show lives on SyFy and was born nearly 20 years after Buffy premiered. Wynonna is ten years older than Buffy, with an extra decade to collect a suitcase full of emotional baggage, making her much rougher around the edges than her ass-kicking predecessor.
From Willow to Wayhaught
The lesbian relationship between Waverly and Nicole Haught is explored much more deeply and early on, not to mention the clever wink at the 'Bury Your Gays' trope that occurred when Nicole was shot wearing a bulletproof vest at the end of the first season. Tara's untimely death in Buffy was one of the major moments that sparked the trope, so its subversion is a shining moment in Wynonna Earp.
Waverly's coming out story is refreshing in the way that there really isn't one. She realizes she has feelings for a woman, and although she's nervous at first, she dives right in head first, not as a reaction to having her heart broken by a man. Waverly is the spunky, outgoing, intelligent, self-assured person she's been all along, and was only in need of a companion, regardless of gender, who appreciated all of that about her. Champ, Waverly's boyfriend in Season 1, was never a match for her, and they never had chemistry.
Willow, on the other hand, fell for a woman after suffering a devastating breakup where her boyfriend, whom she loved passionately, cheated. Shy, nerdy, self-conscious Willow only comes into her own after growing a romance with Tara. The sexual suppression implications don't completely add up because of how subtly Willow and Tara's relationship was forced to grow because of pressure from the network. Two decades layer, Wayhaught snags the chance to create bolder, dare I say "gayer" characters.
Out Of The Shadows And Into The Sun
Years matter not only in the time that's passed between the two shows, but the age of the characters taking these journeys. Wynonna, at 27 years old, proved this season that she's strong enough to sacrifice raising her own daughter for the future of humanity. Buffy fled her calling and abandoned her friends for months after she had to toss her teenage boyfriend back into hell, because she's young, and puppy love is all that matters when you're 16.
So why, then, when in so many other ways Wynonna is a stronger female character for a new generation, does her power have to lie in her gun, Peacemaker, just as Buffy's depended on Mr. Pointy, two clearly phallic symbols that neither woman can fight evil without?
Why does Wynonna's attraction to dark and dangerous men have to be because she's damaged and full of self-loathing? Doc, Dolls, Angel, and Spike all appeal to their respective heroines because of their constant battle with animalistic instincts and the lure of a hunter's love for the kill.
We get glimpses of a more modern, independent outlook on sex and love in the Season 2 finale as she and Doc close out the episode with a moving moment marveling at their daughter and a discussion of the decision to let her go. Doc's admission that although he'd like to have known, but ultimately knows that what happens to their baby if Wynonna's decision, is a brief but vital depiction of how Wynonna Earp can harness its maturity to make more socially progressive statements with its relationships.
I grew up idolizing Buffy and its message of female empowerment from the age of ten, but now I'm twenty years older and ready to see a woman I can't wait to watch my daughter call a hero. Buffy is an incredible, trailblazing show for girls, but it was produced by a man who has been shrouded in controversy over the cracked reflection of feminist views professionally versus personally.
It's more important now than ever for Emily Andras and the rest of the Wynonna Earp family to step out from under the shadow of Sunnydale and relish Purgatory for its bold, messy, proud, feminist representation of women who want to be themselves and save the world. We Earpers want to see you shine on your own, fangs, flaws, fetishes, and all.