This Wynonna Earp review contains MAJOR spoilers.
Wynonna Earp Season 3 Episode 2
It’s not often a TV show can truly shock its audience, but Wynonna Earp has proven exceptionally good at it. Last season, it was a happy surprise: Wynonna is pregnant. This season, it is the opposite: Dolls, a character who has been with this show and this found family since the beginning, is dead.
Agent Xavier Pamela Dolls, played by Shamier Anderson, was Wynonna’s best friend. Frankly, along with Nicole and perhaps Jeremy, he was the adult, the emotionally-stable one with mostly healthy coping mechanisms. He was the one who Wynonna leaned on the most when she first returned to Purgatory. Perhaps this is because, more than any other character on the show, Dolls has never defined Wynonna by a role and its expectations. To Waverly, she is the big sister who will always protect her. To Doc, she is the heir and Wyatt’s descendant. To Nicole, she is the girlfriend’s sister. Roles have their pros and purpose, but they also can feel constricting for someone like Wynonna who has had a major one forced upon her.
Sure, Wynonna has always filled the role of Dolls’ partner, and that comes with a certain level of trust and commitment, but, from the beginning, it was something Wynonna had to earn and she herself felt she deserved because of that. From an outside perspective, we can see how much Wynonna deserves all of the credit she gets as both a sister and the heir, but, to Wynonna, who had previously defined herself as someone who lets others down (no doubt unresolved issues from the time she accidentally killed her father), these are roles that been assigned to her. Over the course of the last two seasons, we have seen Wynonna begin to believe that she deserves them—more than that, that she is good at them—but it has been a long, slow, uneven process, and, along that journey, she had Dolls and his steady support to keep her grounded.
I don’t know if this eulogy is premature, and no doubt we will have more time to process this death in the next episode, but, right now, on a scale from one to dead, Dolls seems pretty dead. Anything can happen on a show like this one, but Wynonna Earp has never been a show where death is cheap or characters live without consequence. It’s like life like that.
Before we get to the nuances of the big Bulshar showdown, let’s talk about the aftermath of Waverly and Wynonna’s car accident and it is properly creepy. Perhaps because this show is so funny and heartfelt, I often forget that it is also very good at horror… and then something like Waverly getting kidnapped and locked in a cage by a voice-stealing demon happens and I remember again. (Another “Oh, yes, this is a horror” moment came last season when Waverly put a rat in a blender.)
We begin not with Waverly, but with Wynonna, who wakes up halfway down a cliff with Peacemaker out of reach, her shoulder dislocated, and visions of her mother in her head. If you’ve ever wondered what motivates Wynonna in her worst moments, we may have just found out. It is the tough, some might say emotionally abusive love of her mother, doing her best Sarah Connor impression. Not that anything either Mama Earp or Megan Follows does is an impression. Michelle is her own glorious person and, even inside of Wynonna’s head, you get a real sense of who this woman is: hilarious, smart, and cruel in the name of love.
Michelle is someone who married into a family of legacy, but who refuses to let the matriarchal influence ever go unmentioned in her daughters (which, frankly, is wonderfully and aggressively feminist of her). We learn from Wynonna that Michelle seemed to always favor Wynonna, though that favor wasn’t always a gift. When Wynonna wanted her mother to take her to a Hanson concert (oh, the nostalgic specificity of that detail!), she instead took her camping to practice her survival training. When Wynonna wanted a mother, she got a boot camp instructor, which was more than Waverly apparently got.
This explains a great deal about the Wynonna/Waverly dynamic. Not that anyone has ever needed to look far for an excuse to love Waverly Earp, but Wynonna’s big sister-ness was no doubt influenced by the guilt Wynonna felt over getting her mother’s attention when Waverly did not and over keeping the secret of her mother’s disappearance from Waverly from all of these years. Wynonna would do absolutely anything for Waverly and, even now, it’s how Wynonna motivates herself (through the voice of her mother) to pop her shoulder back into place, scale a cliff, and set off across the frozen tundra sans Peacemaker to find her little sister.
Meanwhile, Waverly is somehow holding it together in the booby-trapped shack of the creepiest creeper who ever creeped. The demon has the ability to steal voices and he almost immediately takes Waverly’s, using it to convince Nicole over the phone that everything is fine. It’s a thematically-clever predicament to put Waverly in. When the people closest to Waverly lie to her, like Wynonna and Nicole have, they take away Waverly’s power. They rob her of the chance to use her own voice to react, to decide how she feels about the difficult situations she’s been asked to deal with.
When Wynonna eventually finds Waverly, the two are mostly just overjoyed to see each other alive, yet still find a moment to chat about the fact that Wynonna has been lying to Waverly for much of her life. To Wynonna’s credit, she is honest now. She tells Waverly the truth when pressed: she has known and therefore lied since the beginning. Poor Waverly isn’t given much room to be properly angry with Wynonna. Just after they are rescued, they are thrown into the battle with Bulshar and Dolls tells Waverly that Wynonna is going to need her. And of course that is one of his last actions: asking someone to look after Wynonna because, while he knows how good Wynonna is at looking after everyone else, he also knows how good she is at looking after herself.
This is a particularly strong Jeremy episode (as is next week because, yes, of course I immediately had to watch the next available screener after finishing this episode). I bring this up now because Jeremy is the only character, other than Dolls, to be burdened with the knowledge that something isn’t quite right with Xavier. That he is in danger. That, if he continues to take the drugs, the consequences will be dire. Dolls may look after Wynonna, but Jeremy looks after Dolls. Or at least he tries to. Because that’s the thing about loving someone else: you can’t protect them from everything, no matter how much you may want to or how hard you try. No one has that much control and, if you’re smart like Jeremy, you realize that you’re not the one who gets to make that decision.
Dolls is the only person who is allowed to make a decision about what risks he is willing to take with his own body and, in the end, he believes saving his found family is worth it. He dies the way he lived: giving everything for the people he loves. He made his choice. Now Wynonna, and the other people Dolls loved and who loved him, have to live with it.
When I get particularly sad about Dolls, I might just go back and watch Waverly and Wynonna charading to each other across the cabin. In addition to being ridiculously talented dramatic actresses, Dominique Provost-Chalkley and Melanie Scrofano can do comedy like no one else on this show.
Gah, that scene between Dolls and Doc?! First of all, their faces were so close to one another. Second of all, poor Doc. I feel like he is just telling everyone about hell as a cry for help, but no one can totally help him, can they? This is going to take a long while and a lot of work to get past. Third of all, Dolls’ line about the difference between Dolls and Doc being that Dolls doesn’t need the threat of hell to do the right thing? Damn, what a thing to leave Doc thinking about.
I was really worried about Nicole for a second there. Also, I am skeptical Wynonna and Waverly would have been able to pull her up that quickly, but whatever. There is more to worry about in this moment, so I’ll let it go.
Melanie Scrofano plays the shock and denial of being confronted with an unfathomable death so well. Kudos to the writing here, and, as always, kudos to Scrofano for filling it with such raw, vibrant life… even in a moment of death. (Perhaps that is when life is the most noticeable?)
I’m still not totally convinced that dude is Bulshar? But, damn, this is one way to raise the stakes when it comes to your Big Bad, whoever or whatever he may be.
This episode was beautifully shot, from start to finish. The handheld-style camera work and dramatic, distant lighting created an intimacy that marked this episode as special from the beginning. Visually, I think this episode was preparing us for Dolls’ death long before it came, just another way in which this show cares about the emotional health of its viewers, even when it is putting us all through the ringer.
Happy Season 4 announcement, Earpers! Come celebrate with me on Twitter. (Also come cry with me about Dolls on Twitter…)
Whatever happens, Shamier Anderson better be back to jump on the Con table at next year’s Wynonna Earp panel when Wynonna Earp Season 5 is announced.