This article contains spoilers for Wynonna Earp season 4
Nicole Haught has been a Wynonna Earp fan-favorite since she first set foot in Shorty’s in “Keep The Home Fires Burning,” the second episode of the show. The red-headed deputy-turned-sheriff-turned-defender-of-the-homestead grounds her love, Waverly, and the show as a whole, bringing her decidedly non-supernatural skills as an investigator and ass-whupper. And on season 4 of a show full of supernatural beings, named after a trash-talking, fringe-wearing superhero, it feels like the very-mortal Nicole Haught is finally getting the credit she deserves for being exactly who she’s been all along: steadfast, loyal, hardworking, smart.
While Nicole has always been beloved by fans, creators, and other characters, in the past, she has often been left on the outside, within the narrative. First, it was the Earp sisterhood, causing tension between Haught and Wynonna as well as WayHaught themselves. A sisterly bond like the one Waverly and Wynonna share is intimidating, and Wynonna and Nicole took some time to learn how to share Waverly and coexist with one another.
Then there was Black Badge – Nicole wasn’t part of it initially due to being actual law enforcement and an outsider to the group. Later, when they rescued Dolls and recommitted to BBD in blood in the season 2 premiere, Nicole was on the outs once again. While Waverly was only trying to protect Nicole, the outcome meant that our favorite redhead was excluded from some of the central plot points of any given episode, while newcomer Jeremy, a BBD scientist, was included instead. All love to Jer-Bear, but the story decisions have a real-world implication of making Nicole less central to the story, and ruling out certain plots that she can be involved in over the course of the season.
Enter season 4. While it would be easy to read this as the ultimate “Nicole Haught has been left behind” plot point (both for the final showdown and the garden rescue), the story choices have had the opposite effect. Nicole is now central to every episode of Wynonna Earp in a way she wasn’t before, and in a way few other characters have ever been for a stretch of six episodes – and perhaps more.
By choosing Nicole as the character to be left behind, the Wynonna Earp writers found a way to showcase everything that makes her special. Nicole kept things going on her own, but rather than that being a traditional “keeping the home fires burning” gender essentialist type of role, it’s a show of her strength as a mentor, a leader, a fighter, an investigator, and a grounding emotional center. It’s hard to imagine any other character going through 18 months of isolation, panic, and demoralization at losing their love, their friends, and their job, as the town devolved around them. But Nicole defends the homestead, devises traps, and even tried running a campaign for sheriff. She mentors Rachel, a role that one might assume would normally go to Wynonna, but instead provides an opportunity to see more of Haught’s skills as a leader/gay aunt.
For actor Kat Barrell, this season has given her a greater opportunity to show off her range. Always a highlight of the talented cast, her turn as Eve in “Friends in Low Places” was delicious, bringing in a completely different attitude than we’ve ever seen exhibited by Haught, as well as the fun dynamic of Eve-as-Haught to toy with us. Barrell has subtly layered in hints at the possibility of PTSD lingering for Nicole due to the trauma of the last 18 months, while leading with more prominent emotions, like Nicole’s happiness to see everyone return. She also had the challenge of playing a Nicole who couldn’t say what she had done in the mid-season finale, having to look like she was trying to confess to Waverly and the gang while at the same time convey her private inner turmoil to the audience.
When Nicole and Wynonna refer to one another as “best friends” in the season 4 premiere, it rings a bit hollow. But, by the mid-season finale, their friendship feels rock solid and foundational to the show, in the same way that Doc and Waverly’s relationship, Wynonna and Nedley’s, or Doc and Jeremy’s does. Nicole and Wynonna have gone well past their previous equilibrium in which they had agreed to put any differences aside in order to do what’s best for Waverly and the team. Later on in the premiere, after the forced declaration of best friendship, we see Wynonna fight for Haught’s life and deliver her unique blend of joking around and showing genuine concern for her life, surpassing her duty to save her sister’s love to demonstrate her own appreciation and affection for Nicole’s grit. It’s been fun to see them trade roles, with Wynonna supporting Nicole’s lead in missions. When Haught eventually faces how her time alone has affected her, she’ll need another form of Wynonna’s support.
Finally, one of the greatest gifts of season 4 has been the centering of WayHaught. Nicole and Waverly’s love story has eclipsed Wynonna and Doc’s in prominence, a rarity for a queer couple on screen for even an episode, never mind in the sustained way that the show, its stars, and fans have long prioritized WayHaught. Wynonna Earp broke with the trope of chaste queer pecks on the cheek (I see you, Modern Family), giving us a reunion sex scene that is equal parts hot and loving, and completely in keeping with the on-screen chemistry and romantic history of the couple. After all, it would be strange for two people who tease one another (and are teased by their friends) about hooking up all over the Earp homestead to not immediately, ya know, have sex all over the Earp homestead. On a show where Wynonna has had acrobatic sex in/on every vehicle in town or piece of farm equipment in the barn, it only makes sense. And after the year and a half she’s had, Nicole deserves some time with her fiancé.
The continuation of Waverly and Nicole’s relationship reflects Wynonna Earp’s important commitment not to fall into the harmful Bury Your Gays trope of killing off LGBTQ characters. But it’s also a compelling take on what it can look like to show a couple that stays together on screen for the long haul. There’s nothing boring or expected about this pairing, and they certainly still have their conflicts to overcome. But rather than framing everything in terms of “will-they-won’t-they” or a love triangle, their conflicts are grounded in the baseline assumption that Nicole and Waverly love each other deeply and want the best for one another. It can lead to misguided choices, like Nicole trading Doc’s life for Waverly’s, or Waverly wanting to sit on her father’s throne for eternity to keep the world (including Nicole) safe, but their love isn’t in question, which opens up the possibilities for what kind of relationship stories Wynonna Earp can tell with these two characters
Nicole Haught is the true star of Wynonna Earp season 4, and she deserves nothing less. Our HaughtCop has somehow kept up countless revenants, vamps, witches, and other supernatural evils, without any angelic, demonic, or supernatural powers to help her. Even without the badge of the Purgatory Sheriff’s Department, she has kept her head held high and continued to fight for her found family. Hopefully in the back half of season 4, Kat Barrell’s Nicole will continue to be a strong presence as she and Waverly try to unpack her trauma, she and Jeremy work through the pain of him staying away while everyone was gone, and Wynonna provides the kind of backup that Nicole has provided everyone else for so long.