Wynonna Earp Writer Shelley Scarrow Looks to Explore Dark Corners in “Jolene”

SYFY / Bell Media
SYFY / Bell Media

When you’re a television writer you’re often relegated to the background. Everyone notices the pretty people up on screen saying all the words you wrote, but often times writers don’t get the credit they deserve. That’s not the case in the Wynonna Earp fandom. As with most things, the fans of Wynonna Earp are special in that regard and seem to love and interact with the writers of the show just as much as the actors involved. That was certainly the case this past weekend when the Wynonna Earp Season 3 writers — showrunner Emily Andras, Brendon Yorke, Noelle Carbone, Shelley Scarrow, Caitlin Fryers and Matt Doyle — found themselves on a panel and signing autographs at the Earper Homestead Convention. At this convention, the writers were just as big rock stars as the cast and they watched last week’s episode live with fans.

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for many of the writers, including Shelley Scarrow. Scarrow joined Wynonna full-time in Season 3, after previously freelancing for the show in Season 1 when she wrote the episode “Diggin’ Up Bones”. While Scarrow’s credits include writing for shows such as Ride, Being Erica, Lost Girl and Degrassi: The Next Generation, she recently told The TV Junkies that nothing is quite like Wynonna Earp and its fans are on a whole other level. Scarrow spoke to us about her experience writing on the show, why she loves the fans of this show so much and previewed a bit about what to expect from this week’s insane episode, “Jolene,” which she wrote and guest stars Dark Matter’s Zoie Palmer.


The TV Junkies: You’re in a bit of an interesting position because you did write a Season 1 episode, but in Season 3 you joined the room full-time. How do those experiences differ and what was it like being a part of the show for Season 3?

Shelley Scarrow: It’s very different writing a Season 1 show to writing a Season 3 show, and it’s very different coming in as a freelancer than it is being a staffer – it’s tough to compare. I was in at a pretty early stage of Season 1, and I think only the pilot was in script stage at that point. When I came in to pitch, I hadn’t understood that the Revenants would be quite as bad as they ended up being — and I think that’s how we got to Fish the photographer, who was actually pretty sweet, and to his over-and-over through time love story. That was a real gift, to be able to write that. And I remember having a tough time nailing Waverly’s voice – she’s youthful and sometimes quite flip, but not silly or na­ive, and that’s a very specific zone. Especially if you don’t have a Dominique/Waves hologram in your head yet to say the words for you and let you know whether or not they fit! One thing I knew for sure — I’d been given a great, big writerly present with the first Wynonna/Doc love scene.

By the time I came in this season, there were 24 hours of a series to watch. The show knew very firmly who it was and the zone of possibility was narrower in terms of what could be successfully pitched. That doesn’t mean there is less creativity in writing now, quite the opposite. I feel like the more restrictions you give a writer, the more creative they must become. Instead of the devil being in the details, the whole story lives in the details, in your ability to find them and then shift them into a new episode, with beats that are unexpected but not ‘un-Earpy’. So it’s a more secure feeling as a writer? Maybe writing third season is like babysitting a teenager instead of looking after a (first season) baby. The teenager can tell you more of what they need, there’s less fumbling around and panicking about how to make them happy at a very basic level — but you better be way cooler and kinda fascinating and genuinely interested in what they’re into. Otherwise, they’ll steal your wallet and sneak out when you’re not looking.

The constant for me has been Wynonna’s voice and Emily’s voice. Whatever else was being worked out, she knew every DNA strand of Wynonna from the jump. The ‘sound’ of the character was always exceptionally clear. I consider myself very lucky to have worked with Em for a long time and to have a pretty good sense of what excites her both in story and dialogue, so I’ve clung to that firmly and seem have done OK by it so far. (Gulp.)

SYFY / Bell Media
SYFY / Bell Media

TTVJ: Being a part of Wynonna Earp means that you not only work on the show, but also have this really engaged and passionate fanbase. You’ve interacted with them a bit online and now met some at the recent EH Con Canada convention. What’s that whole experience been like for you to get to interact so directly with fans?

SS: I mean, just beyond incredible. I’m a Canadian TV writer, y’know? I don’t get a lot of razzle-dazzle in my day-to-day. So I never thought I’d see something like EH Con. Watching an episode with people gasping and shouting and laughing is like NOTHING else in the world. Even back when I started in theatre, the audience sat in relative quiet until the end!  But after watching 304 in a room full of Earpers, we all felt like we never wanted to watch at home alone again.

Live tweeting too, it’s so gratifying and fascinating to see what people react to and have to say. Sharing these characters and stories with the audience feels like a dream come true, a dream I didn’t even dare to have before this whole Earp experience. We talk the show, but we also talk murder and crafting and word puzzles and dogs and cider and… They’re a brilliant bunch of glorious weirdos. Just my kind of people.

TTVJ: What do you enjoy so much about writing on a show like Wynonna Earp?

SS: What’s NOT to enjoy? Emily runs an incredibly open and fun writers room, where you feel like you can be yourself and pitch your wildest ideas and I think that leads to free, edgy writing and finding each writer’s strongest spots. I love working with her any chance I get, honestly, because she’s supportive and funny as hell but never a pushover so you know you’re accomplishing something when you get an idea or a line in. And Brendon, Noelle, Caitlin and Matt are a positive dream team. I couldn’t love any of them more. We’re pretty disgusting sometimes — but I’ve worked a lot on youth/children’s shows where my dark humour is confined to the writing room and seen as something to get past in order to get to the ‘real’ writing. But here my freaky hidden edges are an asset!

The show’s also not a comedy. So you’re not only looking for jokes, it really works best when you’re finding the deep feelings and relationships and the beautiful pain underpinning all the craziness and bravado. That’s where I love to write. Basically I try to be a therapist with an extreme potty-mouth.

Culturally, everyone has been going on-and-on about strong female characters for the past few years, but I feel that they often still exist in a distinctly ‘feminine’ box. Even when someone is claiming to want or love ‘strong’ female characters, notes are, in my experience, often filled with implicit female-only judgement (why isn’t she nicer/why is she fake/why is she so emotional when she’s supposed to be cool/why is she so cool when she’s supposed to be emotional.) You don’t get those notes here. At all. This show has several positively mouthy female characters and it’s a relief, because I feel like this truthfulness is a tonic a lot of the rest of life. Wynonna is a ‘mess’ but she also owns it and is simultaneously the coolest person you could ever hope to know, so it all balances out to something unique and true.

As a history nerd, I adore writing Doc and Bobo and Kate and the Revenants and thinking about the sweep of history in their lives, what they’ve seen and experienced and how it works through each of them, from their world views right down to their syntax. Finding little bits of western trope to play with is an extra bonus level of fun.

AND then we get to do crazy supernatural stuff and give vent to some wild nightmares too? Whoo!

SYFY / Bell Media
SYFY / Bell Media

TTVJ: Emily said that she has been looking for the right role in order to bring Zoie Palmer on Wynonna Earp. Any hints as to why Jolene was the perfect character for Palmer to play and show off her range and what she’s doing in Purgatory?

SS: Whoo, OK, this one is tough without veering into spoiler territory. Jolene is a master-manipulator, so she knows how to get to anybody. Sometimes that’s with honey and sometimes that’s with vinegar, and she can flip between the two in an instant if that’s what suits her. Like turning taps on and off, Jolene will do whatever it takes to get what she needs or delights in. Zoie’s got an astonishingly wide range as a performer and we knew we’d need every bit of that to tell Jolene’s story. She was unafraid to go for it, and I’m grateful for that.

Jolene’s a very dark character, but there are times in the episode when Zoie pulls off real magic in that she makes us care for her. That is definitely not something every performer out there could get anywhere close to…

TTVJ: Waverly finally confronted Mama Earp in last week’s episode and learned some pretty upsetting news as to why Mama was in prison. Any chance that we’ll soon get some more answers about Waverly and her mother’s complicated relationship?

SS: So definitely there are some answers coming your way. But by the same token, the past and the future between Mama and her girls is extremely complicated emotionally, so there won’t be any quick resolution to the relationship – that will keep on going, for both of them.

It’s going to sound a bit wild in terms of what Mama’s actually been through, but we worked very hard at maintaining a grounding in her character’s experience and how her journey through her life — including her marriage to Ward Earp and her extended time in that institution — would have shaped her behavior and her ability (or inability) to connect with her children. As wild as Purgatory can be, our characters (especially the Earps) have to have a firm base in very real feelings.

SYFY / Bell Media
SYFY / Bell Media

TTVJ: Over the past weekend, your fellow Wynonna writer Noelle Carbone said that if you were trying to adopt children they wouldn’t let you after they see this week’s episode. What do you say to those accusations? Is she correct?

SS: HA! Well, come to me after her upcoming episodes and I’ll talk to you about restrictions that I believe ought to be placed on Noelle insofar as pets/statuary/the elderly.

I definitely explored some dark corners for the episode. Thankfully, that’s my job! I get it all out on the screen and then I go bake for my boys. (And colleagues.) I’m pretty good in the kitchen. Maybe I would just feed the adoption agent a lot of my homemade pies — and then we could see how many children they’d be willing to hand off to me…

TTVJ: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this week’s episode?

SS: I just hope people laugh and cry and scream. So I guess I’m saying I hope it’s a Wynonna Earp episode!

Call me again next week when there are no spoilers and I’ll talk about how post-partum depression was an emotional touchstone for me in writing this (no, for real) and how I know that a certain character’s mom would have baked Snickerdoodles…


Are you excited for this week’s Wynonna Earp? Share your thoughts below!

Wynonna Earp airs Fridays at 9 p.m. SYFY and Space Channel in Canada.

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