*** Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Wynonna Earp episode, “Afraid” ***
Every Earper around will be sleeping with their lights on after this week’s horror-filled Wynonna Earp episode. “Afraid,” written by Matt Doyle and directed by Ron Murphy, delivered what just may be the scariest monster the series has ever seen, as the Clantons sent a Reaper after Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano). This was the first mention of the Clantons, descendants of the family that clashed with Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral, and it certainly seems like it won’t be the last time they cross paths with the Earps this season.
Viewers likely found the Holt (Ty Olsson) and Cleo (Savannah Basley) seen this week hardly recognizable to the characters introduced in last week’s chili cook-off (FOR FREEDOM). As it turns out, both of them belong to the Clanton family and are absolutely terrified of their matriarch, Mam (Paula Boudreau). It would seem that fear is justified, as Mam showed little remorse for her son, Billy (Billy Bryk), after he sacrificed himself to save Rachel (Martina Ortiz-Luis). Oh, and we haven’t even mentioned that ending with Nicole (Katherine Barrell)!
As always, thankfully Wynonna Earp showrunner Emily Andras has once again joined us to break down the episode. She discusses this terrifying new family, that super scary monster, and why writer Doyle deserved to earn his first solo writing credit on this episode.
The TV Junkies: I know you said I always start at the end, but Emily, what the heck just happened to Nicole?
Emily Andras: What are you talking about? It’s completely clear what happened to her. She got a jar full of flies to the mouth, as you do when you try to renege on whatever evil deal you made with the Clantons.
TTVJ: Ah yes, the Clantons, aka “Wyatt Earp’s greatest enemies”. That seems like a tall order to live up to, but I guess we now know the season’s Big Bad?
EA: I would never say, nor would I commit to, one Big Bad for a season. I definitely think they are bad news. This is four seasons in the making and it’s the descendants of the family that made Wyatt Earp the iconic American legend that he is. This is THE Clantons of the OK Corral. In the same way that the Earps have their own curse and own burdens to deal with, insofar as being related to Wyatt Earp — good and bad — I’m very interested in what it means to be a Clanton. What does that moniker mean in Purgatory and the Ghost River Triangle? Sounds like they have their own dysfunctional family bullshit.
That kitchen scene was pretty hard to watch. There’s a lot of layers of trauma, abuse, and gaslighting going on in that family. Those villains don’t seem that one-dimensional to me.
TTVJ: That dinner scene was amazing! As you said, there’s so much going on in that family and it was so clear from that one scene.
EA: Poor Billy! I think he really cared about Rachel, and then he’s just out in the yard getting tortured by a Clanton ancestor, aka a Reaper, and everyone else is just supposed to settle around the pot roast. Whatever you think of Holt and Cleo, there’s just so much dysfunction happening there. In a weird way, even though they are on opposite sides of the argument right now as the Earps, there’s so many parallels there between the damage, the bad parenting, and what a lifetime of abuse can do generationally. I’m not letting anyone off the hook, but I’m just saying, ‘Yikes!’
TTVJ: It was interesting to see the Holt and Cleo we met last week, and then, this week see them so terrified and completely different.
EA: They are so terrified of their matriarch. I think that’s true of a lot of people who grow up with trauma and have a parent that may be really overbearing, manipulative, and controls a lot of your fate. Does anyone ever really grow out of that? It certainly takes a lot of work. What’s the therapist situation in Purgatory? I’m going to say paltry, as far as working through those issues. They are in this cycle of violence and doom and gloom. It’s a real crab-bucket situation where no matter how much they aspire, they are never getting out of this weird magpie ranch/hoarder/auto-shop situation.
TTVJ: One of the Clantons who didn’t seem all that bad was Billy. What will his decision to save Rachel mean for her? She seems pretty hell-bent on revenge.
EA: Rachel hasn’t had a lot of people who have had her back in her life. It’s all bittersweet. Her instincts about this guy may be correct, insofar as she was able to see past his own shame about his family, where he came from, and how he defined himself. She saw the goodness in him and his heart. At the same time, it’s a hard lesson for Rachel to learn to be told that he’s not a priority for us right now, as far as the group, right? She’s basically been told, ‘You’re too young. You’re too impetuous. Sit down and we’ll deal with it in good time.’
That’s really frustrating and is a journey we’ve seen other characters on the show go through many times. More and more, Wynonna and the gang are trying to work as a unit. They understand that success comes when they are together, and not when they pursue their own goals, individually. That’s when things get messy and dangerous.
Rachel is 17 years old and has a crush. She’s very deeply hurt. I definitely don’t think this issue is over for Rachel. Have you met a 17-year-old? No way!
TTVJ: I didn’t realize the actor playing Billy was Billy Bryk, Greg Bryk’s, aka Jack the Ripper from Season 1, son. That’s pretty wild.
EA: I know, it’s funny, eh? Greg’s wife, Danielle Nicholas, is also a well-known designer and renovator. She has a couple of shows on HGTV in Canada. They are a super talented family. We also didn’t cast him, though, because he’s Greg Bryk’s son. He had such a great audition and really had that vibe we were looking for. He is kind of vulnerable, has that emo-Christian Slater-meets-Elvis heartthrob thing that a lot of girls don’t hate, in my experience. I thought he did a wonderful job.
TTVJ: It’s just so fun that this is a horror episode and then, Greg happened to be in the horror episode in Season 1, “Two-Faced Jack.”
EA: I know! As you know, Canada has 12 people. There’s only so many actors. Justin Trudeau may be on next week. Stay tuned!
TTVJ: This was the first time Matt Doyle got a solo script. Why was now the time for that, especially when this doesn’t seem like the easiest of episodes to tackle?
EA: The truth is that this is a really difficult show to write for. We have an incredibly small writing team. Most American shows have between 13 – 22 writers on staff. We have five. Not only that, but it’s a show where every writer has to be able to do all elements of the show. That includes action, and the supernatural, knowing the rules of genre, work in the confines of budget, humor, romance, every character has to be nuanced, and every scene has to do two things: the text and the subtext. It’s not an easy show for someone to just come in on.
Matt started out as our junior and just worked his butt off. He has such an amazing attitude insofar as helping out. He more than earned it. He did such a great job writing the Christmas episode with me last year, and he’s really known for his comedy. He’s been published in the New Yorker and is a super funny guy, but I wanted to push him. I wanted to make sure he can handle the elements of Wynonna that are a little more fraught. I know he can do comedy. I felt like this was a time for him to try and do a horror element and deal with plotting.
He was so game and so excited. He really poured over It Follows. I’m so proud of him and he gets another script this year. He wrote Episode 409, which we will get in the back half of the season, and that one is a little more comedic. He did such an exceptional job, but the truth is, he earned it. There was no gift-giving on my part. He absolutely earned the right to write that script, and I hope that everyone agrees that it was wonderful. He did a great job.
TTVJ: And he added Fleabag references!
EA: Of course he did! He loves a sexy priest right along with the rest of us.
TTVJ: Who is responsible for coming up with the Reaper? It was terrifying and I think the scariest villain we may have seen on the show, ever.
EA: Several people were involved and we really did want to come up with something iconic, if we could. When I think of genre villains, The Gentlemen from Buffy come to mind, with their bald heads and giant, black-lipped smiles. We started there as a jumping-off point, while also knowing we wanted it to be more bird-like, and kind of a decrepit creature that had become a husk of what it once was.
So we worked with our amazing director Ron Murphy, but the people who really deserve credit are our incredible makeup team, led by Joanne Jacobsen and followed by Gunther Schetterer. Joanne and her team had never really done prosthetics, or horror, before Season 1 of Wynonna. The amount that they have learned, and how they have perfected their craft and what they bring to the table, is so exceptional. I don’t know if anyone reads the script more carefully than Joanne. She really obsesses over the details, really thinks about it, and always comes in with amazing pitches.
We did that all pre-COVID, and it was a huge build. Aaron Strube played the Reaper. It was freezing cold and he had to sit in the makeup chair for hours. He did all that activity in the snow, and I just thought he was wonderful. I’m so glad you found him scary.
TTVJ: Did we need the drool, though?
EA: Yeah, we needed the drool! Think how awful it is when something is over you. I want you to think about it at midnight tonight, Bridget. That being over you, and then it drools on you.
TTVJ: Or when he was right in Waverly’s face, but she couldn’t see him. Yikes!
EA: Pretty good, eh? That’s called acting.
TTVJ: Speaking of acting, let’s talk about Melanie’s performance. She was so good, especially when she was alone in that truck, and the things she can do with just her face! She’s SO GOOD!
EA: Oh, I know! I also want you to remember that we block shoot, and we shoot two episodes at the same time. This episode was shot at the same time as she was directing and starring in “Look at Them Beans.” It was all done within 13 days. She also had directing on her mind, and then still had to show up and perform.
I just think she got the idea that we really needed Wynonna, instinctively, deep in her subconscious, to know that this was a fear she had not experienced before. There was something connecting with this creature that made her feel like her guts were going to fall out of her face. She was so paralyzed by what this thing made her feel.
The way Ron Muprhy shot the scene in the truck was so masterful. He had all that suspense with the teacher toying with her, the music on the radio, and then he’s on the ceiling. But also at the end, when she’s so scared because the thing just keeps coming and coming and Doc can’t see it. Just her utter terror gives me gooseflesh.
Once again, is there anything that woman can’t do? No! She just gets better, and better, and better. I just want people to be paying attention to how incredible she is.
TTVJ: When that slow song came on the radio, it reminded me of back in Season 1 when we heard a similar song, and the car was just rolling with no one in it.
EA: Whenever you hear old-timey music on Wynonna Earp it’s usually a bad sign. It’s usually ominous, unless it’s an ’80s power-ballad because then it means we’re debarnacling Nedley.
TTVJ: We also finally got to see what Jeremy has been up to in this episode. It was so great to see so many scenes between him and Wynonna. That’s not a pairing we are used to getting a lot of. Varun and Melanie were great together.
EA: They’re so funny together. Their comic timing and how they play off one another is so fun. Because they trust each other and like each other so much, you can see that they are quite playful. They really try a lot of stuff and it’s amazing.
TTVJ: All fun until Wynonna hit us with the FEELS, telling Jeremy she needs her people.
EA: I know! Think about how far they’ve come! In Season 2, think about how long it took Wynonna to trust Jeremy. Then, after Dolls died in Season 3, think about how hard she was on him. She thinks of him as The Man because he’s indoctrinated with this organization that has been the source of so much pain for her. But she knows his heart, trusts him, and needs him. I think it’s important for Wynonna to understand that she’s not alone and that everybody brings skills to the table. She’s not afraid to beg, plead, and do the work to make sure her family is protected as a whole.
I don’t want to speak for Mel, but she mentioned a little while ago that there was a scene she shot where she was thinking about the fandom and how hard they had fought. Again, you’d have to confirm with her, but I am pretty sure it was that scene when she said ‘I need my family back together again.’
TTVJ: What can we expect from next week’s episode?
EA: I’d venture a guess that something is up with Nicole, and we’re going to find out what she did during that 18 months that has her so upset, freaked out, and guilty. We go on a real journey. We are still trying to bring the team together and get all the tools we need to battle demons. There’s also a surprise appearance from someone from Wynonna’s past.
Wynonna Earp airs Sundays at 10/9c on SYFY and CTV Sci-Fi.