F-bombs, sex jokes and a pandemic: The long, strange road to a ‘down-and-dirty’ Season 4 of Wynonna Earp
Melanie Scrofano and Katherine Barrell in Season 4 of Wynonna Earp. Coutesy, CTV Sci-Fi Channel. Michelle Faye Fraser / jpg
Be forewarned, we are about to spoil a Wynonna Earp zinger.
Early on in the Season 4 opener of the Alberta-shot supernatural modern western, there is a sly reference to the long wait fans have had to endure for the series to return. Calgary actor and chronic scene-stealer Greg Lawson, who returns as grizzled but loyal Sheriff Randy Nedley, delivers the line. As he impatiently waits at the door for our titular heroine to join him for what will become an epic, mind-bending adventure to introduce the fourth season, he says it feels like he has been standing around for two years.
“Thank you for getting that,” says Wynonna Earp creator Emily Andras with a laugh. “It’s something that people say when women take a long time to get ready, but it’s also how the fans must have felt. We literally left Season 3 on this cliffhanger and it does feel like the character has been standing at the bar for two years.”
In the grand scheme of things, this meta joke is fairly slight when compared to the chaos and irreverent fun that follows in the fourth-season opener of the cult favourite, which debuts Sunday on the CTV Sci-Fi Channel. But it’s also a gracious nod to the loyal fans who have waited just as impatiently as Sheriff Nedley for Wynonna and her demon-hunting gang to return to the airwaves. Season 3 ended with a busy, two-hour cliffhanger way back in September of 2018. Since then, uncertainty about the series’ real-life fate has followed.
From the beginning, the show has had a strange ride and occasionally seemed to be suffering from a curse like the fictional one that afflicts Wynonna Earp, the hard-drinking, wise-cracking descendant of Wyatt who must battle the “revenants” of villains her great-great-grandfather put in the grave. The first bit of strange, behind-the-scenes drama came three months before the second season was to begin filming in 2017 when lead actress Melanie Scrofano revealed she was pregnant. Having a pregnant leading lady was a significant hurdle for an action-packed series that relied on its heroine’s talents for hand-to-hand combat, but Andras and the producers rolled with it and shot a vastly rewritten season that turned this real-life twist into a plot twist.
In February 2019, it was revealed that the series was having financial problems and the fourth season was in jeopardy, a dilemma that led to a spirited save-the-show campaign, dubbed #fightforwynonna, that included everything from a social-media blitz to fan-created billboards erected in New York City’s Times Square. Season 4 was saved and production began in January. Three months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“I’m terrified to put this out to the world, but you can’t kill this show with fire,” says Andras. “Lord knows, we’ve tried. We’ve survived a pregnant lead, middling ratings off the top, a weird concept, Calgary winters, financial difficulty and now a pandemic.”
Ironically, the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be less catastrophic than some of the show’s other setbacks, or at least the one that was shared with every other TV show that was in production at the time. Wynonna Earp benefited from a rare bit of luck in that regard. The world shut down on March 13, which was exactly when cast and crew were to begin a week-long hiatus after completing the first six of 12 episodes. Filming resumed on July 15 under a strict set of health protocols that have impacted virtually every element of the production: from the number of extras allowed on set, to catering, to stunts, to sex scenes.
Still, since the fourth season’s first six episodes were already in the can, things start off with a bang. When we last left Wynonna, the Earp curse had been lifted and a chief villain named Bushar appeared to have been vanquished. But Wynonna’s sister Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) was whisked away to another dimension. Doc Holliday (Tim Rozon), who is the father of Wynonna’s daughter but has also recently been converted into a vampire, sets off to rescue Waverly as an act of redemption. All this followed a complex season full of shifting alliances, betrayals and family secrets. Sunday’s opener is a typically eventful hour of action and one-liners that will include sudden decapitations, alternate dimensions, marauding zombie scientists and lingering resentments between principle characters. There are also quite a few sex jokes.
In fact, since the series has moved to a 10 p.m. time slot, writers for Season 4 were given more leeway in allowing Wynonna to be Wynonna. This includes a clear increase in the number of F-bombs dropped.
“I have negotiated for more F-bombs,” Andras says. “I have a very funny email chain from Season 3. I think the subject line is ‘Give me my F’s!’ It’s just me going back and forth with the network, saying, ‘Well, can I have eight?’ They’d say ‘You can have two.’ I’d say ‘What about three if one is really muffled?’”
The first couple of episodes of Season 4 are stuffed with sci-fi and supernatural elements. But the rest of the season, particularly the back six currently in production, will be dialled down in that regard. Andras and her writers needed to rethink how the season ends given both the health protocols in place during filming and because the action is now set in the middle of summer, a season the Earp sisters have never been filmed in before.
“The first two big episodes are particularly ambitious and have some big scenes and feel a little more sci-fi,” Andras says. “But having the break between Season 3 and Season 4 really allowed me to go back and watch the first couple of seasons and really dig down on what people loved about Wynonna Earp. I feel like the rest of Season 4 is more grounded. We really are bringing it back to the small western town that’s under siege. I’d say the villains that show up this year are still quite personal to the Earps. It feels a bit more Justified as a TV series and a little less Doctor Who. Whatever you think of the beginning, I think it gets back to being a down-a-dirty western in a good sexy way.”
Season 4 of Wynonna Earp airs Sunday on CTV Sci-Fi Channel.