Season 1, Episode 4: “The Blade”
Written by James Hurst
Directed by Paolo Barzman
With the recurrence of the words “Tick Tock” and “Repent” as prominent as they are in “The Blade”, one wonders if episode writer James Hurst is a Harlan Ellison fan. Not that Ellison’s “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” seems to have much influence on the story itself – it’s just one of those things that rattles around my own writer’s head when I hear dialogue that makes me think of other writer’s works – but it lodged there, and consequently, it ends up here, in a digression in the very first paragraph of this review.
Digressions happen a lot in my writing, because my brain is a treasure trove of useless knowledge. That knowledge gets in there by this thing that happens when I’m reading books or comics, and watching movies and television – like, say, Wynonna Earp – which is pretty much everything in storytelling leads to another story. So watching the first episode of Wynonna Earp led me back to the Weird West of The Wild Wild West (TV show, not the movie), Joe R. Landsdale, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., into the Wold Newton family universe of Philip José Farmer and a few other directions and rabbit holes. It’s a bit of a hazard when trying to write something in a timely manner, but it sure is a lot of fun.
And while using the word “fun” in regards to an episode where a Revenant killer is stalking the residents of Purgatory and demanding that they be forgiven by those they have wronged or die might seem a bit odd, even with the quite dark events of “The Blade”, Wynonna Earp is still fun. It’s also an episode where we learn more of the darker points of Wynonna’s past and the impact of her past actions on those around her. When the first victim of a mysterious killer turns out to be one of the popular girls from her high school days, Wynonna finds that her own sins begat the sins of another, and the careless, spiteful actions of a hurt teenage girl, led to an unintended death and a lifetime of guilt.
Our Revenant baddie this week is one Augustus Hamilton, once a barber in Purgatory, and the man who heard the sins of his clients in a church-less western town. When Wyatt Earp forced him to testify about the crimes of one of his patrons, Hamilton ended up dead, and thus, caught up in the Curse that sends Wyatt’s kills to Hell and back as demonic Revenants. We’ll come back to the actual hands responsible for Hamilton’s first death, but considering the nature of the curse – about which there is much we still don’t know – this tells us a couple of things that are quite interesting.
First, that 77 kills number takes on a different perspective, both historically and practically. My observation that the disparity between the historical Earp’s death count (6-ish) and his fictional counterpart’s changes quite a bit if the 77 include those whose deaths Wyatt was responsible for, directly or indirectly. He didn’t pull the trigger – or in this case, drown in a lake – but by forcing Hamilton to testify, Wyatt put in motion the events that led to his death. This casts the Revenants, potentially, in something of a different light, as it is possible that not all of them were actually evil before they ended up in Hell, and that the effects of the Earp Curse are as responsible for their existence as demons as their own actions. Without yet knowing what triggered the Curse in the first place, it’s certainly speculation at this point, but considering that the family itself is the subject of the Curse it’s not that unlikely that the bad guys of this story didn’t all start off that way.
Hell, of course, would have an effect on the kindest of souls, so it isn’t surprising that the less-than-kindest might be warped into monsters like Hamilton. Also interesting is the way in which Bobo Del Ray comes across this episode, because there is a calculation and charm to the character which makes him even more of an interesting adversary for Team Earp. Consider his introduction to Dolls and their exchange where Bobo points out that he had friends in the town that the Black Badge Division razed to the ground, and his actually kinda-pleasant reaction to seeing Wynonna… both are signs of a depth to the character that both the writing and Michael Ecklund’s performance bring to life in an oddly charming kind of way. If a hero is only as good as their villain is effective, I think here is where I decided that I liked Bobo as the main Bad Guy.
The theme of “The Blade” is the Sins of the Past, and we get moments with all of our cast looking back and seeing what they are responsible for, or at least hints of that past sin. Biggest would be the memories of Doc Holliday (Tim Rozon) and the choice he made – the deal he made – for eternal life. That deal cost him his friendship with Wyatt, whose own trauma of dealing with the revelation that angels, demons and Hell itself are real, made him look at the deal Holliday made as a very personal betrayal. That we know little about the Stone Witch aside from her meddling in Bobo’s plans and her nebulous part in making Holliday what he his, makes her role no less the Mephistopheles to Doc’s Faust, and a reminder that such deals pretty much always end poorly for those who take them. We also get a reminder that Doc’s hands are far from clean, since it was those hands that sent Hamilton to the bottom of the lake and helped create this killer.
Dolls also gets some hints of his past and the sins-thereof revealed, if by revealed we mean fairly-cryptic-and-calling-out-for-an-episode-of-his-own. His experiences in Afghanistan with a similar kind of killer, vague though the references are, give us a chance to see him do a little magic of his own, and expose himself to entities that want to do him harm for the actions of his past. His failures in Afghanistan and other hints make one wonder just how much support he has from his superiors, and what other interesting items he has stashed away. His obsidian mirror seems an awfully specific occult object to both the current situation and his hinted past, and I’m looking forward to getting the backstory to our not-so-stonefaced agent. Shamier Anderson gets to loosen up even more here too, both by being a sympathetic shoulder for Wynonna’s pain and wryly funny throughout the episode. That said, offhand lines about the Ark of the Covenant and a sudden desire for an Indiana Jones cameo doesn’t quite make up for that laugh. Wynonna is right… that was kinda terrifying.
Ultimately, what saves Wynonna from Hamilton’s knife is what is at the core of this show overall: The Earp Sisters. For all that Wynonna had pretty much made enemies of almost everyone in Purgatory for her past actions, the one person she truly wants forgiveness from for what she’s done and been, is Waverly. However understandable it is that Wynonna left Purgatory and tried to put that life behind her, Waverly didn’t. She stayed in town and researched the Curse and the Revenants, and devoted her life to finding a way to free her family from both. It only makes sense that she would be a little resentful that her sister, based purely on the order of their birth, should be the Heir and not her. She’s done all the work, and Wynonna gets to be the hero. Of course it is down to Melanie Scrofano and Dominique Provost-Chalkley’s performances that sell that emotional state that siblings all over the world will recognize as being angry at someone without ever stopping loving them. I can easily see Waverly being angry at not being the Heir and having forgiven Wynonna for being made into the Heir.
There is, actually, an argument to be made that they are both the Heir, as neither one could be both the parts it seems are necessary to defeat the Revenants. Wynonna isn’t at all, it seems, inclined to do the research necessary to gather the critical intelligence on their enemy, and Waverly doesn’t seem to have the rage not-so-bottled up inside her that Wynonna channels into her fights with the Damned, but together… well.
Add in some help from a Deputy Marshall from a secretive government agency and an undying gunslinger, and I’m going to put my money on the Earp Sisters.