Wynonna Earp Season 3, Episode 5 Review “Jolene”
Welcome to Jolene (Jolene, Jolene, Joleeeeeeeene!) I’m going to be singing this song all night in my head. Thanks, Andras. What’s this creepy demon’s deal? Why was it after Waverly all these years? And who is Waverly’s father? Let’s find out, shall we?
Content Warning: this review discusses gaslighting, tempting someone to commit suicide, and suicidal thoughts, as depicted on the show.
We begin with Wynonna tying Mama up and sending Waverly away. Mama explains that the demon was after Waverly since she was a baby. She was in the process of exorcising it 6 years ago when the barn caught fire and she accidentally bound the demon to herself. Doc arrives at the house and Jolene wins him over with snickerdoodles. When Jolene leaves, Doc tells Wynonna he could hear the voice of the demon on the therapy tapes. Mama tells Waverly about a time when she found a demon floating over Waverly’s bed when she was a baby. Waverly remembers not wanting to sit by the mirror in kindergarten because she would see a monster. Jolene approaches the revenant officer from the institution (his head grew back) sent to find Mama and cuts his tongue out.
“It’s my party and I’m not going to let you poop on it.”—Jolene
Waverly and Wynonna free mama and introduce Doc. Jolene interrupts and feeds Mama a cookie. Mama wants to try re-binding the demon to her. Jolene tries to convince Doc to leave because Wynonna doesn’t need or want him. At the Gibson greenhouse, Mama tells Waverly that her father’s name is Julian. When Waverly asks where he is, Mama says it doesn’t matter. Nicole pulls over Jolene, who feeds her lemon scones and tells Nicole the Earp ladies are off on a mission without her. The demon from the institution attacks the Earp ladies in the greenhouse and Wynonna kills it. Waverly runs into Jolene outside, who attacks her, saying she’s stolen everything from her. Waverly hits Jolene, who then calls on Wynonna and Mama to help her.
“Does she really need a mortal bartender with half a lung and a probable mood disorder dragging her down?”—Jolene
“Well that is somewhat reductive.”—Doc
Mama and Wyonna enjoy some whiskey with Jolene; Waverly arrives, feeling ashamed of her behavior. Jolene sows more seeds of dissent between Waverly and Nicole. They all head over to Shorty’s where Mama and Waverly talk demon shop and Jolene drops the truth bomb about Kate being Doc’s wife. Doc, meanwhile, visits Bobo. Doc wants an angle to defeat Bulshar. Bobo wants Waverly to visit and tells him Bulshar wants the ring Nicole stole (and then threw away) back. At Shorty’s, Jolene is sowing even more dissent: Wynonna frets about Kate, and Mama hates on Doc. When Doc approaches Waverly about visiting Bobo, Wynonna interrupts to complain about Kate. Then a brawl breaks out and everyone says their worst thoughts to each other, but mostly to Waverly.
“I call it the Don’t Have a Stealth Wife While You’re Doing My Daughter You Enormous Prick.”—Mama
Mama and Waverly stew in the jailhouse drunk tank. Nicole lashes out about Waverly not including her in demon hunting. Kate confronts Jolene in the bar, telling her that “he is coming” for her and she has a debt to pay. Doc finds Waverly crying and asks about the ring. She tells him to ask Nicole. When she breaks down, fearing she’s a demon, Doc (having eaten a cookie) tells her it’s likely since Bobo said she’s kin. Jolene tries to seduce Nicole but Bulshar’s ring is somehow in her room again and it burns Jolene when she tries to pick it up. She locks Nicole in a closet. Wynonna tells Mama about Alice. Waverly goes back to the Gibson greenhouse, where she runs into Jolene.
“The problem with vampires is you always think you’re the life of the party.”—Jolene
Nedley visits Mama and Waverly in jail, where the three figure out the demon is Jolene. Jolene, meanwhile, continues to gaslight Waverly in the greenhouse, telling her she’s a changeling who should kill herself because she’d not special and no one loves her. Doc finds Nicole in the closet. Jolene tells Waverly that they were born at the same time, one from light (Waverly), the other from the muck (Jolene). Jolene has been jealous that Waverly got everything ‘good.’ Waverly rejects the taunts and throws the knife away. Wynonna arrives just in time to shoot Jolene in the belly. Jolene runs straight into a trap from Mama, only for Bulshar to send demon vines to grab her.
“Put down that tart, Randy.”—Mama and Wynonna
Nicole and Waverly make up. Doc summons Bulshar, telling him he has his ring but will never give it back to him. He then puts Bulshar’s ring on, saying that if he’s going to hell, he’ll drag Bulshar down with him. Wynonna visits Bobo, who tells her that Waverly’s father Julian was an angel.
Favorite One Liner: “Then she got even more pissed and tossed me into the closet. Ironically.”—Nicole
I Gotta Say…
I’ll get to the Waverly reveal in a second. First, I want to talk about demons as a metaphor for mental illness and gaslighting. If you find frank discussions of gaslighting upsetting, you should probably skip the rest of this review. To be perfectly honest, I found watching this episode highly upsetting because of the gaslighting, so I understand if you need to tap out.
Zoie Palmer gave a great performance as the demon that was Mama Earp’s ‘mental illness.’ Creepy nice villains are one of my favorite kind, especially in supernatural settings where they can also be demons. Loved it. Is it weird to say I hope we see Zoie Palmer/Jolene again? Because I could watch more episodes of her being creepy and sowing discord. Just maybe ease up on the gaslighting.
Overall, I think the show handled this element well. Mental health being a demon is a long-standing trope. I have a triptych of female saints that I find meaningful to my personal spirituality, one panel of which shows St. Dymphna, the patron saint of mental illness. In one hand she holds a sword that pricks the neck of a demon and at her feet is the chained devil. The imagery comes from the idea of mental illness being a kind of outside, demonic force that you have to slay.
While that imagery may not work for everyone who is mentally ill, I’ve found it quite empowering in my personal journey. Thinking of it as not ‘me’ but something I can fight and keep chained up gives me strength. That imagery came to mind watching this episode. We see Michelle tied up because the demon was too strong and she speaks of being tired from fighting it all these years. I’ve had those days myself.
Yet even if the demon was an outside force, Mama’s struggle with it was real and she was treated as if it were a manifestation of a mental illness. And it probably felt like having one some days too. A mental battle to keep the voices in your head from overwhelming you, pushing away loved ones because you think you or the illness will hurt them and you want to protect them. Sounds familiar.
What truly won me over was that it being a demon didn’t lesson Waverly’s sense of abandonment or horror at the idea of her mother trying to kill her, even if she was wrong about that. Her trauma was still real even if an aspect of it was a misunderstanding.
So, for that aspect, I give the writing team a huge round of applause. I in no way felt like mental illness was being demonized or my having one stigmatized. While your mileage may vary and I certainly don’t speak for all folks with mental illness, for my part I thought the show handled it sensitively.
The more difficult part for me to watch was Waverly’s gaslighting. I admit, this has everything to do with my personal experience rather than the depiction on the show. In fact, it was the accuracy of the show’s writing that made it so hard for me to watch. If you’ve never experienced gaslighting before, you just got to see it in action. That’s exactly what it is. True, it’s not usually a demon, but everything else is the same. It was so accurate, I was physically sick to my stomach watching and almost had to turn it off.
Taking a step back from my visceral discomfort, what kills me most is that Waverly was pretty much reliving her worst nightmare from her childhood. When she attacked Jolene (for being a demon who attacked her first), her whole family was mad at her. They gaslighting her into believing she was a terrible person when she’d done nothing wrong. Wynonna mocked her for only being her half-sister.
At Shorty’s everyone got drunk and yelled at her or blamed her, like Ward used to. Doc mocked her for “crying…again,” which she had every reason to do because of what everyone had been saying. But she’d probably been told not to cry by her drunk father, so I can imagine being mocked for it triggered something deep. Doc then nonchalantly tells her she’s a demon—her worst fear—because she’s got a mean streak in her. “You can be mean, so you’re a demon,” is the kind of splitting behavior that can happen in certain kinds of abusive homes, so that too hit home to me. To cap it off, Waverly starts to blame herself, just as Jolene wanted and what actually happens to children who come from abusive homes. You’re told everything is your fault long enough, you start to believe it. Waverly probably already felt this to some extent given the way Ward isolated her for not being a ‘real Earp’ and the fact that she believed her Mama left her because of who she was.
Now, all of what was said and done to Waverly stemmed from Jolene wanting to goad Waverly to the point of killing herself. So yeah, Doc, Wynonna, and Mama don’t actually feel that way about Waverly. From Waverly’s perspective though, she was literally reliving all the worst parts of her childhood and hearing her worst fears confirmed by the ones she loved and believed loved her. That’ll mess you up.
I am grateful Waverly pushed past her fears to believe in Wynonna’s and Nicole’s love for her. That belief marks a huge step in her healing process. Coming from a home marked by abuse, neglect, and alcoholism, believing someone loves you isn’t easy. For all that Waverly brags about how everyone in town likes her, that’s a mask for her insecurity. I don’t have time to dig into that all now, but suffice to say, as hard as this was for me to watch because of my experiences and as much as I hated seeing Waverly live through her worst fears all over again, I’m proud of her. I’m so pleased with where she ended up. You go girl! Reject the demon of self-loathing and claim your self-love!
So yeah, after all of that, we find out Waverly is an angel. Fans floated the theory of her being a half-angel baby at the end of S2, so this won’t come as a surprise to many. I’m not entirely sold on it conceptually—I like conflict and angst, so her being a half-angel has less appeal to me than her being half-demon. But I am interested to see what this means for her and for the story.
I am surprised they revealed that this week. This episode dropped some pretty hefty foreshadowing, but Wynonna Earp tends to drag out reveals like this. I expected to have to wait another week or so for the foreshadowing to come to fruition.
The one thing that didn’t work for me foreshadowing-wise was Jolene’s speech to Waverly in the greenhouse. Waverly being born from light and getting everything good while Jolene came from muck was a pretty heavy clue to her parentage, but it rang hollow to me. Especially the line about Waverly getting everything good. I did not like how much of that centered on Waverly’s appearance (blonde hair shouldn’t be a marker of someone being a good person, guys). I’m sure in context, Jolene meant ‘good’ as in ‘goodness’ or ‘virture.’ Waverly is an angelically good person.
However, Waverly’s childhood has been far from ‘good.’ She might be sweet, empathetic, and intuitive, but she suffered a lot. I wouldn’t call having an alcoholic, abusive father who neglected her on good days and intentionally pushed her out on bad days plus a mother she believed abandoned her—until she believed her mother tried to kill her because she was a demon—‘good.’ One sister killed their dad then acted out and became borderline alcoholic herself. Her other sister was kidnapped and presumed dead, only to show up, join with the demons, and try to kill Waverly’s girlfriend. Waverly spent her whole life trying to be the Earpiest Earp only to find out she’s not an Earp at all. Like…what part of this is “you got everything good?”
As I said, in context, I’m sure it’s supposed to be about Waverly being a good person. At the same time, when Waverly’s life experiences are this messed up, talking about her getting everything good while remarking about her ‘flaxen hair’ make it seem like good means pretty. Even if she is an angel.
Finally, Kate’s back this week! I wish she had more to do because Chantal Riley plays her so well. But let’s cut to the chase, I’m bringing her up because I’m not sure “big nosed Kate” is a great nickname for a black female character. Followed by insulting her lipstick. As a joke about vampires, it was a pretty funny one. And yes, I know that the real wife of Doc Holliday, Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings, was known as “Big Nosed Kate.” So, one could say the show was trying to be “historically accurate” while also making a joke about how their version of Kate actually has a perfect nose.
At the same time, these are two physical features that Black people in general and Black women in particular have been mocked for by white, Western societies. In the context of her being the only black woman on the show, and only person of color in the main cast after Dolls’ death, this was at the very least tasteless. In situations like this, historical accuracy doesn’t matter. You have more onus on you as a writer to treat your marginalized characters with respect than to make certain jokes. I’m not sure what the writers room looks like for Wynonna Earp right now, but I can tell you, they need a Black writer on staff stat if they don’t already have one. They’re clearly not running their jokes by a sensitivity reader. And after Dolls, they’ve lost any sense of goodwill I have toward their treatment of characters of color.
I see you, Andras
- “I’m just saying I’m not sure I’d recognize her if she came up to me and hugged me!” *hugged by Jolene*
- The universe craves balance, was that a The Last Jedi reference?
- I really dig the lighting this week, especially in the barn.
- Glad to know Doc and Kate sleeping together was super important to their character developments…not.
- So, no more money troubles this week…
That’s it for tonight, Earpers; see you next week for “If We Make It Through December.” I, for one, am looking forward to grumpy Nedley in a Santa suit, even if it is August.