The Higgins Moments

Ask any Wynonna Earp fan what they love about the show and what makes it so special and you’ll hear plenty of gushing about Emily, the cast, and of course the Earper fandom. But what you’ll also hear is how much they love the music and how many new artists they’ve been introduced to through Wynonna Earp. And any Earper talking about the show’s music is going to name check Andrea Higgins, the show’s Music Supervisor. There are few behind the scenes people connected to Wynonna Earp as beloved by fans as Higgins and with good reason. The music she brings to the show is an indispensable part of its style, attitude, and most importantly storytelling. It speaks to unspoken subtexts and illuminates complexities. Without the music, something would be missing and the story would be incomplete.

Considering the place music has on the show and how important Higgins’s work is to the Wynonna Earp experience, a deep dive into the ways music elevates and expands the narrative seems long overdue. To remedy that I’ve picked out my favorite “Andrea Higgins moments” from season two and taken a look at how I think they help tell the stories of our favorite characters.

1. Artist: Dewitt Lee
Song: Poor Man
Episode: 2×02 – Shed Your Skin
Scene: Doc and Lucado at Shorty’s

There are a lot of ways that this scene could have played without ever changing a line or a frame, just by using a different song. A darker song would have doubled down on the menace that both characters are capable of, a more intense song could have evoked more direct hostile conflict, or countless other variations of different thematic tones set by the music. Choosing Dewitt Lee’s “Poor Man” makes this a western spy vs. spy scenario. There’s just enough playfulness to make it feel like a game or classic espionage dual seduction. Paired with this song, the scene suggests a dance between adversaries comfortable with moral ambiguity and sure they are the ones leading. For Doc, we are reminded that he’s a world-class poker player and has always been someone at ease with the duplicitous parts of his character. As the music plays in the background it adds to the slyness of Doc’s words. He has assessed Lucado, knows her tells and her weakness and like any skilled gambler he uses them to his advantage. In a series that tends more for straightforward confrontation (our heroine is the crazy chick with the gun after all), it’s a reminder not just for Lucado, but for the viewer, of what Doc “brings to the team” and the gray areas he thrives in.

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While the song reminds the audience who Doc is, it also reflects Lucado’s state of mind when she walks in. She thinks she has Doc’s number and can outmaneuver him without breaking a sweat. The song has a bit of a bounce that suggests a casualness that borders on but is not quite flippancy. She’s practically gloating before the game has even started. The song continues through the scene until Doc puts his cards on the table and Lucado sees she is out of moves. Right as that moment dawns on Lucado “Poor Man” stops and transitions to a more dramatic, darker score. Lucado realizes that behind that western drawl and inability to master his phone is someone dangerous that you don’t want as your enemy. She walks away defeated but with more respect for Doc as a force to be reckoned with. A realization signaled to the viewer by the change in musical style.

2. Artist: Bonefield 
Song: Not Meant To Be
Episode: 2×02 – Shed Your Skin
Scene: Doc and Wynonna at Shorty’s talking after arguing earlier in the episode

At first, this seems like an odd choice for a scene where Wynonna and Doc are supposed to be clearing the air after a fight. There’s an edge and melancholy that belies an appearance of reconciliation. It creates emotional distance in a scene that until the end seems structured as a moment of bonding between these two characters. But it’s exactly that disjointedness that makes it a compelling choice. Viewers watching this scene know Doc is keeping a secret from Wynonna. Fans might have guessed what he was up to but it hadn’t officially been revealed within the show. Narratively, all we knew for sure was Doc wasn’t being forthright. Whatever fans may have correctly predicted, he seemed to be playing at his own game and Wynonna clearly knew something was up even if she wasn’t sure what. Having that subtext play out through the music put viewers in the same emotional space as Wynonna, feeling vaguely that something was off and creating a barrier to the emotional payoff they were craving.

There is another reason this was a standout Higgins moment for me. It’s a subtle call back to season one which used a different Bonefield song (Window) in episode 1×05 for the scene where Doc and Wynonna first sleep together. Using this band again ties this scene to that first moment of conflicted connection and understanding. There is something about Bonefield’s sound, and these two songs in particular, that captures the traits in Doc and Wynonna that they recognize in each other. Those traits that both draw them together and are often the reasons things are never easy between them. “Not Meant To Be” in particular evokes an image of a loner and an outsider. It’s a song of regret and a complicated past which both Doc and Wynonna understand. It hangs in the air much like all the messy aspects of their history, not directly being addressed but impacting the nature of that relationship just the same.

3. Artists: Bernadette / Misun 
Songs: Swagger / Coming For You
Episodes 2×02, Shed Your Skin / 2×03, Gonna Getcha Good
Scenes: Slow-Motion goo strut / Wynonna’s victory FU to Purgatory High

I’m going to cheat a bit here and talk about two songs from two different episodes together, but they’re both great for largely the same reasons and I couldn’t choose between them. Before I get into these specific scenes, I need to step back and talk about something I love about Wynonna Earp in general. Something that both of these scenes, in no small part because of the music, are examples of. I am a comic book fan and something I’ve always appreciated about this show is the ways it stays true to its comic roots and brings some of the best parts of reading comics to the screen. One of the most prominent ways they do this, and something they’ve really made their own, is with their version of the “hero pose”.

What people most likely think about when they hear “hero pose” is the classic hands on hips, chest puffed out, cape flowing in the wind and the hero gazing off into the distance pose. But what I mean when I say it is a bit more expansive. What I mean, are those stand-alone images that tell you who this hero is and why they inspire you. They’re like exclamation points of characterization. And that’s what these two scenes are on Wynonna Earp. Both of the slow-motion sequences essentially pause the narrative to take a moment and emphasize that Wynonna and, in the case of the scene from 2×02, Waverly Earp are badasses not to be trifled with. While the slow-motion style the performance of both actresses can’t be underestimated, I’d argue that it’s the music that does the heavy lifting.

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Neither song is subtle or ambiguous. They ooze an unapologetic confidence and power. They’re big, bold and larger than life and by extension so are the scenes, and more importantly, so are Wynonna and Waverly. These women seem 10 feet tall and as a viewer, all you want to do is cheer because more than narrative progression these scene are statements of character and a declaration of the show’s point of view. Whether you’ve seen the show or not, from those first notes you understand these scenes and what they’re saying about our heroes. There is no context needed in a hero pose, they speak loudly and clearly for themselves.

4 Artist: Olly Anna
Song: Write My Story
Episode: 2×03, Gonna Getcha Good
Scene: THE cheerleader scene

Surprise! I betcha ya didn’t see this one coming. No, wait, I mean the opposite of surprise. You absolutely knew this was coming, because of course it was. This scene has been rewatched, gifed, and talked about so much it’s almost taken on a life of its own. The song is practically part of the fandom DNA (those that follow me on twitter might even be aware that I’m sort of fond of a certain wink gif from this scene myself). Every Earper knows this song whether they went on to add it to their music library or not. I’d bet for most, if not all, it is so much a part of the season two experience and so inextricably linked to this scene that they can’t listen to it without hearing Dominique Provost-Chalkley’s voice in their head saying “Gooooo Devils” every time.

The song has the energy and spirit of irreverence needed for the moment, but what I appreciate about this song is the attitude and strength it exudes. Showrunner, Emily Andras, has said that what works for her about this scene is that it subverts the trope of a woman perform for her boyfriend by having her perform for her girlfriend instead. That’s undeniably true, but I’d argue it subverts the trope more than just narratively. As with so many scenes from Wynonna Earp, the scene is obviously sexy, but never objectifying or with an aura of a voyeuristic male gaze. Quite the contrary, this scene has an infectious confidence, in no small part because of “Write My Story.” When this song starts you stand up straighter, adjust that tie, and walk with a little spring in your step. The song makes this scene a joyful celebration of these two women’s relationship and more than anything it’s that joy that keeps me returning to it.

One last thought about this song specific to Waverly is that it’s a song about agency which has been a vital part of Waverly’s journey. When Wynonna returned and she met Nicole Haught, Waverly finally started to find her own voice and at least start to move away from the people pleaser she had been most of her life. So much of Waverly’s arc has been about finding her story on her terms. At times it’s been scary and she can fall back into people pleaser mode when she feels vulnerable, but it’s also exciting to have the world open up in front of you and not feel confined by what others want you to be, or what you think they want you to be.  “Write My Story” is an expression of the empowerment of defying expectations and taking control of your narrative, and in this scene that is what Waverly is experiencing.

5. Artist: Terminus
Song: Love Your Demons
Episode 2×03 – Gonna Getcha Good
Scene: Wynonna & Waverly talking at Shorty’s ending with Gooverly stealing a shaker

This was a song I missed on my initial viewing of 2×03 because unlike “Write My Story” or “Coming For You” from earlier in the episode, Terminus’s “Love Your Demons” is more subtle in its effect and draws less attention to itself. When you first hear it there’s a beauty and softness in the vocals that appear almost sweet. What you quickly realize though is it’s not sweetness you’re hearing, it’s something haunting and at times alien. It perfectly captures the mood of this scene that starts off as an Earp sister moment but becomes a scene about the demon possessing Waverly. Within the scene, some characteristics of Waverly’s possession are confirmed and we get a sense of the danger she’s in of being overwhelmed and lost as this entity that has infected her asserts itself more forcefully.

The song on its own is not particularly menacing, but within the context of the scene it becomes unsettling and adds a slight sense of foreboding. The audience knows more about what’s happening with Waverly than Wynonna does, but the song and the new details we get build feelings of apprehension and caution, much like what Wynonna seems to feel as she leaves. As the scene progresses the song becomes more and more prominent parallelling the increased focus on the demon. In doing so it builds on the underlying tension of the demon trying to push it’s way to the surface. It continues to build until Wynonna leaves and the music transition from “Love Your Demons” to a more explicitly menacing score when Gooverly steals the metal shaker and the scene cuts on that devious grin.

6. Artist: Ted Newman
Song: Plaything
Episode: 2×05 – Let’s Pretend We’re Strangers
Scene: Doc and Goononna at the Diner

This song takes on a different meaning depending on whether you’re reading it as a reflection of Doc or Wynonna, or rather Goononna. There’s a looseness and simplicity to the song that when thinking about Goononna underscores what Melanie Scrofano has said in multiple interviews when discussing episode five. Melanie points out that, as malevolent as the demon is, there’s an unburdened freedom and lightness about Goonnonna that Wynonna is denied because of the curse and what it means. Goononna in many ways is who Wynonna could have been if not for the curse (without the all the evil and stuff) and it’s reflected in the tonal shift of the music. “Plaything” has a frivolity to it that isn’t present in most of the music used in Wynonna’s scenes, especially in her scenes with Doc. Even in more fun scenes, some of which I discuss here, there’s a weight to what’s chosen that “Plaything” doesn’t have. Instead, it evokes the mischievous capriciousness that comes with feeling untied to people or responsibilities.

For Doc, this scene plays much like the one with Lucado in 2×02. Goononna is a cat toying with its prey. She believes she’s in control of the situation but, like Lucado, she underestimated Doc who we suspect, and later confirm, is on to her. The song is called“Plaything” and its tongue in cheek style seems on the surface to be from Goononna’s perspective. In reality, it’s about seeing through someone’s game and not allowing them to manipulate you. This song is not from the perspective of Goononna, it’s from the perspective of Doc. The way “Plaything” mirrors the dynamics of the scene is such a clever use of music. If you aren’t paying attention you might miss what’s actually happening, but if you are paying attention it’s hard not to see the scene, or the song, as anything but a gotcha moment.

7. Artist: Stacey
Song: First Move
Episode: 2×06 – Whiskey Lullaby
Scene: Nicole & Waverly’s first “talk” since Waverly was tentacled

You could probably write an entire article on just WayHaught music. Every song for every big scene captures the sweetness and romance that have defined the relationship between Waverly and Nicole. Each song elevates the emotional stakes and makes the moment seem bigger and that much more important. The songs, along with the overall scenes, become touchstones within the fandom. Turn on any of the songs used for major WayHaught scenes and all those feelings they first elicited rush back with vividness and clarity. I’m not sure any other relationship on the show has such a distinct connection to the music used for it. It could be because Waverly and Nicole are the main romantic relationship and what music does better than just about anything else is express those feelings that words alone fail to capture. The truths you know even if you can’t say why or how. If the romance of these two women is fate, as is suggested in the alternative universe episode, it needs music that can express all the colors and nuances of what that means.

So why this song? Why this one instead of the music from 2×02 or 2×11? This song in this moment is special because of its complexity. It’s a song about being overwhelmed with feelings just by the very presence of someone but waiting for them to break some unspoken barrier. It’s filled with the sweeping romance and tenderness of all the WayHaught music, but there’s also an expression of longing and uncertain hope. It could easily describe Nicole’s feelings for large parts of her relationship with Waverly from the moment she left Shorty’s after that first spark of connection. But more specific to this scene, it reflects the question that’s hanging in the air during their first “talk” since Waverly’s possession. The question Nicole finally asks. How much of their relationship, and specifically the times they were most intimate, was Waverly, Waverly? It sits there between them even after Nicole first broaches it but dissipates in the end as Waverly finds right words and the drifting final notes of the song play, confirming that whatever wall may have been there at the start is gone. “First Move” seamlessly blends all of those feelings of desire, love, fear, and insecurity and gives the scene that extra weight and poignancy it needs and deserves. It captures everything that Waverly and Nicole mean to each other and expresses all those feelings words never could.a4d10c059ad5d1fb25f2d74eac004f2c

8. Artist: Zayde Wølf 
Song: Strike a Match
Episode: 2×11 – Gone as a Girl Can Get
Scene: Opening scene

The opening scene from 2×11 is one of my favorites sequences of either season. From a cinematic perspective, it’s perfectly executed and everything just clicks. It’s impossible not to step back and admire the eloquence that all the pieces come together with. If you had to pick one scene to showcase the skill and craft of the different behind the scenes crew you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example than this. Specifically, this might be my favorite use of music from the entire season, if not the series.

From the very first frame, the scene jumps from the screen with the music setting an intense pace that keeps the viewer off center as they try to orient themselves to what’s happening. It’s not uncommon for an episode of Wynonna Earp to start off in dramatic fashion or ramp up the action immediately. In fact, a good rule of thumb is never miss the first five minutes or the last five minutes of any episode. But this scene is different. In comparable examples, the viewer is still led into the action or reveal. In 2×11 we’re thrown into the deep end and told to swim. It purposely leaves the viewer a bit disoriented and scrambling to catch up. The song’s driving beat creates an urgency and focus but to what end we have no idea. It’s exhilarating, confounding and above all fun, all leading up to one of the best “what just happened” moments from the season.

As I said, all the elements of this scene are fantastic, but it’s the song that holds all the pieces together and makes it feel cohesive and flow. The scene itself is snippets of the climax of the episode and could easily become disjointed when the intent was only to disorient. “Strike a Match” provides a throughline for the scene at the same time that it’s accelerating the energy that literally ends with a bang.

9. Artist: Zayde Wølf 
Song: King
Episode 2×11 – Gone as a Girl Can Get
Scene: Nicole & Waverly bust Bobo out of the hospital

Of all the scenes discussed here, this is the one that song choice played the largest storytelling role in. That’s not to take away from the rest of it. It’s fun and well executed all around and Micheal Eklund brings all that wonderfully weird charm that we love about Bobo. Still, it’s the song that brings the bravado and flamboyance and makes the viewer grin with satisfaction when those hospital doors fly open.

Earlier I talked about Wynonna’s “hero pose” scenes. For all practical purposes, this scene is Bobo’s hero pose or, perhaps more accurately, his villain pose. This is Bobo’s triumphant return. We’d seen him as the mousy good man Robert Svane and as a somewhat diminished version of himself in the hospital, but when he blows those doors away and strides through we know it’s the return of the cocky volatile character we met in season one. This was a moment that demanded a sufficiently dramatic entrance and a song worthy of the presence Bobo, and Micheal Eklund, bring to the screen. Much like Wynonna’s scenes, this sequence slows the narrative to remind the audience who this character is and what it means to have him back. It’s a wink and a nod to fans who fell in love with Bobo in season one and gives viewers a minute to savor and welcome back both the character and the actor who portrays him.

10. Artist: Ruelle 
Song: Until We Go Down
Episode: 2×12 – I Hope You Dance
Scene: Final scene

As most who watched season two will remember “Until We Go Down” was used prominently twice. Acting as a bookend, the song was used once during the premiere and then again during the last sequence of the finale. The song moves between evoking resolve and vulnerability which works well not just for the specific scenes but as an expression of Wynonna’s character in general. This is a song of battle scars and inner strength. It elicits images of heroes who absorb every blow, feel the weight of every decision, but fight on anyway. That is Wynonna throughout season two. She feels every cut and internalizes more than is fair, but she pushes through that, practically wielding it all as a weapon as long as she needs to. The way “Until We Go Down” gets at all the complicated emotions of those dynamics makes it a striking and impactful choice in both scenes, but it was the season finale in particular that captured my imagination.

To start, the song’s use at the end of the finale and its crescendoing nature make it feel more like a beginning than an end. Matched with Mama Earp’s voice over and punctuated with the different reveals from the character montage the song builds a forward momentum that launches the viewer into the next chapter or, to keep in in comic terms, the next arc. It’s also the choice itself to reuse the song in this moment that I found intriguing. At the end of the finale, a lot of things reset or come full circle. The Widows are gone, Alice Michelle was whisked away to the safety of Gus, Waverly and Nicole were back on solid ground and Wynonna has a renewed sense of purpose to break the curse. But as viewers, we’ve gone through the season two journey with these characters. We’ve seen their growth, we’ve seen their struggles, we know that what looks the same is not quite. This second time “Until We Go Down” starts, it feels familiar but has new meaning. It’s like returning to a book you read years ago and seeing it with more experienced eyes. There’s new depth and seriousness as we draw on all these characters have been through. It feels more pointed and specific then it did in the season premiere. It’s an analog for all our heroes. They’ve made it through, they are still at their core the characters we’ve come to know and love, but they haven’t, for better or worse, come through unchanged. It’s a lovely coda for the season and bridge to the next.

Anytime I finish writing about a comic, a movie or a show (and especially Wynonna Earp) I come out feeling like I understand whatever I’m writing about better than when I started no matter how thought out my ideas were going in. There is something about getting into the details that offer new prospectives and insights even to things you thought you knew completely. I can say without hesitation, that has never been truer than with the process of writing this. I feel like I understand this show and its layers in ways I never did before. As big a fan as I was of Andrea Higgins when I started, I have a whole new appreciation for her part in making my favorite show my favorite show. The music she brings to each episode shape it in ways we often take for granted. It’s an unseen character filling in all the corners and fleshing out what isn’t or can’t be said. Without the music and with the immense talents of Andrea Higgins, Wynonna Earp would be a different show. Through two seasons she has introduced us to new artists, provided emotional touchstones for some of the biggest scenes, and helped articulate the show’s attitude. As I listen and re-listen to all my newly discovered music from season two, I can’t help but be a little excited to think about all the gems she’ll bring us in season three and what ways they will contribute to these characters’ journey.

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5 thoughts on “The Higgins Moments

  1. Wow! What a wonderful, in-depth analysis of the amazing work Andrea Higgins does on Wynonna Earp. Thank you for giving me new perspective on all of those amazing scenes and the music that drives them!

    Like

  2. Love that someone has taken the time to do this Ode to Higgins. “You could probably write an entire article on just WayHaught music” – Never a truer word has been said. I can’t listen to any track from a Wayhaught scene without getting chills. It’s electrifying. Awesome article!

    Like

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