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Women Secretly Run the Town of 'Letterkenny'

Pitter patter, let's discuss how the cult Canadian show's female characters are truly in charge.

by Caitlin Wolper
Oct 10 2019, 2:18pm

Katy low-key calls the shots in Letterkenny. Photo via Facebook/Letterkenny Problems 

Little happens in Letterkenny without Katy’s approval. Both wry and powerful, Katy’s (Michelle Mylett) control manifests in multiple ways: When she tells hockey bros Reilly and Jonesy to take off their shirts, they do; she lets the head of the Skids, Stewart, stay at their home even after her street-fighting brother Wayne says no; she picks up two model boyfriends and discards them at her whim. And you’d be hard-pressed to see anyone but Katy smearing frosting on Wayne’s face. But it’s not just that Katy dominates the town of Letterkenny—she demands respect.

Now approaching its seventh season, Letterkenny centers around the problems of its titular town’s 5,000 inhabitants, divided into “The Hicks,” “The Skids,” and “The Natives.” The Canadian show, which airs on Bell Media’s Crave, has recently gained traction in the United States, thanks to its slot on Hulu (which will premiere the newest season) and its recent write-up in the New Yorker.

Primarily known for its frequent fistfights, Canadian slang, and King of the Hill-esque cold opens, the show centers on the daily lives of the hicks: Daryl, Squirrely Dan, Wayne, and Katy. Most often, they’re gathered on the porch or in front of their produce stand, spouting rapidfire turns of phrase, extolling farts and debating nomenclature. It might seem like the show’s only action is the defense of Wayne’s title as the “toughest guy in Letterkenny.” (The defense being fights that prove his place.) But although the show seems like a slow-moving vehicle for ongoing riffs, bits, and fists, a plot unspools throughout the series thanks to the sleepy Ontario town’s agents of change: namely, its women.

Most notable is the bond between Katy and her older brother Wayne (Jared Keeso, who’s also the show’s creator). Though he may disapprove of her outfits— “Katy, put some clothes on!”—and her choices in men, he both defends her and defers to her. As the “toughest guy in Letterkenny,” you’d expect Wayne to be an icon of uncompromising machismo. However, when he beats up Jivin’ Pete who—it’s implied as sexual intimidation—honked at Katy and frightened her, Wayne pauses post-beating, mid-lecture to see if Katy has any edicts to add. (She chimes in with: “Don’t honk at girls. Don't holler at girls. And don't talk to girls unless they want to talk to you.”)

Katy also often gives Wayne the go-ahead on scraps, encouraging his first post-breakup fight in the series premiere. Katy serves almost as Wayne’s own moral center: before fighting with Joint Boy at Daryl’s soft birthday—the existence and tradition of which is very important to her — Wayne turns to Katy and asks, “May I sort this out now, please?” She responds, steely: “Goddamn right you may. Don’t lose.”

Tanis (Kaniehtiio Horn), the leader of the First Nation, just referred to as The Rez, outside of Letterkenny, commands similar respect within her clan. Sharp-tongued and dry, she harnesses control in a number of ways, whether verbally assaulting Stewart (Tyler Johnston) when he wrongs her, recording an adult spelling bee to take down cheaters, or setting fire to the hicks’ produce stand to get revenge on the Skids. And most notably, after Tanis sleeps with Wayne and gets pregnant, she nonchalantly tells him she had an abortion. “Well, that’s your choice to make,” he replies, nonplussed. She eyes him harshly, replying, “That is my choice to make.”

The Skids themselves are directionless until Gae (Sarah Gadon) enters the picture. Although Stewart is the de facto leader, Gae succeeds him by virtue of appearing, basically, to absolutely no protest—it doesn’t hurt, of course, that Stewart seems enamored with her. She launches the skids into their first-ever organized, purposeful, clown-based chaos. Of course, that very chaos—mailbox-bashing that the town blames on The Rez—is what brings an angry Tanis to their hideout.

The Skids and Natives are thrust into conflict by Gae’s sudden appearance and her penchant for organized petty crime, and in Letterkenny, when you need to take down a powerful woman, you call on another. While Tanis tries to intimidate with insults and threats, Gae attacks Tanis psychologically. Gae then accuses two of Tanis’s men of homophobia and instructs them to hug Roald—unwilling to do so, they run out, and Tanis leaves after them.

Similarly, when Wayne’s ex Angie starts tearing apart the Letterkenny Irish hockey team, Reilly (Dylan Playfair) and Jonesy (Andrew Herr) are powerless to stop her—she speaks “puck bunny,” and it gets in their heads. Unable to keep their team together, the stereotypical “tough guy” hockey players turn to Katy for help. In perhaps the most chilling scene in the series, Katy dresses up as Angie (Kalinka Petrie) and corners her in the empty men’s locker room. Katy’s intimidation, from the identical outfit to the soft, intent voice are inherently sexual; Watching it, you think that they’re about to kiss. Katy tells her to close her eyes; Angie, breathy, waits.

Katy kicks her right in the crotch. We never see Angie with the hockey players again.

It would be easy to lean into Letterkenny as an intentionally feminist show, but that would be a shallow assesment, and honestly, untrue. Letterkenny is not without its share of misogyny and casual homophobia (calling people “Sally” as a pejorative, the slo-mo, breast-bouncing first appearance of any female romantic interest). The women in the show are often hypersexualized, whether by a long “Bonnie McMurraaaaay” or scant wardrobe.

But part of their power is that they know, and they take advantage of their sexuality when it comes to getting what they want. Katy seduces Angie then attacks; Tanis lifts her breasts when trying to get her way. You might go so far as to say Gail, in all her gyrating glory, is the only person on the show who can prompt a visceral response from Wayne (it’s disgust, but still).

And through it all, the hicks protect, defend, and defer to these women—just ask Squirrelly Dan what Professor Tricia says. He’d be sure to tell you all about his women’s studies class. Maybe next, he’ll realize the prevalence of her lessons in his own Letterkenny life.

Follow Caitlin Wolper on Twitter.

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