By Cameron White
Season 2, Episode 1: “Medium”
Original airdate: Aug. 27, 1999
This can’t be all there is, there must be something more
There must be a better place…
Looking for another world? I’m not sure we should,
I’m not sure salvation lies there…
There is bad as well as good, let us love each other now
As if this time is all there is…
Because So Weird‘s first season is short in comparison, it focuses on laying the groundwork for the stories to come while reinforcing core character dynamics, particularly within the Phillips family. For that reason, Rick Phillips remains largely a cipher: his death left an impact on the family, sure, but it’s an impact only hinted at through theme and plot. So far, none of the characters have had a chance to really reflect on the man who, once upon a time, went looking for “Another World.”
How much should that change going forward? Obviously, he can’t be a cipher anymore; between the revelation in “Strangeling” that Rick, like his daughter Fi, was interested in the paranormal, and Bricriu’s hint that Rick is trapped in the spirit world by forces of an evil nature, it’s clear that the show is interested in exploring Rick as a character and not just as a motivator for the main characters. At the same time, though, Bricriu’s display of power in “Will O’ the Wisp” indicates that he can’t just be pulled back from the dead; besides, that wouldn’t set up a very fun or exciting season, based on today’s precedent of “Supernatural season six.”
“Medium” doesn’t give too much of an indication as to how the season will run, but it does allow for some all-important character reflection as both Fi and Molly continue to deal with Rick’s death and the ripple effect it has had on the family. And there’s no better place to do that than in Hope Springs, Colorado, where the Phillips still have a quaint cabin home-slash-recording studio. The return home sends Fi and Molly on parallel journeys towards opening their wounded hearts to each other about Rick; Fi goes to see a medium so that she can communicate with her dead father, while Molly is haunted by indecision… and by Rick, whose spirit she believes still haunts the place.
Like the series premiere, “Medium” starts with a long panning shot that ends on someone’s face. But unlike the one in “Family Reunion,” which had a bunch of alien plush dolls and UFOs with one photo of baby Fi and Rick before landing on Fi at her computer, “Medium” pans over even more photos of Rick with his family, covered in cobwebs and hidden by old candles, and ends on Molly’s face. Meanwhile, Fi is holding a picture of Molly and Rick, the happy couple at a younger age and a more innocent time, with her thumb ring prominently displayed. Both women are interrupted from their reminiscences by friends in the here and now—Molly talks with Irene about musicians’ love of ham and her next big hit, while the audience finally meets Fi’s email and chat buddy Candy—before striking forward on their journeys.
As per usual, the episode gives its exciting supernatural (read: marketable) elements to Fi. Fi sways Candy into accompanying her to a seance held by a world-renowned medium, Leopold Martin. Candy is understandably nonchalant about it: “Movie, mall, contact the spirit world… you know, whatever!” But Fi’s done her research on this guy, they’ve never been in the same city until now, and as always, Fi’s ongoing drive is to find out more about her father. “Ever since we got home… I can’t shake the feeling like he’s here.”
Those words turn out to be very meaningful for Molly. She’s working with the band on her new single, “She Sells” (originally previewed at the end of “Tulpa” when she first began writing it) but she’s being oddly obsessive-compulsive about it. “I’m not picky, I’m thorough!” she insists to Irene, which prompts the first bit of weirdness on Molly’s end: Irene says, “Well, they ain’t paying to hear you talk, honey, so you better sing,” which immediately freaks Molly out because it’s something that Rick used to say to her before shows. (The Dixie Chicks would not stand for that, by the way.) It’s something she’s never told anyone, which is telling both of Molly’s guarded nature as a person and of the paranormal activity at work in Molly’s storyline. (Ned, ever the optimist, insists that it’s good luck. Why? “Because I think Rick would love this song.”)
With those baselines, both stories progress in earnest. Fi’s seance goes bad when a real medium exposes Leopold Martin as a fraud, using photographs of other seances in other cities that show him conversing with one of the women who was posing as a customer at Hope Springs. But Fi is unable to get the real medium, Patrick Raymond, to actually connect with her father because the death of his wife has interrupted his ability to channel properly, which has turned him into a bitter old man. (Grief, as ever, is the most powerful intrusion on a person in the world of So Weird.) Meanwhile, as Molly frets over “She Sells,” she reminisces about the early days with Rick in their home, writing and recording music and generally being love birds of a sort. She talks with Jack about how the song is “missing something;” “Another verse?” Jack helpfully suggests. “Maybe,” is her only reply. But while she’s talking with Irene after another failed attempt to record a demo of the song, Rick’s spirit replaces Irene as she once again says exactly what Rick would have said to her in the same situation. “I want it to be good, too, Molly! We’re a team, remember?”
But one resolution leads to another. An unseen scene with Jack leads Patrick back to the house, where he apologizes, opens up about his wife, then performs a true act of supernatural talent: using Rick’s old guitar, he gets Fi to play a riff she’s never heard before, not even mentioning the fact that she only knows a few chords. It’s the same riff that was used non-diegetically at the top of the episode; it’s an aural connection, literally and metaphorically, to Rick. Raymond poetically calls it Rick’s version of saying “hello.” Molly’s experiences, though, have left her a bit shaky, and when she hears Fi playing the riff and starts talking to her about what she did today, she implores her to stop talking about communicating with spirits. Fi has a predictably teenage response: “He was my father, and I’m not letting him go. Why am I the only one in this house who cares he’s gone?” So Molly opens up her own wounds, about how Rick is everywhere, everyday, and that she wants him to leave her alone because she can’t have what she really wants: a full house, Rick included. “What do you want me to say?” “Anything.” So she sits down and they have the most emotionally charged guitar lesson ever.
The summation of events in “Medium” may not seem like much, but the subdued tone (helped by Cara DeLizia and Mackenzie Phillips, who have both grown incredibly comfortable with their role) combined with the parallel stories of Fi and Molly searching for peace of mind in their own ways sets the stage for So Weird‘s second season. Rick’s spirit is around, but Molly can’t trust the dead so much that she forgets how to live, and Fi can’t trust the dead because the dead invaded her brother’s body. Music, as always, is the healing potion, the river that keeps the Phillips family moving despite the challenges. The second season features plenty of classic monsters: trolls, vampires, and werewolves, to name a few. And it has some neat psychological horror episodes too, including a couple of solid showcases for Dave “Squatch” Ward as Ned Bell. But underneath all of its genre fun is a mystery with a beating heart: Who was Rick Phillips? Can his spirit be trusted? Why is the spirit world so afraid of Fi and Rick?
That’s all ahead, though. In the meantime, mother and daughter bond over the guitar, and the man to whom it once belonged. As Fi says in the opening narration, “how can it be wrong to hope?”
Cameron White is a freelance writer currently residing in Arkansas. He writes about television over on his blog, Wayward Television, and tweets about birds, ironically. His obsession with television was founded in 1996 by The Disney Channel and fostered by his discovery of Firefly in the summer of 2007. He has a Ph.D in Horribleness.