By Cameron White
Season 2, Episode 8: “Werewolf”
Original airdate: Oct. 15, 1999
All stories told by human beings are tied in some way to a piece of real human experience. From the first cave paintings of bison hunters to Lost, a show about rediscovering yourself after a terrible tragedy, stories are never told in a vacuum to be analyzed objectively. Rather, they exist at a point on a continuum; their existence is profoundly affected by the stories that came before it, and the story itself will influence future stories as the continuum progresses.
Werewolves are an old story dating back to the Greeks, who were obsessed with transformations (for reference, see every story about Zeus creeping on women), but the modern-day interpretations of the werewolf story that relate to this episode of So Weird probably only came about via interpretations of the classic story of a regular wolf who stalks a young girl wearing a red riding hood. The sexual connotations of the story of Little Red Riding Hood are undeniable, and the themes embedded within the story undoubtedly contributed to contemporary werewolf fiction, particularly with regards to the notion of sexual awakening. Indeed, two ABC sitcoms within a stone’s throw of So Weird‘s broadcast era featured Halloween episodes where the main teenage boy characters (Cory Matthews, the titular “boy” of Boy Meets World, and Robbie in Dinosaurs) are bitten and fear transforming into werewolves in the light of the full moon. Through these two shows, the werewolf story is easily recognizable as a metaphor for the physical (and emotional) changes a person’s body goes through at puberty.
That the basic story beats of “Werewolf,” So Weird‘s own take on the transformation tale, are so recognizable does not make it any less effective. In fact, “Werewolf” is without question one of So Weird‘s scariest episodes, and probably one of several episodes that made a shortlist of Disney Channel’s “list of reasons why we wanted season three to be lighter in tone and maybe less fun too.” The episode’s setting is a bed-and-breakfast in the small town of Rockdale, Iowa, which is farmer country not unlike the type featured in “Listen.” But the woes of Rockdale are on a smaller scale than the wheat-powered ESP citizens: there’s a wolf on the loose, and it’s eating all the chickens. It’s this problem that the B&B’s owners, Carl and Judy (but particularly Carl), are working to solve by laying traps all around town. The real problem, of course, is right under their noses: their daughter Laura.
The fact that Fi bonds instantly with Laura at breakfast could be seen as a shortcut to emotional catharsis—and it doesn’t hurt to establish that connection early, in case the show wants to set up the moral quandary of whether or not to kill Laura-the-wolf, which it ultimately opts out of by the end. But it’s actually connected to the Phillips women in an unusual way. In one sense, it’s related to the pair of scenes at the start and end of the episode in which Molly is seen and heard writing a song. Any So Weird fan worth their salt recognizes it even before she identifies it to Judy: it’s “The Rock,” the song that underscores one of the show’s most emotionally powerful moments (not to mention one that pushes the mythology forward in a big way… but more on that in a few weeks). The song is for her father, with whom Molly has a complicated relationship. “Is he the rock?” Judy asks. “Yeah, but don’t tell him,” Molly replies. It’s meant partly as a jibe, but as with most things in So Weird, it hints at a darker past than it lets on. In this episode, though, Molly is playing the role of the reborn rock star, and so she herself is forging through a transformation of sorts as she redefines her musical career around herself, and not companies buying jingles, or around herself and her husband.
In another sense, though, it relates to how closely aligned Fi and Laura are in their physical development. Fi is nearly 15, and so while she’s not out of the puberty forest just yet, she has definitely started to get a handle on how to be an adult, even though she’s still gripped by grief for the loss of her father. But Laura is on the cusp of beginning the scary journey through adolescence, which is naturally why she’s now transforming into a werewolf and eating chickens. That bonding, then, is crucial to the episode’s handling of the theme. In other shows, this passing of knowledge on how to be an adult would be done in some presumably silly (and horrifically gender-biased) ways; here, Fiona’s only concern is whether she should tell the parents about Laura’s changes, which have gone unnoticed by them despite claw marks on the bottom of their kitchen door and Laura’s penchant for napping frequently during the day. At the end, though, she leaves her e-mail address like a calling card, urging Laura to write to her. Changes, the show argues, should not be left to chance, but handled by a community of people.
That’s how the show comes down in the end, too. For starters, Laura’s parents are adoptive, not biological, a storytelling decision that is increasingly rare in young adult television these days, where adoption is often vilified if ever featured at all. But the final scene moves firmly into the “it takes a village” ideology. As Fi tells her mom in response to her inquiry about the town meeting at the B&B, “I think Laura’s family just got a little bit bigger.”
“Werewolf” handling this delicate subject matter so well is part of why this episode is a classic. The other part, of course, is the thrilling action sequence that is the episode’s centerpiece, in which Fi, Carey, and Jack all get chased by Laura-the-wolf in the dead of night. The first scene of the episode features the family saying good-bye to Clu on the phone as he, Ned, and Irene move him into college; this coda to “Mutiny” comes with Eric Lively joining the main cast as Carey (which actually happened in “Boo,” but everything that happens in “Boo” is overshadowed by Henry Winkler). And when the werewolf traps the trio inside the bus, Carey starts to show more life as a character than he has been able to in earlier episodes, where most of his work was in service of exposition about his recent life choices. Here, he puts together a plan to get everyone out of the bus while trapping the werewolf safely inside, which prompts Jack to ask, “Did you just come up with that on the spot?” And he laments being the oldest when he’s left to be the bait in his own plan, a moment that’s funny right up until the werewolf nearly bites his head off. (Well, no, it’s still pretty funny, but only because Eric Lively is really good at horror faces.) Incidentally, only moments before, Carey had deadpanned, “Hey, why don’t we ask it what it is AFTER it bites our heads off? What do you think?” Already, Carey is shown to be much different from his younger brother: older and wiser, yet just as fun to be around, and handy for deadly situations too.
The element of suggestion may not have helped Carey’s character in recent weeks, but it does help sell the werewolf. Like in Alien or Cloverfield, the fact that the monster is never really seen in profile heightens the tension and horror of the piece. Carey finds a tooth and a clip-on nail that indicates to the audience that the wolf is Laura, but throughout the episode, the show opts to take up the wolf’s point-of-view with a red tint while never explicitly showing the wolf itself. This judicious (and budget-conscious) decision subtly reminds the audience that this “thing” is actually a little girl, a fact that is never lost on Fi, especially when she clamors back into the bus after the fact and finds Laura waking up and saying she’s scared of the monster she has become. That fear is universal. It’s a fear of sexual and spiritual maturity, and it’s that fear that drives the transformations. There’s also the fear of rejection—Laura fears Judy and Carl won’t love her anymore if they knew she was a werewolf, and in that scenario, the monster itself becomes a symbol of an adopted child. But the show argues in a very Buffy way that these fears don’t have to end in the ending of someone’s life. The moral quandary about whether or not to kill Laura gets dismissed because So Weird values human life. The show also values the nature of stories about human life, and Laura’s story, like Molly’s story, Fi’s story, or Carey’s story, is invaluable to the spirit of humanity.
Cameron White is a freelance writer currently residing in Arkansas. He writes about television over on his blog, Wayward Television, and tweets about Ke$ha, or “K-E-dollar sign-HA.” His obsession with television was founded in 1996 by The Disney Channel and fostered by his discovery of Firefly in the summer of 2007. And he’s okay with it, it’s like water under the… thing, or something. Whatever.