By Cameron White
Season 2, Episode 16: “Blues”
Original airdate: Feb. 11, 2000
I will not strike back in anger,
I will turn the other cheek,
And if I die before I wake
Let the earth inherit the meek…
Yea, let the earth inherit the meek…
Thus far, So Weird‘s attempts to integrate and use its own musicians have been fairly mixed. On the one hand, SHeDAISY sharing a stage with Molly for a farmer-friendly concert (for want of a better phrase) played well in an episode that was good but not great, and certainly not as important to the series as “Destiny.” “Destiny,” of course, is where The Moffatts show up, but the episode carries so much mythological weight for the series by finally clarifying to Fi the more-than-unusual nature of her father’s death that their appearance is almost an afterthought. Normally this wouldn’t make much of a difference, but So Weird is a show whose use of music is vital to telling the story. Molly’s songs carry the story as much as the dialogue because of how it is used to convey or bury the feelings of loss and pain that are at the core of the show’s main plot.
Bo Diddley was not, as far as can be told, recording anything in late 1999 or early 2000, when “Blues” was likely in production. But he didn’t have to be. Long before appearing on So Weird, he had earned the nickname “The Originator” for his influential role in transitioning blues to rock, cementing his place in the history of music as that old-fashioned phrase, “one of the greats.” So the choice of having Bo Diddley as a guest star probably had nothing to do with Disney’s attempts at synergy and everything to do with Bo’s part in shaping the genre in which Molly Phillips now plays. And the truth is, Bo Diddley has only one scene in “Blues,” but his presence alone seeps through every scene in the episode, bringing with him an unquestioning love of blues music.
Ned sets it up in the first scene. The gang hole up in a beautiful mansion in Clarksdale, Mississippi for the next gig, and Ned decides to teach the history of the South through two of its defining elements: food, which he lays out on the kitchen island in large bags, and the blues. Carey, meanwhile, picks up his guitar, sets an open tuning, and starts strumming a new melody. Fi asks him if he just made that up and he responds in the affirmative, though it’s clear he has no idea what just happened.
Something similar happens to Molly at the Yale Hotel, the historic blues club she’s playing this week. (The show cheats a bit here; though the Yale actually is a legendary blues club, it’s located in the show’s filming location of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada as opposed to Mississippi. It’s a well-earned cheat, but your mileage may vary on that point.) As Irene talks with the owner, Mrs. Clemens, about the financial details, Molly bursts into song, spouting lyrics about a woman named Eleanor. She quickly jots these down and shows them to Irene, noting how different it is to her usual stuff, but Mrs. Clemens is quick to point out that this club is no longer a blues club. She’s clearly upset, and it’s both all about the blues and not really about the blues at all.
These two coincidences build to the post-dinner scene, where Ned kicks up his feet on the sofa, pulls out a harmonica, and starts to play the same song’s harmonica part. Quickly catching on, Carey and Molly jump in, culminating in one hell of a “Southern comforts” moment as they perform the song. It’s a pretty good song. But why is everyone coincidentally sprung with inspiration?
The episode’s pivot into the second half, where Fi typically explores the supernatural phenomenon at work, is rather graceful. The group contacts a friend of Ned’s, Frank (played by Bo Diddley), who helps uncover the original song, recorded by a man named Natty Bookman but with completely different lyrics. He also tells the story of Natty Bookman’s conflict with Addison Foster, with Fi filling in the missing pieces later: Natty Bookman killed the unknown Addison Foster and claimed Foster’s music as his own. So the new lyrics are Foster’s original lyrics, and he’s been channeling them from beyond the grave to the musically-inclined Phillips family (even Fi, who gets to sing a few bars outside the club and again at Frank’s record shop) as a way of asking someone to help right the wrong. It works out: Addison Foster’s granddaughter works at the mansion where the Phillips and Bells are holed up, and Natty Bookman’s daughter is none other than Mrs. Clemens. By allowing the performance of a blues song one last time at the Yale for Alice Foster (Addison’s granddaughter), the Molly Phillips Band and Mrs. Clemens can put Addison Foster’s soul at ease. (The Eleanor of the song, by the way, is Addison Foster’s widow.)
What makes “Blues” work beyond its love and expert use of the blues is how well it fits into So Weird‘s mythology despite not directly addressing any of the recent plot developments. Mrs. Clemens buys the Yale Hotel with the intention of turning it into a more pop-oriented venue (hence the booking of Molly Phillips), but her real intent is to bury the club’s ugly past, particularly with regards to her father and the crime he committed against Addison Foster. It’s not unlike Molly’s surrendering to writing commercial jingles in the wake of Rick’s death, not to mention her attempts to hide the truth of Rick’s investigations into the paranormal from Fiona. And the love of the blues isn’t just because of Bo Diddley. His character makes note of how the Phillips family has “a sweet, sweet case of the blues,” and the blues song at the heart of the episode is integral to the plot, as its lyrics, which form a sort of mini-mystery early on, subtly point to the truth and the pain of Addison Foster. (They might also point towards some kind of deal with the devil, which is curious because when Supernatural introduces the key mythological thread involving crossroad demons, the bureaucratic demons that make literal the phrase “deal with the devil,” it does so in an episode titled “Crossroad Blues”—yes, another episode with a blues singer at the heart of it.)
Bo Diddley has been dead for nearly five years, but his legacy as “The Originator” and as a legendary blues artist will live on in music history, and this episode of So Weird is testament to that. It also speaks to a larger universal truth about music in a very Buffy sort of way. Addison Foster may have been channeling the tour bus in order to make his presence felt, but it’s a safe wager that anyone with even the slightest musical inclination has felt that light push inside them, that forceful desire to just kick up your feet and play some music to help get through the day. And that’s an even greater legacy for “The Originator” to leave: that music is music, no matter what name you call it by, and it’s a mighty powerful healer.
The scene at the record shop ends unusually for a television show. The information Fi needs has already been given, and Fi is buying Natty Bookman’s album. “Because you’re such good friends of Ned’s,” he says, “I’ll give it to you!” “Thanks,” Fi says excitedly. “For twenty bucks.” And then an exchange that comes almost from a different show, or at least one that might fit in on the outtakes of this one, but one that’s certainly in the spirit of the blues, in an unexpectedly comedic way:
Frank: You want a bag?
Frank: Ain’t got one.
Cameron White is a freelance writer currently residing in Arkansas. He writes about television over on his blog, Wayward Television, and tweets about how Miranda is probably going to reject him in Mass Effect 2. 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’S IN TECH!