By Cameron White
Season 3, Episode 2: “Talking Board”
Original airdate: September 7, 2000
Who is Annie Thelan? Having to throw out Fiona’s character arc when Cara DeLizia left the show, the So Weird executive producers (which now count among them Bruce Zimmerman) had to find a way to establish the new girl, Annie, and to show how her stories will be different from Fi’s stories without disrupting the natural procedural flow of the show. So the question is really, “Can Annie fit into this show and still be someone worth discovering over the course of a season?” The show finds a way to distinguish Annie by re-appropriating the plot of a Fiona episode.
“Talking Board” is about seeing the future, which puts it squarely in the me category as Fiona’s second episode, “Web Sight.” The differences lie in the details of the execution. “Family Reunion,” the first episode of the show, opens with Fiona typing away at her computer shortly before Jack mocks her for her investigations on the paranormal. The scene is symbolic of everything Fiona was: technologically savvy and a full-time believer in things she’d never actually seen before, which was frequently contrasted by Jack’s firm realism and a belief in what he could actually see. Annie, by contrast, is a world traveler. She’s lived in countries that won’t have broadband internet access for a long time, and she’s been surrounded by a host of other cultures from a young age. So while “Web Sight” hinted at Fi’s dad while guiding her along the road of the future via the information superhighway, “Talking Board” uses a more spiritual symbol—the titular talking board, frequently also called an Oujia board—to represent Annie’s inner journey, which is undoubtedly spiritual in nature.
Yet Annie also shares something that was core to Fi’s character as well, something that allows Annie to fill Fi’s role on the show without necessarily appropriating her story arc. Fi’s family were understandably concerned about Fi’s ability to cope with her father’s death, concerns that partially motivated Molly in particular to keep the connection between Fi and Rick (that they both loved investigating the supernatural) a secret. Concerns about Annie focus more on whether she can handle the rigors of road travel, though some of those concerns from Molly and Jack seem to be those characters projecting their residual fears about Fi onto Annie. “I’m gonna miss Fi, but I gotta say, you’re picking right back up where she left off,” Jack tells Annie at one point. It’s a line that sounds in one sense like a concession to the audience that Annie is not like Fi, but in its delivery, Patrick Levis continues to develop Jack, carrying him from the specific older brother to Fi to a more general comforting voice and companion to Annie. The fact that, like Jack, Annie can only believe in what she sees makes them more compatible; the fact that Annie is more open to spiritual phenomenon, however, keeps the rift between the two alive, which maintains the character dynamic without short-changing the character of Annie.
Speaking of things Annie can see, the biggest takeaway from “Talking Board” is its insistence that another spirit is around Annie, “protecting her,” as she describes to Molly. Throughout the episode, the talking board insists again and again that there’s one more person in the room. Annie’s touching the glass eye mechanism sparks the future-telling that drives the episode to its climax (collapsing bleachers a a pep rally). And in the final moments, the show gives the first glimpse of Annie’s spirit guardian: the panther. The panther allows the audience to understand Annie’s inner turmoil by giving it physical form. The scene where Annie first sees it is also symbolic in the way Fi at her computer surrounded by alien paraphernalia.
Annie wants to be a famous singer. Fiona just wanted to put her family back together again. Superficially, these two paths seem different. Fundamentally, though, both characters are searching for inner peace through an outward experience. It’s in this comparison that So Weird stabilizes almost immediately after upending its status quo in order to send off Fiona for good. Whether or not the new direction is worth traveling, especially with the show’s larger cosmic shift still on the horizon, is another question entirely, and one that a Oujia board, even one powered by a spirit panther, cannot answer so quickly.
Cameron White is a freelance writer currently residing in Arkansas. He writes about television over on his blog, Wayward Television, and tweets with the voice of an angel. 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 Spartacus and Jay Gatsby all rolled up into one.