By Cameron White
Season 3, Episode 7: “Rewind”
Original airdate: Oct. 12, 2000
Since the spirit panther’s first appearance in “Talking Board” he’s been largely absent from the proceedings of So Weird‘s third season. The musical theme that typically accompanies him reminds the audience of Annie’s hazy memory of Peru that first cropped up in her introduction in “Lightning Rod,” but visually he’s been absent, as has any hint of what he may represent to Annie. In some ways, that’s a good thing. So Weird needed to figure out what kind of character Annie was going to be, and that required time to let Alexz Johnson live in the character’s skin for a while without any pressure. But because Annie’s journey is a spiritual, internal journey, it needs something tangible to mark the steps of that journey. The more episodes that fall in between the panther’s appearances, the harder it is to follow along with Annie as she travels. “Rewind” is largely a demonstrative episode, in that it is designed primarily to show exactly why it’s important that Annie has this majestic creature watching over her. It’s also a follow-up to “Detention” in that Annie continues to pursue her musical muses, wherever they may lead her. In this case, the plot of the episode kicks off when Annie first steps into the episode’s primary setting (Generate Studios in Chicago, likely an amalgam of the historical recording studios located in that city) and is struck with the words for a song she’d been writing for a while. Fortunately, the studio, run by an overbearing mother (Sarah, played by television veteran Barbara Tyson), has some free studio time, so Annie, Molly, and Carey set out to have Annie’s song recorded.
While this plot continues the lower stakes of season three, it’s also unusual in its execution of the Paranormal Event of the Week. For one, it’s Carey, not Annie, who stumbles upon the unusual, watching as a talented guitarist strums out a sweet riff, then loses all of his guitar-playing ability during what appears to be some sort of weird electrical malfunction in the studio. The episode later bookends this by showing the guitarist back at work after everyone’s talents are returned. Meanwhile, Annie spends most of the episode with Sarah’s daughter Jennifer (another TV vagabond, Britt Irvin) who shows a lack of interest in talking about or playing music despite protestations that she loves music and a deft showcase of her talents on piano and synthesizer. The show doesn’t necessarily hide the whole Ursula vibe that Sarah gives off, but instead couches it in terms of Sarah and Jennifer’s relationship. Jennifer is aware of how her mother steals talent and gifts it to her via super-charged hugs, and she hates it, partly because she believes it to be stealing, partly because it means her mom doesn’t value her beyond her love of music. Molly’s supportive relationship with Annie is therefore played as a contrast, furthering Annie’s status as Molly’s adopted daughter and reinforcing Molly’s exquisite parenting (which is probably made easier by the fact that she and Annie do not share half as much history as Molly and Fi do).
The downside to all this is that Annie has a safety net that Fi never had. Fi knowingly delved into the supernatural knowing that she might bring danger to herself and her friends and family because she needed to fill a father-shaped void. This made her an active participant in her own story, and as “Twin” established, her investigations began to draw the ire of the spirit world, deepening her power as a character. Annie has hazy memories and a weird panther following her, but is otherwise settled as a character. While the desire to discern reality from dream is a cogent one, it’s also not necessarily one that requires action on her part, particularly when the spirit panther shows up at times of great weakness to guide her. (People are often at their weakest in sleep, hence the panther’s appearances in Annie’s “dreams”; in “Rewind” he shows up as Annie’s voice is stolen from her.) She’s an active listener, but the act of listening is still an internal, passive action. Nonetheless, the demonstration of the panther’s symbolic protection keeps the episode together at the climax. As Annie turns back to the mic and proceeds to sing as if her voice hadn’t just been magically stolen, the show makes clear how the panther operates in the present without necessarily hinting at why he’s there in the first place. It’s an effective demonstration as well as a good hint of what’s to come; at this early stage in Annie’s story, that’s the best the show can do.
“Rewind” is probably best remembered for its meta-text. This was Alexz Johnson’s first major gig on television, and it opened up a whole world of acting and musicality to her, a world in which she now lives comfortably as a largely independent singer-songwriter. Here, she’s learning the ropes of record production through the eyes of Annie, and it’s hard not to think that in a few short years she’ll be doing the same thing and looking like a music industry veteran in the Canadian TV show Instant Star. But the episode is also a solid entry in So Weird‘s odd duckling of a third season. Annie’s translation of the bizarre backwards recording captured in her voice on tape is “I have a friend,” but that’s a bit of a leap given how little we know of the spirit panther, and of the mysterious incident that occurred in Peru to a tender three-year-old Annie Thelan. But that’s another song for another day.
Cameron White is a freelance writer currently residing in Arkansas. He writes about television over on his blog, Wayward Television, and tweets about [REDACTED], [REDACTED], and [DEFINITELY REDACTED]. 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 hath an excellent stomach.