By Cameron White
Season 3, Episode 8: “Exit 13”
Original airdate: Oct. 19, 2000
If there’s a running theme throughout So Weird‘s doomed third season, it’s a more intense interest in the myths and cultures of the American continent. In particular, the beliefs of the natives that lived on the land prior to the discovery and invasion of the European kingdoms are pulled into rack focus; while the tribes of North America get more focus, it’s important to remember that the season is building to the reveal of the event in Peru, with a tribe living on the Amazon River, that Annie’s mom spoke of in “Lightning Rod,” an event only hinted at by the continued recurrence of the spirit panther in Annie’s half-waking life. A delicate balance must be struck here. Annie fumbling into a problem involving a spiritual belief of these tribes and helping to fix it smacks of “white savior syndrome”; on the other hand, Annie is far more passive than Fi, and she often takes her time thinking things through in an attempt not to offend, but to help right some rather unfortunate wrongs.
It helps that “Exit 13” features a guest character at least as abhorrent as an ill-advised approach to a discussion about the domination of Native American culture by Europeans: a grubby businessman. Played by Timothy Webber, Ziegler is ripped from the imaginary Rogue’s Gallery of Indiana Jones, a man who digs up Native American artifiacts and sells them for profit. The metaphors are plentiful and obvious, so the show thankfully lets the subtext alone, instead focusing on the episode’s structure. The bus pulls into the titular rest stop for a quick break, during which Annie meets Ziegler and is granted the object at the heart of the episode: a ceremonial stone Ziegler found in a little girl’s grave (creepy on so many levels). The bequeathing of the stone to Annie begins the Groundhog Day loop that is the central problem Annie must solve in order to get the bus back on track again. Thus, the episode is a mish-mash of the kind of stories genre television tend to lean on for episode ideas. Time loops are a favored structure of science fiction, though it shows up occasionally in supernatural fiction (both Buffy and Angel make use of it to decidedly different ends) while objects that cause bad luck are great for comic relief. Supernatural actually uses the latter structure for just such an occasion in “Bad Day at Black Rock” (written by the extremely talented Ben Edlund) while employing the former in a more dramatic way in “Mystery Spot.” So Weird keeps things fairly simple—a fizzy soda can explosion on Jack, a ripped garbage bag for Molly—but it smartly uses the loop as a way to increase the stakes through Carey’s foot getting stuck in an old storm drain just as the bus’s parking brake gets loose and nearly crushes him. The bus gets closer every time until Annie finally solves the mystery and breaks the curse.
How exactly Annie solves that mystery is really the letdown here. Much of what she learns comes from very colorful conversations with Ziegler, who is eager to get out of Exit 13 at every one of Annie’s revisits. Then the show grants her a freebie through a conversation with Fi, in which Fi finally assures Annie that she wasn’t crazy and the girl depicted on the stone is holding someone else’s hand on the piece of stone that is missing. During her raid of Ziegler’s trailer, she thrusts her half of the stone away in frustration… at which point the stone rolls right over to its missing piece, which Ziegler had been using to hold up a table leg. On the one hand, Annie’s “active listening” (an apparently underrated superpower that the show, to its credit, never overplays) gives her empathy for the twin girls’ situation. On the other hand, could the episode have rigged the situation against her any more than it did? Annie would never have found the other half of the stone if she hadn’t gotten frustrated at trying to find it, and she wouldn’t have gotten frustrated if the clues that led to the other half of the stone had actually led her to the other half of the stone!
There’s also the bigger representational issue regarding the specific nature of the ceremonial stone. Annie’s voice-over at the top of the episode plays So Weird‘s third season’s favorite trump card by generalizing all Native Americans as “very spiritual people.” Later, when Annie finds out that Ziegler dug up the stone, she chastises him by saying, “Don’t you know that Native American burial grounds are sacred?” Considering that the very act of burying the dead is how humans finally distinguished themselves from the rest of the organisms on Earth, this protestation seems weirdly specific. Of course, if the ground were sacred in the Catholic sense, as is often the case in Supernatural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it’s perfectly fine, because clearly the goal is to fend off “demons.”
This bizarre double standard is just one of many examples of how So Weird‘s third season features a lot of good theoretical ideas, but falls apart in the execution. Theoretically, Annie as a world traveler with an interest in the natives of the American continent is a nice switch from Fi’s ancestry and provides an opportunity to talk about the sad state of Native American representations in pop culture. Practically, however, the myths and beliefs of the cultures invoked in season three are designed mainly to further the show’s plots at the expense of acutally being empathetic to the plights of the oppressed. (“Voodoo” is testament to this; the minimalization of Voodoo as a religion is directly correlated to white oppression of black slaves in Louisiana as a reaction to the overwhelming population of African slaves relative to the population of white landowners.) Ziegler was rightly punished for his actions by having him dropped back off at Exit 13, but he was still the only other character in the episode aside from the main cast. As he points out to Annie, the Iroquois twins depicted on the ceremonial burial stone are dead, which means that however much “Exit 13” wants to be about the lost ceremonies and rituals of the tribes in the Iroquois League, it’s really about a white man’s reversal of fortunes. Therein lies the unfortunate race-relations rub.
Cameron White is a freelance writer currently residing in Arkansas. He writes about television over on his blog, Wayward Television, and tweets about very little these days. 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 is a Sara Bareilles fanboy and you can’t convince him otherwise!