By Cameron White
Season 3, Episode 18: “The Great Incanto”
Original airdate: May 4, 2001
As “Siren” and “The Muse” have proved, Greek mythology is a prime source for So Weird storytelling. Although Fi’s character called for more specific influences (Scottish and Irish history and folklore, predominantly) and Annie’s character calls for a broader scope of legends and myths from around the world, Western storytelling is forever influenced by the ancient Greeks, due in part to the Renaissance artists’ obsessive interests in reviving their works. Greek tragedy, too, informs much of what creative writing classes in the United States teach as plot structure (specifically citing Aristotle, whose six key elements of drama provide the foundation for the structures of novels, plays, films, comic books, and so on). Had season three of So Weird been a Fi season, it likely would have resembled Orpheus’s descent into Hades to retrieve his wife, or possibly early Renaissance writer Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, describing his poetic descent into Hell and subsequent journey up to Heaven. Such is the power the Greeks wield over the art and science of storytelling.
For “The Great Incanto,” credited screenwriter Jeff Vlaming borrows from a personal favorite amongst American authors: the story of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods (specifically Zeus) and gave it to humans. Reading beyond the mythological conflict between the gods and the Titans (Prometheus was one of the latter), the act of teaching humankind how to make fire is symbolic of technological progress, which is one of the driving forces of human civilization. “The Great Incanto” doesn’t necessarily get to enact change on a macro scale in that sense, but it does borrow the basic structure of Prometheus’s greatest act and replaced fire with something a little cooler: magic.
Annoyingly, the episode once again sidelines any character development in favor of guest stars. This is undoubtedly one of the least attractive trends of So Weird‘s third season, though it seems to come from a good place. As shows start to get comfortable with the day-to-day production and the writers get better at sliding into the characters’ skins, shows have a natural urge to want to expand their storytelling horizons beyond what has already been done before. In the case of So Weird season three, the writing staff want to go beyond the scope of the Phillips tour bus and establish new and fascinating elements in the world of the show itself to play with at a later date. The problem is not with the idea, it’s with the inconsistency of balance. The characters still need arcs, even if those arcs are small in comparison to the main character (Annie, in this case). And the myth-arc episodes ultimately have to amount to more than simply “LOOK! THERE’S A PANTHER OVER THERE! COOL!”
So for this episode, Jack inexplicably develops an interest in magic tricks, which works out great when the gang pick up an opening act calling himself “The Great Incanto” after a gig, offering to drive him to the next town as his own ride has abandoned him. It eventually transpires that this is not actually The Great Incanto, but his assistant, Inky. Inky, played by Kaj-Erik Eriksen (who has held roles on shows such as Boston Public and The 4400), is nervous and jumpy, especially when it comes to his mentor’s bag, but is otherwise affable and even offers to teach Jack some magic tricks, though he maintains that the only thing a magician needs is to believe in himself.
That line isn’t exactly subtle, but it does make a good case for how drawing parallels to the Prometheus myth was a good choice. The episode’s climactic conflict between Inky and The Great Incanto (played by Alan C. Peterson, who for various reasons has been credited as every possible iteration of his name throughout his lengthy acting career) plays out in scenery more befitting a Western than a sci-fi/fantasy series, yet it helps further establish Inky as a heroic figure, someone who wants to use his amazing magical abilities to help people but is ultimately hamstrung by his mentor, who dresses in black and cackles maniacally, as all good comic book villains do. The color scheme for the two characters is similarly unsubtle (Inky dresses primarily in whites and has white hair, while Incanto has a black fedora and black coat to match) but it drives home the good-vs.-evil theme at the heart of the episode.
And yet, the fact that Inky is an apprentice who wants to do good, and who overthrows his elder mentor to do so, further establishes So Weird‘s credibility as a young adult series. From the works of L. J. Smith (author of The Vampire Diaries series) to J. K. Rowling (whose Harry Potter series and standalone novel The Casual Vacancy are both rife with intergenerational conflict) to Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy, a primary theme of young adult stories is the unfair (and sometimes untold) burdens previous generations place upon their offspring. So Weird had previously tapped into that well with Fi and Molly (particularly during the tense falling-out and eventual reconciliation in “Strange Geometry” and “Fall” respectively), but since Fi left, the show has struggled to tap that vein again. Annie, after all, has lived a privileged life of world travel and loving parents, privileges denied Fi by the forces of the spirit world who claimed her father’s life before she could ever know him. The show was ready to examine Annie’s circumstances more closely as early as “Earth 101,” when it was officially confirmed that the panther is not a figment of her imagination or a trick of the light, but perhaps it was thought that some thematic priming was necessary before picking up the narrative pieces again.
Whatever the case, “The Great Incanto” certainly functions as a thematic primer. As Inky calmly reclaims Incanto’s bag, now with a fresh coat of white paint and a new name adorning the side, So Weird revels in the triumph of youth over experience. But the panther returns in a big way in “Meow” and “Widow’s Walk,” and with him comes a closer look at the consequences of Annie’s life. In other words, while humanity celebrates Prometheus as the greatest cat burglar in human history, they forget the gruesome and unforgiving manner in which Zeus punished him for his open defiance of the gods. It’s something else that young adult series are particularly good at talking about: the brutal nature of cause-and-effect.
Cameron White is a freelance writer currently residing in Arkansas. He writes about television over on his blog, Wayward Television, and tweets about the cataclysmic events of September 22nd, 2004. 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 doth weareth his mother’s drapes?