By Cameron White
Season 3, Episodes 19 and 20: “Meow” and “Widow’s Walk”
Original airdate: May 11th and June 8th, 2001
That Annie has any kind of character arc that can be traced is remarkable. The third season of So Weird is pulled in several different directions: the demand by the network to be lighter in tone; the scramble to give Molly and Jack new character arcs after their primary motivator (Fiona) departs; and a desire to broaden the horizons of the show through world-building. Annie could have been a sacrificial lamb to all of this madness. Instead, though progress has been slow and inconsistent, Annie as a character has turned out to be the greatest asset of the year. The contrasts to Fi (who was always a bit of an introvert and on her own desperate quest) and the relatively unusual dynamic created by the circumstances to which she is brought into the show both allowed her to give the show a boost as it tries out a few new outfits for itself. “Widow’s Walk” and “Meow” are two episodes that come home to Annie in big ways. The former returns to Annie’s outsider status in the dynamic of the Phillips tour bus, while the latter takes advantage of Annie’s world-traveler status to do an episode only So Weird could do.
“Widow’s Walk” in particular is very scenic, as it takes place at a vacation resort to which Molly has access for half-price (sometimes, it pays to be an aging rock star). The image of the titular architectural design and of the elderly Ms. Hasby (played by Sheila Paterson) is unforgettable. The episode successfully wraps together parallel ideas about age through Annie, who is reminded early and often that she’s still too young to go with Molly, Jack, and Carey to a lot of activities. (She also has a curfew for staying home and doing homework, which was often, as Molly reminds Annie and the audience, an undercurrent of the domestic scenes during Fi’s time.) Conversely, Ms. Hasby has been pining for her husband for so long that she’s grown old; the subtext of her scenes early on indicate that she feels some regret or anger for letting her life slip away for a man who was, in all likelihood, dead. So it’s not surprising that when Annie brings her the message in the bottle that Jack and Carey find on the beach, she barely gets one sentence into the letter from her long-lost beloved before eagerly attempting to make herself look pretty. This meshes with Annie’s wish to be a little older so she could have the privileges of being older in a scene reminiscent of the Disney Channel Original Movie Wish Upon A Star. When the two women wake up, Annie is 70-plus years old and gasping for breath, while Virginia has returned to her beautiful younger self, played by the lovely Katharine Tobin.
Annie tries twice to convince Virginia to read the rest of the letter and switch back their ages, but, lost in the bliss of having regained her youth, Virginia doesn’t hear her the first time. Annie very nearly drops dead the second time she tries to go back to her house, but she’s saved by none other than her panther, who gives her a helping hand (physically, maybe, but undoubtedly spiritually). The panther saw in Annie the same thing that the audience gradually sees over the course of the season: she wants to take control of her life, to become more pro-active in tackling the strange and unusual things that inevitably seem to happen to her, and so she fights on despite her physical body going beyond the breaking point. Thus, while the panther may or may not be a “spirit panther” (the exact nature of the reveal in “Earth 101” is not completely clear at this point), he is definitely a symbol of Annie’s best qualities: her empathy, her compassion, and her iron-clad will. All three things allow her to finally get through to Virginia, who reads the letter and realizes that, while lover-boy definitely had the feels for her, he knew he was never going to see her again. Virginia Hasby is a complete stranger to the Phillips group, but she is painted sympathetically throughout, and both actresses that play her (Alexz Johnson got to age herself up a la Karen Gillan in the Doctor Who episode “The Girl Who Waited”) similarly tap into her devotion and her ritual-like qualities (the brushing of hair, the walk out to the widow’s walk to cry for lover-boy William) and allow her to breathe as a character.
Fiona Hogan provides a similar degree of sympathy to Jen, the guest character of “Meow,” which is helpful because Jen is ultimately the cause of the unusual happenings at the heart of the episode. But Jen, and her connection to Annie (she’s an old friend and Egyptologist that Annie met while on an archaeological dig with her parents) also provides a unique opportunity for So Weird. The show being set primarily in the United States (and filmed in Canada, like most great works of science fiction television in the past two decades), there aren’t many opportunities to to tell worldly stories without being filtered through an American viewpoint. By providing an Egyptologist friend of Annie’s, and setting the entire episode inside a museum dedicated solely to ancient Egypt, “Meow” allows the show to do the cheap equivalent of locking its characters inside an ancient pyramid.
The coolness factor of this cannot be overstated. The place is creepy and derelict—Jen’s museum loses the funding, so she’s selling off pieces to a disparate group of museums across the globe—but the artifacts themselves glow amidst the darkness, which gives the whole episode a distinct mood that aids in the slow escalation of the main conflict. That conflict is rooted in Jen’s unfortunate need to sell off her museum pieces, as the process randomly separates the sarcophagus of Merritt (a high priestess of Bast/Bastet, the cat goddess) from her guardian cat. The choice of ancient culture, particularly that culture’s cat goddess, is not a coincidence. As the mummified Merritt and her cat manifestation of Bast creep around the museum, the gang gets a crash crouse in Egyptology, and are naturally drawn to the main exhibit: the goddess Bast. Meanwhile, Annie gets separated from the group and chases Bast’s cat (“You know, the one with the big red jewel hanging from its collar?”) through the dark hallways, all while hearing a description of the purpose behind mummification: “Death is but a doorway to a new life.”
Everything in “Meow” builds up to the climax. Annie is cornered by Merritt, having finally caught her cat. Merritt lurches toward her all mummy-like, with Annie pleaing for her life, stating (honestly) that she was only trying to keep Bast and her cat together. Then… she wakes up on the floor, with the cat gone. No one can tell her what happened, but Bast’s cat has returned to Merritt’s sarcophagus, whose wooden crate showed signs of being opened (by the mummy, though no one but Annie will believe that). But Annie figures it out implicitly when she spots the panther outside the museum at the end of the episode. “Bast was one pretty determined cat… kinda like you,” she tells him, and while he can’t talk back (being a panther and all), it’s clear Annie wasn’t making conversation, but rather stating out loud what she believed to be true. The panther again saved Annie’s life, and so the parallels between the priestes Merritt and her cat, and between Annie and her panther, are cemented.
In both episodes this week, the panther returns to the fore, this time as an active element in the storytelling. In both episodes, Annie is at the top of her game, fighting for her youth in “Widow’s Walk” and for her very soul in “Meow.” The episodes aired out of production order (“Meow” should come before “Widow’s Walk”) but aside from the month-long hiatus between episodes, it doesn’t matter. The message is clear: the panther is rarely around, but he will also protect Annie. Questions still remain—why is he so willing to protect her, and what is the connection to the Amazon trip Annie took with her parents as a young girl—but they’re now coupled to an on-going character development arc that, while not as epic as Fiona’s, is no less important for the journey involved. As Jen tells Annie, “It’s all the same life, kiddo, and we fellow travelers are never far apart.”
Cameron White is a freelance writer currently residing in Arkansas. He writes about television over on his blog, Wayward Television, and tweets about tarantulas. 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 not all he appears to be, or perhaps not to be.