Episode 7 and 8: “Angel” and “Strangeling”
Original airdate: Feb. 22 and March 1, 1999
In television, “serialization” and “mythology” are frequently used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings.
“Serialization” consists of the term “serial” and the suffix “-ization.”
The former represents a type of storytelling akin to Charles Dickens or the original Doctor Who, while the latter denotes a transformation process.
It combines the action of making or converting something into something else with creating a noun form, as opposed to the verb “to serialize.”
In contrast, “mythology” conjures different images—such as Hercules, kitsune, or creation stories.
Mythology comprises a collection of stories that combine to shape a belief system, a way of life greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s essential to note the distinctions: serialization is confined to events and characters within the story’s world, while mythology suggests something larger than the story itself.
Mythology can take various forms, including serialized stories, leading to contradictions and logical paradoxes resolved by human irrationality.
Serialization, in contrast, adheres to a logical sequence of events and answers the question of how things happen, while mythology delves into why things happen.
While this might appear somewhat highbrow, it is a crucial starting point for this week’s episodes.
So Weird, arguably the darkest-toned Disney Channel original series up to that point, and perhaps in the channel’s entire history, achieved this tone by not only tying the monsters to adolescent struggles (a classic Buffy approach) but also by steadfastly embracing its core premise: a family in distress.
Consequently, the need arose to begin building a world, a mythology for Fiona to engage with every week.
The show has some creative freedom in this regard, as Fiona already draws from multiple mythological sources to explain the paranormal phenomena she encounters during her tour stops.
However, to define what So Weird truly represents, it must establish the “family” aspect of the “family in pain” directive.
In this week’s episodes, “Angel” and “Strangeling,” both serialization and mythology come together to contribute to the overarching story of So Weird: the healing process of the Phillips family.
“Angel” encounters some stumbling blocks regarding serialization, but it makes a strong recovery in the end.
Meanwhile, “Strangeling” stands out as one of the most pivotal episodes to date, serving as an early example of the show’s world-building efforts and the initiation of a show mythology.
The issues with “Angel’s” serialization become apparent towards the episode’s conclusion, even though they’re not immediately evident.
Fiona begins by discussing angels of both benevolent and malevolent nature (familiar territory for anyone acquainted with the Bible or Eric Kripke’s era of Supernatural), but the episode doesn’t definitively clarify whether the apparition causing the tour bus accident in Ohio is a good or bad angel.
While it does reveal the truth about farm girl Gabe Crawford, this revelation doesn’t necessarily determine whether the Angel was also watching over Gabe, awaiting the right moment to guide her to the afterlife.
The pivotal element of this episode revolves around the angel necklace Gabe wore in every scene.
She touches it whenever someone mentions the apparition.
However, in the end, as she undergoes a bone marrow transplant from Fi, she entrusts Fi with the necklace to give to Jack, who falls head over heels in love with Gabe at first sight.
Although the romance aspect is somewhat underdeveloped in the writing, the performances of Patrick Levis and Jane McGregor contribute to its believability.
Erik von Detten’s enthusiastic support for Jack and Gabe adds to the dynamic.
In hindsight, the necklace later becomes a Chekhov’s gun, signifying something beyond its connection to Fi’s opening narration about angels.
It also symbolizes Gabe’s love for Jack, highlighting the act of sacrifice for love, which holds long-term significance.
While Gabe’s necklace contributes to serialization, “Angel” also injects elements of mythology into the show.
Up to this point, Fi’s connection to her father through the paranormal has been subtly portrayed, demonstrating why Fi strongly believes in the supernatural.
When she discovers that the Angel is searching for her, she embarks on a journey depicted in the episode by the striking image of Fi and the Angel entering a doorway of light.
This journey aligns with the show’s theme song, using classic Enlightenment metaphors of darkness symbolizing ignorance and light representing knowledge.
It signifies that Fi is not merely a character who has constructed a personal mythology to connect with her absent father but also a character on a quest to uncover hidden truths about the world.
This complexity in characterization is challenging to convey in a purely serialized format, and this exploration of life and death, ignorance and knowledge, ultimately elevates “Angel” beyond a mediocre episode.
Meanwhile, in “Strangeling,” the show skillfully balances mythology and serialization with the formulaic approach that underpins most television series.
The titular creature, a distant cousin of the dragon, takes a back seat to Fi as she discusses the existence and nature of magic.
The episode deviates from the “Town of the Week” formula as the characters visit a family member, Fi’s Aunt Melinda, who is Molly’s sister.
Melinda’s involvement in a production of Macbeth advances the mythology, revealing Fi’s maternal lineage connected to witches, and it provides an appropriately eerie backdrop for the monster’s presence.
The theatrical setting also influences the storyline.
Fi’s cousins Miranda and Maggie, ardent followers of Fi’s website, dress her as a witch and playfully share stories about the authenticity of Melinda’s spellbook.
Simultaneously, Jack and Clu get into the act by portraying knights and learning stagecraft tricks.
Tensions rise following a staged fight between Fi and Jack.
Jack employs a trick to seemingly vanish through the stage amid a smoky haze, while Fi, playfully reading a spell from Melinda’s book, unknowingly uses a real spell.
It’s only after Fi becomes angry with Jack and belittles Maggie and Miranda for believing in magic that she realizes the gravity of her actions and sets out to rectify the situation.
The summoning and banishment of the strangeling fulfil a purpose akin to Buffy for Fi.
Jack has already called her out for pursuing the supernatural selfishly.
However, in this instance, Fi unintentionally takes action to have fun with her older brother.
Consequently, she must assume responsibility for her actions and return the creature to the book.
The show does not place artificial obstacles in her path but empowers her to find a solution.
Fi discovers that the book frightens the creature, which allows her to direct Jack, dressed as a knight with limited visibility in his helmet, to trick the creature back into the spellbook.
Director Pat Williams adeptly captures this empowerment by shooting Fi from below and Jack from above during their confrontation about the stagecraft trick, a visual representation of power dynamics.
The show solidifies its mythology by naming Fiona’s Celtic ancestors, the O’Shannons, linked to her grandmother Kathleen’s maiden name.
Yet, “Strangeling” also contains an element of serialization.
If Fi’s maternal family possesses supernatural abilities, why not explore potential supernatural connections on her paternal side?
Molly hints at a secret she has kept from Fi: her father’s involvement in paranormal investigations.
This revelation provides a new context for the show’s implicit exploration of Fi’s journalistic curiosity about unusual events.
What other secrets have the Phillips family hidden about their patriarch?
Unfortunately, a half-hour episode cannot address this question.
However, both “Angel” and “Strangeling” depict a more confident series that knows the type of story it wishes to convey, even if it’s uncertain about the storytelling approach.
“Strangeling” stands out as the stronger episode because, despite introducing new developments about the Phillips family, it remains an effectively atmospheric standalone story about a monster’s escape during a Macbeth rehearsal.
It demonstrates artistic expression thriving within the constraints of serialization and mythology.
Also Read: Review: So Weird, “Web Sight”