Season 2, Episode 11: “Banshee”
Original airdate: Nov. 12, 1999
It was likely during the impressive second season of So Weird that Disney Channel came to the realization that the show would never truly blend in with the rest of its lineup. The characters in their other shows, such as Even Stevens, Lizzie McGuire, The Famous Jett Jackson, and even Kim Possible, all featured a stable nuclear family as a central theme.
In stark contrast, So Weird consistently delved into the vulnerabilities in the characters’ family dynamics and found ways to exploit them.
As a result, in “Banshee,” another pivotal installment in the So Weird series, the focus remains on the uncharted emotional territories within a family.
The show effectively juggles two main conflicts: the one between Fi and the banshee and the one between Molly and her father.
It accomplishes this by drawing from its own mythology, incorporating the Irish legend of the banshee to unveil a hidden truth about the demise of Rick Phillips and the subsequent rift it caused.
The episode is characterized by the stark contrast in how Grandpa O’Shannon welcomes the teenagers, especially Fi, versus his cold demeanor toward Molly. When Molly greets him with a simple “Hi, Da,” he barely acknowledges it.
His response to her gift, a plate engraved with the Irish word for “welcome,” is equally lacking in sentiment. He comments that it’s “very nice” before turning his attention to Jack, who is ready to engage in a game of chess.
In these brief interactions with Mackenzie Phillips and Terence Kelly, the show skillfully portrays the strained relationship between father and daughter. This contrast couldn’t be more evident when compared to Fi’s efforts to connect with her deceased father through her paranormal explorations.
While Molly can offer gifts and grandchildren, Fiona brings knowledge that transcends human understanding.
However, even this profound knowledge doesn’t exempt them from the inevitability of death. Throughout the episode, ominous signs hint at Grandpa’s impending demise. There’s the banshee, which Fi witnesses one night as it hovers over him, emitting its characteristic wail.
Additionally, there’s the cairn the family encounters while on a walk. The term “cairn” has its origins in Scottish Gaelic and typically refers to a man-made pile of stones used for various cultural purposes, including honoring the fallen after a battle (a belief rooted in Highland folklore) and serving as grave markers in Celtic tradition.
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When Fiona returns to the chessboard, she notices the white king positioned horizontally, the universal sign of checkmate. Although Grandma may wish they were simply “two old ladies worrying about that cranky old man upstairs,” the show employs these visual cues to foreshadow an inevitable outcome.
As Fi departs to seek out the banshee, interrupting Jack as he’s in the middle of sending another email to Gabe, Molly seizes the moment to share some good news with Grandpa. She informs him about the record deal, saying, “Now that it’s finally here… I’m scared, Da.”
Grandpa reassures her that she’ll make it through, but Molly’s frustration erupts as she insists that he has never once expressed pride in her achievements. She confronts him, saying that she’s never felt wanted by him for anything.
It appears that they’ve reached an impasse, and the show seems poised to move forward with his impending death, even as Fi and Jack venture into the woods once again.
The conversation between the brother and sister couldn’t be more contrasting in tone. While Jack continues to assert his skeptical nature, reminiscent of Scully, he’s still willing to follow Fi into the woods if he believes their family might be in danger.
The show then launches into one of its most compelling and pivotal sequences. Jack leaves Fi at the cairn to investigate the banshee’s mournful wailing. The banshee herself appears before Fi and claims to know her identity.
Fi, however, confronts the banshee, asserting that if she is aware of the O’Shannons’ true nature (recalling that their bloodline is comprised of witches), she (not Fiona, as Fi clarifies that Fiona was her great-grandmother) wants an opportunity to negotiate for her grandfather’s life.
Meanwhile, Molly and Grandpa engage in a second argument, this time focusing on the distant way he treated Molly during her childhood. Grandpa argues that his tough love was necessary because Molly was strong, and he needed to be even stronger to protect her.
Molly extends the olive branch first, and then he notices the song she composed for him: “The Rock,” which she was last seen working on in the episode “Werewolf.” He persuades her to play the song, and it serves as the musical backdrop to Fi’s unfolding sequence.
Molly assumes a role akin to that of the banshee, albeit with a different purpose. Instead of predicting death, her song revolves around Ireland, her father, and her gratitude for having developed a resilient sense of self.
This identity was forged by a man as unyielding and frigid as the place he hailed from. While this unfolds, Fi explores the ancestral halls, guided by the banshee to the spirits that watch over the O’Shannons.
The central theme of both the scene and the song is balance. The spirits emphasize the importance of balancing life and death, suggesting that Grandpa’s passing is a natural part of the larger circle of life.
Fi rightfully responds with an impassioned retort: If the world is indeed balanced between life and death, why did Rick have to die so abruptly? Why did the spirits come for him before Fi ever had the chance to get to know him?
“It was not we who took him,” they reply.
The revelation appears to impact the spirits as abruptly as it does Fi, who is just starting to grasp the greater forces at play in Rick’s death. Visually, the show establishes a connection between Fi and Molly through the rings they wear.
Grandma reveals that these rings originally belonged to Fi’s great-grandmother (yes, Fiona, the one Fi is named after) before she gifted them to Rick and Molly. Fi now proudly wears her father’s ring, and the show employs these rings to link the paranormal events affecting the Phillips family with the emotional realizations unfolding.
Fi is now one step closer to uncovering the truth behind her father’s accident, and Molly finally extends an olive branch to her own father through a song that conveys more heartfelt sentiment than any apology or expression of gratitude could ever achieve.
At that moment, the banshee chooses to spare Grandpa’s life, not necessarily out of emotion, but as an acknowledgment of the inherent imbalance within the Phillips family.
Grandpa O’Shannon listens to “The Rock” and shares, “It’s funny… you could capture… what’s in my heart… when I’ve so rarely shown it to you. I’m very proud of you, Molly.”
As Molly receives these words of pride, Fi returns from her second visit to the afterlife, chilled to the bone and comforted in Jack’s arms. The journey continues in the mortal realm, even as the glow of the spirits’ enlightenment to Fi starts to fade.
This episode delves into dark and thought-provoking material, distinct from the bittersweet joy found in an episode like the Even Stevens Hanukkah special.
Unquestionably, “Banshee” deserves a place on the list of episodes that signaled to Disney Channel that So Weird did not neatly align with the network’s evolving programming paradigm. It’s an episode that fearlessly challenges its audience to contemplate the nature of death and its significance in our world.
In a similar vein, So Weird was becoming increasingly comfortable with exploring the darker facets of its characters for dramatic depth, a path rarely taken by Disney Channel series, both before and since.
Yet, it’s precisely this uneasy relationship between the show and the network that elevated So Weird to one of Disney Channel’s most exceptional works, even as the new programming paradigm took hold in the third season. “Banshee” has withstood the test of time to remind today’s audiences of that unique quality.