Season 2, Episode 23: “Shelter”
Original airdate: June 3, 2000
The opening sequences in So Weird often comprise self-contained short stories.
At times, they play a role within the show itself, such as when the Phillips family watches old home movies or, as seen in “Roswell,” they convey the initial part of the story while omitting crucial details that later influence the episode’s interpretation.
However, most of the time, they serve a procedural purpose by setting the tone and thematic content of the episode, often drawing from Fi’s research as a foundation for the episode’s peculiarities.
It represents a pure form of storytelling, as exemplified in this episode.
In this classic setup, Fi begins by discussing common perceptions of mad scientists in pop culture, like Dr. Frankenstein or Dr. Jekyll. She then transitions to a real-life mad scientist, selecting none other than Nikola Tesla.
Aside from being an outstanding scientist whose work was often overshadowed or outright appropriated by Thomas Edison, Tesla is known for his claims of possessing a death ray and the ability to split the Earth in half like an apple.
Who could have imagined?
Fi uses mad scientists as her example this time around because the episode’s antagonist is a scientist who transforms humans into dogs and vice versa.
However, the motives behind why this mad scientist wishes to turn the citizens of Hope Springs (yes, the Phillips family is back home again) into canines are explored.
There’s a passing reference to the notion of creating more obedient individuals by switching the roles of master and pet, an idea supported by Tim and his dog, Agamemnon.
Yet, in the climax, Fi herself is turned into a dog, and she openly admits that she never really enjoyed being a human anyway.
(Interestingly, the idea of transforming an entire town of people into more compliant, subservient types will resurface in season three’s video game-themed episode, “Banglebye.”)
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The episode’s most intriguing segment falls in the middle, where Fi undergoes the transformation into a dog at the hands of the mad scientist turned veterinarian.
Without a doubt, this is one of the most humorous episodes of So Weird thus far.
Fi exhibits her most talkative and sarcastic side, delivering lines like, “I was a customer! I HAD A COUPON!” and responding to the vet’s query about whether she wants to become human again with, “No, I want to be a dog forever! Grrr!” .
The episode’s central conflict—where the dog’s consciousness gradually supplants the human mind within twenty-four hours, essentially domesticating humans as dogs—is handled with a balance of humor and poignancy.
In one scene, Fi attempts to concentrate on finding the antidote but finds herself distracted by cookies and mailmen.
In another, Fi observes the transformation of Tim’s dog mind, expressing, “Like treats. Hungry. …Scared.”
This latter part delves into the idea that dogs possess basic instincts, including emotions like fear (possibly intertwined with their fight-or-flight response).
Although they lack the higher cognitive functions of humans, it doesn’t diminish their worthiness of love and care.
However, the episode quickly shifts back to humor, revealing an inconsistency in its thematic approach, a trend that is somewhat present in the opening narration (comparing Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Tesla, ethically speaking, as not being in the same ethical ballpark).
Ultimately, it’s the humor that takes center stage.
The subsequent episode, “Encore,” serves as the culmination of the ongoing season two plot for Fi and Molly. This makes it a complex and moodier episode, not quite suitable for the faint of heart or the casual viewer.
So, similar to what “Supernatural” would do later on, So Weird takes a comedic breather, even though this lighthearted episode still harbors intriguing ideas that aren’t fully explored.
While it’s not the weakest standalone episode (certainly a far cry from “Web Sight”), it lacks a few elements to turn the gears completely.
It’s almost as if the writers were focused on finding an antidote to the usual level of anguish in So Weird but became sidetracked by the notion of talking dogs.
By all appearances, attempting to pick a lock with a hair beret using dog lips does not seem feasible.
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