“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
Familial relationships and unexpected moments are at the forefront of this week’s TV Rewind through Northern Exposure. Maurice’s (Barry Corbin) brother dies, leaving him without an heir to his considerable holdings, so he tries to adopt Chris (John Corbett) to fill that void. Joel (Rob Morrow) is conscripted to teach a hygiene class in the town of Boswell as part of his contractual obligation to the state of Alaska, and the class unexpectedly turns out to be a prepared childbirth class. Maggie (Janine Turner) accompanies Joel and subsequently takes responsibility for teaching what she considers to be more woman-friendly and engaged course content. Ed (Darren E. Burrows) tells Holling (John Cullum) that Jesse the bear has returned, and Holling and Ed prepare for a trip to the woods to meet Jesse. Shelley (Cynthia Geary) decides to go with Holling and Ed to support Holling in his rivalry against Jesse (or, in Shelley’s words, “I go where my squeeze goes.”)
Expected connections are broken. Maurice expected to leave his legacy to his brother. As Maurice processes Malcolm’s death, he “adopts” Chris and sets his familial expectations on him. Maggie expects that her expressive method of teaching the childbirth class is better preparation than what Joel, a a male practitioner of western medicine, can offer. Holling knows the routines and habits of Jesse the bear, can predict his behaviour, and expects that familiarity will give him the advantage in a showdown.
Each of the characters that seems most prepared is not the character that succeeds in the pivotal moment of his or her story. Maurice has a fortune that he planned to leave to his brother, Malcolm, but Malcolm dies. He then tries to mould Chris in his image but loses him when Chris makes plain to Maurice that he is most certainly a Stevens (“The only thing we don’t quit is drinking”), not a Minnifield. Maggie researches and prepares material for the childbirth class while Joel relaxes in cynicism in the background. When one of the class attendees goes into labor unexpectedly, Maggie is flustered, but Joel steps into action. Holling is packed and prepared to track Jesse the bear, but he ultimately would prefer to canoodle with Shelley than settle an old hunting score with a wild animal. It is Ed, Holling’s earnest and infinitely patient tracking companion, that happens upon Jesse and gets the eponymous Kodiak moment.
“A Kodiak Moment” is about subverted expectations and impermanent chances. Maurice’s brother dies; a baby is born. Holling misses his opportunity to encounter Jesse the bear; Ed finds the bear while making a pit stop on the side of the road home. Maggie, for all of her earnest teaching and empathy for motherhood, is ill prepared when a mother goes into labor; Joel delivers the baby (“I understand you earned your keep today,” Maurice tells him) and forms a halting friendship with Maggie on the flight home. Maurice decides to defy limitations by living forever; as he drives away from Joel’s house, snow falls, signalling the change of season that Chris predicted at the beginning of the episode.
“A Kodiak Moment” is a slice-of-Cicelian-life episode of Northern Exposure rather than a big-themed, big celebration, or exploration-of-phenomena story. At this point in the first season, with one episode left, viewers have become familiar with Joel and his plight in Alaska, started to know the histories and relationships among the other characters in the town, had a glimpse into the dreamlike, surreal proclivities of the show, and seen the true character of the town of Cicely, Alaska. That balance among episodes, from the grand and psychologically fascinating to the smaller, every day (at least every day by the standards of Cicely), sets the stage in Season for character moments interwoven with big events in the seasons yet to come. Before a new season commences, however, “Aurora Borealis” ends Season 1 in fine fairy tale fashion next week.