Northern Exposure: Season 3 Review
Both the first and second seasons of Northern Exposure were criticised for being short - the first season was eight episodes whilst the second was only seven. Upon their release on DVD and given Universal's pricing policy, the high price of these double-disc sets was met with some surprise. With this season, there should be no such worries with all twenty-three episodes presented across three double-sided discs with no obvious loss of picture quality.
The Bumpy Road to Love (46m06s): When Chris unveils a statue in honour of Rick, Maggie finds that he was not as faithful a partner as she thought. As she gets to know Rick's other half, Maurice gets closer to Officer Semanski, finding that they bond over a Twin Browning 9mm but their relationship takes an early stumble when she finds that Maurice has a particular predilection - tax avoidance. Meanwhile, Fleischman, having been embarrassed by Adam after claiming to have met Cicely's own bigfoot, is kidnapped by the reclusive chef and taken to his shack in the woods in order to treat his partner, Eve, who is, to Fleischman's displeasure, a hypochondriac. Much as he would like to get back to Cicely, which is not quite civilisation, he can't as, when he tries to leave, Eve knocks him unconscious and puts handcuffs and leg irons on him.
Only You (45m50s): On a visit out of Cicely to an optician, Maggie is diagnosed as being a little farsighted, which is explained as being part of ageing. But at only 29, Maggie isn't sure that not yet being thirty constitutes ageing. Back in Cicely, when an act as straightforward as walking down a street talking to Fleischman becomes an opportunity for dozens of women to flirt with him, Chris leaves Joel speechless. As Fleischman tries to explain women's attraction to Chris, he finds the DJ troubled by his failure to seduce the one woman that he really wants to - Maggie's optician. Finally, if it wasn't bad enough that Maggie is upset, so too is Maurice, who's convinced that Holling has taken a deliberately unflattering photograph of him.
Oy, Wilderness (45m16s): On the flight back from a trip to carry out some vaccinations, Maggie and Joel have to make an emergency landing in the wilderness, where they're forced to spend the night. Much as Maggie considers a night sleeping in a tent in the woods as unpleasant, spending it with Fleischman makes it impossibly difficult, particularly as he worries about imminent attacks by bears and wolverines. Meanwhile, an old friend of Shelly's, Cindy, arrives in Cicely to ask her, once again, to divorce Wayne. But, like she did when Wayne asked her in Season One, she refuses and worries that she's stuck in Cicely and getting fat.
Animals 'R' Us (45m57s): Ed is still making his film about Cicely and with the arrival of an editing kit, he's planning on getting it finished. Not before Ruth-Anne and he have a talk about movies with the shop-owner telling Ed that Spike Lee is one to watch out for even if he is a little preachy at times. But when Ed watches his film, he's not convinced that it has what he wants and gives up on it and it will take a trip to the cinema with Woody Allen's mother to put him right. Rick comes back to haunt Maggie when a stray dog arrives at her house becomes convinced that her dead ex-boyfriend has ben reincarnated as the animal. Animals are also on Maurice's mind when he sees the size of the eggs produced by Marilyn's ostriches and he tries to convince her to go into business with him to farm the birds. Marilyn is not, however, by Maurice's scheming.
Jules et Joel (44m19s): It's Halloween and, unsurprisingly, Joel is not getting partaking in the trick or treat celebrations. As he settles down to a TV dinner on his own, he bangs his head, knocking himself unconscious. This brings about a visit from his twin brother, Jules, who arrives in Cicely in a yellow cab straight from New York and a $2,433 fare. As the two of them agree to swap lives for one day but can the uptight doctor's reputation survive Jules' scheming? More to the point, can he even survive a night in jail with Sigmund Freud? Criminality is also on the Chris when he receives a call from a suspected fire bomber from back home, Frank Watson, who's planning on coming to Cicely to turn himself in.
The Body in Question (44m35s): Chris is out fishing when he sees a boot floating downstream and then a French flag before the frozen body of a Napoleonic soldier gets lodged in a rocky part of the river. After taking him into Cicely and keeping him frozen amongst the moose burgers in the Brick, Chris realises that the frozen Frenchman - whose name, they find out, is Pierre - poses some tricky questions for all of them. Whilst Shelly worries about her ability to have children, Fleischman worries about his faith in history, Holling's concerns are about being descended from a nasty line of aristocrats and about wanting the Vincoeur name to die with him and Maurice wonders if Pierre is a good business opportunity.
Roots (45m42s): It's a strange time in Cicely - Chris is awoken by African dancers and musicians outside of his trailer the night before Bernard comes to visit but Bernard isn't dreaming anymore. Soon, though, Chris thinks he has it figured out - he's got to declare himself a person of colour and travel to Africa. But Bernard isn't so sure. Chris isn't the only one having friends come and stay - Elaine arrives following the death of her husband and Adam not only ventures into town but takes up a job at the Brick. Elaine stays with Fleischman and gets into his bed to keep warm, which is when Maggie walks in.
A-Hunting We Will Go (46m07s): It's the end of the hunting season and it's the time for Chris and Holling to go on their annual hunting trip into the woods. This time, however, they have a third man in the team, Fleischman, who proclaims himself a willing huntsman but his companions aren't so sure even if he embraces the primitive nature of the hunt. Meanwhile, Ed learns that Ruth-Anne is seventy-five years old but that few of her relatives made it past the early part of their seventies. Worried that she doesn't have long to live, Ed fusses around her but Ruth-Anne figures that seventy-five is no age to start needing a man to do her work for her.
Get Real (46m00s): The carnival has come to town - not by choice, you understand, simply that their bus broke down. But whilst they're there, they have the chance to give the Cicelians a little time to marvel at the unexpected. Whilst this implies medicine to Joel, it gives Chris the opportunity to wonder about magic and mystery. Marilyn, meanwhile, finds a little magic of her own when she falls in love with the Flying Man.
Seoul Mates (45m29s): Snow is falling all around...and it's Christmas in Cicely. Whilst the town get ready to celebrate with the traditional Christmas pageant of the raven, Maurice is feeling low and wondering aloud if it's true that the suicide rate goes up at Christmas time. Such feelings don't last long, though, when a family from Seoul arrive but Maurice is taken aback when one member of the family calls him Daddy. Could he have fathered a son whilst in Seoul during the Korean war?
Family is also on a lonely and clumsy Maggie's mind as she considers going home for Christmas whilst Joel worries about betraying his Jewish roots having taken a Christmas tree into his home. Faith of a different kind is on Shelly's mind - being a Catholic, she misses midnight mass - whilst everyone, as the snow falls on Christmas Eve, the sun sets and fires are lit, readies themselves for the festive celebrations for the raven, who, once upon a time, showed that, "...we no longer lived in darkness."
Dateline: Cicely (45m56s): Holling gets a letter from the IRS demanding $9,000 for unpaid taxes that date from 1959. Needing to find the money, Holling invites Chris to become a co-owner in the Brick but when he gets behind the bar and starts handing over beer on the house, Holling isn't so sure that Chris makes such a good partner. A better employee is Adam who, with Eve being in China, takes up his old position by the range and although people are enthusiastic about his cooking, their appetites are troubled by Maurice berating them for ignoring their local newspaper, which he owns. In response, Maurice hires Adam as an unnamed reporter but his first story - that of talking trees - baffles Joel, who can't quite believe it when O'Connell expresses a belief in chattering fauna. But with Maurice being Maurice and Adam being Adam, it isn't long until they come to blows...or, rather, a shotgun pointed south of Maurice's waistline.
Our Tribe (45m51s): When Joel aids Mrs Noanuk, an old woman with arthritis, she sends him a gift of a goat but the New Yorker doesn't quite know what to do with it. When Fleischman tells her that the goat was too much, she tells him, no, that it wasn't enough and offers to adopt him into her tribe. Despite Joel's unwillingness, Marilyn tells him that he cannot refuse this offer and so he prepares to be adopted despite worrying not only about what his Jewish elders might think but about what Ed tells him about A Man Called Horse. Less worried about other people's perceptions is Holling who, with Shelly, out of town, decides to close the Brick to wax the floors. Maggie isn't sure that waxing is what Holling is doing and finds that the answer may be in the stars.
Things Become Extinct (46m0s): Ed's latest film project is a study of vanishing breeds but when he chooses Joel as his subject, given the scarcity of Jews in Alaska. Unable to come up with any more than three Goldbergs in the area, Fleischman worries about being isolated and searches for evidence of Jews in Alaska. Family is also on Holling's mind when he hears news about the death of his uncle Charlie, which leaves him worried that, at 63, he's let life pass him by whereas his uncle travelled the world. Meanwhile, Ed eventually finds a subject for his film - Ira Wingfeather, who makes unique wooden flutes. But as Ed films him working, he realises that Ira's skill will pass away with his dying and asks himself, "Which would you rather see - a picture of a condor or a condor?"
Burning Down the House (45m54s): "It's not the thing you fling...but the fling itself." Such is the lesson learnt by Chris during his search for the right cow to fling across the Alaskan wilderness with his catapult, thereby creating a piece of conceptual art. But as excited as the Cicelians are about the flinging of a cow, Maggie has greater worries - her mother has arrived in Cicely announcing that she and Maggie's father are filing for a divorce. Worse is to come when she accidentally burns down Maggie's house. Meanwhile, Fleischman is troubled by being unable to place his chimney sweep - he says he's called Bob and Fleischman is almost prepared to believe it until he picks up a copy of Golf Digest.
Democracy in America (45m48s): Election day is coming to Cicely as the mayor, Holling, looks forward to what is sure to be a re-election. But when a friend with a long memory brings up a broken electoral promise, she decides to stand against him. As election fever builds, Chris is feeling patriotic, Joel and Maggie fall out over the decor of the polling booth and the first-time voters, including Ed, worry about the use of their votes. No one worries more than Maurice, though, who wonders if Edna's place in the election means that the spirit of adventure is passing away.
Three Amigos (45m41s): Bill Planey's dead and it's time for Holling and Maurice to keep the promise they once made to him - to take his body and bury it at No-Name Point. Accompanied by Chris' readings from The Call Of The Wild, Holling and Maurice take the time to wonder if they've forgotten the men that they were when they arrived in Alaska. Thinking time is cut short, though, when they arrive at Planey's shack and find that he had a wife who decides to come along.
Lost and Found (46m08s): There's a ghost in Joel's cabin...at least he thinks there is but why has no one mentioned it before? When he asks about it in town, the same name is mentioned over and over - Jack - a lonely old prospector who killed himself and wrote a suicide note on the wall in his own blood. Unable to sleep at night and with Eve bothering him during the day, Fleischman busies himself by gently coming to terms with Jack's ghost; even to having a party to make Jack feel less lonely. Meanwhile, Maurice welcomes his old colonel to Cicely but is concerned when he asks Maurice for money.
My Mother, My Sister (46m06s): A baby - a little girl - is left abandoned in Fleischman's clinic but rather than leaving Joel alone, the whole town agrees to help him look her. Such generosity of spirit even extends to Adam whose paternal feelings are awakened at just the right time, only months before Eve gives birth. Parental duties are also on Shelly's mind when her mother, Tammy Tambo, comes calling. But with everyone convinced that Tammy is Shelly's sister, Shelly comes to believe that what she really wants is a mother.
Wake Up Call (45m48s): The snow is melting and spring is blossoming, which means that things are going to get a little odd in Cicely. Shelly gets a strange rash, Holling offers breakfast for free so long as it includes eggs whilst Maurice complains about the lack of choice of coffee in the Brick. Whilst Leonard, Marilyn's cousin, who is a Native American healer, shadows Joel to learn about conventional medicine, Maggie has a visitor of her own - a handsome stranger who enters her life just as she's feeling low.
The Final Frontier (45m32s): Word comes to Holling via Ed that Jesse the bear is dead but he's not quite willing to believe it. Thinking that maybe Jesse died in a fight, Holling is more troubled to find that it might just have been old age but despite finding the bones, he's still not sure that Jesse's really dead. Meanwhile, a package is delivered to Cicely but no one knows who the recipient is. It looks like it's been around the world and Maggie and Joel disagree on whether to open it.
It Happened in Juneau (45m41s): Joel is looking forward to a weekend's medical conference in Juneau but when his pilot calls off, he ends up with Maggie. When their hotel rooms are flooded, they are forced to spend the weekend in the same suite. Also spending some time together are Chris and Bernard, who has just returned from Africa and not a moment too soon - for some strange reason, Chris is jumbling up his words - Chris In The Morning becomes Bernard In The Afternoon
Our Wedding (45m58s): Adam and Eve are getting married and the wedding is coming up fast. Whilst Shelly enters into the spirit of the celebration, she finds a less than enthusiastic bride...not to mention leaving Holling feeling guilty about leaving Shelly at the altar. The hen and stag nights leave the people of Cicely wondering about relationships, as does the wedding when a last-minute hitch surprises Adam.
Cicely (45m49s): History is on Joel's mind when he meets a 108-year-old man who's returning home to Cicely. When Joel takes the man, called Ned, back to his cabin, he is told a story about the origins of the town and how two remarkable women, Roslyn and Cicely, turned the fortunes and reputation of the town around and, in doing so, created the Paris of the North. As the residents of Cicely gather round Ned, they hear how freedom and a terrible act birthed the town.
As with the previous two seasons, the transfer on this third season is excellent with a sharp picture, good colour reproduction and no distracting digital noise. The audio track is just as good, presenting the dialogue both crisply and clearly.
As with the previous two seasons, this one is a mix of the expected alongside something that's a little surprising. For this third season, Universal have included a mix of Deleted/Extended Scenes spread across all three discs/sides that are of varying length depending on the episode as well as the following:
Lost Storylines: You'll notice that Northern Exposures often has a second or third storyline and this extra collects those from Jules Et Joel (12m47s), Seoul Mates (2m25s), Things Become Extinct (6m11s) and Three Amigos (5m02s). There's nothing substantial in any of these scenes - Holling travels to Seattle to repay an old debt in one whilst, in another, Joel receives a signed Bobby Murcer baseball mitten but in such a well-packaged set, it's nice to have them included here.
Unexposed Scenes: As with the Season One set, this is a mix of bloopers, scenes cut from in-series documentaries and outtakes. The footage that was cut from Ed's movie in Animals 'R' Us (4m14s) is a treat whilst Forgot Your Lines? (4m35s), Laughing Matter (3m06s) and Those Crazy Cicelians (6m08s) are nice but inconsequential.
Northern Exposure is fond of Carl Jung's idea of the collective unconscious. Not only does it form the basis of the dreams that Chris Stevens shares with Bernard but he also references it as the reason behind his choice of object to fling in Burning Down The House. Yet it has a greater resonance in the series in that the producers turn it over to reveal the delicate connections between events and occurrences in Cicely.
Call it a coincidence or a fleeting link to the collective unconscious but in buying these season sets of Northern Exposure, I picked up a copy of The Red Headed Stranger. In drawing something out of the television show with which to end these three reviews, I had intended to write about the parallel that could be drawn between the sparse rhythm of Northern Exposure and the raw, uncluttered arrangements of the songs on the Willie Nelson album. Finally, I was set to conclude with a view that Nelson's tale of love, betrayal and revenge in the wilderness was a precursor of the careful balance of life in Cicely, from which the call of the wild is rarely kept at a distance.
Either way, when Brand and Falsey chose Nelson's Hands On The Wheel from The Red Headed Stranger to close Three Amigos - my viewing of this episode occurred after my initial thought of mentioning it - it felt as perfect a moment in this life as those in the series do to Maggie, Joel, Chris, Holling, Shelly, Ed and Maurice. When Nelson sings of gazing at the stars and to the moon, of telling tales of fishing by the river, of the feeling of being bound for home and singing, "With no place to hide, I looked in your eyes an' I found myself in you", you can close your eyes and see Cicely by starlight and moonlight, feel the river flowing and feel the warmth not only of the Brick but in the understanding glances between Joel and Maggie.
Northern Exposure is occasionally perfect television and it's almost impossible to find fault in episodes likes Seoul Mates, Three Amigos, Lost and Found and The Final Frontier. If it doesn't always get it right, then it's more than possible to forgive the show an occasional stumble. I will admit to loving this show like no other and watching the first three seasons on DVD has been the television treat of this year. If you can forgive Universal for the poor release of Season 1 in the UK, please do and import Seasons 1-3 from the US - this is marvellous television that was so unique, so charming and so special that it deserves a place in any collection.