Title: A Kodiak Moment
Written by: Steve Wasserman and Jessica Klein
Directed by: Max Tash
Aired: August 23, 1990
Plot Summary: Maurice ponders his mortality and legacy, Holling hunts a bear, and Maggie and Joel give childbirth classes.
Listen to the podcast here.
One + One = Two
In many ways, Northern Exposure is a strange show because it is about a group of individuals. It does not have families, and most of the characters are alone. While we have couples like Rick and Maggie, and Joel and Elaine, they are not treated as units on the show (Elaine is, of course, in New York, and we seldom see Rick in the same room as Maggie). The only exception to this is Holling and Shelly, who are very much together, and the only couple that we really get a good glimpse of on the show.
One element that makes episode 1.7 “A Kodiak Moment” interesting is that it actually explores different pairings. The three storylines involve two individuals who are put together: Holling and Shelly, Joel and Maggie, and finally Chris and Maurice. A romantic relationship is portrayed with Holling and Shelly (with Ed as the third wheel), while Joel and Maggie move tentatively towards the territory of friendship after successfully delivering a baby together (perhaps even putting them figuratively in the mother/father roles), and Chris and Maurice choose to become father and son (an experiment which cannot overcome each man’s individualistic tendencies).
It’s unclear what changes in the end, if anything. Of the three featured pairs, only Holling and Shelly seem to be on solid ground, while Chris and Maurice revert back to their old boss/employee/friend relationship. Even though Joel and Maggie eventually arrive at a kind of peace, it is unclear if this trend will continue or if they will go back to their earlier antagonistic ways.
The Loneliness of Maurice Minnifield
For a show which features individuals who are alone, we rarely view the characters as lonely; they all seem to be fairly content living their own lives. Even Ed, in the face of the extreme coupledom of Holling and Shelly seems happy enough being alone (revealing a near saint-like tolerance for shenanigans, we might add).
However, the flip side of being alone is loneliness, and “A Kodiak Moment” invokes this feeling with the character of Maurice. We saw glimpses of his sadness and wistfulness to share his life with someone in previous episodes when he was trying to deal with his feelings of loss for Shelly, but this particular loneliness is prompted by the death of his only brother Malcolm. Suddenly Maurice realizes that after he is gone, there will be no one to carry on his legacy, and realizes that, despite his accomplishments, he may still leave no trace on the world.
Chris, who witnessed Maurice’s devastation at learning the news of Malcolm’s death, feels bad for him, and agrees to become his son. He says to Joel at one point, “Maurice seemed a little lonely up there.” Like Maurice, Chris too, is alone, without kin, and perhaps his own loneliness prompts him to assent to the adoption. However, both men are used to being independent and have no idea how to become family. (Tellingly, they look to television shows like Bonanza and the Richard Kiley show for father/son models.) Maurice piles expectations on Chris, and Chris bucks against the authority imposed on him.
In the end, the two abandon their experiment and Maurice realizes that he will not have an heir. Instead, he says to Joel that he’s “decided to live forever.” Joel laughs, but it becomes clear that Maurice might be serious here.
Every song played in this episode could apply to Maurice, from “Rhinestone Cowboy” to “Daddy’s Home.” Take, for example the opening song of this episode, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” which is about mourning a lost love: “Though I dream in vain / In my heart it will remain/ My stardust melody /The memory of love’s refrain.” The former astronaut Maurice is faced with the possibility of being just stardust; the star is long gone, but we still see faint traces of the star that was, even from millions of miles away.
Themes / Recurrences: Family; Pairs; Life/Death; Past/Future
The Good – Barry Corbin does a wonderful job portraying a man experiencing grief and loss. The image of Maurice and Chris in croquet whites is a bonus.
The Bad – Shelly’s adoration of Holling can get a bit grating and is a step back from the feistiness that we saw in previous episodes.
The Notable – Budding filmmaker Ed quietly capturing the episode’s eponymous Kodak/Kodiak Moment, a single photograph of Jesse the Bear. (Earlier, we had seen Maurice silently poring over black and white Kodak Moments from his own past.)
On’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Shane’s Rating: 8 out of 10