Title: The Big Kiss
Written by: Henry Bromell
Directed by: Sandy Smolan
Aired: April 15, 1991
Listen to the podcast of the episode here.
In fairy tales, the kiss is what leads to transformation; it is the culminating event that concludes the story and leads to the Happily Ever After. In Snow White, a kiss from the prince breaks a spell and Snow White is brought back to life; in Sleeping Beauty, a kiss similarly wakes Princess Aurora from her perpetual sleep. It is fitting that episode 2.2 of Northern Exposure is called “The Big Kiss,” since it feature an intense kiss that transforms one of the characters.
Curiously enough, it is the fairy tale “The Frog Prince” that might have a more direct connection to the episode. During his KBHR monologue, Chris describes a strange dream involving his first love Leslie Ferguson and an assembly line of frogs that can dance and sing. Soon after that, he is surprised by a beautiful woman in a red parka, whose beauty inadvertently ‘steals’ Chris’ voice in an instant. Chris can’t even manage to croak, let alone sing. (Sadly, we don’t see Chris try to cut a rug, so it’s unclear whether beauty also robbed Chris of his ability to dance, as his dream might suggest.)
The episode is filled with other instances of magic and enchantment. Maurice tells the story of Sir Gawain (from the Arthurian legends) who had his courage stolen from a sorceress of profound beauty. One-Who-Waits recalls the time when he first fell in love upon seeing a beautiful girl on a horse, and we also see Maurice becoming enchanted at the Miss Northwest Passage pageant when he claps eyes on Shelly for the first time. We also hear stories of people experiencing physical distress while falling in love, like Joel did with Elaine, and like Holling, who suddenly acquired a painful crick in his neck upon seeing Shelly for the first time.
One-Who-Waits maintains that losing one’s voice to beauty “is a very old problem,” and suggests that Chris “find the most beautiful woman in the village and capture her spirit,” which Ed translates to sleeping with the woman. In his telling of the Sir Gawain story, Maurice says that the knight’s problem was solved, and he got his courage back by sleeping with a beautiful woman.
But so far the set up has been the male being the victim (in love, in enchantment by a woman’s beauty) of the female, and it is Maggie who changes this dynamic. When she becomes aware of Chris’ possible plot to seduce her to cure his voicelessness, she takes control of the situation and declares to Chris, “Tomorrow night, my place, eight o’clock!” On the next night she backs out of the original plan to sleep with Chris, and creates her own plan. Maggie rejects the original narrative and rewrites the ending; instead of being just a beauty, an enchantress, she devises a different plan to heal Chris. She declares, “You can’t get your voice back unless I give it to you…I’m the only one that can save you. Do you believe that?…I’m going to give your voice to you now.” And with that, she leans over to kiss him and by doing so, gives Chris his voice back.
Later, Shelly affects a similar change in Maurice when she reveals that she was plagued with cramps and headaches the day that he brought her down in his Cadillac from Dawson City. Upon the realization that he perhaps wasn’t in love with Shelly (because he felt no pain of a “grand passion”), Maurice is feeling particularly sad. Again, with just a few casual words (“maybe I didn’t get to you, but you sure got to me…I was sick as a dog half the time we were together”), a woman transforms a man’s outlook.
In the end, Chris, like the Frog Prince, who was under a spell from a witch, becomes whole again with a little (or in this case, a big) kiss. The spell is broken, and life returns to normal again.
Themes: Enchantment; love; delusion/truth; the hero on a quest.
The Good: For the first time, we have a story focused on Ed (that isn’t devoted to his film fantasy daydreams), as well as Maggie interacting extensively with a character other than Joel. Every major character (and actor) is afforded a moment in the spotlight, including 256 year-old storytelling, cheeseburger-sniffing spirit One-Who-Waits (played perfectly by Floyd Red Crow Westerman).
The Bad: There isn’t much we don’t like about this episode, though the replacement of many of the original songs on the official DVD release is a shame. Sadly, it’s something that won’t be isolated to this episode or this season. Thankfully, they were able to retain some of the key songs in this episode, such as “She Is Not Thinking of Me,” “Pretty Lady,” and “When I Grow Too Old to Dream.”
The Notable: John Corbett’s physical comedy chops are magnificent. Watching him mime losing his voice to beauty is wonderful and he’s even surprisingly expressive with his silent shuck-and-jive gestures when Joel queries him about being with Maggie.
Links: An interview with the screenwriter Henry Bromell from the New Yorker can be listened to here.
On’s Rating: 10 out of 10
Shane’s Rating: 9.5 out of 10