Title: Oy, Wilderness
Written by: Robin Green
Directed by: Miles Watkins
Aired: October 7, 1991
Log Line: Joel is a reluctant survival student when he and Maggie become stranded in the wilderness. Shelly’s best friend Cyndy comes to Cicely asking Shelly to divorce Wayne, because Cyndy has been married to him for six months.
Listen to the podcast episode here.
Our own unique knowledge is something through which we experience the world; of course, this knowledge is not limited to book-learning, but extends to our personal and professional experiences as well. However, sometimes it is tempting to see the world entirely through one’s vision of what we know; sometimes, it even seems that our brand of knowing is superior to others and we are fooled into believing that we know better than another person. Throughout 3.3 “Oy, Wilderness”, we see each of the main characters viewing the world through the lens of their own knowledge or lack thereof, whether it’s immediately seeing the right haircut for everyone they meet (Cyndy) or seeing an airplane’s engine as a human heart (Joel).
Red blueberries vs. baneberries
At the start of the episode, Joel brings up a plane crash at Logan Airport in 1973 that was caused by birds. Maggie is aware of the crash and one-ups him, mentioning that the birds were starlings and that 88 people died in the crash. (If you listened to our podcast you know that they seem to be conflating two separate plane crashes at Logan Airport: one in 1960 and one in 1973. The crash in 1960 was caused by birds, with 62 of the 72 people on the plane dying. The crash in 1973 was not caused by bird; 88 people died in the crash, and the lone survivor died in the hospital 133 days after the crash occurred.) At any rate, they’re living in a world with shared knowledge at this point.
When Maggie and Joel are stranded together in the wilderness, their different bodies of knowledge become apparent very quickly. At first, Joel is overjoyed that Maggie successfully lands the plane in the wilderness. Her specialized knowledge of how to perform an emergency landing literally saves his life.
She again possibly saves his life (or, at the very least, saves him from vomiting, bloody diarrhea and even worse symptoms) when she tells him that the ‘red blueberries’ he is eating are actually highly poisonous baneberries. (Then again, she may be playing with Joel by telling him they are baneberries. It’s unclear. If they are baneberries, he appears to have eaten a fair number of them, which could lead to some awfully uncomfortable symptoms, as detailed above.) Joel simply sees ‘berries’; he is unable to distinguish them from one another. He doesn’t see the same wilderness that Maggie does.
Maggie is also able to make a fire, shoot a squirrel, skin it, and roast it on a spit. When Maggie treks off into the woods, she admonishes him not to smother the fire this time. Not only is it unlikely that Joel could start a fire on his own; he would have trouble keeping it burning without help. When he’s given a gun, it’s a little uncomfortable watching him point it casually in Maggie’s direction because we’re aware that he could carelessly squeeze the trigger at any moment; after all, he’d just finished mentioning that he didn’t know how to use a gun. He could not have shot, skinned and cooked the squirrel because he lacks Maggie’s survivalist know-how. He marvels that she was so deft at skinning the squirrel it was “like you were taking a little fur jacket off a tiny baby.” She muses that it’s true, but there was no zipper. In other words, Joel would have been unable to do it so easily.
When they hear wolves, Joel immediately worries about being eaten. Maggie, by contrast, mentions that humans have never been attacked by wolves in this area. Joel counters with what he has learned: that it happens all the time in Russian novels.
While assembling the tent and working on the engine, Maggie refers to “B” poles and ring jobs, two terms that Columbia-educated Joel doesn’t know and mocks. He’s also dismissive of the tent, which he sees as “gift wrapping” for a hungry bear. Urban Joel sees it as flimsy, whereas seasoned camper Maggie knows that it’s a good tent.
Rather than learning survival skills from Maggie, Joel chooses to learn Spanish by listening to a boombox. Instead of learning to distinguish the colours of his surroundings, he learns how to order just the right colour of shirt … in Spanish, a language that won’t be particularly helpful in a massive Alaskan nature preserve.
Returning from relieving himself outdoors, Joel comments, “Five thousand some odd years of recorded history, centuries of thought and planning, trial and error, research and development. Finally, indoor plumbing is perfected and in one fell swoop, I’m reduced to squatting in the woods like a German shepherd.” He doesn’t know how plumbing works exactly (as seen in episode 1.2), but he’s indignant when he’s deprived of it. Maggie, the best plumber in Cicely (according to Chris, at least), knows how it works, but she isn’t sympathetic to Joel’s complaints, in part because she’s trying to fix the plane’s engine. Joel, who knows as little about engines as he does about plumbing, suggests include tightening “that thing there” because it “looks loose.” In the woods, he simply sees “berries” that can be eaten and under the hood of the plane he sees “things” that could be tightened. By contrast, Maggie sees “baneberries”, which she knows are poisonous, and she sees “the butterfly”, which “controls the mixture of the air and the gasoline” and would prevent air from entering if it were tightened.
Joel and Maggie have different opinions about the merits of eating blubber. Joel says that if you cooked walrus blubber, it would “turn to oil. It would be like eating Crisco, solid butter, a huge hunk of shmalts. Chicken fat. Jewish mayo. You spread it on bread and die of a heart attack by the time you’re 50.” (Suddenly, Joel is worried he’ll die of a heart attack from eating cooked blubber. Huh?) Maggie can’t help informing him that “the fat and blubber found in Arctic fish and maritime animals is chemically different than that found in hamburgers, potato chips, and Jewish mayo. In fact, it may actually help the Eskimo fight heart disease and other southern afflictions.” Joel’s reply is to point out how unappetizing the blubber looks on his plate. To Joel, all fat and blubber are the same, whereas Maggie distinguishes between them.
Unexpectedly, Joel’s specialized knowledge becomes important when he performs “exploratory surgery” on the plane’s engine, which to his medically-trained eyes is “not unlike the human heart.” He noticed that “the valve seemed stuck. It had this gunk on it like a pulmonary stenosis.” He explains that the “heart has a valve. It gets stuck, and the blood doesn’t move forward. It gets backed up, and then you have a major problem, hence, our situation here.” Maggie dismisses that Joel may have knowledge of her plane’s engine that she lacks. (She has a point. In episode 1.2, Joel applied his medical knowledge to the plumbing in his cabin, telling Ed that “What we’re looking at is no more than a clogged or defective artery.” He didn’t fix his plumbing problem. It was Maggie who did the trick after he learned to “think like a fish to catch a fish.”) In the end, the plane starts and Joel jubilantly emphasizes that his knowledge has freed them from the wilderness: “Yeah! I did it! Me!” Just before this moment, Maggie had called Joel a moron. He is finally able to prove that he isn’t entirely helpless; he has been able to make an important contribution.
Shovering and ballonifying
It’s clear that Shelly and Cyndy share a fair amount of knowledge about pop culture, especially music. It becomes apparent that Shelly used to have information that other girls (including Cyndy) didn’t have. She traveled with the hockey team and was “the girl all the guys wanted to grope when they got gassed up at the game.” Now Cyndy is the girl who has taken her place. To make matters worse, Cyndy has ‘higher education’, having studied at Saskatchewan College of Applied Arts, where she majored in hair (with a minor in base application).
Similar to Joel and Maggie, we see that Cyndy sees people differently than those without her specialized knowledge. She comments on the best hair styles for Ruth-Anne and Ed, as well as commenting on Chris’ stringy hair. She also has beauty tips for Marilyn (many of them related to vaseline) and comments that Marilyn’s eyebrows resemble Paula Abdul’s. (For the record, she also says that Ruth-Anne’s face is shaped like Debbie Gibson’s, while Ed resembles Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes.)
We also hear Cyndy use specialized terms, some of which make sense (such as the “high-humidity mousse” she’s seeking in Ruth-Anne’s store), while others would be meaningless without context (here, I”m thinking of the “shovering and balloonifying” she performs on Ruth-Anne in the barber shop). Near the end of the episode, we hear her yelling to two passersby, “Hey, girls. Protein conditioner, then sculpting foam”, to which one of them replies, “You got it, Cyndy.” She is obviously keen to pass on her knowledge for the betterment (read: beautification) of humankind.
Both storylines of this episode emphasize that our own specialized knowledge affects how we see the world. If we know how to fix an engine, we are likely aware of the name and function for each of its jigsaw-like interlocking parts. If we are a doctor, we might see it as similar to a human heart. If we are a beautician, we may want to remove the gunk and give it a good rinse.
Themes / Recurrences: Men and women; wilderness; former selves; the body; death; friendship
The Good: We get a kick out of Chris being able to perform a divorce ceremony (hey, if he can glue two people together…), and we also love the idea of divorce as an opportunity, a beginning of things. Too often divorce is seen as a failure, a miserable experience, but this alternate viewpoint brings quite a fresh perspective (regardless of how realistic or unrealistic it may be).
The Bad: We wish that the writers had given Cyndy and Shelly’s relationship a little more depth. While they are very young, must they be portrayed as so ditzy? This is a little frustrating because it is obvious that both young women are intelligent in their own ways.
The Notable: On can’t help but gleefully smile at the appearance of Sassy magazine in one scene. For those in the know, this tells us a lot about the type of girl Shelly is (compare this magazine to Seventeen or YM magazine of the day). Basically, only intelligent, independent-minded girls read Sassy, you know? Trivia: the September 1990 issue that Shelly is reading includes the following cover stories: “Ugly stories about puppy breeding,” “How gangs and sororities are the same,” and “Why Irish girls love Hothouse Flowers.”
On’s Rating: 7 out of 10
Shane’s Rating: 7.5 out of 10