Title: Dateline: Cicely
Written by: Jeff Melvoin
Directed by: Michael Fresco
Aired: January 6, 1992
Log Line: Maurice goes out on a limb to spice up his newspaper’s coverage by hiring an unnamed reporter given to clandestine meetings. Maggie talks to trees, but Joel won’t listen, and to ease Holling’s tax debts, Chris becomes a partner at the Brick, where he sets about sprucing up the place.
Listen to the podcast of the episode here.
Taxidermy, parrots, horses, fish, and dogs
As we discussed on the podcast, one of the main themes in 3.11 “Dateline: Cicely” is the relationship between humans and plants. More subtly, images and references related to animals also appear throughout the episode. The images include a St. Bernard (whose owner is cleaning up its poop), Shelly’s parrot earrings, and taxidermy. In conversations, we have references to dogs, birds, and horses. Maurice is particularly prone to animal-related imagery, all of it related to Adam in some way: there’s a pending “bulldog edition” of the newspaper (with content from Adam); Adam was a “thoroughbred” and (warning: mixed metaphor ahead) Maurice “hooked that fish [Adam] deep.”
Adam = death and Chris = life?
Death is a theme that’s fairly constant throughout Northern Exposure, so it’s not surprising that it makes an appearance in “Dateline: Cicely.” Nearly every reference to death comes from Adam, which is somewhat surprising. Chris appears as his counterpoint in the episode, with much of his imagery relating to life, reproduction, and the flow of blood. We even see both of them interacting with taxidermied animals. Adam grabs the snout of a bearskin rug, while Chris has second thoughts about the ram’s head mounted in the Brick. Chris mentions that “we all need a pump” and that he’ll be “manning the pumps” at the Brick. Later, he refers twice to a “pulse.” (Interestingly, both references to a “pulse” come from other sources: a letter from Bernard, and an advertisement written by Maurice. Here, Chris appears to be the vessel for this imagery; it flows through him, but comes from another source. Would it be going too far to point out that both Adam and Chris’s names suggest the Bible? Clearly, this idea falls apart when you look more closely. Christ is the one more associated with death, but he’s also associated with rebirth.)
The discussions of communication by plants also emphasize just how alive they are, even in ways that we may be unable to perceive. Death appears in several other ways, including the chemical spill, Maggie’s comment on how plants can do what people do without destroying the environment, and Chris’ comment that if “timber were to speak again, I got a feeling it would probably says something like, ‘People, enough.'” It’s also worth noting that for all the ways we see people using animals in “Dateline: Cicely,” there are at least a few references to parasitic animals that use us (mosquitos and ticks are both mentioned twice).
Themes / Recurrences: Nature and humans; ownership; truth; having a purpose.
The Good: We appreciated nearly every one of Chris’s KBHR monologues, particularly his musings on rain, ownership, and happiness. “Happiness doesn’t come from having things; it comes from being part of things.” Yep. We also really enjoyed the idea of plants being given a voice. After all, we’ve already heard a dog talk and seen communication via pheromones.
The Bad: Adam is somewhat squandered in this episode. Why make him a journalist? And why was he cooking in the Brick anyway? That said, we’re always happy to have Adam’s prickly nature make an appearance.
The Notable: “Dateline: Cicely” includes allusions to three of Shakespeare plays: Macbeth, Hamlet, and Richard II. (Note: Brush up on your Shakespeare if you ever want to be a Cicelian!)
On’s Rating: 8.0 out of 10.
Shane’s Rating: 7.5 out of 10.