Title: Our Tribe
Written by: David Assael
Directed by: Lee Shallat
Aired: January 13, 1992
Log Line: Joel reluctantly undergoes a cultural conversion after receiving a goat as a gift from a grateful village elder, who insists on “adopting” him into her tribe, and a mysterious Holling shuts down the Brick, ostensibly to wax the floors.
Listen to the podcast of the episode here.
In 3.12 “Our Tribe,” we find characters searching for something that isn’t there. Joel is on an involuntary quest for visions in order to become part of the local Native tribe, and Holling is looking for a star that hasn’t been seen in twenty years. The idea of something being there and not there pervades the entire episode.
In back-to-back scenes, we see characters looking up at the moon and telling us what they see. Joel sees “pizza face,” an unfortunate patient with a terrible case of acne that he saw in the emergency room, while Ed sees a bunny rabbit; Maurice sees the astronaut Al Shepard’s feet, while Maggie says she used to see the face of the man she was going to marry (Mick Jagger or Ron Howard), but now she just sees the moon. People look at the moon and see things that aren’t there. The moon reflects back on its viewer, and the viewer sees what he or she wants to see, a bit like a Rorschach blot. Looking for something is personal; seeing is personal. (Only Maurice would see the moon and see a rival astronaut’s feet, for example.)
For Holling, the search for the star becomes a search for his past. The star takes on the significance of the woman, long dead, who was its namesake. A chance to see the star becomes an opportunity to perhaps see what remains of Eleanor the woman for the last time. This is why Holling is so devastated when he can’t find the star through his telescope. And this is why when Maggie says about the star, “She’s not really gone, Holling. I mean, Eleanor’s out there somewhere. You just can’t see her,” she is speaking about Eleanor the person, and how even if the person has passed away, they are still here with us.
Joel and Ed pretty much say the same in thing in their discussion of spirits. Even though Joel denies the existence of spirits, when Ed asks him what he thinks happens when we die, Joel says, “I suppose in some way we live on in the way people remember us.” To Ed, this is confirmation that spirits exist, and a confirmation that Joel has had a vision. As they get up to leave, a confused Joel says, “Nothing happened. We didn’t see anything.” Ed replies, “Well, maybe we did,” to which Joel simply replies, “We did?”
It turns out that stars too can be spirits of dead things. Maggie observes that because it takes the light of the stars thousands of light years to get to earth, it’s possible that half the stars they’re seeing have probably faded away already. But even though they may be dead, we still see the light of the stars, and they are still beautiful. Like people who are gone from our lives, their light still shining upon us.
In the end, the search for something that’s not there leads us back to the present. Joel’s search for visions and spirits, and all his talk about belonging to various global tribes culminates in a moment where Joel, the cranky outsider, becomes part of a community, where he is honoured by a local tribe, given a new name, and is surrounded by friends who embrace him and pile food on his plate. For Holling and Maggie, saying good bye is a reminder of the transience of life, and also the permanence of memory. It is also a reminder of what it means to be alive in this moment. Maggie reminds us that “we’re alive, we’re here now, you and me and – I don’t know where Eleanor is. But it’s a beautiful night, and I’m glad to be here, and that’s what matters. This. Now. And that’s it.”
Themes / Recurrences: Death; cosmos; memory; the past; ownership; belonging.
The Good: We love Mrs. Noanuk, who is patient, generous, and kind. Plus, she has a cute hair bob and such affection for Joel. We also love how Holling opened up to Maggie. The two characters rarely have scenes together and we must say that both of them bring out the best in each other.
The Bad: We must confess that there is not much we don’t like about this episode. We suppose more Ruth-Anne would have been nice.
The Notable: Emily Dickinson’s “I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain.” ‘Nough said.
On’s Rating: 10 out of 10.
Shane’s Rating: 9.5 out of 10.