Title: Things Become Extinct
Written by: Robin Green (from a story by Mitchell Burgess)
Directed by: Dean Parisot
Aired: January 20, 1992
Log Line: A study in self-examination brings on a mid-life crisis for Holling, opens up another door for Ed, and leaves Joel feeling culturally isolated.
Listen to the podcast discussion of the episode here.
In our podcast discussion of 3.13 “Things Become Extinct”, we talked about how strange and wonderful the end of this episode is. It’s surprisingly emotional for a puppet show that briefly retells Holling’s life story through Shelly’s eyes.
This scene recalls two moments from 3.10 “Seoul Mates”: Holling singing “Ave Maria” to Shelly and the Raven Pageant. Both the puppet show and the performance of “Ave Maria” show Shelly and Holling performing for an audience of one, giving their partner what they need at that moment to escape an emotional funk, something from their childhood, from their past. In both situations, the audience of one remains silent and is deeply moved (to being on the verge of tears) by the unexpected performance. Like the puppet show, the Raven Pageant tells a theatrical story to an audience that isn’t commented on after it ends. It lingers. Both scenes also feature light. In the Raven Pageant, the tale revolves around a ball of light that becomes the sun. In the puppet show, we see the sun featured in both backdrops for the puppet show, and Shelly and Holling ascend the stairs at the end of the scene into the light above.
The puppet show conveys a condensed version of Holling’s life, including two tales that have appeared in the show before: Holling’s encounter with Jesse the Bear and how Maurice brought Shelly to Cicely, which is how she met Holling. The story of Holling’s near-fatal encounter with Jesse is first told by Ed to Shelly in 1.7 “A Kodiak Moment.” In the puppet show, Shelly is basically re-telling Holling her version of his own story with Jesse, which she heard from Ed. (It was interesting to see the teddy bear that she’s toted around in so many other episodes stand in for Jesse here.) The tale of how Shelly came to Cicely is told in a few episodes, most notably in 3.2 “Only You”, which features three different version of the incident told by each of the participants: Shelly, Maurice, and Holling. It’s Cicely’s version of Rashomon. (Incidentally, we learn in 3.4 “Animals R Us” that Rashomon is Chris’ favourite film.)
The music that plays during this scene and other scenes with this storyline (we think it might be called “Sleepy Steel”) is the same music that plays during all three versions of the story of Shelly arriving in Cicely in 3.2. We’ve discussed on the podcast more than once the cumulative effect of music in Northern Exposure, how it evokes previous scenes and moments for the viewer, and this is another example of that effect.
In the puppet show, Shelly portrays herself (aka “the beautiful chick maiden”) saying to Holling, “If you want me, I’m yours.” Interestingly, we think the closest echo of this exact sentence is actually spoken by Maurice in 3.2, when he says to Joel, “I guess he [Holling] told you that story about Shelly too, about how she came into the bar one night and said, ‘I’m yours if you want me.'”
While watching Shelly’s version of Holling’s life, we couldn’t help but notice many of the things she left out of the story, such as Holling’s move from shooting animals with a gun to shooting them with a camera and that his family name at birth was actually DeVincoeur (as mentioned in 3.6). It also makes us aware that we know things Shelly doesn’t know, including the role Eleanor played in Holling moving to Alaska (as mentioned in the previous episode 3.12).
Interestingly, there is no discussion after the puppet show. Shelly simply says, “The end”, walks over to Holling, extends her hand to him (still encased in a puppet), and they walk up the stairs, hand in hand, towards the light. We are still amazed at how moving this scene is.
Themes / Recurrences: Death; life; art.
The Good: There is so much that we like about this episode, including Ed’s return to filmmaking. As may be apparent from this blog post, we are especially fond of (and, yes, moved to tears by) the puppet show at the end.
The Bad: We don’t have much to list in this category, but one of us thought the Joel storyline seemed a bit abrupt because in the previous episode he was embraced as part of the community.
The Notable: We were very fond of Ira Wingfeather (played beautifully by Bryson Liberty). We would have liked to have seen more of him in future episodes, but this is his only appearance. Still, in this episode we get to see him as a flute maker, a raconteur, a former Hollywood extra, an unsuccessful husband, an estranged father, a flautist, an entrepreneur, a mentor, and a lover of hot sauce.
On’s Rating: 9 out of 10.
Shane’s Rating: 9.5 out of 10.