Title: Wake Up Call
Written by: Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider
Directed by: Nick Marck
Aired: March 23, 1992
Log line: The coming of spring brings love to Maggie, a new skin to Shelly and a reminder to Joel of the importance of blending compassion with his scientific knowledge.
Listen to our podcast discussion of the episode here.
Once again, we celebrate the coming of spring with the residents of Cicely. Not with the Running of the Bulls in Season 2, but with thoughts of birth, death, and rebirth. We see characters experience some kind of transformation, renewal, and awakening, from the physical (with Shelly and Chris), to the mental (Maurice), to adjustment in attitude (Joel), and to a rebirth of hope (Maggie).
It is interesting then, to see how these ideas are visually presented within scenes. Aside from the stories, the episode conveys Spring to us through visual metaphor. Take, for instance how eggs and chicks are often framed in the foreground of shots, from the very beginning and throughout the episode.
Less conspicuous (but still egg-related), Ruth-Anne unpacks a box of Egg Replacer while Maurice contemplates Bowling Green.
Shelly, the one character whose physical transformation most embodies spring, visually echoes the birth of chicks (Shelly comes out of her ‘shell’), and the blooming of the flowers. She is the only character in this episode who wears flowers, a whole lot of them! (It’s interesting to note that in other episodes we have seen both Marilyn and Ruth-Anne regularly wear flower prints.)
Spring is change, and nearly everyone undergoes some kind of change in this episode. But changes don’t just occur within a story, they sometimes appear visually, as well. For example, we might see a certain shot echo an earlier scene.
Take Chris, who undergoes a physical change (red-eyed, runny-nosed and allergy-ridden to normal). The balled up tissues in an earlier scene is very reminiscent of the yet-to-hatch eggs.
Then there is Maggie, who watches a war movie on television in which a woman is pinned by her truck. Curiously, her truck is stuck in the mud and her crouched posture recalls the movie scene. Of course, in the beginning Maggie sees her love life as a battlefield, but it is pretty interesting how when this similar scene plays out in real life her story is transformed from one of war to that of a fairy tale.
This idea is further reinforced when we compare the frame of the television to the frame of the side mirror of Maggie’s truck. A soldier shooting (at the viewer/Maggie) is transformed to a vision of non-threatening, gentlemanly masculinity.
To add to that, the first and final appearance of Arthur is visually quite similar, with trees, rocks and the white of sweater/snow.
“Wake Up Call” is all about transformation and change. In some ways, these transformations are quite normal, and happen on an everyday basis. However, there is something quite magical about the way Northern Exposure presents these changes. The stories of Maggie and Shelly certainly have a mysterious, fairy tale-like quality to them. Was Arthur a bear? Did Shelly actually shed her skin like a snake to become brand new? No answers are given.
Since Chris ends the episode with lines from Edna St. Vincent Milly’s “Renascence,” we will end this post with a poem of our choosing, one which reminds us very much of Spring and renewal.
Saint Francis and the Sow
by Galway Kinnell
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.
Themes / Recurrences: Rebirth; transformation; animals.
The Good: There are many things we love about this episode. Obviously, we love the calm, intelligent healer Leonard, who is played magnificently by Graham Greene. He is one of our favourite guest characters in the entire series — and that is saying something. And “You’re bored because you’re boring” might be one of the best lines spoken on television, period. The story of Maggie and ursine Arthur is wonderfully dreamy/dreamlike. And who can argue with an episode filled with freshly-hatched chicks?
The Bad: We’re not sure if Arthur is too perfect, though we’re aware this might be intentional (i.e., the dreamboat who might be a dream, after all). One of us didn’t need three scenes in a row with Maurice saying that he’s tired of the same old same old. (Then again, we liked the conclusion to this story very much and the scene with Ed and the bagpipes was priceless.)
The Notable: We see Leonard telling Joel that “most patients get better, regardless of what we do. Our job is to mainly make them feel better,” which echoes what Joel told Uncle Anku in 1.2 “Brains, Know-How, and Native Intelligence.” Like Uncle Anku, Leonard also exhibits a good understanding of so-called conventional medicine.
On’s rating: 9.0 out of 10.
Shane’s rating: 9.0 out of 10.