Title: It Happened in Juneau
Written by: David Assael
Directed by: Michael Katleman
Aired: May 4, 1992
Log line: Things heat up between Joel and Maggie when they are forced to share a hotel room; Chris and his brother Bernard for the first time are not in perfect synch with each other.
Listen to our podcast discussion of the episode here.
The two central storylines in “It Happened in Juneau” feature two couples, one brotherly, the other romantic, and not surprisingly the episode is about people coming together and breaking apart. For Chris and Bernard, their bond has always been a given; we’ve seen them united by dreams, speech patterns, gestures, and even thoughts. However, something mysterious is amiss with their connection, as Bernard and Chris for the first time, fall out of sync (one is thirsty while the other is hungry, for example). On the other hand, the relationship between Maggie and Joel has been mired by bickering, insults, and mutual attraction on both sides (they do sometimes have rare moments of friendship, however). This episode forces these two disparate personalities together in a hotel room, and they eventually get around to addressing the ‘will they or won’t they’ question.
One of the main symbols of Chris and Bernard’s relationship is the half moth encased in amber that Bernard buys on his trip to Africa. Significantly, Bernard is wearing a half moth, with the other half missing. The non-whole moth reflects Chris’ situation, who, as Bernard says, “did only remember half the songs you played, only spoke in half sentences.” We witness throughout the episode their bond broken – instead of being one, they are revealed as two.
Unsurprisingly, Northern Exposure reinforces this idea of things not being whole; pieces are prominent throughout the episode. Some of these examples are quite literal and easy to connect, but some are quite subtle. Here’s a round up.
Chris and Bernard literally dream about a giraffe with a missing head, and a missing torso and legs.
Chris plays the third of a four part Wagner Ring cycle, much to Maurice’s exasperation.
Bernard successfully sells to Ruth Anne a chess set made of hand-carved chess pieces.
Joel randomly informs the bell boy at the Edgewater hotel of New York’s geographical divisions: “People think of New York, they always think of Manhattan. But there’s five boroughs. Did you know that?”
When Chris and Bernard are whole again, they are right back in sync. And the camera tells us this by showing them in unison, one piece at a time (kinda like the dream giraffe!).
One thing that connects the two storylines is that both feature slideshows. In Joel’s conference presentation, he is embarrassed by his slides, which are completely out of order and somehow include personal pictures of Holling, Maurice, Maggie, Chris and Ed. His presentation is broken up by these images. For Chris and Bernard, the slide show has Chris incorrectly guessing names and places in Africa, which reveals the extent of their brothers’ disconnection.
It is appropriate that both couples are bound together in this episode, because they are trying to find their way to a different state (much like the moth that transforms from caterpillar to winged creature). Both are trying to figure out the relationships they find themselves in. Appropriately, journeys figure largely in these two stories, coming home, going away; coming together, coming apart.
Themes / Recurrences: Journeys; dreams; and gender roles.
The Good: It’s always nice to have Bernard in an episode, and he’s one of the bright spots here, finely played (as usual) by Richard Cummings Jr. The “Toy Cows in Africa” dream sequence is wonderful.
The Bad: The character of Linda Angelo felt a little one-dimensional (she is incredibly focused on seducing Joel — trying and failing three times), and the fact that there was only one available hotel room in the city of Juneau felt a little contrived. We’re all for resolution on the ‘will they or won’t they’ storyline, but we’d have liked to see it play out a little more organically.
The Notable: James Marsters appears in his first screen role as the bellhop. We’ll see him again next season as Reverend Harding. We’re both fans of Buffy, a show that featured Marsters playing the vampire Spike.
On’s rating: 8.0 out of 10.
Shane’s rating: 7.5 out of 10.