Title: Do the Right Thing
Written by: Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider
Directed by: Nick Marck
Aired: November 30, 1992
Log line: An ex-member of the KGB visits Cicely to sell Maurice his official Russian dossier; a health inspector surveys The Brick for the first time in more than thirty years; Maggie makes a vow to herself to live each day as if it was her last.
Listen to the podcast discussion of this episode here.
When we think of the title of 4.9, “Do the Right Thing,” we are reminded of Spike Lee’s 1989 film, but we are also confronted with a choice, to do the right thing or do the wrong thing (assuming there is a “right” and “wrong” thing, in any case). We argue that this episode pretty much embodies this choice of good or bad; right or wrong; good and evil.
We are introduced to two strangers: Viktor Bobrov, an ex-KGB spy who wants to sell Maurice his Russian dossier, and Jason, a local health inspector who examines The Brick. Victor is a fast-talker, a born salesman, but is extremely morally ambiguous. He has no qualms about selling possible classified or possibly fake historical documents to local residents, nor does he feel any guilt about milking Cicelians for drinks, food, cigars and even medication. On the other hand, Jason is a virtuous young man who likes the rule of law, who believes in his role as health inspector as doing something akin to saving the public. He is wide-eyed, earnest, young, and innocent. He abhors violence, even the cinematic kind, and his crush on Shelly is pure and untainted.
It is interesting that these two characters would be introduced in the same episode, because they seem to be on either end of the moral scale. Though Viktor is hardly as bad as, say, Jackie Vincoeur was, he is still on the morally corrupt side, targeting ex-astronauts with secrets for money, and is entirely devoted to his own self-interest. He is a charmer, tempting Cicelians with classified material and appealing to their curiosity (rather like the Biblical Snake and Eve story, perhaps?). His character very much contrasts with the character of Jason, who seems to always be in the right. Even physically they are opposites: Jason is clean-cut, lean, and pressed, while Victor resembles a deflated balloon – paunchy, unkempt, a little messy. (However, they do both wear the same coloured jackets.)
Both characters represent the fork in the road, the path to goodness or the path to moral corruption. Interestingly, the storylines of this episode also reflect this choice. Maggie makes the conscious decision to be good, saying “I’m going to strive every day to be a kind and generous and loving person.” She even confesses her crime of stealing one of Chris’ favourite albums, much to Chris’ dismay and surprise.
Similarly, Maurice also needed to make a choice between good and bad. Confronted with his breach of security upon bragging about a top secret rocket to a girl he’d slept with, Maurice at first admits his moral failing to himself (strangely enough, when confessing this incident to Chris, Maurice reveals that he’d never felt guilt before, which reveals his own belief in the inherent goodness of his actions thus far). However, when Chris shows him a document that reveals that one of Maurice’s heroes, General MacArthur, betrayed his country, Maurice is again faced with a decision, and this time he declares the document “garbage” and believes in the rightness of his hero, and the goodness of himself once again.
Both Maggie and Maurice are challenged with a moral crossroad of good and bad. In the end, Maggie fails at being good and returns to her own negativity and maligned view of the world, while Maurice returns to his own unblemished narrative of his own life. Good and evil leave town, and residents are once again left on their own foggy road.
Themes / Recurrences: Death; fate; truth; history
The Good: Both guest actors, David Hemmings and John Hawkes, are great in their roles. We were tickled at Maggie’s attempt at goodness, and particularly love the confession scene between her and Chris (the Jan Garber song “I’ll See You In My Dreams” that is featured in the scene in the original airing makes it even more great).
The Bad: While we can’t pinpoint any fatal flaws in this episode, there is some spark missing in this episode, in our opinion. Perhaps it suffers from being right after an amazing “Thanksgiving” episode.
The Notable: Chris has a new Harley! Huzzah!
On’s rating: 8 out of 10.
Shane’s rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Really enjoying your excellent, thought-provoking podcast. You mention in this episode or the next one that there should be snow in Cicely by now, and comment also on Joel going back to thinking of himself as ‘white’. However, despite the broadcast order, the only way that the chronology here makes sense is that Crime and Punishment, and several other episodes, occur before Thanksgiving (presumably it was brought forward in the schedules to coincide with that year’s Thanksgiving).
Since the fourth Thursday of November in 1992 was the 26th, it is impossible that the events between 4.9 and Northern Lights could squeeze into a mere 20 days. Even 4.9, 4.10 and 4.11 between them play out over too many days to accommodate Maurice’s ‘first of the month’ if we are assuming December.
Also, the kid from 4.11 surely wouldn’t have been left in alone in the woods for a week in the dead of winter – October is just about feasible. And would Chris really be taking a week’s annual vacation just scant days before Christmas (it also looks decidedly autumnal still at the monastery)? Again, it still seems like late Autumn in Duets, and Ed spends almost a full week on the building site.
So, I think we have to take it that C&P, Survival of the Species and Revelations all occur in October, Maurice’s ‘first of the month’ is the beginning of November, and everything else up to and including Duets occurs in the first three weeks of November, just ahead of Joel’s bad news about the contract extension. Odd that there’s little online pointing out the chronology versus date of broadcast business (none that I could find anyway) but it seems to me that Do the Right Thing was originally intended to be 4.9, with Thanksgiving chronologically occupying the slot just after Duets. Maybe the network felt that showing a Thanksgiving episode in December or January would have been bad scheduling and decided that swapping the order wouldn’t be noticed by the casual viewer?
I’ve yet to get to 4.14 on my re-watch, but hopefully it through to 4.17 can all comfortably fit into the remaining 20 days that the above deductions and suppositions allow for!
Forgot to actually include Do the Right Thing in that list! But it goes without saying that it, too, would have to be October.
Great thoughts! We were totally confused by the airing order too, weather-wise! Your episode order theory makes sense, for sure. “Thanksgiving” should definitely have aired way later. It makes us wonder, as you do, if the airing order was different than it actually was, but we can’t find information about that idea. Oh well. I think the Northern Exposure folks tried really hard to make the first two seasons very much like it’s set in Alaska, but maybe they abandoned that notion because of cost or hassle? What we’re seeing in Season four is definitely Pacific Northwest weather, which we are familiar with, being based in Vancouver. We kinda like it, makes it seem like Cicely is just around the corner for us! I forget what the second half of the season is like, and it would be interesting to see if winter comes back on our repeat viewing.
Thanks for reading/listening! Kesho!
On (and Shane)
Thanks for the reply, guys.
By the way, I should have written 4.8, not 4.9, for DTRT’s likely originally intended slot, but obviously you got the jist of what I meant and had come to a similar conclusion. Just hadn’t heard that specific aspect of the show discussed on the podcast so far (your main focus rightly being on the themes and character aspects of individual episodes), so thought it was worth a mention on here.
Love the thought provoking break downs of the episodes! I haven’t a huge discourse on the undercurrent theme I see popup throughout the series. Joel’s realization of himself is so much tied to his Jewish-ness. We see another example in this episode, actually it’s how the episode ends, who he could of been but for —.