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Episode: 4.11

Title: Survival of the Species

Written by: Denise Dobbs

Directed by: Dean Parisot

Aired: January 4, 1993.

Log line: It’s human nature versus Mother Nature when Ed’s terrifying apocalyptic dream scares him into making a plan to save the world. But Maggie is more concerned with the environment in her front yard when she discovers artifacts from an ancient female.

Listen to the podcast discussion of the episode here. 

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Episode 4.11 “Survival of the Species” begins with a foggy post-apocalyptic Cicely. We are in Ed’s dream as he encounters mutated versions of the town’s residents. It is a vision seemingly set in the future. Time has often been a theme in Northern Exposure, and not surprisingly this time, all three story lines involve time. Even the sole guest character is a young boy named “Brad Young” (Edon Gross). In this post, we’ll examine the episode’s past, present, and future.

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Past

Maggie discovers a 200 year old baby carrier, and this discovery launches a dispute between men and women. She finds her own front yard taken over by Maurice and the men he’s hired to dig up the archeological site. By digging down in the dirt layer by layer, more things from an ancient group of Native American women are uncovered. The reasons why these artifacts were buried, and who these women were remain unexplained, but Maggie and the women of Cicely still find kinship with the women who once lived in the past (“They sew, we sew.” “They cook, we cook.”)

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Of course, this discovery also leads Maggie to the realization of how the past has been constructed by years of patriarchal culture. Says Maggie, “History. His story. You don’t need a degree to figure that out. Everything about the way we perceive things in life is determined by men.” The stories of the women who buried the things in Maggie’s yard may have been lost through time, but most crucially, these stories were never deemed important to be told in the first place. History excludes more than it includes.

The past rears its head with the arrival of the 12 year old Brad Young. Holling is reminded of how he was Brad’s age when he first set out on his own, and Chris is reminded of his early juvenile delinquent days. For both Holling and Chris, Brad is a mirror in which both men see themselves reflected. It is possible that by giving Brad their advice, time, and gifts, they were, in a way, trying to change the past direction of their own lives.

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Present

Even though Ed’s dream is a post-apocalyptic nightmare, upon examination, it is actually set in the present, despite its futuristic tone. The characters in the dream haven’t aged a day, and the Brick looks more or less the same. Indeed, Ed’s emphasis is to do something NOW, whether it’s getting rid of ozone depleting products from Ruth-Anne’s store, or filming the documentary, or collecting DNA for plants.

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For Brad, the present is most immediate. He falls in love with Shelly and is fully immersed in the suffering and joy of being in love. He is at a crossroads at this moment: to return to camp or run away; to pursue a life of crime or a life of love.

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Maggie finds her voice after being railroaded into accepting an archeological contract by Maurice. Her “Little Red Riding Hood” dream where the wolf manipulates her into giving away her basket makes her realize her current compromised position. In a great scene, she declares herself “empowered” and destroys the contract by ripping it up and eating it.

Future

All three stories have the future in mind in this episode. For Ed, changing the present is a way to change the future. Even when he realizes that life on earth will end and the situation is hopeless, he imagines that in the future aliens will come to planet and regrow the plants that he and Mike have gotten the DNA from.

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For Maggie, the future is a continuation of the present, as the present was a continuation of the past. Ruth-Anne adds a carrot peeler to the things of the past they are reburying, with the thought that one day, a group of future women when discover these artifacts and become connected with their generation.

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For Brad, the future can’t some quick enough. When we first meet him he pretends he is 18 (and 21), and his last words to Shelly and Holling are about the future: “I’m coming back for you in five years. No offense, man.”

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Songs from the episode’s original airing:

Ronnie Milsap, All is Fair in Love and War” [Brad asks for a light from Joel, and Brad meets Holling]

Mark Chesnutt, Postpone the Pain” [Brad is cleaning and Shelly asks him to clean the grease traps]

Carl Smith,Guilty Conscience” [Ed tries to get rid of everything that destroys the environment at Ruth Anne’s store]

Loreena McKennitt – “Tango to Evora” [Final reburial scene]

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Themes / Recurrences: Feminism; history; past/future; love

The Good: We loved Maggie’s “Little Red Riding Hood” dream sequence. It is beautifully shot and the costumes are spot on. We enjoyed how the baby carrier is transformed into the basket in the dream world. Chris’ recitation of a few lines from Yeat’s poem “The Young Man’s Song” is a beautiful moment.

The Bad: Unfortunately, neither one of us enjoyed the character of Brad. For an episode filled with female solidarity, Brad’s sexist comments (and Shelly’s delight in them!) terribly undermine the whole idea of feminism and equality.

The Notable: We learn that Ron used to be an adjunct archeology professor in Amherst and Eric has excavation experience. Who knew?

On’s rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Shane’s rating: 7 out of 10.

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5 thoughts on “4.11 Survival of the Species

  1. One of the weaker episodes in my opinion. Definitely agree with what you say about Brad and Shelly. I love the work you’re doing!

    On Tue, Oct 21, 2014 at 8:10 PM, The Alaskan Riviera: A Northern Exposure

    • Thanks for your comment and for reading. We love doing what we’re doing, so it’s great, great, great to have readers!

      We definitely agree with you that it was a weak episode, but the sad thing is that it could have been so much better. This episode had lots of potential; too bad it fell a little flat. On the other hand: fantastic dream sequences :-).

  2. The dream sequence is so smart in this one! ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ – the story mothers tell their daughters to warn them about predatory men – being subverted into misogynistic Freudian blither about sex and the good/bad mother by the Big Bad Wolf himself. It’s a perfect illustration of what Maggie rants about later: bye bye female narrative, and hello his-tory.

    (I was going to say ‘I could’ve done without hearing that dopey “his story” misconception again, though’, but Wikipedia tells me that ‘history’ actually derives from an old word meaning ‘wise man’, so I guess the point still sort of stands.)

    It’s great that someone else is rewatching these.

    • Hello Bri,

      Yes the Maggie dream sequence is fantastic, the look of it is wonderful, and of course the whole illustration of manipulation of men by women throughout history using Freud and fairytales. It’s great that the big bad wolf is portrayed as a pipe-smoking dude with a British accent (perhaps a nod to Colonialism?). As for the whole history/herstory thing, this was 20 years ago, and it seemed new to me back then. It’s pretty played out these days now, I must admit.

      We’re so happy to be talking about the show. Thanks for reading!

      On (and Shane)

  3. thank you so much for putting the original music here! i am watching the DVD and for this episode they chose an operatic song with a male singer which seemed like an off choice for the women reconnecting to female ancestors. thanks to you, i replayed the end with the Loreena McKennitt (whose song is also an homage to another woman across culture and space) and it was magic!

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