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Episode: 5.14

Title: A Bolt From the Blue

Written by: Jeff Melvoin

Directed by: Michael Lange

Aired: January 24, 1994

Log line: Maurice and Adam clash over the hired help for a fireworks display; Joel tutors a patient on the art of conversation; Ed is struck by lightning.

Listen to the podcast discussion of the episode here.

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One of the subtle ways that Northern Exposure can extend ideas in the series is through visual cues. There are a number of ways that this can be seen in the episode “A Bolt From the Blue.” For example, nature figures prominently in Ed’s storyline of being struck by lightning. We see several visuals of nature, including the opening scene and Joel’s initial discussion with Ranger Burns. The forest figures in nearly every shot in both scenes.

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We will later see a variety of flower-related patterns in Ed’s place and the room Ranger Burns has rented from Shelly and Holling. (The book Ranger Burns features the word ‘trees’ foregrounded on its front and back covers.)

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Ruth-Anne, Shelly, and Marilyn all wear clothing with floral patterns.  5-14-ruth-anne-flowers-abe5-14-ruth-anne-flowers-store5-14-shelly-holling5-14-marilyn-flowers

Though we see quite a few flowers in “Bolt From the Blue”, the main visual element of the episode is probably patriotic decorations, which are hard to miss in the background of many scenes.

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They also appear on clothing, including Chris’s bandana and Maggie’s sweater. (This episode clearly shares some elements with “Democracy in America” [3.15], another episode that is credited to writer Jeff Melvoin.)

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One location where they are especially noticeable is Ruth-Anne’s store. It is full of clever George Washington-related sales and displays, including three related to cherries (“Just in time for President’s Day: cherry cordials”, “I cannot tell a lie, we have a sale on pie in the freezer” [this one beside an image of Washington’s head], and a display of cherry-filled chocolates beside an American flag). The other Washington-inspired gimmick might be our favourite: a special on “George Washington denture cream” for $2.99.

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Another subtle visual in Ruth-Anne’s store involves Ed. After seeing him try to move tin cans with his (sadly non-existent) super powers, Ed is shown reading an X-Men comic, which features mutants with special powers. Magneto, the best known villain in the X-Men series, has the ability to control magnetic fields.

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This episode also features an appearance by Adam. Showing Ranger Burns in a toque, Adam’s signature headgear, highlighted him as the opposite of Adam. Ranger Burns tries very hard to connect with everyone he meets, while Adam is portrayed as misanthropic.

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Songs from the episode’s original airing:

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Themes / Recurrences: Fate; narratives; nature; death; history.

The Good: We very much enjoyed the reappearance of Ranger Burns here, the way Joel negotiates that relationship. We particularly enjoyed the scene where Joel and Ranger Burns practice conversation.

The Bad: Although the fireworks plot gave us a very pretty final scene, it wasn’t very compelling. We also wondered how Adam became a fireworks master all of a sudden.

The Notable: As Darren Burrows mentioned in his book, in the final scene, it is his real wife who is standing beside him. Quite delightful!

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On’s rating: 7.5 out of 10

Shane’s rating: 7.5 out of 10

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