Title: Una Volta in L’Inverno
Written by: Jeff Melvoin
Directed by: Michael Vittes
Aired: March 7, 1994
Log line: Joel and Maggie are forced to take refuge in an airfield shack during a snowstorm; Ruth-Anne studies Italian with Shelly as her unlikely tutor; Walt becomes addicted to a special light visor to help his depression.
Listen to the podcast discussion of the episode here.
Sometimes, when we make plans, things go wrong and turn out differently than expected. In “Una Volta in L’Inverno,” all of the storylines involve a plan that goes wrong. Joel has the plan to go to his medical conference, but is prevented by a snowstorm; Ruth-Anne plans to learn Italian, but is foiled by her own lack of language learning ability; Edna plans to led the caribou out of town, but finds she’s back at square one; and Walt initially resists light therapy only to find himself hopelessly addicted to it.
Nothing really goes anyone’s way in this episode, which serves as a reminder that we are not truly in control of our lives, that on the bigger scheme of things, our little gestures at planning are futile in the face of an indifferent universe.
This idea of the powerlessness of human activities is shown with the intrusion of nature in this episode. All of the character’s intentions are spoiled by some element of nature that they cannot control. The episode establishes from the very beginning that the whole town has been enveloped in 23 days of darkness (with one hour of sunlight); this unrelenting darkness has affected most of the town in a kind of “cabin fever”. Walt experiences depression, Joel goes stir crazy, Chris is listless, and there aren’t even any social activities on the schedule.
The storm is the second unstoppable force of nature that arrives in the episode. It prevents Joel from escaping to civilization, endangers Ed, and even bring a herd of caribou into town. Edna tries to control the caribou by tempting the herd with hay all the way out of town, but the plan backfires, as the herd returns to her front door the very next day.
Ruth-Anne struggles against nature in her innate inability to learn languages. No matter how much she tries, she can’t learn Italian, and finally acknowledges she has no facility for language. Of course, her struggle is compounded by seeing Shelly master the language without any difficultly. Shelly is born with an innate gift for learning languages, but she doesn’t appear to be appreciating or using these skills, much to Ruth-Anne’s envy.
This episode reminds us that outside forces can arrive out of the blue and remind us that we may not be in control at all. Despite the setbacks, each character arrives at a kind of peace with the situation; they accept that they can’t get what they want, and move on.
Songs from the episode’s original airing:
- “King Porter Stomp” – Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich
Holling visits Walt.
- “Heart on a Sleeve” – Tom Russell. [Replaced in DVD version]
Dream at a 1960’s cocktail party.
- “O Mio Babbino Caro” – Kiri Te Kanawa. [Replaced in DVD version]
Dream at a 1960’s cocktail party.
Themes / Recurrences: Nature; fate/luck; old age.
The Good: We both loved the storylines involving Ruth-Anne and (especially) Walt. Nearly every scene with Walt is pure gold, from his elation with the light visor to his cheroot-smoking rumination after the intervention.
The Bad: The scenes with Edna Hancock and her caribou fixation weren’t our favourites. One of us was also perturbed by Shelly’s sudden facility with language and the ongoing push-pull of Maggie and Joel’s relationship.
The Notable: Moultrie Patten, who played Walt, was a jazz musician, so hearing him listen to “King Porter Stomp” and comment on legendary jazz drummers Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich makes us smile.
On’s rating: 8.0 out of 10
Shane’s rating: 9.0 out of 10
Strange that Cicely should be experiencing less than two hours of daylight as late as March (which it has to be at the earliest since Dave’s had his ‘In Like a Lion’ breakfast and Miranda’s a few weeks old). We can’t put this one down to being chronologically out of sequence like Thanksgiving was, so I suppose the only way to make sense of it is freak weather conditions lasting 23 days and blotting out all sunlight except when it’s at its brightest (around noon?). The extra harsh end to the 1993/94 winter does seem to have unexpectedly brought back and extended the dark season, which is I suppose why even seasoned veterans like Walt are succumbing to SAD. In Northern Hospitality we have evidence of significant daylight and mildening conditions but it was clearly a false start to the big thaw. There are just enough lines in there about unusual weather to make a second ‘solstice’ plausible if you squint a bit, but I think that on this occasion that’s more down to luck than judgement. That said, good episode overall and magical seeing all that snow – seems like Roslyn got lucky with authentic conditions a few times over the life of the show.
I love your comment and your detailed analysis of the weather conditions in the fictional Cicely! I’m not remotely science-minded, so I don’t even try to go there. And yes, I am surprised at the amount of snow Roslyn seems to have gotten at times too!
Thanks On! I’m not science-minded either, I just found the very dark mid-winter feel (specifically the reduced hours of daylight) to be odd for the story’s timeline placing. Luckily there’s just enough in the episode about unusually severe weather to allow for the hours of darkness to have been plausibly ‘artificially’ extended even though I suspect the writers simply hadn’t thought about the story’s unavoidable chronological placement (early Spring) when they signed off on the script.