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Episode: 6.1

Title: Dinner at Seven Thirty

Written by: Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider

Directed by: Michael Fresco

Aired: September 19,1994

Log line: Joel encounters an alternate reality in Manhattan after accidentally drinking one of Ed’s healing creations.

Listen to the podcast of the episode here.

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In the very strange season six opener, “Dinner at Seven Thirty,” we get dropped into a long hallucination where the familiar characters of Northern Exposure are incarnated as vastly different New York personalities. Throughout the episode, we get glimpses of the “real” Cecilians but we feel a little disorientated, just as Joel is at first in this situation.

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The characters we meet in New York (for the most part) are successful, have material wealth and careers, but what they all have in common is their feeling of emptiness and unhappiness at how their life has turned out. Each character yearns for a deeper connection, an insight into their life’s purpose. The central metaphor that the episode uses to illustrate this is the idea of sight. References to seeing or not seeing fill the entire episode.

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The most visual illustration of this is Chris’ photoshoot, where the models literally have bags over their heads. They literally cannot see; Chris also emphasizes that this facelessness is the sign of the anonymity that pervades our modern culture. Of course, photography itself is a way of seeing.

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Holling declares that he has been living as if he was blindfolded, and wishes that someone would rip off the blindfold to allow him to have insight into his own life. Shelly readily agrees with this metaphor.

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Holling describes his prison-like existence in living with agoraphobia, stating, “I huddle there with my eyes clamped shut.”

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At one point, Shelly develops a migrant and declares, “My eye is going.”

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Shelly asks Holling to play the song “Someone to Watch Over Me,” perhaps wishing for someone who is able to see her clearly.

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Walt laments that he can’t see the view that’s just outside his office window.

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Shorty (aka “Hayden”) is portrayed as being blind.

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Near the end of the episode, Chris sums up the metaphor by declaring “We’re blind and we’re ignorant.” Seeing is linked to knowledge of oneself, and looking within instead of outward becomes the key to fulfillment.

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In the end, characters realize in one way or another that they have been blind, and this knowledge prompts drastic changes each of their lives: Shelly asks for a divorce; Maggie quits; Chris finds his voice; Ed finds his humanity; Holling overcomes his fears; and Joel realizes that he doesn’t want the New York life that he’s been fighting for.

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Songs from the episode’s original airing:

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Themes / Recurrences: Dissatisfaction / knowledge of self.

The Good: We both particularly enjoyed Chris’ alternate self as an inarticulate artist who finds his voice and adored the duet between Ruth-Anne and Walt on “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” One of us also thought this episode set us up quite well for future occurrences in this season.

The Bad: One of us thought an episode based around a 40-minute-long hallucination wasn’t the best way to open a new season and wasn’t convinced that it had much depth.

The Notable: This is the longest fantasy/dream/hallucinatory sequence in the series so far, eclipsing the previous record holder, “Jules et Joel.”

On’s rating: 8.5 out of 10

Shane’s rating: 7.0 out of 10

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One thought on “6.1 Dinner at Seven Thirty

  1. rewatching all of season 6 made me so sad…the tenor is totally different, i had forgotten how much it simply feels like a different show and applaud your effort to go deep into it! i’ve been trying to put my finger on what feel so off with it–there feels like multiple things—aside from the obvious exit of Joel—a lot of the scripts seem to be reasserting conservative reflexes—not so much political even though there is that, but a “closing” of ideas/thought/possiblity rather than the “opening” or magic realism of past seasons or pushing us towards listening, learning, being compassionate. those old episodes that made us question convention or simply just see beauty in men dancing with a crane to make her fly. here in season 6 the episodes like “Horns”, “Zarya”, “Little Italy” (generic stereotypes of Italian Americans which reveal David Chase’s true yearnings to make something like the Sopranos) assert conventional and stereotypical thoughts about gender, race/ethnicity, and class. even Ed’s experiences with Heather and Lester Haines in “Balls” and his return to big daddy Maurice with an apology even though Maurice had insulted Ed feels a little patriarchal (as oppose to them coming together with mutual apologies).

    i read this interview Barry Corbin gave and think his observation of the loss of kindness to each other captures the mood change beautifully (especially when you have an executive producer who hates the show, the network sabotaging its schedule, and overall fatigue by the cast and town that was over production):

    Maurice was played by Barry Corbin, a Texas-born character actor of long experience, especially in Western films. Still cherishing the memory of Northern Exposure as the high point of his career, Mr. Corbin lives today in Fort Worth. I spoke to him there by phone, opining that Northern Exposure had begun as the greatest show ever made, but by the end had become one of the worst. The characters, previously tolerant and generous, had become mean-spirited and nasty toward each other during the last season. I suggested that the downhill slide seemingly began with the departure of Brand and Falsey and the rise of David Chase. He didn’t express disagreement with my sour opinions. In fact, he said he had made several trips to California to argue against the direction the scripts were taking. He had even concluded that some kind of sabotage was going on, albeit probably not consciously. As he recalled,

    “I said `You’re going to get us cancelled.’ They said, `No, they can’t cancel us. We’re the biggest thing on television.’ And I said, `Right now. But give it about three weeks.’ One of the producers called me after we were cancelled and said `You were right.’

    “I was the only person who thought that it was the last episode. It was not written to be the final episode.”

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