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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Holling describes his prison-like existence in living with agoraphobia, stating, “I huddle there with my eyes clamped shut.”
At one point, Shelly develops a migrant and declares, “My eye is going.”
Shelly asks Holling to play the song “Someone to Watch Over Me,” perhaps wishing for someone who is able to see her clearly.
Walt laments that he can’t see the view that’s just outside his office window.
Shorty (aka “Hayden”) is portrayed as being blind.
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.
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.
Songs from the episode’s original airing:
- “This Must be the Place” – Talking Heads [replaced in DVD version]
Beginning and end of the episode.
- “Ridin’ High” – Benny Goodman [replaced in DVD version]
Various scenes, to convey the New York context.
- “You’re the Top” – Cole Porter [Performed by Holling in the episode]
- “Someone to Watch Over Me” – George and Ira Gershwin [Performed by Holling in the episode]
- “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” – Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields [Performed by Walt and Ruth Anne in the episode]
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