Title: Full Upright Position
Written by: Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess
Directed by: Oz Scott
Aired: November 7, 1994
Log line: As they leave together on an all-expenses paid trip to Russia, it’s blue skies ahead for Joel and Maggie … or is it?
Listen to the podcast of the episode here.
In “Full Upright Position,” characters try to deal with forces beyond their control, whether it be electricity, mechanical failure, or genetics. The episode is about the forces of attraction, as positive and negative ions meet. Characters grapple in the situation they find themselves in, and each in their own way attempts to gain back the control they have lost.
In an episode where nothing much happens, we finally get a significant movement in Maggie and Joel’s relationship. For the last season or two, these two have been circling each other, getting together, coming apart, deciding to date, but still half-heartedly maintaining their hostile and defensive dynamic.
Joel gets the opportunity to deliver a presentation in St. Petersburg, Russia, and on a whim he decides to invite Maggie along as his plus one (says Joel, “The institute said they’d pay for a spouse, you know. I mean, that could be a significant other or a guest”). Clearly they still have trouble defining their relationship. Both Maggie and Joel have their whole trip planned, from visiting the Kirov Ballet, to going to Dostoevsky’s house. However, their best-laid plans are foiled as their flight is delayed overnight.
Stuck with each other for hours on end, the relationship becomes unhinged and they viciously fight. At this point, both of them are at the mercy of the mechanical will and ability of the Russian airline. Things are chaotic and confusing, with passengers constantly smoking, drinking, and arguing with each other. When things are at their most out of control, Joel and Maggie take back their fate by deciding to get married. They leave the environment that was the source of the disruption, and return to their familiar surroundings.
Maurice similarly finds himself in a situation he did not play a hand in; a relative, also named Maurice, comes into town to learn the ropes of the Minnifield empire.
Initially, Maurice is not hopeful about his new charge, attributing him with the qualities of a Dutton: “The Duttons are a bunch of layabout ne’er-do-wells. Gas station jockeys that never owned the station, but what choice do I have?”
As he discovers the hidden mathematical talents of little Maurice, big Maurice tries to gain control over the tide of family history by moulding the kid into a truer version of himself: “I used to think a person had to be born with it. You know, some had it, most didn’t, but with this kid, it seems like with a little encouragement and education we can even out the playing field a little bit”. However, his attempt to take fate into his own hands fails, as little Maurice costs him several thousand dollars.
Things return to status quo, with Maurice dismissing the Dutton family, and little Maurice finding work at a gas station. Maurice is a man who is used to being in control, and the personal narrative of his life has everything to do with his own self-made success, and his singular ambition that got him from the earth into space.
Chris, on the other hand, literally attempts to grapple with a force outside his control. Inspired by a burst of static, Chris creates experiments that try to get at the nature of electricity; he declares that he wants to figure out “how to get inside it, how to be it.”
Short of getting himself killed, Chris struggles to figure out electricity. He builds a magnetic bathtub machine, and through this, Chris feels that he gains control over this force of electricity. However, it’s unclear to us whether Chris successfully gets to the heart of electricity, as he’d intended, since his art project is more about magnetic force than electricity itself.
In all three storylines, we see characters thrust into situations where they did not choose to be. They find themselves in situations where they are powerless, and attempt in their various ways to take the reins back on their lives. Perhaps some characters believe they have successfully conquered the particular force they are confronted with, or perhaps they attempt to take back control and are defeated.
Songs from the episode’s original airing:
- “Joey” – Concrete Blonde [replaced in the DVD version]
Maurice confronts little Maurice about his error at the Brick.
- “Frankenstein“ – Edgar Winter Group [replaced in the DVD version]
Final scene where Chris works the bathtub machine.
Themes / Recurrences: Opposites attract; nature; technology; family.
The Good: We both liked some of the small moments in this episode, such as the after hours conversation between Maurice and Eugene. Compared to a few other recent episodes, we felt that we could recognize the actions of the main characters here as consistent with who they were in the first five seasons, which was nice to see.
The Bad: We both disliked Chris’ storyline, especially the final sequence in the bathtub. Generally, we love his sense of style. Here, he looks like a discount Vegas Elvis crossed with an outfit David Bowie discarded during his Ziggy Stardust phase. We also weren’t convinced by the turn of events in Maggie and Joel’s relationship.
The Notable: “Full Upright Position” has connections to a string of previous episodes that had storylines related to Russia, including “Russian Flu” (1.5), “War and Peace” (2.6) and “Do the Right Thing” (4.9).
On’s rating: 6.5 out of 10
Shane’s rating: 6.0 out of 10
Thanks so much. Please keep doing what you do.