Title: The Quest
Written by: Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider
Directed by: Michael Vittes
Aired: February 8, 1995
Log line: Log line: Fable and folly become one when Joel and Maggie search for the mythical Jeweled City of the North, leaving behind a resentful Chris.
Listen to the podcast of the episode here.
In all three storylines in “The Quest,” characters have a hard time letting go. For fifteen episodes, we have been saying goodbye to Joel, little by little, but it is only in this episode that we have to say a final farewell. Although this long goodbye is a strategy to ease the audience’s transition from the old doctor to the new, we sort of wondered if a shorter exit for Joel would have ultimately been better for the show. With this drawn-out structure, the show seemed to be living in a kind of purgatory, with one foot in the past (Joel), and another one in the future (Phil and Michelle), leaving the audience in a kind of mist of unknowing, much like the mist of Keewaa Aani.
The character of Chris stands in for some portions of the audience here, as he is not able to let Joel go. His disappointment at Joel’s abandonment of the town and himself, leads to hostility towards the new replacement and the physical manifestation of symptoms such as dizziness, loss of hearing, nausea, and loss of balance.
To some, Chris’ behaviour might seem over-the-top or uncharacteristic, but we can’t help but think that this storyline may have been related to how the actor Paul Provenza (Phil) was received on the show. In an interview with Bullz-Eye, Paul states:
Where it really became interesting was “Northern Exposure,” because “Northern Exposure” fans were like Trekkies. They were emotionally involved in that show, which I can understand. It was a pretty great, interesting, unusual, smart and heartfelt show, so I could see people getting emotionally involved with that. The weird thing, though, was that a lot of people in the blogosphere…I was getting, like, accused of being the guy that made Rob Morrow leave the show. And I would just write in and go, “No, I had nothing to do with that. He left the show. You want to be mad, be mad at him; he left the show. I just got a gig. I’m just a guy who went for a job and got it, so don’t hold it against me.”
It is only when Bernard holds a mirror to his actions that Chris begins to realize what is going on and that his hostility is misplaced.
On another level, Michelle finds herself in a position where she needs to let go of her fantasy of being discovered as a major journalist through being published in Alaskan Highways. She laments, “I used to have such a romantic notion of journalism. Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, The Round Table. But you know the reality. The reality is just so messy.” In the end, her review of the Brick was “three pitiful lines.” At this point, Michelle is unwilling to sacrifice her relationship with the town in order to advance her journalism career.
Finally, Joel and Maggie’s storyline is all about letting go. But along the way we meet an ex-Japanese soldier who seems to be unable to let go of the past. Dressed in his old gear from World War II, Ryu comes back to the Aleutians to relive some of the best months of his life.
Joel makes the theme explicit when he answers the riddle “How do you keep the one you love?” He answers, “You don’t. Love is selfless, non possessive. If you truly love somebody, then you have no desire to possess them. You don’t keep them.”
Maggie has to let Joel go just as we have to let him go. We have to allow Joel to be, wherever he is.
The Good – We thought this farewell to Joel was handled surprisingly well. It was a nicely-blended concoction of emotion and magic, with a dash of humour. We’ll miss Joel, but we’re glad that the bandage of his departure was finally removed after an agonizingly-long build-up, though we will admit to some tears when the bandage was removed.
The Bad – One of us didn’t appreciate the other two storylines and found it frustrating that they were shoehorned into an episode with Joel’s farewell. “The Quest” may have been even stronger if it were a single-storyline episode, like “The Three Amigos.”
The Notable – We have the return of Bernard and Adam, who were both introduced in “Aurora Borealis”, another episode that delivered a good dose of magic. (Here, Adam also goes by the name Gustav, which happens to be Holling’s middle name.)
On’s ratings: 9.0 out of 10
Shane’s ratings: 8.0 out of 10