Title: Let’s Dance
Written by: Sam Egan
Directed by: Michael Vittes
Aired: July 19, 1995
Log line: Manners make the man when Phil unwittingly offends a Tlingit elder, and Chris joins Marilyn’s cotillion class in order to deal with his two left feet.
Listen to the podcast of the episode here.
Dancing has been featured in Northern Exposure many times, from Joel defying Maggie’s ‘”curse” (after Rick’s untimely death) by slow dancing with her at the end of 2.7 “Slow Dance,” to Holling joining competitive Cajun two-step with Marilyn in 4.22 “Kaddish for Uncle Manny.” Dancing in the show has been a metaphor for romantic love and partnership (as in Shelly’s hallucination of dancers in 4.19 “Family Feud“), or a way to defy death and inevitability (like the dancing on the grave in 3.8 “A Hunting We Will Go.”)
In “Let’s Dance,” Chris finally learns to dance with a partner at Maggie’s suggestion. As we have seen in previous episodes, Chris is learning how to shed his womanizing bachelor ways and embrace partnership and intimacy. This act of learning is a commitment to this transformation. Moreover, the idea of dancing in this episode relates more to the idea of conforming to society’s rules and expectations, as well as participating in a civilized society. Both Chris and Phil deal with this issue, as Phil learns Tlingit customs and general etiquette. These rules of a civil society are of course arbitrary, but agreed upon by all parties; to participate and be a part of the community, one must adhere to these sometimes mysterious unspoken rules. It is a matter of being on the inside or outside, and both characters choose to be on the inside.
Similarly, the idea of sane/insane is arbitrary and determined by societal norms. Cal, who has been deemed “criminally insane,” has returned from the woods to turn himself in to become a part of society. He, like Chris and Phil, needs to undergo an examination in order to determine if he can be placed inside society and become a part of it. All three characters in the episode are steadfast in their efforts to participate, and all three are successful in integrating into that community.
What is interesting about this episode is how the camera work visually illustrates the themes of the stories. In an episode where a quasi-love triangle is featured between Cal, Maurice and Barbara, we very often get shots of three characters in the same frame: obviously, the three aforementioned characters are repeatedly shown, with Cal often in the middle, literally and metaphorically coming in between the relationship between Maurice and Barbara.
But we also get the same framing in other characters and storylines, for example Chris and Tori, along with other examples throughout the episode.
Another visual component that is prominent throughout has to do with Cal’s upcoming return to authorities. Bars and stripes often recur throughout, whether in Maurice’s blue and black striped robe, or the panels of a wall, or the bars of a window.
More to the point is the the lighting in the episode, which captures light pouring through horizontal blinds, casting ‘bars’ of shadow/light onto the characters. This visual motif is repeated throughout the episode, with a number of characters.
Finally, we have the recurring image of the full moon, which seems especially perpetual in this particular episode. The moon links to Phil’s werewolf transformation and links to Cal’s supposed ‘madness’; of course, it is also a romantic type image. It links all three storylines.
The Good – We loved how the episode explored the relationship between Barbara and Maurice, and how it reaches back to their history. This gave it a richness to the characters and their stories. While Barbara’s infatuation is a little bizarre, the portrayal of the crush (and it’s gentle dismissal by Cal) was done especially well.
The Bad – Like many other episodes in this season, the idea of the cotillon was something out of the blue, and something we’ve never seen throughout the six seasons. Why wouldn’t we have seen Joel go through this, for example? I’m also wondering if this episode is indeed the first time we’ve seen Chris dance with a partner? (Further research is needed, obviously!). We also hated the recap of the Cal storyline in the beginning of the episode. It was very unnecessary.
The Notable – Ashleigh Aston Moore, the young actress who played Tori, unfortunately passed away in 2007, at the age of 26. She did a great job playing a very embarrassed teenage girl.
On’s ratings: 6.5 out of 10
Hazel’s ratings: 6.5 out of 10