Disappointed in a Northern Exposure episode

On Netflix, I’ve been watching Northern Exposure. In fact, just the other day on my other blog I wrote about how much I enjoy the show.

Then I saw the episode “Northern Lights“.

Before I continue, here’s Northern Exposure in a nutshell. Rob Morrow plays Dr. Joel Fleischman, a neurotic Jewish doctor from New York (who’s, no doubt, related to Woody Allen) who finishes medical school and learns that due to a clause in his contract that he never bothered to read carefully, he’s obligated to serve the State of Alaska for four years as a doctor to pay off his student loan. So, this doctor, after unsuccessfully trying to get out of his contract, reluctantly sets up shop in the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska. It’s a town of quirky people, and he’s indeed a “fish out of water”.

The show’s brilliantly written and well acted, but I found myself disappointed by the episode “Northern Lights”. Joel prepares for a much-needed two week vacation, as stipulated in his contract. However, Alaska informs him the vacation is in effect cancelled since they could not find a doctor to take his place for the two weeks.

Angry, Joel withholds medical services until he’s given a vacation. The town then sues him for breaching his contract and he’s subjected to living homeless (he’s locked out of his residence) until he relents and returns to work.

This episode seemed very poorly written for several reasons:

1. Nobody seems to notice that Alaska is the party originally in breach of contract for failing to provide Joel with a vacation. Yes, Joel is withholding medical services, but only because the State of Alaska has failed to honor its side of his contract.

2. Instead of withholding medical services, Joel no doubt would’ve instead contacted an attorney from New York or Mike, the local attorney that he’s developed an odd bond with. Joel longs to return to New York and was upset when told by Mike a few episodes back that Alaska was justified to add another year of service onto his contract.

3. Instead of the Cicely powers-that-be banging the phones to get a doctor there to let Joel take his vacation, they take it out on him by depriving him of his place and his personal belongings. Nobody in the town offers to let Joel stay with them, and his assistant Marilyn only visits him to ask if they should reorder a particular medical supply.

4. Mike, a hypochondriac who’s convinced the air’s unfit to breathe and the water’s unfit to drink, had been receiving medical treatment (howbeit reluctantly) from Joel. But he takes on the town’s case against Joel. He then claims to Maggie he’s found a case that gives Cicely an airtight case against Joel. Wrong. It amazes me how an “attorney” like Mike or a well-read man like Maurice don’t realize that they’re in danger of losing their doctor because Alaska is failing to honor Joel’s contract.

I realize these are just TV shows, but there were just so many implausible things about this episode. It just seemed far too far out of character for the characters on the show, a sign of a risky story idea that turns into bad writing instead of a really great episode. Joel mentions how a doctor from a nearby town can provide emergency medical treatment…gee whiz! Would it have been so troublesome for the townfolk to save the run-of-the-mill medical issues until the Good Doctor got back and went to the other doctor for the important issues.

A friend of mine once told me he liked this show a lot but that it began to lose its way. Makes me wonder if this episode’s a good example.


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