"Burning Down the House"
Season 3, Episode 14 (29)
Airdate February 3, 1992
Writer(s) Robin Green
Director Rob Thompson
Guest star(s)

←   Episode sequence   →
"Things Become Extinct" "Democracy in America"

Summary[edit | edit source]

Tempers sizzle with the arrival of Maggie's "pathologically polite" mother, who brings alarming news. The creative process inflames Chris with an unusual vision for his conceptual-art project. Joel offers up a challenge to a chimney sweep who has lost his drive to win.

Plot[edit | edit source]

Out in a field by an old barn, Joel is talking with Chris while Chris is building something. Chris tells Joel that he plans on constructing a trebuchet to fling a cow in order to create a "pure moment". Joel is left pondering this inhumane act.

On KBHR, Chris asks townspeople for some mechanical tools, along with a cow to fling. At Ruth-Anne's store, Maggie is buying supplies to prepare for her mother's visit. All the while, she complains to Ruth-Anne about her mother, who is "pathologically polite". Later, when she brings her mother into town, Maggie is obviously uncomfortable and constantly trying to please her mother. The two of them enter The Brick for lunch.

Inside, Joel is sitting at the bar near a man whom Joel knows only as the chimney sweep, Bob. The man's identity puzzles Joel, who feels like he recognizes him. Under Joel's scrutiny, Bob leaves. As Maggie and her mother eat, and her mother complains about the food, Maggie discovers that her mother is visiting to tell Maggie that she is getting a divorce. Maggie is stunned by the revelation.

Back at Maggie's house, her mother is busy looking around and making small talk while Maggie is anxious to discuss her parents' impending separation. Mrs. O'Connell calmly tells her that the papers have already gone through and they're just waiting for final approval. Maggie is told that her parents' marriage has been long dead and that Mrs. O'Connell wants to finally go out and experience life. Despite her mother's convincing, Maggie is still unwilling to beileve that her parents are getting a divorce.

On the way to Ruth-Anne's store, Chris runs into Gary who offers him his cow. Entering Ruth-Anne's store, Chris finds Joel picking up his mail. When he opens his Golf Digest, something clicks inside his mind and he suddenly remembers Larry Coe, who missed a three-foot putt, and subsequently lost the Masters. Joel is convinced that Bob the chimney sweep is actually Larry Coe, who left professional golf shortly after the Masters. Joel is exhilirated by his discovery. Returning to his cabin, Joel confronts Bob and tells him that he knows Bob's identity. Bob is visibly upset by Joel's information, and leaves.

That night, Maggie leaves The Brick, clearly drunk and depressed over her mother's news. As she begins walking home, she is passed by several fire trucks, which are going to her house. Upon arriving at the blaze where her house once stood, Maggie finds her mother, who apologizes for having accidentally started the fire. Maggie's face is frozen with conflicting emotions.

The following day, Ed arrives at the barn to visit Chris who is busy polishing an axe. Ed expresses admiration for Chris and mentions the scene where a cow is flung in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. When he hears this, Chris suddenly stops his work and slumps into a chair. He tells Ed that he can't fling the cow since it has already been done by Monty Python, so it wouldn't be a "pure moment". Ed leaves, sorry for his interference. He returns to The Brick, where Joel is telling Holling and Maurice about Larry Coe's past golfing career. Ed tells them that Chris has given up.

In town, Joel runs into Bob, who is leaving Cicely to go to Greenland. Joel is confused by this decision, and Bob explains that he can't tolerate pity and feels like, every time anyone looks at him, they will see someone who "choked" (gave up) at the Masters. He drives off and Joel is alone with his guilt, feeling responsible for Bob's sadness.

Maurice enters Chris's barn to find Chris sitting alone, thinking. Maurice admonishes him for giving up so soon and Chris responds that repetition is the death of art, and "[inspiration] doesn't grow on trees". Maurice ignores this, and tells Chris that he is gutless for giving up. He tells Chris not to sit feeling sorry for himself but to pick himself up and go on. Chris begins thinking about the dichotomy of creation and destruction, and is inspired again.

Back in town, Chris shows up at Maggie's house, only to find her digging through the rubble. Maggie's mood worsens when she finds the melted remains of her dioramas, which were memorials to her dead boyfriends. Chris compares the burning of her house to the phoenix, which would rise from its own ashes and be reborn. He finds her charred piano, still out-of-tune, and Maggie agrees to let him have it. As she leaves the house, Chris plays an off-key version of "As Time Goes By".

Out near the woods, Bob is driving by when he spots Joel by the side of the road, waving him down. Joel says that he feels bad and asks Bob to come with him into the forest. Bob reluctantly follows and comes upon an astroturf green set up to resemble the 18th hole at Augusta. Joel commentates, as Bob resignedly putts the ball in. Afterwards, Bob remains unchanged, but Joel feels much better, and Bob departs.

Maggie goes to visit her mother at Maurice's house, bringing along a pair of Ferragamo high-heels which miraculously survived the fire. After some superficial conversation about the shoes, Maggie's mother apologizes for ruining Maggie's life, and Maggie cries at the apology. When Mrs. O'Connell says she has to leave Cicely, Maggie honestly wants her to stay, and is able to forgive her mother.

Out in an open field, a crowd is gathered around an enormous device, which is connected to something hidden underneath a cloth. As the townspeople look on, Chris makes a speech thanking Maurice for his inspirational speech, and Maggie for the shreds of her ruined home. He pulls out a sword, has Marilyn draw away the sheet, revealing the piano, and then activates the mechanism. The piano is launched in a high arc and, in a truly magical moment,[1] seems to hang in the air while everyone watches. Its elegant tumbling is accompanied by "The Blue Danube Waltz". Finally, it crashes to the ground, earning gasps of appreciation from the onlookers. For a moment, even Maurice has a flash of comprehension, and Chris' face breaks into a self-satisfied smile.

Quotes[edit | edit source]

Chris: I've been here now for some days, groping my way along, trying to realize my vision here. I started concentrating so hard on my vision that I lost sight. I've come to find out that it's not the vision, it's not the vision at all. It's the groping. It's the groping, it's the yearning, it's the moving forward. I was so fixated on that flying cow that when Ed told me Monty Python already painted that picture, I thought I was through. I had to let go of that cow so I could see all the other possibilities. Anyway, I want to thank Maurice for helping me to let go of that cow. Thank you Maurice for playing Apollo to my Dionysus in art's Cartesian dialectic. And thanks to you, Ed, cause the truth shall set us free! And Maggie, thank you for sharing in the destruction of your house so that today we could have something to fling. I think Kierkegaard said it oh so well, "The self is only that which it's in the process of becoming." Art? Same thing. James Joyce had something to say about it too. "Welcome, Oh Life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience, and to forge in the smythe of my soul the uncreated conscious of my race." We're here today to fling something that bubbled up from the collective unconsciousness of our community. Ed, you about ready? The thing I learned folks, this is absolutely key: It's not the thing you fling. It's the fling itself. Let's fling something, Cicely!

Music[edit | edit source]

Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • Jane is 58 and married to Frank for 32 years. Jane told Aunt Barbara, Reverand Holyoke, Price Adams (her haircutter), and Maggie's brother (still nameless) that she and Frank filed for divorce. She and Frank haven't slept together in 6 1/2 years (Frank was "wooden and methodical"), with the exception of the GM testimonial.
  • When Maggie was age 2, they lived on Overhill Road.
  • Larry Coe is from Florida. As Bob, he's been cleaning chimneys around Cicely for 5-6 years. Larry was up against Kevin Quass at the Masters; his junior win was in '78.
  • Maurice shot an 83 (in golf) against Aldrin and still lost.
  • Joel did an ENT rotation at Mount Sinai.
  • Maggie's house was located at the south corner of Katunie and Washington. The real house in Roslyn, Washington is actually on the corner of Washington and 2nd.
  • Maggie is still 28 years old.
  • The Jane O'Connell regime: swim 66 laps a day, hot lemon water, and half a dry English muffin with "marmy" every morning.
  • Joel told his friend Bernie and cousin Mickey in New York City about Larry.
  • Chris says repetition is the death of art (just ask Andy Warhol). It's not the vision, it's the groping, the yearning, the pushing forth.
  • The flinged piano is Maggie's burnt Mason & Hamlin upright.
  • Jane's on her way to Bordeaux, France for a Butterfield & Robinson bicycle tour following the Dordogne River to Brèves.
  • Shelly's earrings: cows (talks to Chris about art; helps Maggie settle on the pool table), blue vinyl records (at the fling)
  • Ed's movie reference: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
  • Why does Maggie have to sleep on the pool table when Shelly and Holling have a guest room upstairs? (see "The Bad Seed", 4-7)
  • The trebuchet was built by John Wayne Cyra[10] and was eventually sold and used in the Oregon-based Da Vinci Days festival.[11]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. slow-motion
  2. Maggie buys suplies for her mom at Ruth-Anne's store.
  3. Chris and Shelly talk about catapults.
  4. Jane tells Maggie she and the Mr. are divorcing.
  5. "Days of Wine and Roses"? by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer
  6. Joel picks up his Golf Digest and realizes who Bob, the chimney sweep, really is.
  7. Maggie and Holling talk about happiness.
  8. Holling, Shelly, Maurice, and Joel talk in The Brick.
  9. The piano is flung.
  10. http://web.archive.org/20000520101650/www.eskimo.com/~verne/treb.html
  11. Local minds could craft Da Vinci fix, Corvallis Gazette-Times, January 20, 2005
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