Northern Exposure Wiki
Northern Exposure Wiki
Season 1, Episode 1 (?)
Airdate July 12, 1990
Writer(s) Josh Brand
John Falsey
Director John Falsey
Guest star(s)

←   Episode sequence   →
- "Brains, Know-How, and Native Intelligence"


Joel experiences culture shock after taking a job in an Alaskan village, where the eccentric townsfolk refuse to let him leave.


The series begins with Dr. Joel Fleischman having a one-sided conversation with a businessman on a flight to Anchorage, Alaska. Joel tells the man that he received a $125,000 medical scholarship (after 74 rejections) from the State of Alaska, in return for which he agreed to a four-year service to the state. Although a native New Yorker, Joel attempts to convince the man, as well as himself, that a four-year stay in Alaska is "definitely doable." After arriving in Anchorage, Joel meets with Peter Gilliam, who informs him that overstaffing in Anchorage has made Joel expendable, and so he is assigned to work in Cicely. Joel is upset and doubtful, but reluctantly agrees.

After a long bus ride, Joel is dropped off seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Finally, a local named Ed picks him up and, after driving him a little while and asking about his musical preferences, and chit-chatting about New York, inexplicably leaves Joel with the truck and points toward Maurice Minnifield's house. Upon arrival, Joel is met by Maurice who rapels down from his cabin roof. He briefly tells Joel about how he arrived in Cicely twenty years earlier, and single-handedly began developing the town into a tourist spot, and requested a "Jew doctor" as part of his development plan. However, Joel is less than impressed when he finally sees the town. In his run-down office, he meets Marilyn, a local native who wants a job as his receptionist. Another of his many fits of anger and frustration sends him to The Brick, a local bar, where he calls Gilliam from a pay phone and tells him that he wants out of the contract. Gilliam informs Joel that if he backs out, he has to repay the 125,000 dollars given to him by the State of Alaska. In a panic, Joel calls his fiancee Elaine back in New York and asks her to look for some sort of loophole in his contract.

Events begin to pick up as Joel meets several more of the town's residents. Holling, the bar's proprietor, offers Joel something to eat while he's waiting for Elaine to call back. Ed comes in and asks Joel another random music question. Holling tells Joel how he and Maurice had a falling-out over Shelly, who is both waitress and Holling's love interest. Joel, whose personality so far has been antagonistic, warms a bit to Holling. However, his anger returns when he meets Maggie, who he mistakes for a hooker, but who is actually his landlord and a bush pilot (air taxi). She escorts him up to his cabin, where he sleeps a fitful night after hearing rats.

The next morning, Joel jogs seven miles into town and stops off at Ruth-Anne's store for some water and beef jerky (after he finds out she doesn't know what bagels are.). In his office, several patients are waiting, as well as Marilyn, who is acting as receptionist, despite repeated explanations that "there is no job". Several unusual patients, including a woman who brings in her pet beaver to have his teeth checked, are followed by a man named Walter who has been gunshot by his wife Edna. A sense of eccentricity of the townspeople is seen in this cross-section of patients. Ed comes into the examination room and tells Joel that Maurice wants to talk to him.

Out on the lake in a rowboat, Maurice is duck hunting and gives Joel a good solid "talking to" about honor, commitment, and loyalty regarding Joel's contractual obligation. Joel responds in his aggressive, egotistical, New York manner but then cowardly ducks and screams "no!" when Maurice takes a shot at a duck just above his head.

Later that night, Joel is talking with Maggie in The Brick about their pasts. Joel tells her about he and Elaine's relationship and Maggie tells him about the graduate student with whom she came out to Alaska. Joel, who has had a bit too much to drink, flirts with Maggie a bit but gets sick, and wakes up in a bed at Maggie's cabin. Outside, he meets Rick, who is apparently Maggie's live-in boyfriend.

Back at the office, Joel again finds Walter, who has been stabbed by his wife Edna this time. Joel helps Walter and his wife Edna talk out their marital problems. Later that day, Elaine calls Joel and tells him that there is no way out of his contract. Joel finally resigns himself to his fate, after one final fit of rage in his pickup truck.

At the 9th Annual Arrowhead County Summer Wonderland Festival, Joel gets a taste of the local culture, with Ed as guide offering him a choice of "mooseburger or caribou dog" (Joel picks the first). Maurice and Holling rekindle their friendship. The episode ends rather abruptly, and has the disadvantage of having to set up the entire premise of the series, in place of any real plot. However, the introductory character interactions and background information set the tone for the series.


Pete Gilliam: (to Joel) So what we've decided to do is set you up in Cicely, situated in an area that we Alaskans refer to as The Alaskan Riviera.

Maurice: When I heard we had a crack at a Jew doctor from New York City...well, I don't have to tell you I jumped. You boys do outstanding work.

Maurice: This is Cicely. She and Roslyn founded the town 97 years ago. Rumor and innuendo notwithstanding, they were just good friends.

Joel: I will under no condition spend the best years of my life in the worst place on Earth!

Joel: I don't don't like it - I hate it! And I demand to leave! ... Well that is because you are not the one who is supposed to spend the next 4 years of his life in this Godforsaken hole-in-the-wall, pigsty with a bunch of dirty, psychotic rednecks!

Holling: You haven't heard back from your attorney, huh?
Joel: Well, no - but as I'm sure you know, these are very, very complex legal issues here, and they take quite some time to sort out. Besides, she's got finals.

Maggie: Look, you know, if you'd rather spend the night here than at my place, don't let me get in your way!
Joel: Look, I don't want to tell you how to run your business, but this petulant aggressive thing is a real turnoff...
Maggie: I am not a hooker...jerk. I'm your landlord.

Maurice: You signed a contract, Joel. But much more important than that, you gave your word. And I intend to hold you to that word within the bounds of the law. If necessary, without the bounds of the law.

Joel: (to Maggie after a few beers) You're kinda pretty in a, like, clean sort of way.

Joel: (after Edna attacks her husband Walter twice in two days) The way I see it we have three options: divorce, separation, or you two can start talking to one another. Now, how many hands do I see for divorce? (Marilyn raises her hand; Joel doesn't miss a beat) Separation? OK, then you two should talk to each other.

Joel: And if I leave? 10,000 dollars or 18 years in jail...and 18 years in jail?!?



  • Cicely and Roslyn founded the town 97 years ago, according to Maurice.
  • A hippy came through and painted the "Roslyn Cafe" mural but he was "so high on the weed" that Maurice had to paint the apostrophe himself.
  • Joel is from Flushing, Queens, and never travelled west of the Mississippi River. He played doctor with Katie Kaplan in the second grade.
  • Joel submitted 75 scholarship applications.
  • Joel did his residency at Beth Zion.
  • If Joel reneges on his contract, the fine is $10,000 and 18 years in jail.
  • Maggie O'Connell is age 28 from Grosse Point, Michigan and came to Alaska with her mountain climber and graduate student boyfriend who was writing a book, Mountain of My Misgiving (which eventually gets published), and took a nap on a glacier and froze to death.
  • Maggie's plane in the episode's original draft is a Cessna.
  • Rick Pederson is Maggie's live-in boyfriend.
  • Maurice came to Alaska 20 years ago, bought 15,000 acres, and started Minnifield Communications ("the key if you've got something to sell").
  • Holling is 62 and best friends with Maurice who brought Shelly (age 18 and "Miss Northwest Passage") to Cicely to marry him. She told Holling if he wanted her, she was his; he did, starting a temporary feud with Maurice.
  • Ed, age 18, is an Indian who works for Maurice.
  • Chris, age 27, is a disc jockey.
  • Ruth-Anne, age 73 owns the general store.
  • Elaine is from Canarsie, Brooklyn and is a third-year law student.
  • Joel's cabin is 7 miles to the general store.
  • Ed mentions radio talk show psychologist Toni Grant.
  • Ed quotes some medical jargon from the TV show St. Elsewhere (also from creators Josh Brand and John Falsey).
  • The man Joel is talking to on the plane in the very first scene is actor John Aylward, who would go on to have a recurring role on this series as pilot Charles "Red" Murphy, starting with episode 5, "The Russian Flu".
  • Elaine Miles won the part of Marilyn Whirlwind by accident. She accompanied her mother, who was auditioning for the part of Marilyn, and they cast Elaine instead.
  • John Corbett (Chris) and Cynthia Geary (Shelly) appear in the opening credits but do not have any spoken dialogue in this episode.
  • Cynthia Geary appears twice in background shots: once in The Brick and once at the outdoor party (9th Annual Arrowhead County Summer Wonderland festival).
  • John Corbett appears briefly in a crowd scene at the festival.
  • One of the deleted scenes on the season 1 DVD features Ed, Maggie, and Chris talking more about Maurice's threat to kill Holling.


  1. Plays when Ed drives Joel partway into town to meet Maurice
  2. Joel bursts into the Brick and promptly makes a phone call to say he wants out of his contract
  3. Joel sits at the bar and talks to Holling and Ed
  4. Joel hears Holling's story of the feud between him and Maurice
  5. Country music playing on The Brick's jukebox when Joel and Maggie first meet
  6. Barbeque montage
  7. Joel and Ed eating mooseburgers at the barbeque

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