Northern Exposure Wiki
Northern Exposure Wiki
"Soapy Sanderson"
Season 1, Episode 3 (3)
Airdate July 26, 1990
Writer(s) Karen Hall
Jerry Stahl
Director Steve Cragg
Guest star(s)

←   Episode sequence   →
"Brains, Know-How, and Native Intelligence" "Dreams, Schemes, and Putting Greens"


After the passing of one of Cicely's most-loved eccentrics, Soapy Sanderson, Joel and Maggie battle over the proper handling of his 100 acres of land, left to them in his will.


Early in the morning, Maggie lands her plane outside a cabin near the woods, where she picks up Soapy Sanderson, an elderly man who lives alone as a hermit with a team of dogs (huskies). There is an obvious closeness between Soapy and Maggie from a long friendship. Maggie brings Soapy in to Joel's office, and Joel is upset that they are several hours late. In addition, Joel is bothered to find that Soapy hasn't been doing his physical therapy for his broken hip, which is not healing very quickly. After Joel tells Soapy to think about his future, Soapy leaves, a bit more somber than before. Later that day, Ed delivers a note from Soapy, telling Joel and Maggie to meet him at his cabin the next morning. When they arrive, they find Soapy's body, along with a gun, a will, a nice bottle of wine, and an urn for his ashes. Joel is visibly shaken, but Maggie accepts Soapy's death as part of life's cycle.

At The Brick, Holling reads the will, and Joel and Maggie are shocked to find that they have been names co-executors to Soapy's estate. Joel is especially confused, since he barely knew the man. At the bar, Joel suspiciously interrogates Maggie about the reason, and Maggie accuses him of being paranoid.

At Joel's office, a local Indian Chief Ronkonkoma shows up and offers to buy Soapy's land from Joel for $50,000, in order to use it as a tax write-off. Hoping to use the money to help shorten his sentence in Cicely, Joel tentatively accepts the offer, provided he can convince Maggie to agree. He meets Maggie later in The Brick, and rather duplicitously tries to convince her to give the land back to the Indians, despite her wanting to create a nature preserve instead. Maggie hesitantly agrees, and is actually impressed with Joel for coming up with such an original idea.

Ed drives two strangers into town, who have arrived to make a documentary. At the same time, Joel is in his office talking to Elaine telling her to get an expensive attorney to get him out of his contract. However, he is interrupted by Maggie, who introduces him to Laurie and Kim, the two filmmakers from Kenyon College who are shooting a documentary on Soapy's life because he earned two doctorate degrees from the college and was a major benefactor. Joel is a little uncomfortable with the attention, and begins feeling guilt over his decision to sell the land. Meanwhile, Maggie is beaming, and has apparently overcome her previous dislike of Joel.

In the evening, Maggie stops by Joel's place with dinner and wine to celebrate their decision to give the land back to the Indians. Joel, who hasn't told Maggie about the money, is a little nervous, but invites her in. The attraction between Maggie and Joel heightens as they pour the wine and, as they finish off the bottle in front of the fireplace, Maggie apologizes for misjudging Joel. Joel's discomfort grows and, as he tries to tell her about the money, she begins hitting on him. Suddenly, Maggie realizes what she is doing, becomes very uncomfortable, and starts to leave. Joel, who is by now thoroughtly confused, asks her what is going on. Maggie admits that she was hitting on him, kisses him on the cheek, and leaves, while Joel stands alone, flustered and confused.

In The Brick, Laurie and Kim are filming footage of townspeople who knew Soapy. When interviewing Maggie, Laurie shows her a picture of Soapy's dead wife, who looks exactly like Maggie. Maggie starts with the realization that Soapy's affection for her could have been related to the love of his deceased wife. Later, on a walk with Holling, Maggie brings up her past relationships and the fact that every man she has ever gone out with ends up dead. Holling explains that maybe she is simply putting something out into the universe. Unfortunately, their conversation is cut short as Maggie spots workmen surveying the land to prepare for drilling. Her anger escalates as she realizes who is responsible.

In Joel's office, he is being filmed by Laurie and Kim, with Ed assisting with the camera. As Joel uncomfortably begins reading Soapy's poetry for the camera, Maggie storms in an accuses him of selling out the land for his own benefit. Joel chases after her and tries to defend himself but Maggie remains unconvinced.

As Joel stops by KBHR to talk with Chris, Chris tells him to make the best of wherever he is, a possibility that Joel had not yet considered. For the first time, he ponders accepting his place in Cicely, instead of rejecting it out-of-hand. He goes to patch things up with Maggie, and Maggie pours out her feelings about Soapy, and her connection with his dead wife. They resolve their disagreements, Joel agrees not to sell the land, and they fly over the mountain peaks to drop Soapy's ashes, which end up blowing back in the cockpit. Through all the arguments, they have emerged slightly closer than before.


Joel (to Maggie): I don't like people committing suicide. All the ethical considerations aside, it's just plain bad for business.

Maggie (to Joel): A man--a dead man--puts you in his will, and naturally you would think there's some ulterior motive.

Maurice: Chris, you play this crap at 6 in the morning and you'll be looking down so many barrels, you'll think you landed in an NRA convention.

Maggie: All you care about is you, and New York, and your precious career!
Joel: Look, Mother Theresa, I did not get off the plane and say that I am Marcus Welby, kindly physician, and all around swell guy! Okay!?! I was fully prepared to do my time in Anchorage, but I am contractually bound to this tundra under false pretenses and against my will. So if I resort to some unscrupulous practices to right a greater wrong, look, where's Amnesty International when it comes to Joel Fleischman?!?

Chris (on-air): Soapy once told me that the thing he loved most about country music was its sense of myth. There's heroes and villains, good and bad, right and wrong. The protagonist strolls into a bar, which he sees as a microcosm of the big picture. He contemplates his existence and he asks himself, "who's that babe in the red dress?"

Ed (to Laurie): I don't think you should bug Dr. Fleischman because he's from New York and they have a thing about paparazzi.

Chris: (to Joel) Well, you know the way I see it, if you're here for four more years or four more weeks, you're here right now. You know, and I think when you're somewhere you ought to be there, and because it's not about how long you stay in a place. It's about what you do while you're there, and when you go is that place any better for you having been there?[1]

Joel (to Ed): I just don't like having remains in my mouth--I mean, even people I know.

Joel (to Ed): The only consequence of all this will be, that whenever I open a nice Bordeaux, there will be the distant, distasteful memory of a nutcase who tried to kill me because I allowed her to kiss me on the cheek under false pretenses. I can live with it.

Ed (to Joel): I don't think I'm ever gonna look at life the same after this.



  • Maggie reminds Soapy of his wife, physically and, they both "sang their own song." Soapy's doctorates are in mythology and theology.
  • Maggie says Cicely is a town of 815 with 16 hours of daylight.
  • Chief Seattle quote.
  • Shelly's earrings: gold dangles with beads[7]
  • Ed's film career debutes.
  • Film references: The Searchers (1956)
  • Soapy leaves Maggie and Joel a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild 1975 wine.
  • Goof: in the scene where Joel and Maggie are pouring the wine, Maggie's hair changes from scene to scene.


  1. See Buddhism and psychology
  2. Ed delivers a note from Soapy to Joel
  3. Joel and Maggie discuss their joint inheritance
  4. Joel calls Elaine from The Brick; Maggie introduces students making a documentary
  5. Joel eats at the bar
  6. Joel asks Chris how he should apologize to Maggie
  7. Joel asks for a chainsaw to cut his food