Northern Exposure Wiki
Northern Exposure Wiki
"The Body in Question"
Season 3, Episode 6 (?)
Airdate November 4, 1991
Writer(s) Henry Bromell
Director David Carson
Guest star(s)

  • Allan Miller as Elijah
  • William J. White as Dave the Cook
  • Sharon Collar as Woman
  • Shmuly Levitin as Yo'el
  • Gabriel Salvador as Tellakutan
←   Episode sequence   →
"Jules et Joel" "Roots"


Chris' discovery of the frozen century-old corpse of a Frenchman has a once-skeptical Joel rethinking the course of history, Maurice plotting a new enterprise, Shelly pondering fertility, and Holling reflecting on his own tainted gene pool. Ed gets encouragement from Ruth-Anne.


While fishing by a river, Chris is surprised to find a boot floating among the ice from the spring thaw. It is followed by a French flag floating along the river and, when he looks upriver, Chris spots a body frozen in a block of ice. The body is taken to The Brick's walk-in freezer, where it is examined by Maurice, Joel, and several townspeople. Holling, who has French heritage, begins translating a diary found near the body, discovers that the man is Pierre LaMoulin, and the diary is dated April 2nd, 1814. To Joel's wonderment, everyone seems to believe the diary, which also indicates that Napoleon was not actually at Waterloo, changing the face of history books to come. Maggie knows some French so she takes over the translation from Holling. Joel takes issue with her translation and, to prove it, he will defrost Pierre, but Maurice objects. Instead, Ed drills a hole through the ice into the body in order to obtain a tissue sample while Maggie enters the freezer with another revelation Joel can't believe. Separated from the others, Chris and Shelly discuss Napolean's relationship with his beloved Josephine whom he left because she couldn't bear him children, which causes her to suspect Holling might do the same to her.

At Ruth-Anne's store, Ruth-Anne tells Ed he can add him to a waiting list, which he agrees to but isn't sure why. She tells him it's for books on Napoleon, which he thinks is an excellent idea. But Ed really came to the store because of the help wanted sign in the window. He wants to earn extra money (besides working for Maurice) so he can get his latest script evaluated by a "real" Hollywood producer for $200, to Ruth-Anne's objection. He tells her he doesn't have much retail experience but she tells him the job is for general help like stocking and relabeling.

At Joel's office, he examines the tissue sample from the body and determines that it is in fact human. Maurice is pleased by this finding and encourages Joel to perform more tests to determine the age of the body. Joel reluctantly agrees, and returns to The Brick to take more samples. There, he runs into Maggie who is reading further into the diary. She is engrossed in the soap opera story of Pierre and Joel is bothered by the apparent conflict between the diary and historical records. Maggie simply accepts the idea that history may have been wrong.

Ed is at the general store, freshly hired and dusting the shelves with a feather duster, when he comes across a can of peas he tells Ruth-Anne is a "can of art". She asks if he wants it and he thanks her, then she pays him his day's wages from the cash register. Ed asks her over to his place for dinner and she agrees.

That night, Holling appears to be preoccupied with something and Shelly is surprised to find that he doesn't want to "fool around". After having heard of the relationship between Napoleon and the Italian island of Elba, Shelly believes that Holling no longer wants to be with her and begins doubting herself. She goes to see Joel, and cites her previous hysterical pregnancy as evidence that she is barren. Her concern is over the idea that, if Holling finds out, he may choose to dump her for someone who can give him a son. Joel sees no connection between the events and asks Shelly if she put 2 and 2 together and gotten 22. Nevertheless, Shelly is still concerned.

While Joel is busy testing the fabric to determine its age, Marilyn tells him of the Tellakutan tribe, who are believed to be of French descent. She says that this legend coincides with the diary, which says that Napoleon landed in Alaska and preceeded to marry a native woman named Moshka. Joel begins to think that the concept of Napoloen arriving in Alaska instead of Waterloo might actually have some basis in fact.

At Ed's place, he and Ruth-Anne have dinner and, afterwards, he offers her coffee and several movies to choose from and watch. She learns more about Ed's interest in movies and consoles him with how she ended up in Cicely.

At Shelly's behest, Joel visits Holling at The Brick and asks him why he no longer wants to "fool around" with Shelly. He tells Joel that the arrival of Pierre has reminded him if his own tainted bloodline. According to Holling, his entire family line is "pure evil" and descendants of French bluebloods. Since Holling is the last Vincoeur alive, he wants to end the line and avoid a "genetic Chernobyl".

Ed is lying on his bed, depressed, as Ruth-Anne knocks on his door. Ed lets her in and he tells her he got his script back from the "big-shot producer" who hated his script because it "sounded familiar" and had no midpoint. Ruth-Anne reminds him of her son, she believes she ruined, in a deep moment of connection between her and Ed.

The late afternoon finds Joel sitting alone outside The Brick, thinking. Maggie asks him what is wrong and Joel says that he is depressed because he's starting to believe in Pierre. The actuality of his existence has thrown Joel's finely-honed scientific and historical beliefs out the window and Joel can no longer be sure of anything. Maggie, who easily accepts Pierre, can not understand his dilemma.

A town meeting is held by Maurice in the church to determine what will be done with Pierre. Maurice's plan is to make Pierre's frozen body the main attraction in a Cicely Historical Museum, complete with underground parking garage and adjoining shopping mall. However, Chris urges him to consider the metaphysical implications of changing history by revealing Pierre's past. He feels that the discovery that Napoleon was not at Waterloo could have far-reaching effects on the entire universe. In an entertaining verbal interplay, Joel stands up to debate Chris, saying that the world has an obligation to know the truth. The whole concept of facts versus truth is bantered about for a while and eventually interrupted by the entrance of three Indians wearing sunglasses who announce in French that they have come for the body.

Late at night, Joel is in the freezer at The Brick looking at the body of Pierre and considering his own heritage. He falls asleep and dreams that he is talking with Elijah, while watching his great-grandfather perform the passover ceremony. Elijah chides Joel for never actually beileving in him and Joel considers the place of Elijah in his own philosophy. When he awakens, blue and shivering, he runs off to Maurice's house, and tells Maurice that he believes that the Tellakutans have been waiting for Pierre just as the Jews have been waiting for Elijah. Considering Pierre's place in their belief system it would be wrong to keep the body.

The next day at The Brick, after much debate, Holling decides to tell Shelly of his tainted heritage and she says the she doesn't care about his ancestry and knows that he is a good person, which satisfies Holling.

At the general store, Ruth-Anne gives Ed some on-the-job training by showing her product labeling prowess but his self-doubt shows. Ruth-Anne consoles him and rebuilds his self-confidence.

Shelly goes into The Brick's freezer to get a bag of bacon and notices the bag is wet, defrosted, and there is water all over the floor and dripping down from a hole in the ceiling. She runs out screaming for Holling. The next scene shows Pierre's hat floating in the tub of water the body was in with Holling, Shelly, Maurice, Maggie, Marilyn, and Chris gathered around. Maurice is upset about his lost business opportunity while Chris tries to console him. Maurice leaves, determined to return the body.

At Joel's house, Maggie checks on a delerious in-bed Joel one last time before leaving for the night. Joel has an epiphany about Holling's genes comment and Maggie shows genuine concern for Joel's well-being. He reassures her that he is just free associating and he is fine. She tells him she will come back in an hour to check up on him and that he better be asleep, tucking him in.

On the radio, Chris later announces Pierre's disappearance, and reads a passage from Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past." The Tellakutans are seen in a canoe, paddling Pierre's body off into the mist as Marilyn stands watching from the shore.


Ed (walks into the general store): Mornin', Ruth-Anne!
Ruth-Anne: Oh, hi Ed...I can put your name on a waiting list. (begins writing his name down on the list)
Ed: Ohhh, thanks Ruth-Anne!
Ruth-Anne: Number 17.
Ed: What's the list for?
Ruth-Anne (looks at him oddly): You didn't come in for books on Napoleon?
Ed (inspired): No but that's an excellent idea!
Ruth-Anne: Well, what can I get you then?
Ed: Oh, I came in because of the sign in the window.
Ruth-Anne: "Special on Huggies"?
Ed: No, the "Help Wanted" sign.

Chris: History is powerful stuff. One day your world is fine. The next day it's knocked for a metaphysical loop. Was Napoleon really at Waterloo? Would that change what I had for breakfast? Thoughts turn to our refrigerated friend Pierre Le Moulin, Pierre the Windmill, stepchild of history. If those chapped lips could speak, what would they say? Bonjour? Mes amis, j'ai faim?[1]

(Ed and Ruth-Anne after having dinner in his apartment) Ed: Where are your kids now?
Ruth-Anne: Rudy's in Portland. He drives a truck. He writes pastoral poetry in his spare time. (sighs) And Matthew...that boy had such promise...
Ed: What happened to him?
Ruth-Anne: He's in Chicago...he's an investment banker...
Ed: I'm sorry...
Ruth-Anne: Life's full of surpises, Ed--some happy and some not.
Ed: Yea...

(Ed tells Ruth-Anne about his script rejection)
Ruth-Anne: What are you going to do?
Ed: I think this is what they call a "critical juncture" in a young man's career.
Ruth-Anne: Ed?
Ed: Yea?
Ruth-Anne: Remember my son I told you about, the investment banker?
Ed: Rudy.
Ruth-Anne: Matthew...that boy could've been a musician. You should've heard him play the trumpet...just like Bix Beiderbecke; warm, round tone...and I ruined it for him. To this day I feel guilty.
Ed: You-you told him to quit?
Ruth-Anne: No...I told him to play all the time. I told him how good he was. You see, Ed, I didn't put anything in his way... An artist needs obstacles. He needs to contend; to find out what he's made out of. Matthew didn't have to fight for his art. Eventually, he forgot the horn, went to business school, and you know the rest.
Ed: Was he really good?
Ruth-Anne: Well, I don't know whether he could've earned a living...but I do know...that when he left his music behind he left part of his soul.

Joel: So you put 2 and 2 together and came up with 22?
Shelly: Yeah.

(Ed slowly lines up a label dispenser on a can)
Ruth-Anne: Give it here.
(Ruth-Ann quickly labels the cans)
Ed: Wow!
(Ruth-Anne presents her arm to Ed)
Ruth-Anne: Feel that.
(Ed feels her wrist muscle)
Ed: Bands of steel.
Ruth-Anne: Years of labeling.
Ed: Think I could ever learn to do that, Ruth-Anne?
Ruth-Anne (looks sternly at him): Ed, I think you can do anything that you put your mind to.
Ed: ...Why?
Ruth-Anne: Why not?
Ed: No one ever said that to me before, Ruth-Anne...
Ruth-Anne: What've other folks got that you haven't got?
Ed: Parents.
Ruth-Anne: They can be as much a hindrance as a help, Ed, believe me. Remember what I was telling you yesterday?
Ed (nodding): There's this screenwriter, William Goldman--he wrote Butch Cassidy, um, All the President's Men...Misery...
Ruth-Anne: Sounds top-notch.
Ed: Oh, he is. You know, he said, "nobody in Hollywood knows anything". But I know something.
Ruth-Anne: What's that?
Ed: I'm never paying anyone $200 to read my scripts again. They can stand in line and see the movie just like everyone else.
Ruth-Anne (with a fist pump): That's the spirit!
Ed (smiling): Pass the labeler please.



  • Pierre's diary is from April 2, 1814
  • When Napoleon first visited, he and native Matchka had a liaison. Thus the Tellakutans consider him father.
  • Holling comes from French royalty; aristocratic scum: Louis XIV on his father's side. De Vincoeur was the original name. They abused peasants and raped the countryside. His great-great uncle Gustav's death is still celebrated in France. His great-great grandfather fled to Canada and blew the family fortune on drinking and gambling, exploiting the local Indians; his son, grandson, and Holling's father were no better.
  • Ruth-Anne came North in 1971 in a 1961 DeSoto with a cat and $800. Bill's heart gave out and her kids were grown: Rudy's in Portland, Oregon as a truck driving pastoral poet; Matthew is in Chicago in investment banking but should have been a musician because he played the trumpet like Bix Beiderbecke. Matthew never had to fight for his art.
  • Holling needs reading glasses.
  • Maggie had a semester at the Sorbonne.
  • Joel dreams of his family in Radomyśl, Poland circa 1850, featuring the prophet Elijah.
  • If Holling is right and we are our genes, Joel claims he is four million years old (although Maggie thinks he's 29) and his name is "Yoel ben Ya'akov" ("Joel, son of Jacob" in Hebrew).
  • Literature: Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (Chris reads on-air, farwell to Pierre)
"When from a long distant past nothing persists, after the people are dead, after things are broken and scattered, still alone, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long, long time like souls, ready to remind us, waiting, hoping for their moment amid the ruins of all the rest, and bear unfaltering in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence the vast structure of recollection."
  • Ed's movie reference: Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)[8]
  • Shelly's earrings: Hawaiian man and woman (townsfolk check out the frozen guy), yellow and black tropical fish (Maggie tells Shelly and Joel about Matchka being pregnant), green dice (Holling reveals his family past)
  • Ed's T-shirt: Los Angeles Rams


  1. "My friends, I'm hungry?"
  2. Chris finds the frozen body in the river.
  3. Chris and Shelly talk at The Brick.
  4. Maggie reads from journal. Joel gets a sample of cloth.
  5. Holling tells Joel about his evil family line.
  6. Shelly discovers that Pierre has been stolen.
  7. The Tellakutans row away in the canoe.
  8. Ed and Ruth-Anne having coffee at his place.