It's fun to meet Elaine, Joel's fiancee in this episode. It lets you know a lot about what Joel himself is like and where he's from. Also, with the entire town having the flu, the show starts to pick up its own pace in terms of being an ensemble cast.
I actually think the end moment that is so surreal that we're never really sure it's happening - well, that's when Northern Exposure actually begins for me. The use of music and fog throughtout the series is very comforting and calming. I don't remember for sure, but I don't think the ensemble cast was used a lot in the 90's. And I think it really expanded tv to allow multiple storylines - it made things so much more interesting than if we just focused on Joel and Maggie as stars and love interests. It's an interesting cultural juxtaposition and might be more interesting if you didn't actually know people like Joel.
I am not opposed to quirkiness. In fact, the quirkiness is often what I like about this series. But this episode perhaps takes it a step too far.
The main plot trajectory is an entertaining one. Joel's fiancee Elaine travels from New York to visit Joel and to get some much-needed quality time. Unfortunately, her visit coincides with an outbreak of a nasty flu virus that leaves Joel working more than he normally would. Then, of course, Elaine gets sick, effectively ruining any plans they might have for any hanky panky. Alongside this storyline, we have a thread about a tribal remedy concocted by Marilyn that actually does cure the virus, despite Joel's protests that to use such a remedy is medically unethical. Then, there's a C story about Elaine becoming close with Maggie, which, of course, puts Joel on edge.
There's a great moment in this episode in which Joel dreams of being back in New York City. In his dream, all the denizens of Cicely have taken jobs in Joel's neighborhood (including Ed, who is hilarious as a doorman claiming to be Woody Allen's new writer). Even stranger, everyone seems to think that Elaine is Joel's sister, including Elaine, and Maggie turns out to be Joel's wife. It's a funny sequence, made even funnier by how obvious it is to be a dream.
But later, during an outing to a nearby overlook with Holling, everything takes on an odd, surreal tone. The sequence is an homage to Twin Peaks, but the reference is too obscure and will make zero sense to anyone not a fan of Twin Peaks. This is a good episode forced to take a step backwards due to quirkiness too bizarre to even be truly explained.
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