I recently watched the first three seasons of Northern Exposure on DVD, and it struck me the same way it did almost fifteen years ago. At first, all of the women in it are pretty interesting, except Maggie. Maggie, from start to finish, is a neurotic mess. And whatever the writers intended (don’t know, don’t care), she ends up playing as a warning to feminists: “you just try to take care of yourself for a while, little girl – you’ll be back, begging for a strong man to earn your keep and protect you while you sit around not worryin’ your pretty little head.”
She may have short hair, low-key makeup and fly a small plane for a living, but it ends there. Her boyfriends all die, presumably because wanting but not needing a man is poisonous to men. (Remember, girls: cling to your men! Cling! Cling!) When the boyfriend she started the show with dies, she starts falling apart.
It’s at the end of the third season that the writers really pull off an accomplishment, though. There’s an episode in which she hasn’t slept for 36 hours, and she and Joel decide to have sex. But they go their separate ways for a few minutes first, and during that time she falls asleep. He tries to wake her, but she’s out cold, so he lets it go. The next morning she can’t remember anything and assumes they had sex as planned, so she tries to fake remembering. He’s about to tell her the truth, like a dozen times, but she keeps refusing to let him speak. Then, in one of the sloppiest bits of “we need the character to say this to keep the plot going” dialog I have ever seen, she tells him that if anyone ever found out they’d slept together, she’d die of embarrassment.
At that point – with full support from the audience who now wants Maggie to crawl into a hole and die – he decides to let her continue thinking they slept together for a while longer. After a couple of awkward days which dominate other episodes much the way a 20-car pile-up could be said to dominate a highway, he finally tells her they didn’t sleep together. Guess why she goes ballistic? Because he let her think a lie? Nah.
Because he didn’t have sex with her while she was unconscious. When he asks point blank if she’s saying he should have just ripped her clothes off and had his way with her while she slept, she answers, “Yes! You had permission!”
Right. And that’s not all.
In the next episode in the pile-up, she goes to his cabin and announces she needs to have sex with him after all. Something about guilty pleasure or something – it doesn’t really make any sense, so don’t sweat it. Clearly, by this point, the creators of the once brilliantly-written show had already started moving to Miami for their new show in a nicer climate and didn’t give a rat’s ass. (Note: new show failed rather hilariously about three minutes into the first episode, which makes me rub my hands together in glee.) Anyway, as they’re getting hot and heavy on the couch, Maggie asks Joel how much he wants her – he responds with several passionate remarks on the topic. She asks if he would let anything stop him from having her. Going along with the moment, he says no and yammers on about earthquakes and other natural disasters that couldn’t impede the impending boink, apparently forgetting that Maggie herself is the ultimate natural disaster.
And suddenly, Maggie realizes that’s all she really needed – just to know he wanted her. She’s good to go now, so she’s gonna leave. At that point, Joel conspicuously fails to hold her down and ravish her on the floor, thus belying the statement about earthquakes and stuff.
I could write another six paragraphs about why I have a problem with this, but I have laundry to do, and this show has had more attention from me than it deserves.