(Warning: this article contains spoilers about Season One of ABC’s Alaska Daily)
After the clunker that was episode three, I was pleasantly surprised to see the quirks and hometown charm that originally attracted me the show back in action. Alaska Daily gave this lifelong Alaskan something she never knew she needed: an Alaska State Fair episode. Holy Palmer Hay Flats, we’re headed to the Valley! I could not wait to see how they portrayed both the fair as well as the residents, who are often the butt of local jokes. Let’s dive in.
It’s opening weekend of the Alaska State Fair, and Stanley is doling out assignments. Claire’s covering entertainment and the pig races. Hootie and the Blowfish is headlining this year (fact check: FALSE). Yuna is covering food, including our famous Denali Cream Puffs. Miles, the photojournalist, will be there all weekend and Bill is judging the jam contest. Gabriel is awarded his first story assignment covering the giant cabbage weigh off. He’s elated.
Eileen and Roz chalk up a win due to their reporting: Mead Police Chief Durkin has been suspended by the City Council pending an investigation. The duo focuses on locating the prior police chief, Orin Connors, who was known to drink on the job. While Eileen is committed to working the story on weekends, Roz has a basketball tournament and takes off. Eileen is less than impressed.
Oh joy, my two least favorite story lines are back: Eileen’s panic attacks and the threatening “concerned citizen” dude who wants her out of Alaska. “Concerned citizen” sends her a bullet in a box at work and then follows up with a call/death threat. Later, after receiving accolades on the Durkin story from her old boss in New York, Eileen has a panic attack and passes out on the front steps of the Captain Cook’s Fourth Avenue entrance. Daily Alaskan Publisher Aaron Pritchard, who frequently stays at the Cook, witnesses the fall and rides with her to the hospital. Predictably, Eileen detests the hospital and leaves almost immediately, ripping the cords off as she makes her grand exit. In Eileen’s world a death threat is a badge of honor while an old boss giving her a complement is a major trigger. I’m warming up to her, mainly due to her collegial chemistry with Gabriel and Hilary Swank’s superb acting, but her character is making it difficult.
It’s State Fair time. The fair is everything the Alaska State Fair is supposed to be: rides, yummy fair food, giant produce, happy kids with painted faces, porta potties and more. But it’s not quite right. The mountains in the background are unimpressive, the welcome sign isn’t even close and there’s a serious lack of livestock. I am pleased to report they nailed the Cabbage Fairies. Three lovely tutu wearing fairies dressed head to toe in green and adorned with faux cabbage leaves were front and center on my television screen. It was glorious. Kudos to whoever pushed for that historically accurate moment. It gives me hope that we may see Downtown Anchorage’s famous Parking Fairies in a future episode.
The giant cabbage weigh-off begins. Photojournalist Miles offers nervous first time reporter Gabriel a weed gummy. Gabriel declines explaining he needs to stay focused. “Me too,” says Miles as he pops one in his mouth. Very Alaska. A young woman by the name of Erica Block wins first prize with her 135 pound cabbage. Gabriel rushes on stage to interview her. Unsurprisingly, his story ends up boring and a little thin. Calling Eileen for help, she advises him to “dig deeper” and go to the farm. I adore their relationship.
Roz’s team the “Termination Dusts” kick butt at the tournament. Perfect Alaska team name. The girls celebrate their win at Koots and start to trash talk Eileen. “Come on, you had to know we’d be grilling you about that fancy New York white woman coming to take your job. Is she going to do what they always do – write some stories and split after exploiting our pain?” Roz responds by comparing Eileen to “those geese that come up her every summer: they don’t stay here long, they make a lot of noise and they act like they run the place.” The whole exchange is a little forced, and we again see a white person being presenting in a negative light – a theme the show seems fixated on.
Up at the cabbage farm something’s starting to smell, and it isn’t their renowned organic salmon fertilizer – the only thing they use to grow their food. Erica’s mom died of brain cancer when she was young and her dad, Brandon Block, has sworn off all technology. They make Gabriel leave his cell phone in a box during his tour of the farm. Whoever wrote Gabriel’s rookie journalist lines has me giggling for the first time ever watching the show. His sweet yet robotic delivery of “can you give me an example?” several times during the episode was spot on. Erica is worried about her dad; since her mom’s death he has cut her off from society and technology. He started attending mysterious anti-technology meetings and now, one of their barns is suspiciously always locked. She tells Gabriel to check it out. When he does he finds bag after bag of non-organic salmon fertilizer. You know, the kind that is used to blow stuff up. I thought there was going to be a giant cabbage weighing scandal, and it turned out to be a white anti-tech terrorist cell in the Valley!
Gabriel secretly meets up with Erica at her church, the only place outside of the farm she’s allowed to go, and she reluctantly hands him a manifesto her dad keeps in his room. It’s from Genesis, an ecoterrorist group, and the document advocates for violence. Stanly tells Gabriel he has the pieces of a great story, but he’ll need to flesh it out more including going back to the fair to get a comment from Brandon Block. “So, we ask him if he’s planning on building a bomb?” Gabriel asks, shaking in his boots. “This is when it gets fun,” Eileen responds. Again, I love them. More Eileen and Gabriel, please!
The newly formed duo confronts Brandon, and he gets emotional saying everything he does is for his daughter. Stanley and Bob call the FBI to inform them about the potential terrorist cabbage farmer. Everyone agrees Brandon is no mastermind, but perhaps Genesis saw him as a foot soldier. Gabriel’s big cabbage reporting may have prevented a tragedy. Stanley congratulates Gabriel on a job well done and offers him a promotion as a reporter. Of course, there isn’t room in the Daily Alaskan’s budget for a raise just yet, but Gabriel happily accepts the additional responsibilities for zero compensation. Oh, to be young and working in media.
The episode ends with Eileen and Roz meeting with former Mead Police Chief Orin Connors. Orin admits he was a drunk on the job and has zero credibility. He wants to make things right. Orin hands them Gloria’s unredacted police report and walks away. There are two previously unknown names in the report: Ezra Fisher and Rega Horne. Did they kill Gloria or know who did? The case heats up once more.
Allison Hovanec was born and raised in Alaska. She and her husband are raising three young children in South Anchorage. She is a co-owner of the Alaska Landmine, writer for the Alaska Political Report and generally competent.