(Warning: this article contains spoilers about Season One of ABC’s Alaska Daily)
Episode two is in the books, and it’s clear these writers have tapped into what makes living in Alaska exciting – for those of us who actually live here as well as those who reside in the often referenced “lower 48.”
The show opens afterhours at a comfy, Alaska themed diner. A no politics, no religion, no drama sign is featured prominently – Girdwood Forrest Fair vibes, anyone? Suddenly a shadowy figure turns on the burners, douses the tables with gasoline and lights a menu on fire. Arson! The screen fades to black and I settle into the rhythm of the show: a featured story (this week it’s going to be the diner fire) and the overall arch (the murder of Gloria Nanmac and other missing and murdered Indigenous women)..
We flash back to one day before the fire, and Eileen (Hilary Swank) is out for her morning jog on the Coastal Trail. She nearly runs into a moose with a full rack and resorts to asking Siri if “moose are dangerous.” Siri says, not really but there are more moose attacks each year than bear and wolf combined. Eileen does the wise thing and hightails it back downtown. I’m surprised Eileen didn’t seize the moment and grab a moose selfie. Very sensible lady.
It’s breakfast time at Rita’s, the quintessential Alaska diner named after its owner. Rita’s is a hopping joint that folks, including Daily Alaskan journalist Claire Muncy, have been going to for decades. Claire is dining there this morning with her family, celebrating her son’s ninth birthday. A small kerfuffle breaks out between two patrons behind a backdrop of cable news featuring violent protests. Rita bristles at both, tells someone to turn the TV off, and sadly notes how everyone is angry these days. Upon arriving at the Daily Alaskan, Claire is caught off guard to learn Rita’s is up for sale.
Eileen and her partner Roz meet Gloria’s mom at the Medical Examiner’s office to finally get a copy of Gloria’s autopsy report. This is one of the first scenes where we see conflict between the reporters and the police — a theme that has been heavily foreshadowed in the previous episode and promos. While the autopsy says the cause of Gloria’s death is undetermined, there are injuries consistent with an assault. Her body was swabbed for DNA. However, due to various broken promises and bureaucracy, DNA samples from Alaska offenders are not being submitted into any databases.
There is breaking news: Rita’s has been sold to the fictitious corporate fast-food giant “Big Burger.” Claire is shocked and goes into full reporter mode. When Rita refuses to tell Claire (a friend and customer of over ten years) the scoop, Claire is convinced someone is pressuring her. Rita begs Claire to let it go. Back at the office Claire vents about the situation to her colleagues and says she needs more time to figure out what’s going on. Eileen suggests letting the local Historical Society know about Big Burger’s big corporate plans for Rita’s.
Eileen’s editor Stanley informs her she has lunch plans at the Crow’s Nest with him and the Daily Alaskan’s publisher. He’s Alaska born and raised, Ivy League educated, young and cocky, and has a wealthy, well-connected family. Could they be any less subtle with the Binkley reference? Lunch does not go well. When Eileen asks why his family bought the paper: for ego, vanity or influence, the publisher replies that his family bought the paper because he loves journalism and “I promised my father I’d make the paper economically sustainable.” Eileen prods further asking if there is anything the family deems off limits. He says no, as long as the journalism is sound, and then makes a cutting reference to Eileen’s fall from grace over the five-star general.
After lunch, Eileen is just sitting down at her desk when scary concerned citizen dude strikes again. He took photos of Eileen walking into work and emailed them to her while simultaneously calling her cell phone to harass her. Eileen runs outside and catches him driving away in a black SUV without a license plate. I am already tired of this plotline. At least there were no panic attacks this week.
Eileen and Roz have trouble tracking down Toby Crenshaw, one of the last people to see Gloria on the night she died. Checking his social media one more time Roz finds an old happy birthday post from an uncle in Anchorage. When Eileen and Roz knock on the door no one answers. But Roz thinks to look in the half open garage. Toby’s uncle is there and does not want to answer questions or tell them where Toby is. Roz notices a freezer surrounded by empty boxes of Tanner crab. She correctly guesses Toby is commercial crabbing, and they find out he’ll be leaving on a boat out of Kodiak tomorrow afternoon. There’s one problem: not only is the Daily Alaskan’s travel budget lacking, all the commercial flights to Kodiak are sold out. What’s a reporter to do? Eileen puts in a damsel in distress call to Jamie, her episode-one-one-night stand, and just like that both journalists have a free flight to Kodiak in the morning. The poet pilot is back, baby!
As a large group of pro-Rita’s protesters gather in front of the diner, Big Burger goes on the offense and sends a smorgasbord of tasty food to the newsroom. As the reporters start to dig in, Bob the news editor frantically stops them saying, “It’s a conflict of interest!” The reporters fight back until Bob agrees they can eat it, but only until Claire gets back. The acting in this scene is spot on – Alaskans know all too well the euphoric feeling of eating from a new fast-food place or restaurant for the first time, especially after being exposed to the delectable commercials for decades without being able to partake. Big Burger is delicious, and for a minute everyone forgets about Rita’s.
An important town meeting regarding the fate of Rita’s is about to begin. It’s in an actual log cabin! There are lots of signs: and even more angry shouting: “Nobody touches Rita’s!” “The government has no right to tell a business they can’t build. That’s socialism!” “Go back to the lower 48, we don’t need that crap here!” A fight breaks out.and Rita runs out of the meeting with a terrible look on her face. Claire goes home and noodles over the story with her husband while sipping on a glaring continuity error: a non-Alaska brand beer. What the heck!
Down in Kodiak, Eileen and Roz finally track Toby down. He is worried “they” will find out he’s talking to reporters. Toby finally breaks after Roz asks him point blank if he killed Gloria. He says no, but that they had a fight and when Gloria called him from another party asking to be picked up, he refused. They learn the nick name of who threw the second party: Skeeter. This sends the investigation into a whole different direction: North!
This is when past and present collide, and Rita’s goes up in flames. Claire again goes to Rita, pleading with her to tell the truth. Rita is heartbroken. Not about her diner being torched, but about the deterioration of human decency. “All I saw was fighting,” she bemoans. Claire unravels the truth: Rita set Rita’s on fire because she was tired of everyone fighting all the time. “Big Burger was going to tear it down anyway,” Rita notes, more concerned with the drama between her patrons than the arson she committed. “It’s not easy to tell family you can’t take their crap anymore.” Indeed.
The episode ends with a breaking news alert that disgraced executive chair of the Alaska Investment Fund, Jordan Teller, has died in a plane crash. Austin frantically tries to reach Yuna, his colleague and potential love interest that broke the story about Teller’s embezzlement. It’s too late. Yuna sees the news alert. Jordan Teller is dead. I got a pit in my stomach as this scene unfolded. The parallels between the fictitious Jordan Teller and the tragic death of ANTHC executive Andy Teuber were unmistakable. Teuber died the day after his wedding in a helicopter crash after learning the Anchorage Daily News was about to publish a story about sexual harassment and sexual misconduct allegations against him. He was presumably flying home to Kodiak to be with family as the news broke. He never made it. So far, the Alaska references have been fun. This one was dark and made me feel uneasy for several reasons. I’ll be watching next week, but I’ll be hoping for more lighthearted fare, like this episode’s Lake Hood cameo or another milk run reference.
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.