Stephen Fry in America: Episode Six: Pacific

Here's the link to the entire series on the BBC iplayer, enjoy it while it's still available. For those of you who wish to watch Pacific it's located here. Slight disclaimer, I watched this episode while still mildly ill and I'm having to work from my notes, they're rather... interesting... in parts so I may miss names of people or so forth.

In this, the final episode of Stephen Fry in America, Mr Fry travels to the final five states on his journey, these are the five states that all touch the Pacific Ocean. California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii.

We pick up from where the previous episode ended in California, Stephen has travelled to San Fransisco to admire the mix of old and new transportation, he rides on the trams to China Town and takes in the sights and sounds of the place. Visiting a company called Golden Gate who have been in the business of producing fortune cookies for forty six years. After talking a little with the owner he travels to the amusingly
named Nob Hill to speak with one of the most influential Brits in recent times, Johnny Ive, designer of the iMac, iPod and iMac. Unfortunately for us, while Johnny has designed some excellent products he's not much of a television speaker and he struggles through a few lines of conversation, stammering and hesitating while trying to express his opinions. While his place may have an amazing view of Alcatraz Prison, a place that Stephen notes only Clint Eastwood escaped from, the conversation with him is somewhat lacking.

After travelling across the Golden Gate bridge Stephen looks into a major product of California's economy. While California may have the seventh largest economy in the world it also has it's (slightly) darker side, it's suspected that California's number one product and export is the show Weeds, starring the delightful Mary Louise-Parker. No, wait, scratch that. I meant the plant and illegal substance. Stephen joins the local Sheriffs with the intent of riding along for a bust. But first he gets to channel some more Clint Eastwood down the firing range as he's handed a Smith & Western Model 29 .44 Magnum as made famous by the aforementioned actors portrayal as the most excellent Dirty Harry. Stephen shows his flair for the dramatic and fun by quoting that famous scene almost word for word only breaking character when the kick of the gun surprises him. It's a bit of an odd scene in one respect, the entire thing is set to one of the spaghetti western sound tracks. After he's handed a Kevlar vest he travels up with the Sheriff for a relatively simple bust, there is no exciting chases or gunfights here, the growers surrender peacefully and after Stephen gets a chance to look at the crop it's destroyed. On the way back in the car the Sheriff muses on the problems they have with semi-legalised cannabis and wonders why the department can't make some money from the legal sales while also having a method of identifying legal plants. Slippery slope my friend, slippery.

Next he meets up with a couple of different varieties of environmental protectors, first of all is Carmen King who studies Energy Efficiency and also works hard to promote her feminist values while continuing to unwittingly widen the gap between the genders. Honestly I had little time for her and I was glad when the conversation was over and we moved on to a slightly more tolerable pair of people, who ironically were tree huggers but still more likable than Carmen. Stephen spent some time with them seeking the habitat of the Red Tree Vole, a protected species, because locating a vole nest will result in a 10K protected area of forest. They were slightly more likable than most enviro-fanatics, while I do very much believe in a sustainable and protected environment I dislike many of the methods employed by people of this persuasion, the sustainable housing of last week's episode is more the kind of environmental action that I feel is presented in a productive and worthwhile way.

From tree fanatics to another kind of enthusiast. In Oregon we get to meet up with a Bigfoot spotter! He's able to give us a chilling account of his first encounter with Bigfoot (sadly it's not Bender shouting out "Hey Fry, it's me Bigface!") and explains why he's so passionate about spotting Bigfoot. He goes on to hint about a conspiracy to cover up Big foot's existence from the park and muses why this is. Stephen is naturally cynical about the whole thing.

Next it's Seattle, Washington. Home of the 90s grunge movement that (eventually) spawned The Foo Fighters (which is why I feel grunge was a worthwhile form of music). Stephen heads to Pike Place Market to meet up with Christoff Snell, the owner of Can-Can Cabaret. After enjoying some freshly baked donuts he chats about life in Seattle and ponders with Christoff about the high suicide rate in the city all inter spaced with some scenes from a cabaret show.

He then goes to meet a twenty two year old seal called Barney who doesn't have a hygiene problem, thanks to careful brushing he's avoided the issues that plague many wild seals. After talking with the keepers a little he also goes to look at some North/Alaskan Sea Otters and feeds them a Union Jack fish surprise.

The final two legs of Stephen's journey will not use roads, so he waves a sad farewell to the little taxi which has taken him so far and heads up to the penultimate state on his journey, Alaska. His first stop is Kodiak Island where he talks a little about the historical role of the Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska, they first arrived to minister the fur traders who hunted sea otters for their incredibly dense furs but ended up working to help the native peoples after seeing how poorly they were treated. He then admires the beauty of the country and heads out on a boat, watching some live sea otters before going fishing for halibut and catching an Irish Lord.

He then travels to the northern most city in all of America, the perpetually snow covered Barrow, inhabited almost exclusively by Inuit. It's a cold and desolate looking city as most of the time people either stay indoors or head out of the city to hunt. Stephen has arrived just in time for the whaling season, the people of Barrow are permitted to hunt twenty two whales a year to provide them with food to survive. Stephen is shown a wicked looking weapon that is revealed to be a whale gun and the how and why of whale hunting is explained to him and us before we get to watch the hunters launch their seal skin boat and head out to hunt. But the weather is not kind to them today, the situations quickly turn unfavourable for hunting and due to a risk of the boats being crushed by moving ice the hunting is abandoned.

Finally Stephen travels 3,450 miles to the southern most part of America, Hawaii. On Honolulu he meets up with Terry, a real life Hawaii P.I. who has a few stories to share while walking the south beach. In the north Stephen heads out to sea and swims with some Galapagos Sharks before taking a paddle to Hula and chatting about the nature of tourism with one of the true inhabitants of the islands.

On Big Island Stephen visits the Mauna Kea Observatory and talks with Alex, an astronomer who's passionate in the manner of a true devotee, determined to make Stephen (and us) understand just how important stars are to humanity while also showing us the most powerful explosion ever recorded and waxing lyrical about mankind's possible fate.

The show ends with a flight over the lava rock formations in Hawaii where Stephen admires the raw power of the Earth itself, the volcanoes of Hawaii are still active in bringing up more land to the surface and it's here that the series ends. We've come across the entire of America in six episodes and seen every state, ending at a beginning, because every day these volcanoes create more America.

If I'm honest the episode 'Pacific' is not the best of the series, it feels a lot more like a series of talking head interviews combined with some light nature documentary, while I did still enjoy watching it and there were some breathtaking scenes shown it still felt a little off when compared to the other previous episodes. Still the series as a whole has been just fantastic to watch, Stephen is always a delight to see on screen and his passion always manages to bring out the fun and the interesting. I've enjoyed watching this and I look forward to his next endevor. I must also take some time to push the book of the series, it's a spiffingly fantastic read and is able to go into events with a far greater depth than the show does.

And last of all, if you feel like you've learnt something through this series (and I hope you do) then have a go at naming all fifty states in ten minutes here. Ross (on Friends) couldn't manage it but you should be able to now you've seen them all.

If you want to see more from Mr Fry you should check out his current project, Last Chance to See, where Stephen revisits the endangered animals that Douglas Adams visited many years back in the radio show of the same name.


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