By the time Twin Peaks aired its 14th post-pilot episode on November 10th, 1990, the show had begun to languish in the ratings. Attribute this to what you will. Maybe the novelty had worn off to the public at large, leaving only the cultists. Maybe the show had dipped in quality. Maybe the move of the quintessential water cooler series, heavily watched by young, going-out-on-the-weekend types, to a deadly Saturday night timeslot wasn't such a great idea. (I fall pretty squarely into that last camp.)
Still, ABC hadn't given up and this episode received a good deal of promotion as the one where viewers would find out who really killed Laura Palmer. It was a creative decision forced on Mark Frost and David Lynch by the network; they both wanted to keep stringing viewers along for the length of the series as the town's other stories came to the fore. It was, after all, called Twin Peaks, not The Who Killed Laura Palmer Show. I would have liked to have seen them make the show they wanted but I will say this: Revisiting the series there's nothing as compelling as the central mystery. I like almost all of the peripheral characters but when we start spending too much time on the mill burning or the newly vegetablizied Leo, I find myself wanting to get back to the Laura Palmer material. Even so, this big reveal feels like it comes too soon.
But that doesn't mean this isn't a hell of an episode. I normally do two episodes at a time here, but I'm going to give this whole column over to Episode 14. It's not like there's any shortage of action.
Frost scripts and Lynch directs and if the neat composition of our guys all lined up, drinking coffee and eating doughnuts in the deliberately paced opening scene wasn't tip-off enough, the way a pair of clinking mugs gives way to a shot of the local waterfall ought to clue viewers in. (Of course, the credits help, too.)
The first few scenes mostly tie up some loose ends. Lynch's Gordon Cole exits the scene (but not the series). Mike is still Mike, still pointing without medicine when taken to the Great Northern. Charged with vetting hotel guests in the search for the killer, he freaks out when he meets Ben Horne. It's not the last time Horne will be falsely accused that day. Meanwhile, Hawk discovers Harold Smith's body and scattered pages from Laura Palmer's diary. Then we see, not for the last time, an idyllic painting labeled Missoula, Montana. It's Maddie's hometown, but she won't be going back there just yet.
This episode features two scenes in the Palmers' living room. In the first Maddie gazes at that painting as the camera slowly moves in step with a live recording of Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" before landing on the David Lynch equivalent of Grant Wood's "American Gothic": The Palmers sitting on their couch, sipping coffee, a portrait of their dead daughter framed by their bodies.
When Maddie announces she'll soon be going back home to her apartment–the first mention of what her life away from Twin Peaks is like, if I recall correctly–Leland pauses before offering some reassurances. But what's going on with Sarah? Her expression remains tough to read, although it's not tough to see that she's troubled.
After a quick trip to Harold Smith's death scene–complete with some Lynchian flashbulb action–we move on to a new development in Leo Johnson's mental state. He can talk now, even if it's just to say, "new shoes." He says it pretty sweetly, too, even if it makes Bobby scream like a little girl. What he means will be revealed late in the episode as will the secret identity of Mr. Tojamura, who was Catherine in disguise all along. But first we have to deal with another revelation, albeit one we viewers already know. In an awkward, and nicely acted, scene, Audrey reveals she was the masked Prudence her father lusted after at One Eyed Jacks and the look on Ben Horne's face is priceless and suggests an emotion he didn't previously seem capable of experiencing: shame. His admission that he slept with Laura will contribute to his arrest later in the episode.
Does Cooper doubt he has his man when he hauls Horne in? He doesn't look too confident and if he truly thought he had the case solved, it seems unlikely he'd be lured away by The Log Lady's cryptic comment: "We don't know what will happen or when, but there are owls in the roadhouse."
Well, there's something at the roadhouse, anyway. In fact, there's a lot going on at the roadhouse and the rest of the episode divides its time between Coop, Truman, and the Log Lady watching Julee Cruise perform as James and Donna wordlessly define, and redefine their relationship and Bobby broods. Eventually Cruise gives way, for Coop at least, to a vision of The Giant who reveals that, "It is happening again."
And it is. At the Palmer's house a hallucinating Sarah sees a vision of an illuminated horse in their living room as Leland sees a vision of his own, watching as his face gives way to Bob's in the mirror and then, for a flash or two, in the real world. It's a lo-fi effect made incredibly frightening by… well, I don't know. Somehow Lynch makes creepy use of images that should just be laughable, like the tiny old couple in Mulholland Dr. But there's no laughing here. Maddie's murder at Leland's hands is one of the most disturbing moments in the Lynch filmography. It never loses its power to unsettle and I'm not even really sure how it ever got on the air. This is NC-17-level violence made all the more disturbing by its suggestions of incest and the way Sheryl Lee plays the part as if she were as powerless as a rag doll. It also taps directly into a key Lynch theme, making the death of innocence literal. And bloody. But at least we have our answer.
Rewatching this stunning episode I kept coming back to two thoughts. The first: This is as fine an hour as the series ever produced. Just about everything works, even Super Nadine. As commenter Tooncedale pointed out, Ed and Nadine's scene at the diner really digs into the fear and pathos beneath the Ed/Super Nadine relationship. The whole episode is eerie and unsettling and what humor there is doesn't feel forced. A new crop of Angelo Badalementi music doesn't hurt. We'll get into that in some later post, but Badalementi fans should know that last year saw the quiet release of a season two soundtrack, music I thought would never be collected. (It's on iTunes, too. And yes, it includes James, Donna, and Maddie singing "Just You.")
Here's the other notion: What if this was the end? We'd leave all the major characters in a similar state, stuck in a limbo they might conceivably never escape. Audrey's traumatic experiences have stripped her of the coy, bad girl postures. Ben's arrest, likely to reveal to the public his affair with Laura, has removed the veneer of respectability that allowed him to prosper. Shelly has gotten what she wanted–a life with access to Bobby and no abuse from Leo–but it's come at a cost she wasn't ready to pay. Bobby gets to be the bad boy but finds no profit in it beyond a tape that will, in its own way, just bring him back under Laura's sway.
James and Donna are together in love but the tears she sheds suggest she knows that, no matter how hard they try to make their love a fortress against the world, it will never quite be enough. Josie has gotten what she wanted out of the town and slipped away but it's clear her attachment to Truman and the goodness he represents will torture her. Pete has his wife back and apparently all to himself but her habit of subterfuge and disguise have taken on a profound new manifestation. Meanwhile, at the Palmer house, Maddie's finally found a way to become Laura, Leland has grown more comfortable with his true self, or at least the self that controls him at his worst, and Sarah has slipped into an torment-free oblivion. And then there's Cooper. He's made his arrest but he has the wrong man and I'm pretty sure he knows it.
And, what's more, the worst thing he can imagine has happened. Another innocent person has died. The ring's still missing, the ancient bellboy's sorry, and the mystery lingers on but there's a disquieting beauty to it all. "The sun comes up and down each day," Cruise sings, but for now we have only a red curtain. And we may never get to see what's behind it.
But, of course, it's not the end. Next week we plunge into the world of post-revelation Peaks.