And now we plunge into season two. On the making-of doc included with the “Gold Box” set, Kimmy Robertson (Lucy) refers to it as pretty much sucking and remembers that she stopped watching after a while. Maybe it does start pretty much sucking. I watched the show religiously when it first aired but memory gets hazy after a certain point. (There’s a beauty contest right?) At any rate, I don’t think we’re to the point of pretty much sucking quite yet. There are some moments in these first episodes back that are as strong as anything in the first season. But right from the beginning it feels a little off. Even though David Lynch directs the double-length second-season premiere, it lacks the sustained intensity of the first season episodes.
That’s at least partly by design. After capping an hour of cliffhangers with the shooting of Agent Cooper in the first-season finale, we open on a scene of a bloody Coop flat on his back and being served by a decrepit room service waiter (whom Albert will later memorably call “Senor Drool Cup” in the next episode). After getting frustrated with his inability to convey his distress, Cooper naturally makes sure a gratuity is included on the bill. Then it’s off to another hallucination/dream sequence/visit from the spirit world (it’s all the same, really) with the arrival of The Giant (Carel Struycken, who also played Lurch in the Addams Family movies and who’s pretty much the go-to guy to play really tall characters.) The Giant will be a major player in things to come, so it’s good that Struycken pretty much nails the character. He’s kindly, insistent, creepy, and caring.
I know it has its detractors, but I kind of love this scene. It’s perversely unsatisfying, and the string of riddles The Giant leaves pretty much assures that we won’t be getting any answers soon. But that’s why I think it works. This isn’t supposed to be a series dependent on instant gratification, though I’m pretty sure that curious viewers tuning in for the big payoff thought otherwise.
It’s when we get to One-Eyed Jacks that I think we hit the first speed bump. Blackie’s a junkie and Horne’s her dealer? Since when? Did we miss an episode? Also incongruous, and never really explained: Donna’s one episode transformation into a bad-girl. It’s almost as if Laura’s old sunglasses possessed her somehow. And, boy, does badness not fit her. Revisiting this show I’ve been really impressed with Lara Flynn Boyle’s performance as Donna. She has a quintessential girl-next-door quality that she’s pretty much abandoned in subsequent years. Her scenes here, especially her moment with James in jail, foreshadows every unpleasant tough-bitch performance she’d later give. The terrible dialogue doesn’t help. When James asks her about her smoking:
Donna: Helps relieve tension.
James: When did you get so tense?
Donna: When I started smoking.
Other new developments work better, however. Leland’s white hair is shocking and it would seem to have given Ray Wise the freedom to up the intensity of his performance. Who would have thought “Mairzy Doats” could sound so unsettling? It’s part of a general turn to the darkness that characterizes the first batch of episodes in season two. Audrey is forced to watch her father unknowingly lust after her, but that’s one of the lighter moments. (I love the way the mask-clad Fenn delivers the line, “Go away. I’m shy.”) The darkness mostly comes from Laura’s backstory. The more we learn about her death the more it seems like an act of self-destruction. And as we lurch uncomfortably to the revelation of her killer the more sense that self-destruction makes. There’s a shift in tone here, too. I’ve been re-watching these with my wife who pointed out that it starts to feel like a horror movie after a while. It’s as if Frost and Lynch decided to ditch the noir for nightmares.
And there’s nothing more nightmarish than the images that end the episode. Bob returns, but a demonic Laura joins him. That imagery contributes to the sense that her murder came from her own self-chosen debasement. It’s uncomfortable territory we’ve entered, this second season. Sure, we still get the Log Lady chewing pitch gum, a hospital with a deer trophy, Andy doing a painfully protracted slapstick walk after getting hit in the head, and a random diner declaring, “Hot damn, that pie’s good!” but we’re getting deeper into the woods with each episode.
As variable as these second-season episodes can be, it’s still the good bits, and that flat-out weird bits, that stick in the mind. Here Donna follows up on a letter suggesting she investigate Laura’s Meals On Wheels route and gets taken to a mysterious woman whose grandson magically makes creamed corn disappear from her plate. (That kid, by the way, is played by Lynch’s son, in case you couldn’t tell just by looking at him.) It’s an unsettling scene that skirts self-parody. Type in “’twin peaks,’ ‘creamed corn’” into Google and you’ll find plenty of discussion of its symbolic significance. But, honestly, should creamed corn ever be used as a symbol?
This episode sows a lot of seeds for future harvest. Albert drops a reference to Windom Earle, the villain of this season’s second half. Donna’s investigative charity work will soon lead her to Harold Smith. We learn that Major Briggs does some kind of work with UFOs. (Sometimes I like to imagine that The X-Files is actually a spin-off from this sub-plot.) And, though the show never follows up on this, the groundwork is laid for a “Who ate Jerry’s smoked cheese pig?” storyline.
But first we have to get Audrey out of One-Eyed Jacks. Am I alone in thinking this sub-plot doesn’t work at all? I’m kind of impressed that Lynch was able to get an image of Audrey’s nemesis Emory indulging an apparent nail-polish/vacuuming/ice bucket fetish, but otherwise the whole storyline seems like an awful lot of effort and a lot of time away from Twin Peaks. (And it’s about to take an even nastier turn as the series around it grows grimmer.)
Lynch is behind the camera again, which is always notable. No one else could pull off a scene like Harry having trouble adjusting his hospital stool as he and Coop talk to Ronette quite so well. And I don’t think anyone else would have even dared to stage the scene of James, Maddy, and Donna singing a sweet/corny song. I love that moment. There’s a lot of storytelling going on over the course of that song and I like the song and it’s wonderfully naïve lyric, too.
Then it’s nightmare time again as Maddy has a vision of Bob in the Palmers’ living room. It’s incredibly unsettling the way Lynch drops this image of corruption in the middle of a quiet, normal American home and one of those images that capture what the show does well. Her vision connects with Cooper’s latest message from beyond: The owls are not what they seem. But then again, what here is?