Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Advent Of More Soap Opera Conceits Puts A Slight Drag On Twin Peaks' "Episode 3!"

The Good: Exceptional acting, Clever characterizations, Intriguing plot development, Funny and heartwrenching
The Bad: The appearance of Maddy.
The Basics: In a truly wonderful bridge episode, Twin Peaks progresses by burying Laura and introducing Maddy.

[IMPORTANT NOTE: As I proceed through the episodes of Twin Peaks with reviews, it is absolutely impossible to discuss some of the episodes without revealing some of the surprises I will work hard to keep while reviewing earlier episodes. No matter how careful I am, it is impossible to write about some of the later episodes without letting slip that some of the characters were (ultimately) not the killer of Laura Palmer or killed, etc. I shall do my best to minimize that, but given how serialized Twin Peaks is, it is almost impossible to do even a minimal plot summary without some nuggets slipping out. These reviews may be ideal for fans of the series who are sitting down to watch individual episodes and want to have a guide as to which episode did what, because Twin Peaks episodes do not have names, just episode numbers!]

As I go through the episodes of Twin Peaks, it's hard to resist the temptation to rate these episodes high because - especially in the first season - they truly are extraordinary and very different from anything else. Indeed, outside shows that are remarkably derivative of Twin Peaks, like Carnivale (reviewed here!), there truly is nothing quite like the show before or since. Moreover, the caliber of actor and performance in the weird surreal continuing storyline makes it an enduring work of quality that rises well above that of a soap opera, which Twin Peaks bears many of the conceits of. The most blatant elements that make Twin Peaks seem like just a deeply articulate and surreal soap opera come in "Episode 3."

Waking up after dreaming of the red room and the identity of Laura Palmer's murderer being told to him, Dale Cooper has breakfast after being approached by Audrey Horne. Cooper reluctantly admits to Truman that he does not know the exact identity of Laura's killer, despite Laura whispering it to him in his dream. Breakfast ends abruptly when Albert disrupts the body of Laura Palmer by attempting to do a full and invasive autopsy. Punched by Truman for his abrasiveness, Albert soon finds himself eager to leave Twin Peaks.

As Catharine schemes to keep her second set of books from Sheriff Truman - who is tipped off to them by Josie Packard - Benjamin Horne does his best to lie low and let the two women duke it out over the mill whose land he wants. As Cooper is introduced to the Bookhouse Boys and the underground law enforcement in Twin Peaks, the entire town comes out for Laura Palmer's funeral. Everyone, save Leo Johnson who is evacuating drug runner Jacques Renault back over the Canadian border when the Bookhouse Boys capture his younger, mule brother Bernard.

"Episode 3" suffers because while many of the characters in Twin Peaks are watching the popular soap opera "Invitation To Love," it seems ridiculous that the viewer is subjected to the mirrors between the soap opera and the storyline of Twin Peaks. This comes through most directly with the appearance of Maddy, Laura Palmer's cousin who just happens to look like her identical twin, save that she is brunette. But big glasses and black hair cannot hide the fact that there's something silly and weird about the sudden and convenient appearance of someone who reminds everyone of Laura Palmer.

It's no surprise (honestly) that Maddy reminds everyone of Laura; she's played by actress Sheryl Lee just as Laura was. The idea of Laura having a twin cousin is just so terribly wrong and disturbing that it ends up seeming terribly campy. The problem here is that so much of the world of Twin Peaks is a struggle to make the extraordinary a part of the everyday operation of a murder investigation that when the show adds soap opera conceits like this, it lowers the realism of the work.

This is a minor thing and it is ultimately trumped by the enduring greatness of the rest of the episode. "Episode 3" has both Laura Palmer's autopsy and funeral and the quietly illustrated joke is that a fistfight breaks out at both! Albert gets punched by Truman just as Bobby Briggs (Laura's public bad boy boyfriend) and James Hurley (Laura's secret good guy boyfriend) duke it out at the funeral. There is something classic and Shakespearean about Leland Palmer falling onto Laura's casket in his grief as well. So, despite being less surreal than "Episode 2," "Episode 3" continues to keep the bar high as far as the visual sensibility of the show. The images of the autopsy, funeral and Leland dancing alone are all iconic Twin Peaks images.

That last image is one that foreshadows so very much. Leland Palmer is a broken man and the combination of him having his first lone dancing public breakdown episode and the appearance of Jacques Renault is prophetic. There is something incredibly intense and difficult to watch about Leland Palmer dancing and crying by himself, desperate to have someone to dance with now that his daughter is dead and buried. The image is haunting.

This gives Ray Wise the standout performance of the episode. For sure, Wise has reason to complain that much of his tenure on Twin Peaks involved him crying, but the sight of Wise as Leland Palmer contorting and desperately seeking a dance partner is heartbreaking. Wise brings a pained facial expression to the role that makes it very difficult to watch him as he portrays perfectly the depths of human suffering with Leland.

Miguel Ferrer is great in his role as Albert, which he has more time to shine with than the cameo he had in "Episode 2." Ferrer and Michael Ontkean - who plays Truman - have a wonderful sense of on-screen chemistry that makes their antagonistic relationship wonderful and very real.

This is also one of the episodes where Russ Tamblyn shines as Dr. Jacoby. It's easy to write Tamblyn off as an eccentric performer whose costume defines his character (he walks around wearing 3-D glasses all the time, for example), but that is an oversimplification of his character, who is weird, to be sure, but also brilliant and Tamblyn plays him with a compelling balance between the two. Tamblyn for the first time here has the opportunity to soften Jacoby so he seems human as opposed to just weird and he does that by - for the first time in the series - allowing his shoulders to slump some. It's a nice touch and Tamblyn plays with his character's body language wonderfully throughout the episode.

"Episode 3" is very much a bridge episode, putting Laura's body to rest before really running forward with the murder investigation and the whole idea of the parallel investigations from Cooper, Donna, and Audrey while intertwining in the drug running and Packard Mill plots.

This is a worthy episode, though and likely to be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good murder mystery as it is quite a bit more rational than some of the episodes of Twin Peaks.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Twin Peaks - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the groundbreaking debut season reviewed here!
or check out the entire series, available in the Gold Box Definitive edition, reviewed here!

For other works with Miguel Ferrer, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Psych - Season 4
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock


For other television reviews, please take the time to go to my index page on the subject and find other reviews you might enjoy!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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