Friday, December 23, 2011

The Day Before The Long, Deadly Night Falls On Twin Peaks With "Episode 6!"

The Good: Excellent acting, Story, Great character development, Sense of purpose/tension
The Bad: Minutiae
The Basics: In the penultimate episode of the first season, Cooper and his team head to One-Eyed Jacks while the local kids follow their own leads into the death of Laura Palmer!

[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!]

Twin Peaks, by the point it has gotten to the seventh episode ("Episode 6," as the pilot was outside the numbering system) had abandoned any casual viewers and those who might want to collect Twin Peaks on video or catch it on DVD and are reading these reviews to decide if it is worth it or not are likely to find themselves with a bit of a problem; it's all in its own little world by this point. Twin Peaks is a place all of its own and because the show is heavily serialized, "Episode 6" represents a point where it is virtually impossible to leap into the series and be satisfied. Or understand all that is going on. Twin Peaks is one of the truest serialized shows that ever graced television and it is uncompromising in a way that commits to its storyline without inviting those coming late in a way almost no other series' even attempt to do. In fact, only Babylon 5's third and fourth seasons leap to mind as committing as fully without being accessible to latecomers as the first season of Twin Peaks (and much of the second as well) did.

Talking Audrey out of her embarrassing position, Cooper returns to the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department with an idea of how to get what is possibly the only living witness - outside the killer - to Laura Palmer's murder to talk. Given that the witness is a bird with limited speech capability, Cooper leaves it in a pleasant environment with a voice-activated tape recorder while he and the others prepare go up north to One-Eyed Jacks. Unfortunately for them, Leo Johnson has survived being shot at and he comes looking for the bird. Convinced more than ever of the need to find Jacques Renault, Cooper, Truman, Big Ed and Hawk go north to One-Eyed Jacks to find him.

Meanwhile, Maddy, James and Donna have begun a parallel investigation, one that indicates to them that Dr. Jacoby may well be Laura's murderer and they go in search of evidence. Using Maddy, they lure Dr. Jacoby away from his office. Audrey, in the meantime, has discovered that the perfume counter is a launching place for girls to begin careers at One-Eyed Jacks and, missing Cooper, decides to go on alone into that dangerous territory. She schemes her way into a job as a girl in the illicit half of the establishment! Catherine, for her part, learns that Josie Packard has taken out an insurance policy on her life and she suspects that Benjamin Horne has betrayed her in his attempt to seal the Ghostwood Estates deal, a betrayal that insinuates that she will not survive the night that has just fallen, a suspicion made almost certain by the fact that Hank Jennings is working with Josie.

"Episode 6" is where all of the pieces begin to move and there is a great sense of action on every front. On the Ghostwood plot, Benjamin Horne works to seal the deal with the Icelandic delegation and learns from his brother that the funloving Europeans would like to sign off on the project somewhere more recreational, which moves Horne up to One-Eyed Jacks. The significance of this cannot be lost on the viewer as it makes him inaccessible to Catherine, who now believes he has set her up to be killed, and Josie who may well be pulling the strings needed to get the mill burned down for a profit and collect insurance money on it, with or without Catherine being killed. The thing about the Ghostwood plot is that at this point, it has fallen into something of a free for all with Benjamin, Catherine and Josie all moving pieces - manipulating thugs and hired help - that seem to put them all at cross purposes. It's completely up in the air who will end up with what and how they will go about getting it. It is quite rare for a television series to be able to maintain a genuine sense of surprise and shock, but "Episode 6" develops in such a way that on the secondary plot, it's anybody's guess where it will go and how it might resolve itself. Indeed, all we have is the sense that a fire is coming, but who will get burned remains a mystery waiting to burst into being.

The real gem of this episode is in getting Big Ed and Agent Cooper up to One-Eyed Jacks. Big Ed has been neglected some and with his wife's silent drape runner obsession, he's seemed more like a tangent to a joke than a viable character. Here Big Ed portrays a sense of realism seldom seen in television; he is not a cop. As one of the Bookhouse Boys, Truman asks Cooper to use him on their illegal mission to One-Eyed Jacks, which is in Canada. Cooper and Big Ed become the primary "inside men" in the casino and after much schooling on his undercover backstory, Big Ed realistically blows it at the first questioning by a pretty woman. Coming off dealing with Nadine's rejection at the Patent Office, this reads as very real on a character level.

So, too, do the actions of almost all of the young people in the secondary plots. Donna, James and Maddy have become obsessed with Laura Palmer's death and their belief that Laura's tapes implicate Jacoby. On a plot front, their harebrained scheme to lure Jacoby out seems ridiculous, but on a character front, it makes perfect sense. So, too, does the reunion of Bobby Briggs and Shelly Johnson. Bobby commits to Shelly in a way that we had not thought the punkish character would be able to and the only thing that throws his devotion to her is what he believes is the appearance of the deceased Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks!

But the real character journey in "Episode 6" is once again illustrated in the strong, manly friendship of Dale Cooper and Sheriff Truman. Truman begins to suspect that Josie's intuition about Catherine trying to run the mill into the ground may be accurate and he wants to investigate, but he has no real jurisdiction. Truman confides in Cooper and asks for his help in a way that makes the sheriff very vulnerable. Cooper, similarly, opens up to Truman with the sharing of his ritual to give himself a little gift each day; this day, they share a cup of coffee together at the Double R Diner. And here we have the sense that the two men who are very different in many ways - Cooper is very complex to Truman's simplicity - have developed a bond that is incredibly strong.

In fact, one of the only real faults of this episode is the moments the details contain ridiculous conceits. So, for example, Audrey is doing her homework on One-Eyed Jacks and needs to hide in her boss's closet in order to glean details from a conversation he is having. The closet door has the vents in it (the technical term is escaping me at the moment, like built in Venetian Blinds made of wood common in doors made of hardwood) that was the style of the time and Audrey stands right next to these slats smoking a cigarette. It's pretty ridiculous for a clandestine action and that she is not caught as a result is somewhat insulting to the intelligence of the viewer.

All of the acting this episode is wonderful. The young cast and old mixes perfectly and Dana Ashbrook and Machden Amick continue building their on-screen chemistry perfectly. Similarly, Lara Flynn Boyle, James Marshall and Sheryl Lee play off one another in a way that lends their scenes a real credibility as their characters go off in a direction that could appear very contrived otherwise. The adult cast is phenomenal as well, with people like Chris Mulkey (Hank Jennings) finally coming into their own and making their characters seem vital through the stature of their performance. Mulkey, for example, insinuates a sense of danger and a rebellious quality into every scene he is in, making Hank one of the characters to watch. And Michael Ontkean and Kyle MacLachlan play off one another beautifully as Truman and Cooper in this episode.

But the real winner is Piper Laurie as Catherine Martell. Laurie has one huge, significant scene and she rocks the episode with it. In a simple conversation between Catherine and an insurance agent, Laurie must make clear that Catherine understands the machinations going on around her without saying them aloud. With a strong sense of vocal and facial control, Laurie moves her body with simple grace to portray the slow build to a true epiphany over the course of the scene and there is no word for it other than "masterful!"

"Episode 6" and the significance of many of the actions in it are likely to be lost on those who are not fans of Twin Peaks already, but for those who have entered this strange and wonderful world, this is the last step to the cliff's edge before we are shoved off!

[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 Sherilyn Fenn, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Gilmore Girls - Season 7
Gilmore Girls - Season 6
Friends - Season 3


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Index Page!

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