Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Episode 7:" Must-See Twin Peaks, The First Season Goes Out With A Bang! GREAT Finale!

The Good: Everything, seriously a perfect hour of television, a solid 10: acting, character, plot, & mood!
The Bad: None, nothing, not a bad moment in it!
The Basics: In a perfect season finale "Episode 7" ties up many loose ends building throughout the season and ignites several new plotlines!

[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!]

The purpose of a season finale, many will argue, is to pack the houses for the next season's premiere. Sure, you want to tell a good story, you might have some things to resolve that should be cleared up, but for any series where there's even a question of renewal, it's all about going out on such a note that the next season will open big. It's about creating great cliff-hangers and leaving the viewer wanting more. Occasionally, this backfires completely, like when VR.5 (reviewed here!) made a compelling and series-altering season finale only to not be renewed for another season. Fans still wonder what became of Sydney Bloom. I suspect that had Twin Peaks not had a second season, there would have been riots; that's how incredible "Episode 7," the first season finale, is.

"Episode 7" begins as part of the same long night that dominated the latter half of "Episode 6" (reviewed here!) so those who missed that episode will be completely lost when this one begins.

At One-Eyed Jacks, Agent Cooper is on a winning streak and when Jacques Renault arrives, he begins to play at Renault's table. When the time comes, Cooper takes Renault aside and tips him with the broken poker chip found at one of the crime scenes. Playing off Renault's boorish stupidity, Cooper learns of the last hours of Laura Palmer and he becomes convinced that Renault or his sidekick Leo was directly involved in Laura's murder. While Sheriff Truman and his deputies are taking down Renault, Leo Johnson makes his move on Shelly, leaving her to burn in the Packard Mill which he is burning down.

But the night does not turn out the way Leo wants it to when he goes to exact revenge on Bobby Briggs for having an affair with Shelly. Nor does it turn out the way Dr. Jacoby thought it would when he followed who he thought was Laura Palmer and he ends up beaten and left for dead. Nor does the night turn out as expected for Audrey Horne who begins her first night in One Eyed Jack's bordello only to receive the worst possible client she could get. Nor do things work out the way Catherine expects when she receives a late-night summons to the Mill and finds Shelly there, bound, moments before the fire begins. And Andy's heroism in helping bring down Renault is a high that does not last as Lucy reveals her big secret to him. And Big Ed's excitement over apprehending Renault is dashed when he returns home. And Renault's night goes from bad to worse when Leland Palmer learns that the drug-runner may be his daughter's murderer.

And as all of the plot lines rise to a climax and a fire erupts in Twin Peaks, the night takes an abrupt turn for Agent Cooper.

Damn. The first time I finished watching "Episode 7," all I could say was "Damn!" That's some damn fine television.

The thing about "Episode 7" that makes it so incredible is that while it sounds remarkably plot intensive - and indeed, a lot happens in this episode! - all of the action is character-driven. Nadine makes a choice based on her feeling distraught over the rejection of her silent drape-runner idea, Leland's anger toward Renault and the resulting actions stem from his season-long agony over the loss of his daughter, and Leo's vengeance is all about his reacting to betrayal.

And the writer and director of "Episode 7" is incredibly savvy with the level of detail the characters employ. One of the most perceptive character moments is also one of the simplest. Finding Shelly in the mill, tied up, Catherine approaches, unbinds her mouth and asks - with no small bit of annoyance - who she is. And of course Catherine would have no idea who Shelly is, they come from completely different plotlines, er, parts of Twin Peaks. Catherine, more mature and able, is very different from the young Shelly Johnson and there's no reason the two would know one another and reminding viewers of that in such a simple and direct way is brilliant.

"Episode 7" might seem more complicated than necessary to some, with elements like Bobby Briggs framing James Hurley by putting cocaine in his motorcycle's gas tank, but the episode even brings that back to a place where it makes sense. And James is exonerated in a simple fashion largely because his good-guy persona has been credible all along.

This is an especially violent episode of Twin Peaks, but it is not gratuitous or senseless. I've likened several of the episodes that precede this one to a game; "Episode 7" is a lightening round of moves with most of the cast of primary characters ending up in serious jeopardy at one point or another throughout the episode. Twin Peaks has always been a dangerous place (as far as intrigue goes anyway) and this is the night that all of the potentials that have been building become realized and the end will leave the viewer in agony wanting the next episode to begin!

Part of the reason for this is that even with its massive cast, "Episode 7" is an incredible display of acting talent by each and every member of the cast. Richard Beymer is able to take Benjamin Horne from scheming and conniving to absolutely delighted with full credibility as the Icelanders sign off on Ghostwood. Piper Laurie plays Catherine as cool and methodical in a way that makes the viewer understand how she has become so very powerful to get where she is in this series. And Machden Amick is able to play truly terrified in a way that is agonizing to watch.

The whole cast contributes and it is the usually the unsung performers who have their moment in the sun alongside those who have dominated prior episodes. Eric Da Re is vicious as Leo, but he has a moment that turns all of that. Ray Wise is able to play Leland Palmer as doing something other than crying and portraying a broken man. And Wendy Robie who plays Nadine gets her golden moment in a bit where she must convey tremendous amounts of emotion without speaking and with only one eye visible. And she is absolutely incredible.

This is not to say that the principle performers are slouching. Michael Ontkean is handles his duties as sidekick well, portraying Truman as a man who has an unflinching bond growing with Agent Cooper. Harry Goaz is wonderful as Deputy Andy taking him from the elation of being a hero to being crushed by Lucy's response to it. He and Wendy Robbie play off one another perfectly to maintain the relationship of the characters.

But, as is often the case, most of the episode focuses on Kyle MacLachlan's Dale Cooper, so he has to perform. And MacLachlan delivers. He plays Cooper with a great confidence in the One-Eyed Jacks scenes and there is a moment as Cooper is listening to Jacques story about Laura's predilections when MacLachlan plays Cooper hiding his revulsion that is absolutely masterful. Cooper must keep a poker face, of course and MacLachlan plays keeping up the poker face in a way that it is believable that it would convince Renault, yet he clearly indicates to the audience that all his restraint is going into not grabbing Renault right there!

This is the type of episode that everyone who complains about how bad television is should watch. Yes, there is a lot of bad television out there, but when done right, television programs can absolutely rock and "Episode 7" is a powerhouse. This is a must-see for anyone who likes drama, surreal horror, suspense and/or high comedy. Okay, if you like only comedy, you might not be grabbed by this violent, action-filled dramatically tense episode, but it's hard to imagine a better episode to teach on the merits of drama than this episode!

A flawless hour of television, even if it won't be understood by those who have not followed the journey up to this point!

[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 seasons that had great finales or other great season finales, check out my reviews of:
Millennium - Season 2
“The Best Of Both Worlds”
Carnivale - Season 1


For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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