Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Icelandic Humor, Audrey's Job, Tormented Dancing And Double-cross: Twin Peaks "Episode 5" Keeps It Coming!

The Good: Great acting, Wonderful character work, Engaging plots (and there are many!), Tension
The Bad: Just a little too much going on . . .
The Basics: While the Ghostwood scheme progresses under the duplicitous machinations of Benjamin Horne, Cooper finds vital clues into who killed Laura Palmer and Shelly finds her self-worth!

[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!]

Abandon all hope, readers of my Twin Peaks reviews! Yes, by "Episode 5," you're either with us or against us, you're buying a whole boxed set or you're giving up. I say it this way because even though "Episode 5" is a razor decision episode, the best one may hope to get from my review is either a plot summary so they know which episode they want to watch when the pull the DVD set with the unhelpful episode numbers off the shelf or the reassurance that if they are purchasing the series by the video tape that it's going to still be worth it to continue doing that. The answer to that is an emphatic and uncompromising YES!

With "Episode 5," Twin Peaks is ratcheting up and the tension in the series is growing and there is a powerful feeling that this is building to something and it's going to be big. Two episodes from the first season finale, it's impossible to watch and not want to know what comes next, to watch this and not be engrossed by the many interweaving stories and let yourself be caught up in it, because it's quite the ride!

An Icelandic delegation of businesspeople arrive at the Great Northern, present to negotiate with Benjamin Horne on his Ghostwood Resort project, much to the chagrin of Agent Cooper and most of the rest of the hotel as the Icelanders are partying loudly in the early morning. After a cup of coffee and a flirtatious encounter with Audrey, Cooper joins Truman at Jacques Renault's apartment where they uncover a copy of Flesh World (a swinger's magazine) and Cooper finds a vital clue that indicates Laura was one of the swingers using the magazine to hook up with men. The law enforcement squad heads to the woods in search of a cabin with red drapes and they encounter the Log Lady who provides them with tea and a vital clue pertaining to the night Laura Palmer was killed. And for Cooper, it's all leading to returning home to his room at the Great Northern where someone unexpected is waiting for him!

While Cooper, Truman and the Deputies scour the woods for the cabin - possibly related to the visions Cooper had in his dream - the other citizens of Twin Peaks are up to their necks in their own machinations. Audrey reports for work at her father's department store, where she extorts her way into a job at the perfume counter, the same post Laura was working at. Bobby Briggs is psychoanalyzed by Dr. Jacoby, breaking down to reveal that Laura was using him as a drug mule, a catharsis that leads him back to Shelly with his protective instincts engaged. Shelly, for her part, becomes comfortable with the gun she bought and prepared for Leo's return home . . . And Benjamin Horne continues his affair with Catharine while secretly negotiating with another party for the rights to the Mill, negotiations which put the newly-paroled Hank Jennings into an aggressive place when dealing with the thug Leo.

This is a plot intensive episode and it's utilizing its full cast (I didn't even mention the James/Donna/Maddy subplot!) and it is developing with a sense that everything is coming to a head. This is an episode where the viewer feels every scene is the lining up of the pieces on a board, the final settings before a cataclysmic and fast-paced game begins. Through the entire episode, the music is brooding and contemplating, virtually every scene includes someone watching someone else, and here ambiguity rages. If this episode is the establishment of pieces on a board, what keeps it compelling is that we don't know which side each of the pieces are on and certainly not who is moving them!

So, for example, Benjamin Horne is stripped of a sense that he is grounded in this episode as he plays every conceivable side off the other in his attempt to get the Packard mill land and seal the Ghostwood deal. Horne was seen associating with Leo in the prior episode and with Leo being the most realistic suspect in the Laura Palmer murder case, so it certainly makes the viewer think that Horne is on the opposing side of Cooper's investigation. But even that must be questioned when Hank Jennings enters the equation.

And even with some of the stripping away of trappings, the viewer is left with few certainties in the show. Norma and Big Ed part ways as Norma commits to making a good faith effort with her paroled husband Hank, but there is still the strong sense that the insinuated love they have for one another will continue to smolder and that they are on the same side, just further apart on the board now.

"Episode 5" marks the return of Dr. Lawrence Jacoby to significance. In a meaty scene the viewer learns that the eccentric psychologist is actually quite competent at what he does! His analysis of Bobby with its detailed analysis of Laura Palmer provides a genuine character moment for Jacoby and Bobby and provides the viewer with a deeper understanding of Laura Palmer's mindset and actions. It is the dual purpose of most of the scenes that gives the viewer the sense that while there is a great deal happening it is working for a purpose. The one level keeps the series real and in the moment of the episode and the other level speaks to the viewer to the larger purpose.

And thematically, "Episode 5" pretty much has it all. There's love, love lost, the agony of loss, the flirtations of a budding relationship and people determined to make sense of what appears to be a senseless crime. And "Episode 5" plays with all of the familiar cliches. Catharine Martell finds a poker chip from One-Eyed Jacks and its foil, the $1,000 chip with the chunk missing (the fragment recovered from Laura Palmer's body) is found by Cooper, revealing the one and its doppleganger, a common cliche in surreal murder mysteries. And the gun that was introduced before finally lives up to its potential, satisfying the old stage adage.

And there is the humor of Cooper being awoken by Icelandic singing and the simple humor of what Cooper and Truman find in the apartment. And there is the horror of Leland Palmer breaking down publicly, exhibiting a compulsion to dance and lamenting loudly and profoundly when he cannot find anyone to dance with him. The experience is a ratcheting up of what we have seen before, as Leland and actor Ray Wise take the agony to a new level with the public spectacle of Leland's inconsolable grief.

And amidst all of the plot threads and the character growth, there are some performances that genuinely stand out in "Episode 5." Russ Tamblyn (Dr. Jacoby), Peggy Lipton (Norma Jennings), Piper Laurie (Catharine Martell), Ray Wise and Kyle MacLachlan (Dale Cooper) all show up to play and they deliver phenomenally, infusing their characters with maturity, longing and emotions both realistic and extreme (Laurie plays Catharine as very fiery in her dealings with Benjamin this episode!). But this time around, it is the young cast that shines and explodes their talent in a way they have not been given the screentime or lines to do before!

In "Episode 5" Sherilyn Fenn is dazzling as Audrey Horne. Fenn opens the episode as her flirtatious, easygoing and desperately interested character that has pretty much been established throughout. But then, as Audrey manipulates, Fenn is forced to modulate between the cool trappings of strength and privilege and the undertone of insecurity and a fear of failure. She carefully threads her performance with just enough uncertainty to make the character believable and make what comes next realistically have the reaction it does. Coming from her place of strength, Fenn plays Audrey as a witness and instead of the experience hardening her, it makes her vulnerable and Fenn's ability to play completely vulnerable and afraid - something she has not done on this show before! - is powerfully delivered.

Dana Ashbrook gives a wonderfully diverse performance as well as Bobby Briggs. Usually used as a somewhat monolithic punk (50's style, rebel, outsider, not late 70s/early 80s) Ashbrook is compelled to play Bobby with a deeper sense of emotion and humanity and he makes it work, visibly stripping away his character's armor with his facial expressions as Jacoby deconstructs Bobby. Moreover, this leaves Ashbrook more energized to play his scenes with Madchek and in this episode, they have genuine sexual chemistry.

The winner of the episode is Madchen Amick, who plays Shelly Johnson. In addition to playing the sexual tension with Ashbrook as something deeper than just an early twentysomething having sex with a high school Senior, Amick takes her character on a growth journey somewhat parallel to Audrey's. Shelly is transformed into a beauty queen who becomes a protectorate who is put in the position where she must be her own savior. Amick's job is to make the previously helpless-seeming Shelly seem like the same character throughout, one who is making a real and lasting transformation. And she sells it. "Episode 5" is Madchen Amick's performance d'force as she embodies an intangible idea of a woman growing past fear to the point where she is ready to do what she needs to do.

And ultimately that, and my coin toss, is enough to push it up into the highest bracket. Sure, there is a little much going on in the episode, but even with that, it does not feel crowded. It's a necessary packing in because "Episode 5" is continuing to push the boundaries of where the show has been and with its amazing performances and intriguing characters, it's doing it phenomenally!

This is a must for anyone who likes Twin Peaks, great, complex dramas and mysteries, but we're well past the point where it stands alone. Newbies will be lost picking up just this episode, but anyone who slips and watches just this episode will want to know what came before and what comes next . . .

[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 mysteries, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Psych - Season Four


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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