Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Almost All The Twin Peaks Answers, Poisoned By Subplots - "Episodes 15 - 19!"

The Good: Some powerful moments and actual answers to big Twin Peaks questions, Acting, Surrealism
The Bad: Powerfully dumb subplots
The Basics: Despite finally identifying Laura Palmer's killer, Twin Peaks begins some cheap subplots that ridiculously place plot over character and undermine the show.

[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, especially when discussing second season 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!]

And then comes the critical turning point for Twin Peaks. After all the foot dragging and suspense, some questions needed to be answered and the resolution to the Laura Palmer murder investigation left a significant gap that was filled like the Three Stooges running through a single doorway. That kind of crazy action of plot bottled up the series and left it mostly stuck until Windham Earl came to the forefront. But that comes later. This boxed set, "Episodes 15 - 19" is a tough one to rate fairly because it has the complexity of some of the series highs (Episode 16) followed by some of the genuine loser episodes of the series.

"Episode 15" opens with Bob having claimed his latest victim and Benjamin Horne is locked up for the murder of Laura Palmer and he turns to his brother to represent him and exonerate him. Cooper and Truman find Leland Palmer singing and dancing his way around the Great Northern and driving erratically as they search for Phillip Gerard to get his take on Benjamin. Pete torments Benjamin with the knowledge that someone unexpected is alive and working against him. And Norma Jennings's mother comes to Twin Peaks and her new husband, Ernie, has a strange connection with Hank Jennings!

"Episode 16" involves the discovery of Bob's latest victim and Cooper's determination of who Laura Palmer's killer likely is. When James proposes to Donna, she accepts until she learns that the creepy neighbor who led her to Harold did not exist. At the home of that shut-in, Donna and Cooper find the final clue; a note from Laura Palmer from the day she died. While Norma struggles with her picky mother and Benjamin Horne is tormented by an unlikely person, signing over Ghostwood in the process, Cooper assembles his suspects. While James flees Twin Peaks in reaction to the recent casualty, Cooper has a vision and correctly identifies who was possessed by Bob!

"Episode 17" finds the show adrift following the end of the first big mystery. Three days after the suicide of Laura Palmer's killer, Twin Peaks is reeling from the news. There is a wake and Big Ed and Nadine attend, shortly before Nadine begins attending Twin Peaks High because of her belief that she is a high school student. Norma's mother reveals her true nature to Norma and Hank and Ernie become involved with Jean Renault. As Cooper prepares to leave Twin Peaks - breaking Audrey's heart in the process - he is set upon by Internal Affairs. Relieved of his duties, he is free to go with Major Briggs into the woods, a visit that has profound results. Also, Richard and Deputy Andy compete for Lucy's heart.

"Episode 18" has James Hurley fleeing Twin Peaks where he meets Evelyn, an abused housewife who needs his help in fixing her husband's car, which she crashed. Agent Denise arrives from the DEA to take over the investigation into Cooper's connection with the drugs running into Twin Peaks and the wedding party for Milford and his young bride happens. As well, in the competition for Lucy's heart, Richard and Andy babysit a young boy who has a cruel streak in him. And Cooper receives a message from Windham Earl, while Benjamin Horne descends into madness and Josie Packard returns to town to tell Harry the truth about her past.

And "Episode 19" has Bobby starting work for Horne, who sets him to tailing Hank. Doug dies as a result of his wife and their honeymoon night, Richard learns more about Nicky - the orphan he is using to try to prove his suitability as a father to Lucy with, and Nadine joins the wrestling team where she takes on Mike, the team captain. Cooper discovers the real culprits bringing drugs into Twin Peaks and Windham Earl makes his first move. Josie bides her time waiting for Thomas Eckhart to arrive and James begins to work on Evelyn.

The problem with this collection of episodes is that they represent some of the highs and lows of Twin Peaks. So, for example, it is truly a thrill to see Laura Palmer's killer be brought to justice and the nature of Bob is very much in the spirit of Twin Peaks. The a-plot in episodes 15 and 16 wraps up the primary thrust of the series in an amazing and worthy way. The difficulty is that it is combined with the severe lows of things like the Nadine superhuman strength, going back to high school storyline and the ridiculous appearance of Nicky and Richard to complicate the lives of Lucy and Andy. Similarly, the addition of the Milfords (Doug and the mayor) and the soap operatic James-helping-Evelyn plot is just painful to watch.

And those who follow my reviews know I'm a huge fan of serialized television. As a result, I have a lot of patience with the Major Garland plot that is begun in these episodes and the seeds of the Windham Earl chess match. The whole drug subplot is passable and justified considering that there ought to be consequences for Audrey being rescued by Cooper and Truman and in this case, those consequences are interesting.

Less so is the appearance of Norma's mother and it seems like that is only the justification to introduce Ernie and his involvement with Hank. The result as one might guess from the lack of analysis thus far is simple: Twin Peaks adds a bunch of characters and takes a buckshot approach to the storyline in an attempt to find something that sticks as opposed to telling a coherent narrative.

In other words, character is sacrificed for plot. The plotlines diverge and very little is done with the characters other than move them around. They spend these five episodes so busy doing things that they do not grow, change or develop and the series stalls as a result of that. There are few quiet moments that involve actual development and that lessens what Twin Peaks is. There are exceptions, but almost all of them are in the earlier episodes of this block.

So, for example, in "Episode 17," Cooper explains to Audrey why - outside their ages - he will not pursue a relationship with her and the revelation is an intriguing one that answers a number of questions about Cooper's past and his eccentric professionalism. He is enhanced by the exchange and the viewer comes to empathize with him a bit more.

And poor Audrey for wanting him! Audrey's character takes a turn for the weird in this block as well as she develops a friendship with Bobby Briggs and like the terrible subplot that involves James fleeing Twin Peaks into the arms of Evelyn, it has the feel that now that the Laura Palmer investigation is over, the writers and producers simply had no idea what to do with Audrey.

And that's a shame because prior to this, she had been such a rich an intriguing character, easily one of the bright lights of the younger half of the Twin Peaks cast. In fact, the only prior cast member who benefits in this block is Hank Jennings. Okay, that's not entirely true. Josie Packard is fleshed out quite a bit upon her return. We see her and Truman together and she provides her backstory, setting up the upcoming Thomas Eckhart storyline. The reason I do not go into too much depth on that storyline is simple: Twin Peaks is a fun show and it is filled with twists and turns and surprising developments. The first season finale is a huge episode (reviewed here!) that is fraught with consequences, many of which resonate through the second season. Some of those consequences involve characters who are killed, disappear, flee or are otherwise maimed. Some of those characters, I am forced to discuss - like Nadine - because they become big characters who dominate plotlines (even if they are utterly ridiculous ones!). In order to truly appreciate Twin Peaks, though, you ought to be open to the surprises that come and deeply related to Josie is another character, whose fate was sealed in the first season finale. But rather than reveal too much of that, I avoid ruining the surprises. Pardon the conceit.

Josie's return sets up a storyline that puts Truman in potential danger and it puts Josie in a diminished place. Forced to work for one of her enemies, she reveals her backstory of her childhood essentially a mobster's favored slave, as an act of confession and for the first time, her character truly pops. It becomes more than a soap operatic series of character conveniences that Truman is drawn to Josie and the viewer is left feeling less cheated by that relationship.

Unfortunately, in the parade of new characters, the setup of the Thomas Eckhart plot makes the dangers of characters like Hank Jennings diminished. After all, Hank Jennings's great unspoken claim to fame was helping Josie knock off her husband, Andrew, and then becoming incarcerated for a lesser crime to lie low for a while. Lacking that, Hank is something of a goon and the viewer's appreciation for the menace he might represent is undermined.

But Hank makes a good showing in this section of the series and his relationship with Ernie continues to establish him as a man who cannot be trusted and who has some secrets that are still veiled. Despite the problems of Hank's character, he is wonderfully played by Chris Mulkey. Mulkey, of late seen in about four frames of Cloverfield (reviewed here!), has a natural charisma that he brings to the role that makes it seem very real that he would be able to make the crime connections he does, yet successfully avoid being reincarcerated. Mulkey is smooth and he plays off James Booth, who plays Ernie quite well.

The real treat in this section of episodes is seeing the performance by David Duchovny. Duchovny, best known for The X-Files (reviewed here!) appears in this section of episodes as Denise Bryson, the DEA agent who happens to be a transvestite. Duchovny is given the acting challenge of playing a male who has gender-identified with women and expresses that without appearing to be Duchovny playing a woman. In this case, Duchovny pulls it off and he is quite convincing and deeply human as Denise.

The first two episodes of this block involve some great performances by the person who plays the character possessed by Bob and that individual gives an amazing performance once they are revealed.

But the series still largely revolves around Dale Cooper, despite the ever widening circle of ridiculous plots. Kyle MacLachlan is wonderful as Cooper, infusing a deeper sense of humanity into the characters - especially once he is relieved of his FBI duties. MacLachlan consistently plays Cooper as something of a genius with a weird formality to him and in this section, they give him some choice scenes with Don S. Davis who has a similar characterization for Major Briggs. MacLachlan illustrates a profound sense of understanding that his character is not just weird of esoteric and that allows him to make Cooper shine as an intriguing protagonist.

But these episodes are the start of the plummet. The first two reach a crescendo and from there, the viewers are dashed to the proverbial rocks below with the splintering of the show into subplots that are plot heavy and character weak, involving ridiculous characters and ideas like Nicky, the psycho child and Richard who Lucy may have been impregnated by . . . these are turns that do not follow the logic and reality of the first season of Twin Peaks and depart it - surprisingly fast - from what made the show so great to begin with.

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

For other works with David Warner, be sure to visit my reviews of:
"Chain Of Command, Part II"
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier


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

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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