Thursday, January 12, 2012

If Ever There Were Twin Peaks To Pass On, "Episodes 20 - 24" Are Them!

The Good: Moments of character and plot involving the Windom Earl storyline
The Bad: Inane storylines, Focus on lamer characters, (Understandable) Lack of enthusiasm from some actors
The Basics: When Twin Peaks flounders, it falls hard with a block of episodes that are virtually unwatchable with plot-heavy, un-surreal episodes "20 - 24."

[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!]

In the second season of Twin Peaks, following the revelation of Laura Palmer's killer, the series went wild as it went into plot and character freefall. Without the focus on Agent Dale Cooper and his mission to solve the big mystery of Twin Peaks to focus on interwoven with the machinations of Benjamin Horne in his attempt to get the Packard Lumber Mill land, the writers and producers scrambled to create something that would fulfill the rest of the season order for Twin Peaks. And it's not like they didn't know where they wanted to get to, the problem was there were too many episodes to get to before they ended up landing where they wanted to. The result was some pretty disastrous television, encapsulated on "Episodes 20 - 24" of Twin Peaks. This set offers some of the shakiest episodes of the series, even as it builds toward the big finale. The result is a set that has some terrible b-plot material being brought front and center and some intriguing a-plot material being oppressed by it.

"Episode 20" deals with the return of Major Briggs and Cooper trying to discover where he disappeared to. Bobby Briggs abandons Shelly for his work with Benjamin Horne who has gone quite insane in a reclusive way; spending all of his time locked in his office dressed as a Confederate general and playing with recreation pieces to a Civil War battle. This leaves Audrey harried, which does not get relieved by Agent Cooper, who works with Denise and Ernie in a drug bust which results in Cooper being taken hostage by Jean Renault's men. Meanwhile, James Hurley finishes fixing up Evelyn's car and Big Ed, frustrated with Nadine's regression, makes his move on Norma. Norma makes the decision to allow her love for Ed to be free, which results in a dangerous showdown between Ed and Hank Jennings!

"Episode 21" finds the power out in Twin Peaks and Windom Earle having taken his first piece in the chess match and claiming his first victim. While Cooper struggles to deal with the escalating danger of the chess match, Shelly attempts to flee a very cognizant and violent Leo only to be rescued herself. Big Ed and Norma deal with the renewed spark between them and James finishes the work on Evelyn's car only to have her husband promptly killed, leaving him framed for the murder. Andy and Dick work to discover Nicky's origins and find the truth is too real for them and a new stranger enters the Great Northern on a mission to find Josie Packard, leaving Truman worried about his lover's life.

"Episode 22" finds Leo in Earle's company, the angry man held by the madman as he continues his dangerous chess match. Cooper receives a gift in the form of the return of Albert who fills in much of the Windom Earle backstory and Josie is confronted by the powerful Thomas Eckhardt. Dr. Jacoby, Jerry, Audrey and Bobby work to complete Benjamin Horne's delusion and effectively end the Civil War in his mind, allowing him to snap back to reality. James, framed by Evelyn, turns back to try to get a confession from her with terrible results.

"Episode 23" presents Benjamin Horne with his new plan to block the Ghostwood project using the little pine weasel as cover until he can get the Packard mill land and the project back. As Big Ed is broken up with by Nadine, he turns to Norma with unabashed love. Norma, in turn, decides it is time to end her marriage to Hank who is incarcerated for his various violences. And the situation between Josie and Thomas Eckhardt comes to a violent - and surreal head - which informs Cooper of the dangers of things to come and the continued existence of Bob.

"Episode 24" finds Sheriff Truman descending into drunk depression over the loss of Josie and Pete aiding Cooper in the chess match against Earle. Having lured his three queens out into the open, Earle witnesses Cooper meeting Annie, Norma's sister who has come from the convent to work in the diner. Big Ed and Nadine get some counseling from Dr. Jacoby and Audrey begins to move on with Mr. Wheeler, an old business pal of her father's. And Richard helps Ben throw a benefit for the little pine weasel.

What is unfortunate about this section of Twin Peaks is that it is almost all bad. Plotlines like Mike and Nadine, the Benjamin Horne Civil War General phase, James and Evelyn, and anything involving Dick are just homogeneously bad. These plotlines take on hugely contrived, very soap operatic aspects that make for pretty miserable television. To be fair, these five episodes of Twin Peaks are probably not truly awful the way some television can be, but they are so far below the quality of where Twin Peaks has traditionally been that it feels quite bad to the viewer and fan.

Actually, there are many aspects to these episodes that are just flat-out awful. Characters come and go for quick arcs, like Thomas Eckhardt and Evelyn and her psychopathic lover (who may or may not be her brother). The result is the feeling that the show is in transition and it's simply biding its time until it gets where it is going.

Almost all of the traditional genius of Twin Peaks is stripped away in these episodes for a harsh reality that is hardly interesting and certainly lacking in vision and the intense grace of David Lynch's dream-vision that brought Twin Peaks to popularity well before these episodes. So, for example, outside the opening sequence to "Episode 20" wherein Major Briggs begins recounting his disappearance and Josie's final scenes, there is no sense of the surrealism and unique oddity that characterized Twin Peaks. The Nicky storyline wraps up with a bland reality that does not even grace the pathetic child character with an exit; instead Dick and Andy are given a broad expository scene by Dr. Heyward on the circumstances surrounding the child's birth and formative years. It's dry, it's dull and it does no services to any larger storyline.

And the emphasis on the plot events guts many of the characters. So, for example, with the Andy, Dick and Lucy love triangle, we never learn what it is that even gave Lucy the inclination toward Richard and what his interest in her actually was. The competition between the two men for her heart seems forced and increasingly ridiculous because the characters stopped making sense. There is no chemistry between Lucy and Richard and the quirky romance between Lucy and Andy is sublimated for the plot aspects in this set of episodes.

Similarly, the various machinations surrounding Josie and Eckhardt seem both rushed and contrived in the most common of soap opera fashions. The episodes fail to resonate when the relationships between the Packard backstory characters are simply being laid out for the viewers with little regard to sensibility or genuine intrigue. Instead, Eckhardt is a fairly generic gangster from another place with little sense of genuine identity.

And the less said about the witless James Hurley plot the better. The whole James leaves town, gets into trouble with another man's wife and is set up for a murder he did not commit only to be rescued by his true love whom he rides out on again, is straight out of the soap opera plot twist playbook. It's obvious and it feels as cheap as it is when it is presented on Twin Peaks, a series usually well above such common conceits.

Benjamin Horne suffers as well and any sense of his integrity as a genuine businessman is gutted by his sudden mental illness. Indeed, the only character that benefits with true growth here is Audrey Horne. Audrey takes charge and works to save her father's business empire and in the process becomes more mature, responsible and clever. It is almost realistic, then that she overcompensates for her new maturity by diving headfirst toward Mr. Wheeler when she cannot get Cooper. From the DVD bonus features on definitive edition, viewers would know that Audrey no longer pursuing Cooper comes from actor Kyle MacLaughlan's discomfort over the idea of the FBI agent being involved with an eighteen year-old high school student.

At least Wheeler is played by a decent and plausible actor. Billy Zane brings the same bland good looking definitively male quality to the role of Wheeler as he did to his brief part in Orlando (reviewed here!). In a similar way, David Warner - who would later wow audiences with his masterful performance of Gul Macet on Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Chain Of Command, Part II" (reviewed here!) - impresses audiences more with his presence in these episodes of Twin Peaks than his actual performance of Eckhardt. He is given a bit role and the bland undefined villainy of the character does not suit a performer of his stature and it is no surprise or even genuine interest when Warner departs quite quickly.

In fact, this section of Twin Peaks is plagued by the actors seeming to know they are working in something that is no longer thrilling or unique. Kyle MacLachlan, Sherilynn Fenn, Michael Ontkean and Richard Beymer all phone in their performances as the bigger characters going in lame directions. Peggy Lipton and Everett McGill, who play Norma and Big Ed restore some sense of sexual chemistry to their characters and they do it successfully, but they are not given enough time and space (yet) to truly run with it.

The only genuinely worthwhile performance that is consistently delivered comes from Kenneth Welsh, who plays the villainous Windom Earle. Welsh plays a master of disguise (who has pretty lame disguises) who begins to prey upon Twin Peaks and Welsh does a great job of insinuating intelligence and madness into the character. Welsh has an expressiveness to his eyes that plays silently crazy remarkably well. He's the only reason to watch this section of Twin Peaks on the acting front.

And that's not enough at all. For a series once so high, this represents the low-water mark and it's painful for a fan of the series to sit through these episodes, much less purchase them.

[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 Billy Zane, please visit my reviews of:
Back To The Future II
Back To The Future


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

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