Saturday, January 14, 2012

Pulling Up Toward A Fantastic Ending, Twin Peaks Episodes 25 - 29 Undoes Much Damage To The Series!

The Good: Return of genuine surrealism, Tight Windom Earle plot, Great acting, Intriguing character development
The Bad: Still needs to tie up lame plotlines/character twists, Moments of still-terrible soap operatic quality.
The Basics: When Twin Peaks sprints to its end, the series leaps into the truly weird and disturbing after finally sealing off some of the lame bits.

[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!]

As I reach the end of my Twin Peaks reviews, I begin to feel like I am rewatching a program on rendering dead animals into meat. As Twin Peaks rushes towards its end with the final boxed set of episodes 25 - 29, the show becomes like watching the fat cut away from a carcass as plotlines are excised and the show begins to focus on the menace of Windom Earle.

Also, because it won't ruin anything to mention it at this point, this part of the series stops doing the annoying soap opera trick of "no one truly dies." Stories in Twin Peaks frequently are built upon the backstories that lend menace to certain characters and situations and involve people murdered or disappeared well before the story begins. Unfortunately, in its worst section of episodes (Episodes 20 - 24) almost everyone who could pop up does and it guts the nefarious quality of some of them. Moreover, there comes a certain feeling of a lack of genuine menace to the series. But in "Episodes 25 - 29," the menace is back and it is front and center. It is Windom Earle!

"Episode 25" finds Truman waking up in bed with Eckhardt's last footsoldier, a woman intent on killing him. Defeated, the attention turns to tracking down Windom Earle, whose deadly chess match means a death each time a piece if forfeit. When Gordon returns to Twin Peaks to reinstate Cooper into the FBI, Donna begins to unravel the connections between Benjamin Horne and her mother. While at the Double R Diner, aimlessly doodling the tattoos from Major Briggs and the Log Lady, Annie notes that the symbols look like the petroglyphs in Owl Cave, leading Cooper and the Sheriff's department there to try to unravel more of the mysteries of Twin Peaks!

"Episode 26" finds the larger petroglyph that Windom Earle exposed in Owl Cave and Earle reveals his goal in Twin Peaks to his captive Leo and a new chess piece: he seeks the Black Lodge, a place of unimaginable evil power. As Benjamin Horne begins to manipulate the Miss Twin Peaks pageant for the gain of the little pine weasel and his machinations, Audrey's trip to Seattle keeps her away from John. As most of the town turns out for the Miss Twin Peaks auditions - including Nadine and Mike - Richard hosts a wine-tasting at the Great Northern with mixed results. And as Donna begins to unravel her family history, Cooper and Annie fall more and more into a real relationship and a love, a love that is witnessed by the villainous Windom Earle!

"Episode 27" has Donna coming to believe her father is not who she thought he was and Audrey returning to Twin Peaks just as John is leaving for Brazil. With Pete's help, though, she manages to get to him for a rendezvous. As Cooper and the sheriff's department deal with Windom Earle's latest move and Earle listens in on their plans, plans for the Miss Twin Peaks pageant progress as does the relationship between Annie and Cooper (against the advice of the supernatural forces that advise Cooper). Following the revelation of Earle's end goal through old government tapes, Earle captures Major Briggs to enlist his aid in finding the Black Lodge.

"Episode 28" finds Major Briggs released from his captivity by a most unlikely ally, one who suffers greatly as a result of his betrayal. As Windom Earle moves toward his endgame, Cooper and Truman piece together the puzzle when they realize that the door to the Black Lodge will open at a very specific time and place and that Earle plans to use the new Miss Twin Peaks as the queen he will kill to end the chess match. Donna and Audrey join the others joining the Miss Twin Peaks Pageant and that night, the event is pulled off and an unlikely winner is declared, only to be ensnared by Earle!

and finally, "Episode 29" rockets the series home with an explosive end to the pine weasel storyline as well as the conflict between Donna and Benjamin. Nadine's head injury at the Miss Twin Peaks pageant restores her memory and shatters her relationship with Mike and fractures Big Ed and Norma's romance. Earle and Annie enter the Black Lodge and Cooper, one step behind, enters into the nightmarish realm of the Black Lodge with dark results.

This boxed set represents one of the most difficult sections of Twin Peaks to evaluate because it begins with "Episode 25" still embroiled in some of the more disappointing and soap operatic elements of the series, which drags down the overall quality of this section of episodes. Conversely, the last two episodes of the series (and of this boxed set) reach out of the muck and make for truly great television. The result is a very erratic boxed set and series of episodes.

It is, however, in this section that Twin Peaks does both the most mundane work and presents its most extraordinary ideas. On the plot front, there are standard, disappointing soap operatic bits like Donna suddenly learning her father might not be and the closure of the ridiculous Richard storyline with the wine tasting and his becoming smitten at the Miss Twin Peaks pageant. And anything with Nadine as she and Mike become publicly active are all predictable and droll on the plot front.

But then there's the character front and here Twin Peaks does not disappoint. Windom Earle is characterized as a brutal genius and in this set we see both aspects. Earle kills without mercy and torments the near braindead Leo. Earle's merciless nature is not sacrificed in this section and he kills, tortures and kidnaps in order to get what he wants. But the brilliance of Twin Peaks is that Earle is also just as smart as he was characterized as. He may be brutal and insane, but he also is highly intelligent and - most importantly - he remains one step ahead of Cooper and the Twin Peaks sheriff's department the entire time. Earle is one of the ultimate villains because he is characterized as evil in an unflinching way and then the executes his character with that level of darkness that makes him a reasonable foil to Cooper's unflinching goodness.

Ultimately, Windom Earle is a nightmarish character and the final reversal in the final episode with his character is genius. And this set builds up to a knockdown series finale that is exceptional in its setup and a genuine letdown only in that it leaves several critical storylines up for debate. And the most tragic nature of the finale is that some of the most beloved characters of the series are fearlessly and - with some genuine sense of finality - audaciously lost. And for those who become emotionally invested in characters, this is a very disturbing twist and one that will shake many viewers.

What makes much of this section work is the acting. After hours of watching Twin Peaks, I finally realized where I recognized Mike from. Mike is played by Gary Hershberger, who played Matthew Gilardi on the first season of Six Feet Under (reviewed here!). His role as Mike is so very different and it's pretty impressive to see the growth of the actor just between these two performances. In this section, Hershberger manages to do what he never did on Six Feet Under; create a character moment where one feels genuine empathy for his otherwise brash and insufferable character.

On the flipside of that, Heather Graham's appearance in these episodes of Twin Peaks makes for a milestone in her career whereby the viewer is given a clear marker for her development as an actor. Unlike her naive character, Roller Girl, in Boogie Nights Graham as Annie is just a little too goody two-shoes in her performance. For sure, the character of Annie is intended to be something of an outsider and a woman who has not had much experience in the real world, but Graham's performance is often a little too wide-eyed for reality. There are moments Graham needs to make radical alterations to her character - like the strength she exhibits when Annie is captured by Earle - that Graham does not quite land as a plausible extension of her previously-presented character. One suspects that now she could do it.

And there are the appearances by Billy Zane and Brenda Strong that might well distract viewers now, but the real stories come from the performances of the regular cast members. Everett McGill, Peggy Lipton, Lara Flynn Boyle, Richard Beymer and Harry Goaz all give performances that restore their characters to the Twin Peaks map. Vastly underused is Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey and that is unfortunate. And while performers like Heather Graham and Kenneth Welsh (Windom Earle) are given more and more airtime in this final section of Twin Peaks, the series is still dominated by the performances of Kyle MacLachlan and Michael Ontkean.

Ontkean is given a wonderful chance to shine and perform as Sheriff Truman as Truman hits the bottle following the strange circumstances resulting in Josie's demise. Given that there is an actual character arc for Ontkean to work with, he rises to the challenge and delivers masterfully restoring Truman from drunkard to respectable Sheriff once again. And he has an ability to do quiet scenes that he capitalizes on in this grouping, most notably a very quiet scene involving him and Harry Goaz's Deputy Andy waiting for Cooper after Cooper disappears into the Black Lodge.

And then there's Kyle MacLachlan. MacLachlan plays off Welsh and Graham brilliantly in this final sequence and it is MacLachlan who helps sell the nightmarish world of the Black Lodge and the very last moment of the series. He portrays dopplegangers and upsetting villains in the Black Lodge and he counterbalances that well with his portrayal of the straightforward good Cooper in a way that is ultimately quite refreshing and realistic. He manages to close out the series with a bang on the performance front and he lands what could be a ridiculous moment with one of the most creepy and powerful deliveries of the series.

But the series ends here and it is an abrupt end, one that will disappoint many viewers for the way it opens up a whole can of worms in the Twin Peaks mythos that will - likely forever - go unresolved.

[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 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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