Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Secret Diary, Recluse And A Rescue; Where Things Begin To Sour On Twin Peaks "Episodes 10-14!"

The Good: Surreal visions, Generally the acting
The Bad: Ridiculous plots and character developments creep in, Shaky performances in some of the new blood.
The Basics: While Cooper and Truman rescue Audrey, Donna becomes involved with a reclusive botanist who has Laura Palmer's secret diary in a plot-heavy set that is very soap operatic.

[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 Twin Peaks progressed into its second season and those responsible for making videos of the episodes, the show began to change and the marketing people got hip to that fact very quickly. Instead of releasing episode by episode videos, they began to do little bundles of five episodes each and in this way, they compelled fans to purchasing the material they otherwise would not have purchased along with the essential bits they needed! Today's bundle pack is Twin Peaks - Episodes 10 - 14, five episodes that bring the mystery of Twin Peaks to a more complex place. The problem, of course, with reviewing the multi-episode tapes is that episodes in these type packs might vary greatly and in the case of Twin Peaks, the series is heading into a downward bit.

For those unfamiliar with Twin Peaks, the series takes place in the Washington logging city of Twin Peaks, near the Canadian border. A murder, that of the young lady Laura Palmer, has occurred and FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper was brought in to investigate it. While Cooper is in town investigating the murder using less-than-orthodox means, industrialist Benjamin Horne has conspired to take over the Packard Saw Mill lands to turn much of Twin Peaks into a resort area. Twin Peaks is heavily serialized and those who have not watched the episodes that precede these will likely be utterly lost.

In the final season of Babylon 5, there is a moment when Londo Mollari reacts to an assassination attempt with a quiet despair saying simply something like "I'm afraid this is the point where it all begins to go wrong, very wrong, for all of us." If only Londo were available for this set of Twin Peaks episodes!

"Episode 10" finds Ronette Pulaski still freaking out having only seen a sketch of Bob and while Cooper and Truman try to figure out who he might be, Donna Hayward meets the reclusive botanist Harold, a man Laura Palmer apparently knew quite well, though she never told Donna about him. After Truman and Albert square off yet again, Leland Palmer arrives with valuable information about Bob, information which seems confirmed by the reappearance of the one-armed man who is injecting himself with a strange drug. He is not the only one having a drug-related time; Audrey, captive of Blackie and Jean Renault (older brother of the dead Jacques and Bernard) is being drugged into submission while they plan how to use her to get to Cooper.

"Episode 11" finds Leland Palmer in the hot seat for killing Jacques Renault, the man he believed killed Laura. While Andy worries about Lucy's pregnancy and the presence of the alternate inseminator, Richard, Donna meets again with Harold and he reads to her from Laura's secret diary. Donna, suspicious of Maddy and James, begins to entertain the option of running off with Harold. Josie returns to Twin Peaks and consoles poor Pete, who is mourning Catherine, and she seduces Truman rapidly. Meanwhile, Jean Renault approaches Benjamin with the ransom demand for Audrey, a demand that involves Cooper being delivered to him as payment for the death of his son, a mission Cooper is willing to take on . . . with a little help from a friend.

"Episode 12" - truly the mixed bag of highs and lows of the set - has the trial of Leland Palmer, Donna trying desperately to get Laura's secret diary away from Harold and Andy learning that it is possible he did impregnate Lucy, despite prior information about his low sperm motility. Cooper, having found Audrey's note, decides to get a jump on Audrey's captors and he and Truman head to One-Eyed Jack's to do that. Nadine, now possessing superhuman strength and believing herself to be in high school, returns home. Benjamin Horne is made an offer on the Ghostwood project that would solve all his current financial problems and he employs Hank Jennings to recover the money Cooper is holding as part of the ransom attempt.

"Episode 13" has James rescuing Donna and Maddy from the dangerous Harold who foiled their attempt to get Laura Palmer's secret diary. James recommits to Donna and Cooper and Truman return to Twin Peaks with Audrey, who has been shot up with an almost lethal dose of heroine. As Big Ed deals with having Nadine back at home, Josie is extorted by a stranger who has something important he can lord over her. Josie and Benjamin threaten one another with a series of escalating disasters until Benjamin buys Josie off and she leaves, leaving Truman bewildered by her departure. As Maddy prepares to leave Twin Peaks as well, Cooper's boss, Gordon arrives with news of Windham Earl and Phillip Gerard, the one-armed man. By withholding the Haliperidol from Phillip, the inhabiting spirit Mike - who Cooper met in a prior dream - takes control and reveals the nature of Bob.

and "Episode 14" - has Gordon leave shortly before Hawk discovers the fate of Harold and the secret diary, as Truman, Cooper and the Mike-controlled Phillip head to the Great Northern where Mike is convinced Bob is. Mike freaks out when Benjamin Horne enters and Cooper believes he may have found Laura Palmer's killer. While Norma meets the transformed Nadine, she reluctantly lets Shelly Johnson go as Shelly and Bobby have discovered having the vegetative Leo around the house is more work than fun for them. When Margaret - the Log Lady - arrives at the station, she, Cooper and Truman head to the Roadhouse where a singer is performing and Cooper is given another vision, a vision that coincides with the return of Bob who commits another murder!

If it weren't for the latter half of "Episode 14," this would be a "not recommend" for the boxed set. It was that close. The problem over the course of these five episodes is that Twin Peaks becomes more of a soap opera than it had been. It is weird for the sake of weird and it does not work nearly as well as when the show is being genuine and creepy. There are a number of disturbing conceits utilized by these five episodes that brings them down quite a bit.

So, for example, the whole secret diary of Laura Palmer bit is just too contrived to be worthwhile. It was bad enough that Donna was exploring her new bad girl side, but the addition of Harold and his orchids and obsession with Donna and possession of the secret diary is just campy at its best. Sure, there are moments that are creepy with Harold that work, like the climax to "Episode 12" as Harold begins to lose it and truly becomes a menace to both Maddy and Donna.

Benjamin Horne's dealings with the mysterious Japanese investor seems like another conceit as well and when the identity of that person is finally revealed in "Episode 14," it is less of a surprise than one suspects Frost and Lynch wanted it to be. It would not have been so bad were it not for the bevy of new strangers in town in this set of episodes. In addition to the asian investor, there is Josie's tormentor, Harold, Richard (Lucy's beau who is a pretty slimy guy), Jean Renault and Gordon (Cooper's almost-deaf boss who annoyingly yells through every scene he is in). Given the importance and recurring nature of all these new characters, it is easy to see why the primary cast would be a bit resentful about the direction of the show. On the DVDs for the second season, interviews indicate that much of the cast resented the appearance of so many new recurring characters and it's a good argument, especially considering the first season cast was essentially twenty-four strong.

Twin Peaks is also weakened by these episodes in that it becomes a place where there is very little genuine menace. After all, Nadine has come out of her coma, Leo Johnson is vegetative, yet able to mumble out a clue to give Bobby a new direction, and Cooper's rescue attempt yields an Audrey who has a ridiculously quick recovery period from her near-fatal heroin poisoning. All of the prior episodes that were building up events with a tone of wonderful menace are robbed of genuine consequences when it seems virtually everyone survives. When only the most obvious villains bite the dust and stay dead - often at one another's hands - the show begins to depart from its true greatness and potential.

These episodes are rather plot heavy as well, minimizing the amount of genuine character development that is going on. I resented very much the obviousness of Cooper and Truman's relationship in "Episode 11." Cooper approaches Truman about using one of the Bookhouse Boys to get Audrey back from One-Eyed Jacks in Canada and he asks Truman for someone he trusts and the very best. It would take pretty much an idiot to not figure out that Truman chooses himself and the bond between Cooper and Truman grows even more. I like Cooper and Truman, I like their very genuine friendship, but the way it played out in that episode just seemed too obvious; it seemed like Cooper ought to have seen it coming, too. It was not as bad on the second viewing.

What was as bad was every single scene - without exception - involving Richard. He is an annoying character and the idea that Lucy liked him and might have to choose between Richard and Andy is insulting and completely out of character for the way Lucy had been established. Also homogeneously terrible are the scenes with Nadine. After having a truly impressive scene packed with emotional significance in the first season finale, Nadine becomes a punchline in these episodes as a purveyor of physical comedy. And her amnesia is yet another soap opera conceit that cheapens the series.

Sadly, the best moment of character comes when Truman prepares to slug Albert again, but Albert reveals that - despite all his cynicism - he is a pacifist. The character suddenly works is a strange and complicated way and it's a surprise to find how well that bit does what it intends to, truly turning the character on his head.

Indeed, in these episodes the general feeling is not one of weird menace, it's of foot dragging. One suspects that once the identity of Laura Palmer's killer came out, the series would essentially be over. As a result, the writers and producers took the buckshot approach; shooting out a whole load of plotlines and seeing what might take. Sadly, none of the new plotlines are worthwhile and as "Episode 14" climaxes, viewers have a queasy feeling that has been building; the end seems near and something great is going down. Fast.

This leaves the actors in a strange state. Sherilyn Fenn is used very little as Audrey and Eric Da Re is brutalized given his acting talents as he plays Leo as vegetative. It's painful to watch scenes like the one where Bobby and Shelly throw Leo a party and Eric Da Re is forced to sit there looking braindead.

But it's not all bad. Ray Wise, who plays Leland Palmer, rocks his scenes, from the emotional breakdown as he admits that he was convinced Jacques killed Laura through the final scenes of "Episode 14" where he returns to dancing, though in a different way from his prior episodes. Wise transitions Palmer realistically from a singing, jovial screwball to the efficient lawyer he had been characterized as prior to his daughter's death. And ultimately, Wise steals all of the scenes he is in.

But much of these episodes continues to rest on the acting talents of Kyle MacLachlan and Michael Ontkean. Ontkean is relegated to sidekick duty almost exclusively and MacLachlan gives more average performances in these episodes than in prior outings. Most notably is the absence of any sexual chemistry between MacLachlan and Fenn on screen, which they had in the first season. In the DVD bonus features on the "Gold Box Edition," MacLachlan reveals his discomfort with any sort of relationship between Cooper and Audrey and that comes through in his performance in these episodes. Gone is any flirtation in their performances and it does diminish the work some.

In this set, Lara Flynn Boyle is given quite a bit to do. I was a bit of a fan of Boyle from her role on The Practice and here the seeds of who she became as an actress on that show begin to creep in. Here, Lara Flynn Boyle stretches taking Donna from a good girl to a lusty young woman who is deeply hurt and has to oscillate between these complicated emotions convincingly and Boyle manages to do it. There is no point that she does not seem like Donna, despite the fact that Donna is very much a character in transition here.

Outside "Episode 14," these episodes could be passed; the new clues in the murder investigation are slow in coming and the essential concepts all come in the end of "Episode 13" and the climax of "Episode 14." As a result, this boxed set is very difficult to recommend, but as it came down to a razor decision, I opted for a very light recommend and it's exclusively for those who like Twin Peaks already. Anyone who has never seen an episode of the series ought not to start with this set; it will be confusing and underwhelm the viewer.

[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!

“Episode 10” – 7/10
“Episode 11” – 5/10
“Episode 12” – 6/10
“Episode 13” – 3/10
“Episode 14” – 7.5/10
VHS – 5/10

For other television reviews, please visit my Television Index Page by clicking here!

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