Friday, July 03, 2009

Twin Peaks, Season 2, Episode 9 (or episode 16)

Or ‘End it on a High Note’

By Jill Duffy

You know when you watch a movie and just before it ends, you say to yourself, “and... scene!” in hopes of willing the film to end at that very moment? Maybe you say to yourself, “This movie would have been excellent if it had ended at the height of the emotional drama, rather than dragging on for a 20-minute dénouement. I don’t care that they got married, and then the father-in-law approached the bride and made a joke. I don’t friggin care.”

If you frequently find yourself making that judgment call, my advice is to quit watching Twin Peaks after episode 16. This is the natural end. In fact, I can tell you precisely when to turn off your DVD player. It’s when FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield, played by Miguel Ferrer, says, “Maybe that’s all Bob is, the evil that men do. Maybe it doesn’t matter what we call it.” You could even skip that and call it quits at the moment Leland dies.

In any event, this is the pinnacle episode in many ways. I really liked the Log Lady introduction in particular, because she very clearly explains where we are in the series and why one should continue to watch. It’s not enough to make me agree with her, but it’s a gutsy move—to have a minor character tell you why you should keep watching. In fact, in her assessment, the Log Lady sees infinite future episodes of Twin Peaks! It goes like this:

“So now the sadness comes. A revelation. There is a depression after an answer is given. It was almost fun not knowing. Yes. Now we know. At least we know what we sought in the beginning. But there is still the question why, and this question will go on and on until the final answer comes. Then the knowing is so full there is no room for questions.”

What Happens

I mentioned in my previous post that I found the explicit nature of the show more useful than a turnoff. There’s no room for interpretation in terms of what happened. Sure, we can discuss the meaning of it all. We can talk about evil, and Frost and Lynch’s philosophies about human nature. But there’s no trying to figure out what happened. We know because we are told. Repeatedly. Bob is an evil being. Bob inhabited Leland. Leland-as-Bob killed Laura Palmer and Maddy Ferguson, and tried to kill Ronnette Pulaski. And if that weren’t enough, we find out exactly how he did it, too. We even watch with our own eyes how he commits the second murder.

Let’s talk about what else happens in this episode, leading up to the big moment.

The lawmen—Cooper, Truman, Hawk, and Albert—walk up to Maddy’s investigation, outside, below the trees in the forest. As before, there’s a clear formation of their body language, a lineup, suggesting a Western feel to their movements and attitudes.

Hawk, whom I love watching, says to Cooper, “You’re on the path. You don’t need to know where it leads. Just follow.”

Donna stumbles across a clue and, with Cooper’s help, pieces it together with other information to retrieve pages from Laura’s secret diary.

Cooper pays a visit to Gerard/Mike (Al Strobel), the one-armed man, who is in a hotel bed at The Great Northern, shirtless, allowing us to see where his arm was amputated. No one likes to be voyeuristic, but it is fascinating to see Gerard shirtless, the bones from his naked shoulder jutting into nowhere. He tells Cooper really cryptic stuff, helping him piece together more clues. Strobel, who appears to have had a pretty small acting career, is brilliant as Mike. I don’t know a whole lot about acting, and I’ve heard that playing a crazy persons is like cheap acting because it’s easy to do, but I don’t care. I love this scene and think Strobel is great in it. I think he’s great throughout the show. The character must have been well written, but Strobel takes it to its peak.

Truman and Albert continue sniffing out their case against Horne. They have some convincing evidence, but Cooper seems less and less sure.

Remember Tojamura? One thing I didn’t mention about the previous episode (number 15), but that I think Geoff Klock (you know, the guy who runs this blog) will appreciate, is that Piper Laurie is credited as playing the role of Tojamura at the very end of the episode, only after she has revealed that Tojamura is Catherine in disguise. One complaint that Geoff has filed repeatedly about Lost is that sometimes the audience is led to believe that a character is dead or missing, but then his or her name appears in the opening credits, tipping us off to their reappearance before we are emotionally built up for it. (On the other hand, given the nature of the show, the characters could, conceivably, appear in flashbacks.)

So Tojamura/Catherine reveals herself first to Pete, but now, she does the same to a locked-up Benjamin Horne, whom she calls “a slimy rat bastard,” with same confidence in her voice as how Catherine Hepburn might say it. Piper Laurie is a pleasure to watch!

Donna goes to visit Leland, and there are overwhelming suggestions that he’s going to kill her: Leland looking at Bob in the mirror, Leland dancing, music cues, Leland slowly approaching Donna from behind and touching her hair gently, Leland dancing with Donna and suddenly and violently grabbing her close. We’re on edge throughout their whole exchange. Then the doorbell rings and it’s Harry, who’s come for Leland’s help, explaining that there’s been another murder.

Toward the end, Cooper arranges a gathering suspects. “Gentleman,” says Cooper, “two days ago a woman was found murdered by the same individual I believe responsible for the death of Laura Palmer. I have reason to believe that the killer is in this room. As a member of the Bureau, I spend my time seeking simple answers to difficult questions. In the pursuit of Laura’s killer I have employed Bureau guidelines, deductive technique, Tibetan method, instinct, and luck. But now I find myself in need of something new, which for lack of a better word, we shall call magic.” Strike of lightning!
Horne: “Would you like us to hum? A Tibetan chant perhaps?” (Ha!)

Major Briggs shows up with the old man, the one who came to Cooper after he was shot. The old man gives Cooper a stick of gum. Leland says that gum was his favorite when he was a kid. The old man says that gum will come back in style. Once all these clues are laid before us, we watch Cooper’s face as he pieces them together.

A freeze frame happens, with each person bathed in a blue spotlight. We see still shots from different angles of all the people in the room. Cooper remembers his dream and hears Laura whisper, “My father killed me.” The giant appears and delivers the ring that he took from Cooper many episodes ago.

Cooper brings Horne back to the station, and says Horne might like to bring Leland along as his attorney. It’s a set up.

Back at the station, Cooper whispers to Truman, but we don’t hear what it is. This is a good technique. We know what they’re up to, but aren’t sure exactly what’s going to happen. Given the fact that we, the audience, have for some time now known more than the characters in the show, it’s refreshing to get a little slice of secrecy again.

Truman and Cooper throw Leland into a cell, and he goes nuts! He immediately becomes Bob fully, completely, uncontrollably. He throws himself against a wall and hollers like a maniac.

He confesses, and during his confession, it’s a very Jack Nicholson in The Shining style performance.

Then, the fire alarm goes off (Dick had light a cigarette while talking in another room with Lucy and Andy), and the sprinkler system engages. What interesting about this is that it creates a rainstorm inside. I like the sleight of hand in that.

Bob screams at the top of his lungs. He starts throwing himself repeatedly against the door until he smashes his own skull. He lies in a wet mass of blood and water, crying “I killed my own daughter,” and it’s Leland now, but he has recovered some strange ability to talk about his experience of Bob inhabiting his body. Again, we have no questions whatsoever. Everything is fully explained.

Cooper gives Leland some kind of last rights, but honestly, it’s pretty much gibberish. Leland dies as the sprinklers turn off.

And there, we could end it. We could exit on a high note. But instead, the show moves outside, beneath the forest canopy, wherein the men discuss Bob, where he is, what he is, and what he means.

Albert: “Maybe that’s all Bob is, the evil that men do. Maybe it doesn’t matter what we call it.” [End it here? No...]

Truman: “Maybe not. But if he was real, if he was here and we had him, trapped, and he got away, where’s Bob now?”

The protagonist will now proceed to chase Bob, a demon spirit, symbolized by an owl, through the woods until he inhabits someone else. So, do you see why I want it to end just a few minutes earlier?

[Leland killing himself is one of the things that has stuck with me through the years since watching the show. I am surprised how often I think about it.]


Joe Gualtieri said...

The final episode is one of the best hours of television ever and more than worth the slump Twin Peaks goes through after this episode.

(NB: aside from the James plot and Cooper in flannel, I think the slump gets overblown, but it is there)

John Soanes said...

I think that Cooper's last rites for Leland are from the Tibetan Book of The Dead, so they're in character, I guess.