Return to the complete Twin Peaks index

Written by Jerry Stahl and Mark Frost & Harley Peyton & Robert Engels
Directed by Todd Holland

Airdate: 20 October, 1990

So I wonder, have we reached the point of equilibrium with Twin Peaks? For a short while, anyway? Episode 11 - the fourth episode of the second season - is the first one that leave me almost entirely without a "hook" to talk about. It's simply a hell of a solid piece of television that does a very good - not great - job of all the things that the show excels at. There's a bit of quirky comedy, a bit of high-flung philosophy couched in homey rural truisms, a bit of stomach-churning horror, a bit of morbid sadness. Most of the plots are advanced a step, and one important new character is introduced - with all appropriate scare quotes around "new".

But nothing about is so one-of-a-kind great that it seems worthy of mention. A few things, maybe, are bad enough to stand out, and this is new territory for the show to plumb. One scene, the rather effective reunion of Pete Martell (Jack Nance) and Josie Packard (Joan Chen), trips across the finish line: Nance's "I know I'm supposed to be sad" approach to playing the scene gets us nearly all the way through it, and then his last line - his very moody and disturbing last line - "I don't know what we'll be burying", is eaten alive by a dissolve to a stand of fir trees blowing in the wind. Far be it from me to complain about fir trees blowing in the wind on Twin Peaks. It is a great signature of the show. But the timing of edits is a precise art, and where this one is placed (made somehow all the worse because it's a dissolve, not a straight cut) screams as loudly as it can that the Pete/Josie scene was nowhere near done, but they only had so much time to fill, and this was the most expendable part of the episode. It's almost without question the worst thing that's happened in the entire show so far, and yes, I'm aware that's a lot to claim for one bad edit. But it is showily bad.

It's also in the same episode as the first entire scene that I simply can't say anything nice about: Andy (Harry Goaz), hoping against hope that he actually fathered Lucy's (Kimmy Robertson) child, has collected a sample for a sperm test. He drops it, and it rolls under a bench in the sheriff's office. I don't think it's anywhere close to an irredeemable comic bit, but the large clutch of writers - the most that have been given credit for any single episode of the show, including the solitary Twin Peaks credit for Permanent Midnight memoirist Jerry Stahl - are rather too eager to let it go on for decidedly too long, hitting a sluggish "who's on first" moment when Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) obliviously asks him about his boots.

Those are only two clunker moments in an episode that's otherwise full of reasonably strong moments: I am particularly fond of Judge Sternwood (Royal Dano), and his expansive, poetic philosophy of jurisprudence, including a terrific exchange with Cooper that includes one of the quintessential, definitional one-liners in the entirety of Twin Peaks:
STERNWOOD: "This week, heaven includes arson, multiple homicides, and an attempt on the life of a federal agent."
COOPER: "Heaven is a large and interesting place, sir."
If that line, and MacLachlan's warmly thoughtful way of delivering it, don't give you a little stirring, it's hard me to imagine why you've gotten this far into the show; it has the exact right mixture of absurd humor, deadly sincerity, and spiritual reflection that represents the very best of this series.

Beyond that, Episode 11 is just not that distinctive. We have a great scene with Leland (Ray Wise), calmly, psychopathically explaining why he killed the man detained for suspicion of his daughter's murder, and it's heartbreaking - I am convinced, by now, that Wise dimly suspected the reveal coming in just a couple of episodes, and fought as hard as he could against it by portraying a far more sober, sad, tragic Leland than he gave us anywhere in Season 1. There's a perfectly repellent scene with Jean Renault (Michael Parks) blandly shooting a man and then caressing a drugged Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) to comfort her. There's a scene that finally pushes the Josie plotline towards something an end point, and the immediate contrast with a particularly Boy Scout-ish Harry Truman (Michael Ontkean) gives their frankly anemic love affair more gravity than I think it's had at any point in the series.

But all of this feels somewhat "business as usual" for the show, and other than a few isolated scenes - Audrey's drugged confusion, the shot of Josie's "cousin" Jonathan (Mak Takano) spying on her and Truman during a thunderstorm - it all feels... plain? Not every director can be David Lynch, of course, but first-time Peaks director Todd Holland treats the material more straightforwardly than anyone before him had. Only the opening shot - a microscopic pan back from the inside of a ceiling tile, screaming with the voices of the damned - has any specific artistic inspiration behind it, and it suffers from feeling simply too self-consciously elaborate and weird; the best Peaks directors, like Lynch or Lesli Linka Glatter or Duwayne Dunham, make the weirdness seem inevitable.

If Episode 11 still works, all told, it's because the show was deep into some of its best plotlines right now: Audrey at One Eyed Jacks, Donna's (Lara Flynn Boyle) infatuation with the magnetically off-putting Harold Smith (Lenny von Dohlen). And the Lucy pregnancy plotline hasn't run aground yet (her angry dismissals of both of her suitors in this episode are pretty great comedy, in fact). But the strain is just starting to show. This is what it looks like when Twin Peaks is being supported by only its writing, and for a show so good at florid atmosphere, that's a distinct let-down. Still, the writing remains superlative, even when it's just cracking its knuckles and keeping a holding pattern, as happens in several of the subplots this time around. It's the most basic episode of Twin Peaks yet, but it sure as hell keeps your attention.

Grade: B+