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Written by Barry Pullman
Directed by Graeme Clifford

Airdate: 27 October, 1990

As near as I can tell, Episode 12 is not an especially highly-regarded hour of Twin Peaks, by the standards of the first third of Season 2. And that's pretty understandable, I suppose; it's a bit off-beat by the show's standards, and when a show is already this off-beat, an off-beat episode is... on-beat? At any rate, it doesn't have that Twin Peaks feeling, which I'm inclined to lay at the feet of director Graeme Clifford, a man of a kind of particular backwards significance: he is the first director of a Twin Peaks episode who never came back to direct a second (who knows if he would have done more if the show's third season had happened right away, and on the same network).

Clifford's directorial career prior to this doesn't have much to it; I'd hazard that his best-known work was probably the 1982 Oscar-nominated biopic Frances. But it's as an editor that he really shone: his brief career as a cutter included Robert Altman's first dalliance with art horror, 1972's Images, and Nicolas Roeg's much more successful experiment in the same genre, 1973's Don't Look Now, along with Roeg's very next movie, 1976's The Man Who Fell to Earth (in between, he worked on that most esoteric of '70s art films, The Rocky Horror Picture Show). And I would be inclined to say that this was more the training Clifford brought to bear in his one and only episode of Twin Peaks, which does not in any way feel like something Roeg would have put together (oh my God! How badly I want a Roeg/Lynch collaboration now), but in its best moments does feel like it has access to the same flatly unreal aura of The Man Who Fell to Earth, just done in a very different way.

The best of those best moments, to me, is the long-delayed raid on One-Eyed Jacks, as Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Harry (Michael Ontkean) rescue the drugged Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) the conclusion - no, not even the conclusion to what is surely the most plot-packed episode of the show up to this point, with so much happening that I'm a little dazzled that Barry Pullman fit it all into 45 minutes (Pullman was also a Twin Peaks virgin, though unlike Clifford, he'd return). Maybe that's why this feels so unlike the rest of the show, now that I reflect on it; if there has been one constant across all of the directors and all of the writers to have taken a whack at an episode by this point in the series, it's that they've all left plenty of empty space: scripts kept deliberately short to allow each episode to linger on slow moments. There's only one moment that could conceivably be called "slow" in Episode 12, and I doubt very much that it's coincidental that it's one of the episode's highlights.

But I left us in One-Eyed Jacks. We've seen a lot of rooms in this dreamy, terrifying bordello, and we've seen the swathes of red curtain that, in general, Twin Peaks (and David Lynch's career as a whole) uses to signify the otherworldly, the psychologically abstract, the dangerously alert and alive and sexual (ironic, then that Episode 12 includes a red curtain scene that's none of those things). What we've never seen before is the layout of the place in anything like the way that a customer might experience it, and we get that now, basically. Something is quite off with the space, though; it feels like nothing but a sprawl of hallways that bend back on each other too quickly to be logically possible, and the busy floral wallpaper makes it very nearly impossible to distinguish portions of that hallway from each other. It looks cheap (probably because it was cheap), but not in a "the TV crew only had a short time and no budget to quickly build this set", but in a way that feels, slightly, like a bad simulation of human space. It feels a little bit like the interiors in Phantasm, where the need to cut corners left spaces that felt like a poorly-remembered nightmare. Or, in the context of this show, it feels like nothing so much as the interior of the Black Lodge, which similarly has the feel of a thrown-together space built by non-humans, that feeling of fake walls pressed together less to define spaces than the pen in various evil acts. Of course, One-Eyed Jacks, in the universe of the show, actually exists, so it's an entirely different thing we're talking about, but the whole sequence, from the sets to the suddenness with which events (especially deaths) happen, even the crappy fight choreography (just look at Ontkean "punch" that guard), have that distinct sense of taking place outside of reality and time, and if that's not the quintessence of Twin Peaks...

That's only a little passage of an episode that's full of interesting stuff throughout, though it never quite feels like it coheres into a unified whole, which is the only thing that keeps me from ranking this higher. It's very much a grab bag, sometimes succeeding on humor: Andy's (Harry Goaz) triumphant "I'm a whole damn town!" is the best part of the baby drama plot (Kimmy Robertson's determinedly addle-minded description of how the phones work as Lucy rushes out the door is a piercing reminder of how much better her character was in the first season), sweet and goofy and true to the character rather than the beastly farce-for-farce's sake bit in Episode 11. Sometimes, it works as very potent character drama, as in my second-favorite scene in the episode: Donna's (Lara Flynn Boyle) trance-like recollection of the time she and Laura went skinny-dipping with some older boys, a moving and slightly frightening monologue that pokes in slantwise at the show's overriding theme of how men happily exploit innocent women, but mostly expressing one teen girl's first feelings of sexual ardor and chaste romanticism at the same time; it's Boyle's best moment in the series, with her fluctuating feelings bringing the anecdote to life almost as much as the scene in Persona where Bibi Andersson recounts her character's sexual awakening on a beach (and I'll eat my hat if that scene was nowhere in Pullman's mind when he wrote this scene).

There are plenty of peculiar, curious "huh?" moments, including a legal proceeding held in a redressed bar (a moment in which Twin Peaks quietly looks back to the tradition of the Western, and the historical Old West town that Twin Peaks probably began life as, if it actually existed in the world), and the first words spoken by the boxed-shape "Mr. Tojamura" ("Fumio Yamaguchi"). Here I find myself wracking some memories almost two decades old, of the first time I watched the series; did I ever buy into the Mr. Tojamura conceit? Does he seem so bizarre and cartoonish because I know the reveal now, or was he also such a galvanizing, oddball intrusion of the blatantly unreal into the merely surreal world of Twin Peaks? At any rate, I find the character amazingly, delightfully weird, too much part of the fever dream fabric of the show to bother noting that in any other context, surely the character would be irretrievably racist.

Just about the only important bit of Twin Peaks we get none of is that pregnant atmosphere of horror that is the show's dominant element; it's present a little bit in One-Eyed Jacks, but that's of a different sort than the covering blanket of dread that usually marks the show. Maybe it's because Angelo Badalamenti introduced two new themes into the score with this episode, both of them taking a step away from the hypnotic droning that he uses so well. Maybe it's because we've had so much of Bob, either present or whispered in dialogue, in the past few episodes, and the absence of anything actively paranormal (Judge Sternwood's (Royal Dano) casual mention that something odd happens in the woods around Twin Peaks doesn't count, though Cooper momentaril spotting an owl probably does) feels more noticeable as a result. The result is, I concede, distinctly non-Twin Peaksy, though I still think it's a hell of a distinctive, unconventional hour of television.

But quite a long sigh of disappointment at the two biggest technical flubs of the show to date: a bit of stage blood showing up a few frames too early in the last shot, and a boom mike dropping into shot during the courtroom series. Amateur-hour stuff, and far beneath the bar this show routinely set for itself.

Grade: A-