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Written by Harley Peyton & Robert Engels
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter

Airdate: 3 November, 1990

I don't remember at all when the "find out who killed Laura Palmer!" marketing push began, but it's certainly the case that the episode prior to Episode 14 (where we do, in fact, find that out, though most of the characters do not) feels a hell of a lot like a warm-up. The first episode of November sweeps is like a big steaming cauldron of all the things that make Twin Peaks feel like Twin Peaks, the better to make us love it and get revved up for the Big Reveal waiting just in the wings. It confirms for me, if confirmation was needed, that Lesli Linka Glatter is the director who has the best handle on how to make a truly exciting, special, tonally distinctive episode of the show outside of David Lynch himself, and in fact I would be very happy to go on record calling Episode 13, directed by Glatter and written by the show's two most prolific staff writers, Harley Peyton & Robert Engels, the best one among the 24 episodes of Twin Peaks that were not directed by Lynch.

For all this, it was the lowest-rated episode in the show's run up to that point. Oh well.

It's not, I concede, a perfect episode, and it just about leads off with its biggest imperfection. At the end of Episode 12, we left Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) and Maddy (Sheryl Lee) recoiling in horror from Harold Smith's (Lenny von Dohlen) self-destructive freak out, as he was so distressed by Donna's betrayal that he started cutting into his own face with a garden fork. We resume to find him spewing panicky, angry, wounded-animal accusations against them, and apparently that fork nicked him in the talent, because von Dohlen has just plunged into over-articulated hamminess. We'll not seem him again in the show, and it's a damn pity that a subplot that I do generally like ends on such a squashy flat note.

And it doesn't exactly pick up once James (James Marshall) rescues Donna and Maddy, in his clomping way. I choose to believe that the dialogue Peyton & Engels supplied for Donna and James's subsequent love scene is purposefully godawful, an over-earnest parody of teenagers in love that leads into the heightened sensations of the rest of the hour. But even if I'm right, it's still the case that deliberately bad is bad, and if I'm wrong, well then, we've just officially kicked off the overture to the show's very worst plotline, in which James mopes his way across the Pacific Northwest.

At any rate, muscle through the rocky opening scenes, and you're rewarded with one of Twin Peaks's finest blends. And by this I'm, not just just referring to a mixture of tones and genres that represents the show at is best: we have horror, we have comedy, we have business conspiracies, we have teen soap opera, we have mysticism. The other thing we have is a nearly perfect balance between advancing the various plotlines to some critical mass, while also letting every scene linger on its characters and their feelings. Even for Twin Peaks, getting that balance just right is rare, and Glatter, Peyton, and Engels do it so well that they even manage to redeem some chunks of storyline that simply haven't been working. There's nothing in the first third of Season 2 that leaves me as unmoved as the mystery of Josie Packard (Joan Chen) and her network of betrayals against both the good guys and bad guys, and yet this episode redeems it completely in just one scene: Michael Ontkean delivering the line "Josie, I love you", with a desperate quaver, and Joan Chen's stunned, sad flicker of a response, and boom! I care, even if it's just for a short time, about how torn up this is all making Josie (and I do think that Glatter's presentation of the episode, and what she gets out of the ordinarily wooden Chen, brings things down decisively on the side of "Josie loves Harry", a question the show has been coy about answering).

("Just one scene" is unfair: in fact, this episode is jammed with unprecedentedly good Josie scenes. Her and Ben's dueling safety deposit box keys exchange is honest-to-God adorable, a little comic interlude of two sociopathic businesspeople with their hair down).

If that's what this team, in this episode, can get out of one the weaker subplots, it's no surprise that they get much more out of the actual strong points: Cooper's (Kyle MacLachlan) steady, accusatory statement to Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) wrings a stunning amount of tension from almost literally nothing at all, just two men talking in flat tones. The enjoyably batshit Mr. Tojamura (Fumio Yamaguchi) material scores the episode's sweetest, goofiest, most random scene, when Pete (Jack Nance) attempts to force the conversation over to the great American stage musicals (hearing Nance enunciate "Fiddler on the Roof" with his elastic vowels is an important small pleasure of mine), and the mystified amusement with which *cough* Yamaguchi regards Nance throughout is funny in its own right, and genuinely lovely in light of the impending revelations.

And all of this stuff isn't even the material from the episode that's obviously great, which comes in two varieties: the ending scene, and everything involving the unexpected arrival of Cooper's boss, Agent Gordon Cole (Lynch, appearing in the flesh after having previously made an audio appearance).  It's probably not necessary to go on about these things too much, since a quarter century of Twin Peaks fans have done so before me. But still: the Lynch scenes are so motherfucking good. He decided, for no reason other than to amuse himself, that the character would have an old-fashioned hearing aid and thus be required to speak very loudly, and it pays off in ways that are almost impossible to quantify. It's not just that it's weird - it's not even weird anyway, MacLachlan very pointedly normalises this in all of their shared scenes. It's the way it gives us an instant impression of Cole that the rest of the episode fully reinforces, that he's operating completely inside his own head, and it's mostly a matter of chance when that intersects with the world around him. And that's great, in turn, because it gives such context to Cooper's own idiosyncratic way of moving through the world. It's ultimately a driver of character, not just a flourish for the sake of it, and that gives it added depth and meaning.

Even just as comedy, though, the scenes between Cooper and Cole are all you need to see to understand the difference between Twin Peaks and all the generations of forcibly quirky Twin Peaks knock-offs that haven't been able to knock any of the luster of what is, by television standards, an incredibly ancient show. MacLachlan has had great scene partners throughout - Ontkean in particularly, including in this very episode, as well as Sherilyn Fenn (who is sadly out for now) - but working against Lynch (the director who is almost single-handedly responsible for MacLachlan having any kind of a career) gives him a spike in energy unprecedented in anything he's done anywhere in the preceding 13 episodes of television. The timing of every gesture, the pace of dialogue, the direction of the actors' gazes, are all perfectly harmonised: this material is zany weirdness, but it's zany weirdness that has been honed and is delivered with extreme mechanical precision, and that is why Lynch is Lynch and every Lynch imitator under the sun is not. Great weirdness isn't about flailing around randomly; it's about having an exact plan that serves a precise purpose, and that is, I believe, exactly what we're watching in these wonderful Gordon Cole moments.

And as for the ending, what is there to say? It's much of the show's best strengths coalescing: actors who don't in any way condescend to some very giddy material, and thus give it the strength of in-universe reality (so now, Twin Peaks is a place where spirits of evil hop in and out of human hosts to do their worldly mischief? Okay then, and don't expect the show to compromise on that point for a solitary moment); writing that flirts with the poetics of fantasy literature, in Mike's (Al Strobel) weighty statements of his and Bob's history, his description of the interior of a hotel, and of course in the actual poem/incantation that we last heard in the nightmare breakdown at the end of Episode 2, but which sounds so much more threatening now; and the show's enthusiasm for bending the material of the medium itself. There is some amazing, fucked-up sound editing in the beginning of this sequence, and the characters don't appear to notice it at all, which makes it even more fucked-up, it's just a grating, hollow quality that sits atop the sound of the world, somewhere between the show and the television itself. It's the scariest thing in the episode, and it exists purely as a deviation from the "correct" aesthetic form; that, to me, is the very best of Twin Peaks. And I return to something I've said before: Glatter is the one director who uniquely manages to be entirely, utterly Twin Peaksian without ever falling into the trap of being pseudo-Lynchian. She's figured out a way to get at the same effect without simply copying the boss's style, using different camera movements and angles. That's why here, at the end of Episode 13, we get the best version of a David Lynch moment ever made by a filmmaker who isn't David Lynch himself.

"He is Bob. Eager for fun. He wears a smile. Everybody run." With those words, uttered in that clattering, post-processed gargle, the show has run us through pretty much every emotion Twin Peaks can, and built up all the momentum it needs to plunge into the single bleakest hour of the series' initial run. It's a hell of a great lead-in, and as the time comes to brace ourselves for the very real drop-off in quality and inspiration on the horizon, it's nice to know that the show could pull off such a strong pair of episodes to send us on our way.

Grade: A