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Written by Tricia Brock
Directed by Tina Rathborne

Airdate: 8 December, 1990

So here we are, and this is what a post-Laura Palmer Twin Peaks looks like. More damningly, what a post-Mark Frost/David Lynch Twin Peaks looks like, since both men largely gave up on the series after being forced to answer the central question ahead of schedule. And it's... not the worst thing. There are a couple genuinely wonderful scenes in here, in fact, compared with only one scene that I hate so much that it makes me want to puke my guts out and bemoan the fact that I ever fell in love with Twin Peaks.

If that sounds extreme, then you've either never watched the show, or have managed to forget the holy terror that is Super Nadine (Wendy Robie). The whole storyline sucks - conking Nadine on the head and making her mentally regress back to high school was a bad call, and the thing where she has inexplicable super-strength, though it stretches back to the masterpiece that was the first season, has always been underdeveloped and confusing. But this isn't just a shit plot coming to the fore in the absence of much else. This is Nadine, out for cheerleader tryouts, somehow deciding that the thing to do is to pick up a dude and throw him. As cheerleaders do. And even that's not it. So there's this shot, it's way the hell grainy, since, as will become very clear in a second, it's been tinkered with badly in the lab. Nadine grabs the dude, at which point dialogue that, I cannot make this clear enough, was very fucking obviously dubbed in later, is lacquered onto the soundtrack. "Hold on, I'm gonna throw you," says Nadine. "Yeah, sure you are," says the dude. "CORKSCREW!" says Nadine, and flings up into the air. And she does this by, God save me, she does this in a little effect where either Robie or the stuntperson - it's very much composed to make one suspicious - approaches the dude, and the footage has just been run back and forth a few frames, so it looks like Nadine is approaching him, bracing herself, and then giving him a good throw. But mostly, it looks like the film is being played and rewound and played. Oh, and speeding up at the end, because "super strength"

This in the show that basically invented the idea of television with the production value of movies.

It would take a lot for anything not to seem flat-out wonderful in comparison to that, but I do think that Episode 17 actually is pretty decent on the whole, given what's about to come. There's not a speck of James in the episode, for example, and by the time the next five episodes are over, "no James" will sound like the angels themselves singing hosannas. Plus, the godawful subplot with Norma's (Peggy Lipton) shrew of a mother, Vivian (Jane Greer) comes to an abrupt end, with the impossibly forced, fake revelation that Vivan was, ye gods, the restaurant critic all along. A restaurant critic with strong enough professional ethics to avoid giving unearned positive notices to restaurants that don't own them, but somehow didn't stop to think that reviewing her own daughter's restaurant - a routine greasy spoon diner in the middle of Shit-Ass Nowhere, on top of it - might be one of those times that you need to recuse yourself.

But actually, there are good things here. The opening scenes, as Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) delicately tries to offer comfort to the broken, stony Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), and then as the whole town turns out for Leland's wake, are both rock-solid. The latter in particular is the kind of moment that it feels like we should have more of in this show: moments where we get a sense of Twin Peaks as a community where everybody's up in everybody's business and has been for decades. It's warm, comfy, and the first time in the whole of the second season where the lived reality of a small country town in the western United States has been called into action. Two things slightly ding it: no ugly gossip, as would happen at one of these things anyway, and would certainly happen at the wake of a man who raped and murdered his daughter and then two weeks later murdered his niece. Then there's the long, bloated minute where all the characters sit and laugh about the shared history about a pair of petty old men who are about to be front-and-center in their own crap plotline, and even though it hits the whole "warm chatter of a small town" vibe, it feels a lot too much like a backdoor pilot for the The Adventures of Dougie and Dwayne, that hilarious geriatric comedy that's about to leave a smeary stain all over the good name of Twin Peaks.

You know what scene I have only good things to say about: Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) and Cooper's sweet little good-bye. Considering the behind-the-scenes politicking involved in getting this jerry-rigged thing off the ground - the writers planned a Cooper/Audrey love arc for the remainder of the season, and MacLachlan vetoed it on the grounds that getting involved with a high school student would be against Cooper's ethics, but he only said that because he was dating Lara Flynn Boyle at the time, and she was pissed at the thought of Fenn getting better material than her, and with her own boyfriend - it's enormously appealing, with a sweet little sadness in Fenn's performance and a kindly stern cast to MacLachlan's. This was always one of the more heartfelt aspects of Twin Peaks, and it's sad to see it go, but nice that it's last moments should be such a strong piece of writing and acting.

And I'm also pretty happy with the final scene, in which Cooper and Major Briggs (Don S. Davis) share a laconic moment before the major disappears in blast of white, with a hooded figure in the woods. As far as horrifying moments in Twin Peaks goes, this is one of the most lethargic, but it's pretty dramatic and stylish for an episode that has very much scaled things back to a very normal television aesthetic.

Anyway, the whole thing is mostly perfectly passable: Catherine (Piper Laurie) gets a fun little comic scene with Harry (Michael Ontkean), there's a great bit where both Andy (Harry Goaz) and Dick (Ian Buchanan) pledge to be more kind and helpful to Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) during her pregnancy, then dash away without helping her as she fumbles with a fluorescent bulb, Mädchen Amick has a scene where she gets to do some rather fine acting as a disgusted, frustrated, and then terrified Shelly. It's rather too comic for the Twin Peaks of old; one has to get used to that, or just give up entirely (and frankly, skipping ahead to Episode 23 isn't a bad call; you miss David Duchovny's star-making role, but not very much else). But there's not very much that's actively bad, and we are now officially at the point where yes, that is in fact the curve we're using to grade the former Best Show in the History of Television.

Grade: B-