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Written by Harley Peyton & Robert Engels
Directed by Caleb Deschanel

Airdate: 12 January, 1991

At this point, I am going to throw myself on your mercy, dear reader. Writing 1200- and 1400-word pieces about every single episode of a television show is a blast and all, but it's not exactly what I had in mind when I started working my way through Twin Peaks. And now we've finally gotten stuck in the mud of the episodes where I really have just nothing to say. Or rather, I have lots to say, but none of it's nice, and all of it's repetitive, and while there's something cathartic about writing a rant against something that pissed me off, there's nothing cathartic about hating the experience of watching Twin Peaks. So I'm going to start trying to get through these a bit faster (you'll note that this time, at least, I have failed).

Episode 19 has its own set of problems, and they're not exactly the same as the ones befouling Episode 18, but it's all about the same thing: with Laura Palmer's killer in the ground, and David Lynch and Mark Frost holding the series at arm's length, there's no obvious story to tell. In this case, writers Harley Peyton & Robert Engels attempted to compensate by filling time with a whole mess of subplots. I'm not certain that any individual episode of the show has crammed so many different plotlines as this one:

-Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) wants to buy a house, and while looking at one abandoned property finds evidence linking Hank (Chris Mulkey) and Ernie (James Booth) to Jean Renault's drug smuggling

-Ancient Doug Milford died of sex, and his brother Dwayne (John Boylan) is convinced that his teenage wife Lana (Robyn Lively) did it on purpose

-Mike (Gary Hershberger) is so terrified by Nadine (Wendy Robie) that he asks his ex-girlfriend Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) to help him

-Little Nicky (Joshua Harris) is apparently cursed, and Dick (Ian Buchanan) is convinced that the boy means him harm

-The U.S. Air Force is hunting for the missing Major Garland Briggs (Don S. Davis), who has gotten himself involved in some very secret project

-An exultant Catherine (Piper Laurie) has fun forcing Josie (Joan Chen) to debase herself as a maid

-Hank spots Norma (Peggy Lipton) and Ed (Everett McGill) together

-A deteriorating Ben (Richard Beymer) hires Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) to be his spy

-And we can't forget our pal James (James Marshall), who is told by Evelyn's (Annette McCarthy) obviously 100% trustworthy brother Malcolm (Nicholas Love) that she's being beaten and is in need of a strong male protector, wink. Says a lot that even given the whirlwind of crap going on here, the James scenes are still the most insipid.

That's nine plotlines for 47 minutes of screentime, and it would be very easy to subdivide the "Cooper finds drugs & other evidence" plot further. That leaves very little oxygen, and a lot of scrambling, fast-paced storytelling, but none of that is the dominant problem. It's that so many of these stories are just pure junk, centered around characters who were inserted into the series solely for the purpose of facilitating the stories. We don't know Dwayne Milford from Adam, and the show gives us no reason to assume we care before plowing forward with his storyline. Boylan acts his scenes tremendously well, but in the absence of any kind of emotional hook, it's hard to invest in his performance. We do know Dick, but he only matters as a foil to Andy (Harry Goaz) - why is he suddenly getting scenes all his own? The first season spent a lot of time building an large, enormously well-acted ensemble. Suddenly dropping in previously-unseen protagonists left and right is no good at all, and exacerbates the sense that the writers had no clue what they were doing even more than the largely inane conflicts do.

Still, it's not much better in the plots centered around characters who have been firmly established. Piper Laurie has a ball leaning into Catherine's self-satisfied hammy side, but the character makes her final descent into a Joan Collins-esque soap opera baddie in this episode, rather than a complicated, dark figure. And while Jack Nance has one all-star line reading after another in their scene together, it's hard to believe that Pete could turn so blasΓ© about the way she's treating Josie. There's something spectacularly horrible about watching all the male characters flip their shit over Lana, in a desperate attempt to prop up a dull character by presenting her as some kind of once-in-a-lifetime sexpot. It's all enough to make Ben's plotline seem positively respectable - it's the start of the "Civil War delusion" arc that a lot of people rank right down there with with the James plotline, but in comparison with everything else the show is up to, I've always thought it worked adequately, mostly because of Beymer's tossed-off way of evoke his character's boiling madness: at this point, at least, he seems almost bored by his own craziness, and that's a rather neat way of underplaying it, for this show (this underplaying will certainly not last, mind you).

I've just got nothing left over to deal with the episode's godawful comedy: the wrestling coach (Ron Taylor) who tells a fumbling, nonsensical story about civil rights where he forgets half of the details to introduce Nadine to the wrestling team - an African-American wrestling coach, just to make the scene even more unpleasant - and the amazingly bad moment where Andy has a literal, actual thought bubble appear over his head as he visualises Nicky in a Halloween devil costume, laughing as he stands in the flames of Hell. I was wrong before. That's the worst thing in the episode, much worse than anything the crummy porno-noir James plot can offer.

And yet... it does just enough to keep its talons planted in me. For one thing, Caleb Deschanel directs this awful material with quite a lot of flair. It doesn't look like Twin Peaks, but it's got a really nice mixture of shot scales, with some extremely strong close-ups littered throughout, and some particularly handsome exteriors.

Mostly, though, it's all in the last scene. As a storm is raging, the Briggs family is gathered in their home, when Garland reappears in the costume of a World War I pilot, calmly and reassuringly talking about how everything is about to be very terrible. It's a blast of exactly the weird, off-kilter mysticism that Twin Peaks is supposed to be doing, when it can tear itself away from oversexed senior citizens and boring femmes fatales. The mood is overwhelming, and Davis's baffled attitude is the best acting in this whole dismal hour, and the episode comes to life with a crackle of the otherworldly majesty of the show at its finest, just exactly when it needs to provide a corker of a cliffhanger to promise that the grind through all of this bullshit will be worth it. Damn you Twin Peaks, I wish I could hate you.

Grade: C-