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Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch

Airdate: 19 April, 1990

It is with its second regular episode that Twin Peaks truly becomes Twin Peaks. I have all the affection in the world for the series pilot, which I think is one of the greatest things ever made for American television, but for all its rampant weirdness and unsettling tonal shifts, it can still be parsed. It is David Lynch, all right, but the David Lynch of Blue Velvet, whose dark visions of Americana were still movies. Episode 2 is that, mostly, but before it ends, it erupts into the David Lynch of Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr., the Lynch with only a notional interest in narrative links, who'd much rather assault our senses with something that feels like it can be parsed in theory, but is in the moment much more of a plunge into something very like insanity (sadly, Twin Peaks does not, at this point, go all the way to becoming the David Lynch of Eraserhead and INLAND EMPIRE - but that point will eventually come). The last seven minutes of Episode 2 are quite possible the most jaw-dropping seven minutes in all of American television; even when later episodes of Twin Peaks itself move towards the same outrageous madness, we kind of expect it. Encountering it for the first time, be it in 1990 or be it in an initial viewing of Twin Peaks at any point in its lifespan, the end of this episode is a sui generis masterpiece.

So with that being said, this is the time for me to make something clear: you had probably best not read any more of these episode reviews if you haven't encountered Twin Peaks for the first time. By the end of this one, I'll have alluded to the Big Reveal of Season 2, and generally speaking, my life will be easier if I can write with the freedom to look forward. If it's not clear by this point that I think watching Twin Peaks is a very good choice to make - the bad episodes aren't actually as bad as their reputation, and the second season finale pays back all debts - then let me state it clearly. But also keep in mind that I just said like in the last paragraph that it disappoints me that everything isn't more like INLAND EMPIRE, so I certainly am fucked in the head.

Alright, so on to Episode 2. We're back to having Lynch in the director's chair, sadly for the last time in Season 1, and he makes his presence known immediately. Following upon the food motif of Episode 1, the action kicks off with another dinner scene: this time it's the Horne family, repulsive patriarch Benjamin (Richard Beymer), impish daughter Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn), mentally impaired son Johnny (Robert Bauer), and visibly put-upon mother Sylvia (Jan D'Arcy, who is wonderful in this scene, one of her few in the series), all of them sitting in choking silence as cinematographer Frank Byers shots them with a static shot at an acute angle, flattening depth. This plays out in all its hostile banality as the opening credits march by, and by the time the shot ends, the sheer ugly ordinariness of it has become almost unbearable. This holding on a perfectly normal shot until it becomes impossibly abnormal is common to art cinema traditions the world over, but uncomfortable static shots are a bit of a Lynch calling card in Twin Peaks, and almost never used to more immediately perfect effect than here.

The static camera is disrupted along with the plot by the arrival of Ben's young brother Jerry (David Patrick Kelly), a lizardlike little fellow just returned from Paris, where he learned to love baguettes with brie and butter, and this triggers the series' second scene of people attempting to talk with their mouthful, and certainly its finest; Beymer and Kelly having a full conversation despite being almost totally illegible as they cram bread into their mouths - Beymer has hit upon a uniquely bizarre, vaguely predatory and savage way of eating a baguette - is an immediate return to the warped comedy of the pilot, and viscerally disgusting in the way even the most gory scene on the books could never manage.

Episode 2 doesn't quite sustain itself the way the pilot did, mostly because it feels more fragmentary. By this point, the show has set itself off on several different plot strands, and they're all chunked into neat little units by Lynch and Mark Frost, with little of the sense of cosmic unity brought about by introducing everybody and their private conflicts in terms of how they responded to Laura Palmer's death. That being said, Lynch treats those units with great care, even the one that just plain doesn't work: it's clear by this point, if it wasn't before, that James Marshall's ability to play a sensitive teen lover isn't going to be up to the show's requirements of him, and so begins a series-long sense of deflation every time he shows up: "Oh, it's... a James scene". That being said, at least the episode finds some way to do something with the James/Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) scene near the beginning, by contrasting their whispered declaration of love with a sorrowful,  solo piano rendition of "Laura's Theme",  its plaintive romantic melody gently nudging us to remember that these lovers have, after all, come together only as a direct consequence of a teen girl's brutal murder.

Just about everything else is much more interesting, and treated with more care: the development of a drug smuggling plot (the weak link of Season 1, I daresay) benefits from the exceptionally good lighting of an outdoor, nighttime interrogation scene, giving Dana Ashbrook his first chance to do some honest-to-God acting in the show, as a horrified, frightened kid with a bright light blasting him in the face. The scene's shift to slasher movie horror, thanks to the scraping noise in Angelo Badalamenti's score and the jarring hand-held running camera Byers brings out at the end, helps even more the draw out something powerful from the moment.

I've no desire to let these episode reviews turn into scene-by-scene recaps (or to let them all blow by the 1000-word mark, and yet here we are), so let me dispense with that, and just cut to the good stuff: the three scenes - four, if we count the baguette-eating, and I think we must - that make Episode 2 one of the highlights of the whole series. One of these, one of the two that gave the episode most of its cachet when the show was brand new, is the sequence that finds Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) tapping into his subconscious to do detective work by throwing rocks at a bottle, to the rapt attention of the members of the sheriff's office. In large part, it's just another example of the quirky weirdness that people loved Twin Peaks for right up until they stopped, helped out immensely by the excellent performances of all involved (MacLachlan's prim expression as he pulls out a pointer, and Harry Goaz's extended response to getting smacked in the head with a rock are major highlights). In light of Lynch's attachment to to transcendental meditation, and the deepening spirituality of the show, there's a bit more to it than just amusing strangeness for its own sake, but in terms of the episode by itself, I think that gets us where we need to be.

It's when it plunges into horror that Episode 2 really gets cooking. My two favorite scenes from the episode - the last two, in fact - both hinge on that. First, we have Ray Wise, never given his due for how immensely fucking good he is throughout the entire show (and throughout his entire career, really), as the horrifyingly gutted Leland Palmer, dancing with a portrait of his dead daughter to the repetitive strains of "Pennsylvania 6-5000". Somehow, Wise manages to move both mechanically and desperately in this scene, and the make-up people give bright red circles around his eyes that help the actor sell a sense of incredible misery and anguish. It's harrowing in its own right, particular once Leland accidentally cuts his palm and weepily spreads blood on Laura's picture (that same solo piano version of "Laura's Theme" jumping in), but viewed in light of the rest of the series, it becomes almost unbearable, some nightmare vision of guilt, love, evil, and childish ignorance playing out in Wise's performance. I don't know when, exactly, Lynch and Frost told him the secret of Laura Palmer's killer, but if the actor didn't knowingly seed that in here, he got outstandingly lucky (Lynch, I assume, knew exactly what he was doing in giving Leland a lingering, gloom-ridden close-up at the start of the scene that can read as pathetic or monstrous, whatever you want to do with it).

And then comes the final scene, and I just don't know what to do with myself. It's so good.

The creation of the red room with zig-zag flooring, and the return of the oracular Mike (Al Strobel), a mere extra in the pilot, was entirely an act of serendipity. Looking to create a self-contained ending to the mystery for a standalone version of the pilot released to European theaters, Lynch came up with the idea out of nothing, and liked it so much that he re-absorbed it into the series proper. The result is one of the defining scenes of the director's career, and rightly so. The design of the red room itself is a melange of all thing Lynchian: the oppressive red curtains first appeared in Blue Velvet (and also put in an earlier appearance in this very episode), the floor is a nod to the Expressionist frenzy of production design in Eraserhead, and the mere fact that it's the "red" room suddenly gives drive and purpose to what been, till now, a mere design frippery. Twin Peaks is a very red series: all those wood interiors already demand that a bit, but it was nudged along in both to have a warm tint throughout. And now, red starts to take on a very distinct meaning, though it's a long way into the series yet before we can be confident in knowing what that meaning is. But it's clearly something otherworldly, an eruption of the subconscious, if we take the sequence as a sequel to the rock-throwing scene, or more likely, the intrusion of some alien world into Twin Peaks, if we go by the subjective experience of the scene.

Twin Peaks is already a little bit alien, of course, but nothing like Cooper's dream. As everybody who cares even a little bit about the show undoubtedly knows, the sequence was filmed by having Sheryl Lee (playing someone who looks identical to Laura Palmer, which is as much as we can safely say in this moment) and Michael J. Anderson speak and act backwards, then reversing the film, so it played "forwards" - but a herky-jerky parody of forward movement. This obviously leads to the grating line delivery of such classic bits of Twin Peaks lore as "That gum you like is going to come back in style", or "Where we're from, the birds sing a pretty song, and there's always music in the air", or "I feel like I know her, but sometimes my arms bend back", but for me it's the movement that really pitches headlong into an uncanniness close to existential terror: the broken, jagged dancing of Anderson's Man from Another Place (which echoes with the smoother,, no less otherworldly dance that Audrey does inside the Double R Diner earlier in the episode), but even more than the little, indescribably horrifying way that clothes and hair just aren't right. I think it's when maybe-Laura's hair apparently leaps out to cling to Old Man Cooper's head that gets me all freaked out.

Anyway, people have tried to dissect the red room scene for meaning as far back as 20 April, 1990, but to me the importance of it doesn't need any digging at all: it is an injection of literal nightmare stuff into what had, three episodes in, seemed to be a predictable show, albeit a wildly unconventional one, tonally. We'll get one scene from each of several plotlines, it's all basically a parody of a soap opera done as a murder mystery done as a horror film with lots of absurdist comedy. Not like anything else, but at least formulaic. The final seven minutes of Episode 2 slash that formula apart, creating the only time that the series does, possibly the only time that the series could create that godawful, wonderful feeling of having the ground fall away beneath your feet and you're about to fall to your death that Lynch would further explore in e.g. Lost Highway. It's all back to "normal" from here on out and for quite a while to come, but in this extraordinary moment, American network television got a dose of undiluted David Lynch, and after more than a quarter of a century the sequence retains every last scrap of its dark and dreamy power.

Grade: A+