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Written by Harley Peyton
Directed by Tina Rathborne

Airdate: 26 April, 1990

The third hour-long episode of Twin Peaks has two handicaps, right from the get-go: it's the first episode without a screenplay credited to series creators Mark Frost &Β  David Lynch, and it has the unfathomably bad luck to have to follow the extraordinary final scene of Episode 2, in which Lynch splashes a dream sequence freakout all over a network television show. It's not that Tina Rathborne is a poor director, from the onscreen evidence of this episode (let us not speak of the onscreen evidence of her other directorial credit for the show, much later, at the very cusp of its sudden & extreme decline). Indeed, Episode 3 is an extremely solid piece of storytelling, and a very necessary piece of storytelling: I think it indicates, in a way that none of the previous episodes do, how Twin Peaks could function as an ongoing television series, forced to do things like advance the series' story and not just serve as a delivery mechanism for Lynchian atmospherics.

The biggest reason for this is that, like the pilot, it's primarily centered around one event: the discovery of Laura Palmer's body there, her funeral now (Episode 3's weakest scene by a mile is one of just a couple that fall entirely out of this main plotline, and I hate to say that, because it's the only one where Jack Nance or Piper Laurie get much of anything to do). Most of the scenes in some capacity or another center around how humans deal with death: as an opportunity for reflection and recognition of the scale of the universe, in Maj. Garland Briggs's (Don S. Davis) conversation with his rather dubious son Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) - Davis's first really meaty scene in the show, though we've already met the character, and as the series progresses I rather think this actor's approach to the writing is one of the most important elements keeping things grounded; as something that needs to be fought against and avenged, as in the late reveal of the Bookhouse Boys, Twin Peaks's own do-gooder vigilante society; as a biological process that just happens, and people really ought to not make such a big deal about it, as in the stymied autopsy attempts of Agent Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer), the cynical asshole urbanite set against the sweetness and simplicity of the Twin Peaks residents. I'll cop to not adoring this brief plotline (begun in Episode 2 and for now, at least, concluded), which strikes me as too self-consciously writerly in its deployment of binary clichΓ©s, but at least Ferrer does excellent work, and I much prefer the character when he comes back.

And, of course, humans deal with death by mourning, as we see in one of my very favorite scenes from the episode, and not one that gets very much attention, as Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) stands over Laura's grave. It's a little thing, probably the least Twin Peaksy thing in the episode, though part of what makes it good is that it demonstrates the show's flexibility. Lynch would never have directed the scene the way Rathborne does. The graveyard feels frankly like a movie set, not a place (which Lynch very well might have done), but it feels like a sentimental movie, a Gothic romance of some sort, where the sense of gloom is overwhelmed by the sense of melancholy. It is, basically, a place that is sad, with virtually no foreboding at all, and in the context of the gonzo theatrics of Twin Peaks, that little jolt of basic human emotion is stunning. It helps that Tamblyn uncharacteristically underplays the scene.

The rest of the episode is certainly more tonally in line with what the show has been up to, mixing morbidity with comedy and amping up the quirky aspects of the cast when it's not amping up the menacing aspects. The centerpiece funeral scene is an obvious example of all of this, with Ray Wise - who really is just spectacularly good in this series - disintegrating into a moaning, jangled pile of nerves as Leland Palmer, flinging himself atop his dead daughter's coffin as the lowering mechanism breaks, the up-down-up-down rhythm turning the funeral into a grotesque, robotic parody of copulation (I really have no clue how I ever missed all the incest foreshadwing the first time I saw the show), creepy as shit but also horribly funny. Even something as simple as how characters are arranged in the frame and in the space becomes amusing in its own dry way. But of course, everybody knows the funeral - it's the episode's signature scene.

Not, certainly, the only good one. I've mentioned how much I love the Jacoby scene at the graveyard; I'm also a huge fan of how Rathborne shoots the conversation between the Brigges, starting with a striking composition of Bobby standing before a crucifix, arms outstretched as though he wanted to embrace it or mock it, and turning into a steady push-in for the first half of the unedited conversation to closely frame father and son in a two shot (another scene Lynch would never have staged; his style in this series tends to ruthlessly eschew zooms). I'm also terribly keen on the Bookhouse Boys scene, this episode's best juggling of tones: the whole thing, with its secret signals and hard boiled lingo, feels like nothing so much as a bunch of 10-year-old boys playing at being film noir cops - Michael Ontkean's ability to seem like a little boy, James Stewart-style noble adult, and authoritative sheriff all at once is hugely important here - and it's as much a genre parody as the series' overt nods to soap operas (we get our first long look at the daytime soap Invitation to Love in this episode). Right up until Harry almost accidentally mentions to Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) that Twin Peaks is at the center of some vortex of primordial evil, setting up the entire rest of the series right in the middle of its jokey tough guy meolodrama.

For all that, I confess that Episode 3 isn't quite to my tastes: it is a damned good episode of serial television, pushing the storyline forward, and allusively showing how different threads of the storyline all fit together in the same grand pattern. And that simply isn't my favorite incarnation of Twin Peaks: the story it tells is never as satisfying as the mood it surrounds that story with. Not that this is an episode devoid of mood: we get our first shot of the wind violently whipping through fir trees here, and if any single image defines the mood of Twin Peaks, it's that one. Besides, if we are to have plot- and character-driven episodes, it's a good thing for the plot to be as snugly fitted as it is here, and the characters expressed so cleanly; from the moment that Harry and Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) very seriously attend to Cooper's morning philosophy session, it's clear that writer Harley Peyton - who'd end up with the most credits of any Twin Peaks writer, including Frost & Lynch - has a strong handle on these dynamics. This is perhaps just a damned good episode of television, rather than the transformative thing that the Lynch-directed episodes are; but it is, at least, a damned good episode of television.

Grade: A-