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Written by Robert Engels
Directed by Tim Hunter

Airdate: 3 May, 1990

On 5 June, 2017, Vox television critic Todd VanDerWerff concluded that Twin Peaks demonstrated the limitations of recap-style television criticism. On 3 May, 1990, Twin Peaks had already come to the same conclusion:
Thanks to Jade, Jared decided not to kill himself and he's changed his will leaving the Towers to Jade instead of Emerald, but Emerald found out about it and now she's trying to seduce Chet to give her the new will so she can destroy it and Montana's planning to kill Jared at midnight so the Towers will belong to Emerald and Montana, but I think Emerald's going to double-cross him and he doesn't know it yet. Poor Chet.
All hail Kimmy Robertson for blasting through that wall of text with a commitment to her character, easily distracted Lucy Moran, making this weird aside a psychologically telling moment & not just a weird joke (though in Twin Peaks, of course, some of the most psychologically telling moments are weird jokes).

It's also a little bit of self-commentary, I'm pretty sure. This is the third episode with a reference to the fictional daytime soap opera Invitation to Love, and the first in which we see actual footage from that show (as opposed to the show's opening credits sequence), and since the dawn of Twin Peaks criticism, it's been understood that this is something of a overt statement of theme. Twin Peaks is many things; one of those things is a soap opera and another thing is a parody of soap operas. It's almost impossible not to suppose that Invitation to Love is how the writers let us in on the joke, asking us to damn well notice that this whole series is travestying the great American melodrama, from Peyton Place onward, by taking its obsessions (wealth, sex, youth, crime) and pushing them into particularly horrible, dark extremes.

For the show to reference Invitation to Love is almost necessarily to plea with the viewer, "won't you draw connections from this moment to the show at large?" And so it is with Lucy's monologue, which you can follow and make sense without too much effort when you see it in print, though I dare anybody to do the same thing after hearing Robertson's motormouthed delivery. You could do very much the same thing with Twin Peaks: "Dr. Jacoby tells Cooper that Leo Johnson might have something to do with Laura's death, which makes sense because we know that Leo sells cocaine and uses Laura's boyfriend Bobby and Mike as his dealers, but Bobby is also sleeping with Leo's wife Shelly, and he's trying to frame Leo for Laura's murder by hiding Leo's bloody shirt in Jacques Renault's house, while Leo is meeting with Ben Horne about burning down the Packard Mill before Josie Packard and Pete Martell can discover that Catherine has been cooking the books, but Josie already knows that Catherine and Ben are having an affair." I apologise for not being able to fit Norma's (Peggy Lipton) obvious terror at having to play faithful housewife now that her obvious bad-news husband Hank (Chris Mulkey) is about to be released from prison early; everything in Twin Peaks is connected, but it's not always connected in every episode.

The point being, if all you do is try to follow along with the plot and map it all out, it's going to turn into incoherent mush. So don't do that. In hindsight, knowing that show runners Mark Frost & David Lynch never wanted to answer the central question of who killed Laura Palmer, that's kind of the central narrative message of the whole show: please don't pay too much attention to the narrative. Pay attention to the characters, pay attention to the emotions, pay attention to the mood, because these are the things that matter.

What makes this ironic, then, is that Lucy's monologue arrives early in Episode 4, certainly the most "let's work through the narrative" episode of the series to date; I know that I lightly chastened Episode 1 for being more of a table-setting episode, but there, at least, director Duwayne Dunham did a rightly serviceable job of mimicking Lynch's style. Tim Hunter (who, like Dunham, would eventually direct three episodes of the show in total) is much less adventurous in his style; the best thing about this episode, atmospherically, is the unexpected appearance of an owl, the camera lingering on it for a little while. Owls will come back; it's nice that even in this first appearance, though, the weird physiognomy of the birds is already being exploited for the weird, almost unearthly way they move, in even the slightest ways.

"Less adventurous" isn't to say that it's bad, and Episode 4 is still a strong episode ofΒ  television. The performances of most of the cast have been steadily improving (for the rest, they were great right from the start, or are James Marshall, and never really got there), with Sherilyn Fenn hitting new heights as the smart, conniving Audrey, whose bathroom confrontation with Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) is my favorite part of the episode, placing the methodical detective story scene structure that mostly accrues to Kyle MacLachlan's Dale Cooper onto the shoulders of another character, and in the startling context of a high school ladies' room. It's also a pleasingly funny episode after the sober and at-times bleak Episode 3; MacLachlan's reaction to a llama is pure Twin Peaks weirdness, as is the unspeakably strange joy Nadine (Wendy Robie) expresses at the thought of patenting her soundless drape runners, the first time that this very inconsistent character (though always well-acted) has pleased me enough for me to mention her in these reviews.

Still, from Twin Peaks, "strong episode of television" is the baseline. The show's first season is one of the strongest individual seasons in the history of American television. But no matter how great any set might be, there'll always be the least-great individual unit, and Episode 4 is my pick for the weakest episode of the eight that make up season 1. It's a little too plotty and not atmospheric enough; it doesn't showcase anything new, really, about any of the characters - Leland's (Ray Wise) sharpness with Sarah (Grace Zabriskie) is maybe the only exception - it sets up pieces without letting them loose, and the subplot that advances the most, Norma's bleak future with the oily, dangerous Hank, is one of the more banal that the show had going on prior to its major collapse in the middle of season 2. This is a splendid episode of a crime procedural and small town melodrama, but Twin Peaks can be so much more than those things, it's dismaying when it considers that to be good enough.

Grade: B+