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Written by Harley Peyton
Directed by David Lynch

Airdate: 6 October, 1990

The scariest thing I've ever seen in any audio-visual medium (and I know I'm not alone in this) comes near the end of Episode 9 of Twin Peaks. If you know the show well enough to know where we are in the run, I bet you can guess exactly what I'm talking about, but in case not, let me describe it in all its bone-chilling detail:

A man walks into a room and steps over the back of a couch.


He's a very scary-looking man.

So that's the thing, though, ain't it? How in the hell do you wring such extreme, pure terror out of one of the most nothing moments in all of screen horror? Well, part of it is that Bob (Frank Silva) has a scariness about him: he's able to grin a very toothy grin, and his hair (apologies to the memory of the late Mr. Silva, but it has to be said), his hair is atrocious. It looks like it has never known the love of a warm shower. So yeah, watching him walk right towards the camera is not pleasant, for sure.

This scene is in its small way the embodiment of everything that Twin Peaks is. The show, writ large, is about nice domestic spaces housing evil (for that matter, David Lynch's career, writ large, is about mostly the same thing). It's about how bland people living unexceptional lives that seem stuck in the cultural rhythms of the 1950s and 1960s can be hiding petty darkness (adultery, drug use) and far, far deeper, bleaker, more horrible darkness as well. The evil of banality, one might say. And here we have a fussily well-done living room, with a couch that, by the standards of 1990's middle-class living, was surely "the nice couch", and you couldn't eat or drink anything on it other than water, and it was always the couch that guests were invited to sit on. And over that couch comes a spirit of carnivorous malice, making everything nice into the seat of abject horror.

But I've lost the thread, which is: why? Why the fuck is this scary? We can and certainly should pile a lot of the credit on Angelo Badalamenti, for pulling in one of those low droning passages that he uses for underscoring throughout the series. It's a bit of a cliché that Lynch projects rely on low droning "music", but there's a reason for that: it's one of the only things that will always work to freak out any audience. The right low hum, quavering but patternless, there's no defense against that. If you have the physiology of a human being with adequate hearing, that hum will unsettle you - maybe you find it annoying, maybe you find it terrifying, maybe you find it nauseating, maybe you find it upsetting. But it has to have an effect. So there's that.

The other thing, I think, is the violation of the sacred contract of television and its audience. This is a TV show, never forget. TV, unlike movies, takes place in a domestic space, particularly back in 1990: you watch it sitting in a living room, probably, on a couch, probably. There's no real communal aspect to TV - there's a communal aspect to talking about TV, but the act of watching is an intimate, private event. It's not like going into a big dark room with strangers, and sharing a group response; it is in the home, it is a thing you invite into your life and your space. And here comes Lynch, and he puts this greasy-haired man with his chomping teeth and his wicked eyes, and he walks right through a living room and right up to the camera, staring at it, staring out of the TV, staring at the viewer. He makes a connection between that living room and ours; he feels, for all the world, like he's looking to come right into our space and do God knows what.

's a good scene, basically.

And a great capstone to a very good episode of television; though of the six Lynch-directed episodes of Twin Peaks, this is the only one that I can't in good conscience elevate to the utmost tip-top level that the show is capable of reaching. It has a little bit too much in the way of laboriously setting out plots - the show's second season, though I think the drop-off is overstated, does suffer from the quality of its storytelling relative the first, where there was a brute simplicity to the writing: a murder investigation in a town where everybody is screwing around, and the very richest people are also trying to cheat each other out of a valuable piece of land. The plotting in Season 2 gets more baroque, sometimes to its benefit, more often not as much. And we start to get a taste of that here, though the only actual subplot to contend with is one of the best anywhere in the 29-episode run, the miserable affair of Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) in the red-curtained bordello of hell. That plotline gets one particularly effective scene this time around, in which Audrey muscles her way into a weird, kinky moment, something more despondent than sexual (this was network television in 1990, which undoubtedly limited what could be shown), and threatens the pathetic go-between Emory Battis (Don Amendolia) into providing information that, strictly speaking, she should largely have been able to guess at; it's a holding pattern scene, really, but so charged in its violent potential and its staring, visually objective depiction of strange human behavior as to feel like something much more. It is, honestly, the scene in all of Twin Peaks thus far that most feels like the future Lynch of Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. to me.

But we also get a couple of scenes that just don't really work: a conspirators' meeting between Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly), talking in a tough-guy argot that Harley Peyton has significantly misjudged as sounding hard-boiled; a second scene with both of them and the newly idiotic Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) is similarly swirling around the drain until it get suddenly pulled up when Leland recognises a poster of Bob, the music picks out one of those stock drones, and says with a hush "I know him", and God bless Wise for figuring out that emphasising "him", just ever so slightly, gives an uncanny and nervy read to the moment that "I know him" would lack.

The other scene that just does nothing - no, not nothing. It does a lot that could have been done elsewhere, and better. James (James Marshall) is leading Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) and Maddy (Sheryl Lee) in a dreamy, folksy love ballad, he singing in a stunningly irritating falsetto and exchanging glances with the girls, as the editing neatly obscures who he's looking at and whether she notices, at first. It's a necessary visualisation of the central dynamic going on in what is, for all its lumps, one of the show's central relationships: James loves Donna and Donna loves James, but both of them really love Laura, not in a romantic or erotic way necessarily, but as the personality that dwarfed them both and gave shape and meaning to their own life. And that's what they share that makes them both love each other. But Maddy's presence throws a wrench into that: a surrogate Laura with no personality rather than an intense, overwhelming personality, which means she can serve as a tabula rasa for whatever James, in particular, wants to place on her. That's vital stuff, but I can't imagine a more irritating, annoying scene than this to express it. And yes, irritating, annoying scenes are a bit of a Lynch trademark; but this one, uniquely in his career, just bores me.

But that aside, there's a great deal to love in the episode. Major Briggs (Don S. Davis) and Margaret Lanterman Catherine E. Coulson) meet - one can imagine Lynch's joy at getting to direct the meeting of Twin Peaks's most cryptic characters, the ones who seem most naturally in-tune with the show's burgeoning cosmology. Later, Briggs and Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) have a discussion in which a thick sheaf of dot matrix printouts is rendered ethereal and spooky from naught else the close-up of the line "THE/OWLS/ARE/NOT/WHAT/THEY/SEEM". There's a really good moment of unmentioned what-the-fuckery at the very start, as Cooper and Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer, finally given material that allows him to do more with the part than just play "asshole urbanite mocking the rednecks") discuss Buddhism, autopsies, and the impending plotline involving Cooper's old partner Windom Earle, which we'll talk about only when we must, because it's part of the second season that includes everything best and worst about the back half of the show. But more importantly, while the two G-men talk, there's a barbershop quartet standing behind them, harmonising, and that replaces Badalamenti on the soundtrack and gives us a nice, peaceful moment to bask in genial weirdness before the nasty weirdness gets going. That's the strange part of the scene. The really strange part of the scene is that the members of the barbershop quartet don't seem to have their mouths open as they vocalise, so the whole thing goes back over to subtly creepy.

And then there's a scene involving old Mrs. Tremont (Frances Bay) and her tuxedoed grandson (Austin Jack Lynch, David's son, and given his father's wild hair), who is trying to be a magician; it's here that the radiant weirdness of the show takes on an explicitly and unmistakably paranormal cast for the first time, and given what will eventually come out about these two, the first step into outright symbolism regarding the show's Manichean cosmology. I don't know how I feel about any of that, frankly; it's one of the more interesting parts of the show, but not necessarily one of the more effective. We'll have a lot of time to talk about that in the episodes to come. Anyway, the scene on its own is a wonderful bit of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland-style irrationality, and another moment that anticipates Mulholland Dr., and taken strictly within this episode, I dig the hell out of it.

Anyway, that's the most important thing about Episode 9: it's a bridge. The streamlined focus of Season 1 is done, and the sprawl of Season 2 is warming up; the singular aura of uncertain dread of the first episodes is about to give way to an expansive mythology of sentient, nameable evil walking the earth. None of that's clear yet, and none of it particularly matters right now, but it does give the episode a distinct vibe that none of the previous episodes have had exactly. Not for nothing does that couch scene come almost all the way at the end; the show wants us to feel unsafe, and damned if it doesn't get what it wants.

Grade: A