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Written by Scott Frost
Directed by Uli Edel

Airdate: 2 February, 1991

For the first 15 minutes - more than one entire act! - I rewatched Episode 21 of Twin Peaks in a state of mild bewilderment. Had I forgotten? Did the show get better earlier than I thought it did? Because it's almost all good stuff: with a few consecutive episodes sticking the landing, it's almost like Scott Frost (writing his second, and final episode, after the transitional Episode 15) deliberately decided to switch it up. Two straight episodes salvaged almost exclusively thanks to their horror movie endings? Well then, let's try an episode with a horror movie beginning, for a change.

So we get two fantastic scenes, with a perfectly run-of-the-mill functional plot connective in between. They are, admittedly, more or less the same as the two fantastic scenes that ended Episode 20, and this of necessity means that they're not as exciting. Anyway, we're back in the Twin Peaks sheriff's office, where an unusually icy Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) walks Harry (Michael Ontkean) through the horrifying tableau that was left there, explaining how he knows that this is the handiwork of the demented Windom Earle, and something about the matter-of-factness of MacLachlan's performance increases the feeling of onrushing darkness even more than the grotesque crime scene. It's no insight at all to point out that Twin Peaks lost its center when the Laura Palmer case was solved, and it's clear at this moment, more than it has been through all the tiny hints being seeded throughout the season, that Cooper's race with Earle is going to be the new center the show needed. Let's enjoy this feeling for right now, because it's not going to survive to the end of Episode 22.

The third scene is a continuation of the high-class slasher movie vibe, with Shelly (Mädchen Amick) playing Final Girl to her broken beast of a husband, Leo (Eric Da Re). It's the one truly inspired part of the whole episode, I'd say, with a fine use of darkness to keep the tension purring, and really smart use of the Johnsons' half-built house as a location for cat-and-mouse antics. It's suspenseful, if hardly "scary" - and not really in the tone of Twin Peaks, but at this point I'll take what I can get - and when the show rockets into its first commercial break at this point, everything seems to be going perfectly, even if we did get that lumpy scene in the middle between a bossy Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) and a completely useless Bobby (Dana Ashbrook). At least Fenn can make it feel true to the character.

And we come out of the break, and then... it doesn't go straight to hell. We have a little bit yet before we get back to the first James (James Marshall) scene of the episode. But it does immediately become quite a bit more pro forma.

But pretty quickly, the plunge happens, and then it's like a laundry list of what the show is bad at now. James finally meets Eveylyn's (Annette McCarthy) husband Jeffrey (John Apicella), and he's a big ol' goofy twit who drives off, and... dies? There's a close-up on Evelyn's face, the wrong kind of expressionless, and there are cheap-ass sound effects, and I'd assume that it's Evelyn's fantasy of Jeffrey dying, but it's really damn hard to be certain. Because he does die eventually. And the show has collapsed fast enough that "this is too chintzy to be real" is no longer actual evidence. Later on, Evelyn's bland wretchedness will even cause Lara Flynn Boyle to briefly give a terrible performance, in which she attempts to outsmolder McCarthy - not a difficult task, but Boyle overextends herself to embarrassing effect.

Anyway, the rest of the episode is an almost complete trainwreck. The Little Nicky subplot ends with a tremendously bad scene that was clearly aiming for so over the top in its melodrama that it plays as comedy, with Doc Hayward (Warren Frost) solemnly intoning the sad tale of a Dickensian orphan and bringing Andy (Harry Goaz) and Dick (Ian Buchanan) to open tears, but even as comedy, it mostly serves to point out only how contrived and arbitrary the whole idea was from the start. Same with the wrap-up of the plot about the woman who fucked an old man to death - God, I hope it's the wrap-up, I don't really remember - only there it doesn't even seem like the intent was to be jokey. And Catherine Martell once so fearsomely embodied by Piper Laurie, continues to be the pivot point of a tedious Dallas-style plot about the machinations of craven business people, one that now spreads its tentacles to capture David Warner, that prince of underused character actors (he literally does nothing in this episode but turn to the camera and say his character's name). Jack Nance at least gets some good line readings out of it

I say "almost" because I persist in not hating the Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) Civil War plot as much as I know I'm supposed to. Mostly, at this point, because the actors are having fun, between Russ Tamblyn's kid-at-Christmas giddiness, and Fenn's thoroughly droll line readings. And because there's that one brief respite with Don S. Davis's Major Briggs, who is clearly at this point the strongest weapon Twin Peaks has in its armory. Bu it's a lot of junk, otherwise: sloppily-written junk, too. Note Jacoby's mention that he spent most of the last 24 hours with sexpot Lana (Robyn Lively), despite the clear indication that he's spent a lot of that time with Ben Horne, as well; note that he some appears at the sheriff's office seemingly no more than an hour or two after being, by all appearances, ready to spend the rest of the afternoon gawking at Ben at the Great Northern.

Director Uli Edel - on the basis of 1989's Last Exit to Brooklyn, almost certainly the biggest name the show has brought in, outside of David Lynch himself (two years later, he'd oversee the infamous Madonna flop Body of Evidence, and his career never recovered) - directs this all with workmanlike proficiency; other than an odd montage of totem poles, he mostly gives back the script what it needs, which serves him well in the Shelly scene at the beginning, and leaves him to wither and die most other places. I'd be curious to know if he's responsible for the unforgivable choice to have Windom Earle's dead wife Caroline (Brenda E. Mathers) appear superimposed as a ghost as Cooper recall the time he and Caroline had an affair and drove Earle to his violent madness; it's not in the original script, and it would be swell to be able to definitively assign blame for the worst thing in the episode. Not for want of competition!

Anyway, after the slog between bad storylines receiving unsatisfying endings, good characters stuck with nothing to do, and the perpetual misery of James's adventures in soft-core noir land, we get yet another scene that's too good for the episode: a neat little homage to Bride of Frankenstein with Leo as the monster and Windom Earle in the flesh (Kenneth Welsh) as the old hermit. It's a nicely brooding, creepy cap and a solid cliffhanger: we've heard enough about Earle to be unnerved simply by his presence. This also won't survive to the end of Episode 22, incidentally. Still, the episode till this point has included some of the worst material in the entire run of Twin Peaks, and even if, minute-by-minute, it probably has the most good scenes during this protracted nadir of the show, the bad scenes are godawful. As James himself might put it, in a muffled bark that's too pouty to be clearly enunciated, it's wrong.

Grade: C-