Return to the complete Twin Peaks index

Written by Harley Peyton & Robert Engels
Directed by Duwayne Dunham

Airdate: 4 April, 1991

My whole deal in looking back over classic-era Twin Peaks has been to go on at great length about "tone" and "atmosphere" and "mood" and "aura" and "feeling", and it's pretty clear, I'd like to think, what I mean by that: the atmosphere of a sickly bad dream, of stormclouds gathering, of an all-encompassing menace that gets into your bones like a cold, wet night. And I persist in believing that this is what the show is up to, when it's at its best. But this is not all it's up to.

Episode 25 very distinctly has an overall vibe. Not every moment contributes to it, and certainly it's not the feeling that the finale scene leave the viewer with, but it's pervasive, and when the episode is over, it's the feeling that I have most strongly in my mind: this is the sweet episode of Twin Peaks. As in, the episode full of very nice, very gentle interactions that make me feel unexpectedly good about a lot of characters. Fucking hell, this episode makes me feel good about James, and he's not even in it (which, come to think of it, is probably a major reason why I feel good about him).

It's not entirely the long scene in the diner, but that has a lot to do with it. Two FBI men, Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Gordon Cole (David Lynch, whose presence onscreen does a lot to increase that special Twin Peaks feeling even when he's not in a given scene), making absurd idiots of themselves over beautiful women; two women, Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham) and Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick) finding the idiot men to be adorable. And three terrific performances in the mix (Graham, I am sorry to report, is extremely bad, playing the role with a big nervous fake grin, like somebody who knows that everybody else in the room gets a joke that she doesn't understand, and hoping she can ride it out for a while): Amick especially, whose shift from "what the hell is happening?" to "how nice that an eccentric old man is genuinely excited to see me, after the series full of abusive husbands and unreliable, short-tempered boyfriends I've had to deal with" is as natural and warm as Lynch's awestruck shouting is enjoyable offbeat. And is there another moment in the series where MacLachlan is so quietly boyish as when he delivers that stunningly bad penguin joke? I think that there is not.

And then, a little later, comes a scene that's almost even sweeter, since it relies on characters we've known for longer than Annie and Gordon: the father-daughter chat between the newly repentant Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn). This time through the series, I've been impressed more by Beymer's work than I ever had before, and this scene is a perfect example of how well he's selling what should be a completely unsupportable storyline, in which, yes, Ben actually is trying to turn over a new leaf. The tentativeness and embarrassment in his voice as he talks to Audrey is really just very lovely, and Fenn responds to it with more warmth than she's offered to anyone in a while - certainly since the Audrey/Cooper love story was tossed in the waste bin. And then Ben goes ahead and keeps it up with his silly, endearing attempt to learn about how to not be a damned liar with the charmed John Justice Wheeler (Billy Zane), and Jesus Christ, Beymer and Zane have such better chemistry than Zane and Fenn do, and I'd forgotten how insipid this love story was. It's not a perfect episode, that's for sure.

By all means, there's still an undercurrent of dread to be found, and it starts right in the opening, as Eckhardt's lackey Jones (Brenda Strong) attempts to strangle Harry (Michael Ontkean; I frankly don't understand what this is doing in terms of the story, and I'm not interested enough to figure it out. But director Duwayne Dunham and Angelo Badalamenti's score - this is a screeching, squealing free-form jazz piece that I know we've heard before, but I forget where - combine to make it a hell of a dizzying descent right into the nervy madness of Twin Peaks, opening on a deer head (an unappreciated recurring motif in the series) that tilts and pans in a peculiar, rushing U-shape, as the music grates on the ears. Whatever the hell is going on here, it's enormously creepy and unsettling (the more so, in fact, because of how inexplicable it is), especially with the music consistently changing from one glowering texture to another: some thrumming in the mid-tones as the bass notes slowly ascend, a shrill shimmering that accompanies the actual murder attempt, a languid descent to unwind us once Harry succeeds in knocking the would-be killer unconscious. It feels like proper Twin Peaks.

Hell, it all feels like proper Twin Peaks - the mismatch between the uncanny opening and mystical, strange final scenes in a cave full of ancient mechanisms and owls that scream like humans, and the uplifting sweetness of the middle; the fact that the meeting between Ben and Eileen Hayward (Mary Jo Deschanel) can have such a rosy glow of middle-aged nostalgic regret (before inevitably turning dark and violent - this is a soap opera), while directly cross-cutting with Audrey and Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) spying on the adults in a scene that's soaked in film noir dread; the inexplicably too-wide shot of Ben and John on a couch, looking oddly small as they begin to discuss life philosophy and John's desire to make it with Ben's daughter (at which revelation a pleased Ben offers a carrot stick, and I am gratified by Beymer enough to overlook it). I'm certain that the complete absence of Super Nadine or Evil Soap Opera Catherine help matters, as does the reduction of Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh) to just two scenes, one of which even works. The bit where he goes stalking his intended prey as nice, dull old men gets to me, what can I say. It's almost enough to make me forgive how very annoying I find the scene where he goes on and on about playing cards.

Anyway, there's enough clanking dialogue and godawful romantic interests to remind you that we're still in 2nd-tier Twin Peaks, but there's enough strong lines and fun moments (I am especially partial to Lynch's meandering discussion about sausages) to remind us that Twin Peaks has the capacity to be extremely good. It's an episode that fills me with a lot of pleasure, and what else can be asked for?

One last thing about the overall sweetness and charm of the episode: I don't know how far in advance the final episode had been planned (planning was, self-evidently, not a strong suit here), but I can't help but read the show's ultimate conclusion back into this episode. Even with Earle puttering around, everything that happens here with Cooper feels so upbeat and optimistic: his infatuation with Annie and her more measured but still obvious infatuation with him, his enraptured joy at beginning to uncover the mysteries of the owl's cave, his  casual back-and-forth with Gordon Cole, who happily reinstates him as an FBI agent. It doesn't feel like it's setting us up not in the moment, but that's exactly what it turns out is happening. And I think that makes me like the episode even more: the trauma of Episode 29 wouldn't be so ragged without the audience feeling that a great victory was possible, and nothing in the end-run of episodes instills that feeling more strongly than what we get right here.

Grade: B+