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Written by Mark Frost & Harley Peyton
Directed by Jonathan Sanger

Airdate: 11 April, 1991

There's nothing precisely wrong with the 19th episode of the second season of Twin Peaks, but I can't help but feel like something is amiss with it anyway. Part of is annoyance that, this close to the end of the series (or even just this close to the end of the season, as the writers hoped at the time), the show would see fit to use one of its precious remaining hours to go back over the material it had literally just covered in Episode 25. And another part is the thwarted hope that Mark Frost's return to co-write his first episode since Episode 16, the last in the series' exemplary run as television's greatest masterpiece, would be a bit more special, or at least consequential. Instead, Episode 26 is very little more than a holding pattern, reaffirming a lot of stuff we already knew, repeating emotional beats we've already had, and doing it all without terribly much style or flair.

As far as the latter is concerned, I think it's fair to blame director Jonathan Sanger, at least a little bit. This was his first and only Twin Peaks episode in a career that didn't add up to much directing: several TV episodes and no features that you've ever heard of. What he did have a fair success at was producing, something he'd been good at for over ten years by the time this episode aired in 1991; among his earliest films was the 1980 biopic The Elephant Man, the second feature directed by David Lynch. Which surely had something to do with him getting the Twin Peaks gig. So anyway, his work here isn't terribly exciting, just very proficient and acceptable.

That's too bad; there are moment in the episode that a stronger stylist could have done a hell of a lot with, most especially everything to do with Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh), who's back to being somewhat too goofy and broad to be a convincing threat. The writing isn't blameless in this: the second scene of the episode, in which Earle tells Leo (Eric Da Re) and a dopey slacker type (Ted Raimi, credited as "Heavy Metal Youth") about the legend of the White Lodge and the Black Lodge (the most important thing this entire episode does in advancing the story towards its imminent conclusion), suffers from some over-the-top, trying-too-hard writing, in which Earle speaks with lip-smacking melodramatic glee about how much he loves evil. It's symptomatic of everything that tends to go wrong with this character; he's posited to be a being of deranged, psychopathic malice rather than shown to be one in his actions, and Welsh's performance tends towards a certain "very naughty boy" register that's not at all the icy, cruel genius we've been promised in dialogue. Case in point: the final scene of the episode, with the heavy metal youth plastered inside a giant chess pawn, is kind of superb; it's not approached with nearly enough of a sense of menace or danger, but the reveal is freakish enough to convince us that Earle is some kind of demonic cartoon madman simply from how fucking weird it is. Where's that Windom Earle elsewhere in the episode? Nowhere I can see.

Anyway, the strengths of the episode are in some cases identical to the last one: once again, the interactions between Gordon Cole (Lynch) and Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick) are sweet and tender, and Lynch's performance as Cole when he's not shouting evokes quite nicely Kyle MacLachlan's approach to playing Dale Cooper. For his part, MacLachlan is a delightful puppy dog in his time with Heather Graham's Annie, but they have totally inert non-chemistry, owing mostly to Graham's flat, sarcastic-sounding treatment of their scenes together. The weaknesses are all new: the return of sexpot Lana (Robyn Lively) and horny old Mayor Milford (John Boylan) comes as an unpleasant surprise, a slap in the face with a cold, wet fish that was no less appalling for the fact that I knew it was coming. The only proper scene given to Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) is a tedious, accusatory dinner scene that's part of the show's general misjudgment that we don't know exactly where this whole "Ben slept with Eileen and maybe fathered Donna" soap opera plot is going. The episode even demonstrates that Jack Nance can't do everything: given an early scene in which he has to recite a bizarre half-formed poem explaining Pete's love for the lost Josie, Nance pulls out his usual rubber-faced trickery, but he is totally at a loss to make the material work at all.

But for all that, the episode is mostly fine: the encroaching sense that the woods outside of town are about to yield their secrets continues apace, and there are several strong individual scenes: Catherine (Piper Laurie) half-feigning warmth to Harry (Michael Ontkean), the extremely satisfying comedy of the wine-tasting scene (it's very much like the horrible weasel riot shit from Episode 24, only done well), and Cooper's demonstration of his detective skills at a couple different points throughout. It's all perfectly adequate as a less-than-inspired hour of network television, but given that Twin Peaks was just starting to show real signs of life again, "perfectly adequate" somehow comes across as worse than it sounds.

Grade: B