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Written by Barry Pullman
Directed by Tim Hunter

Airdate: 10 June, 1991

For most of its life, the penultimate episode of Twin Peaks Original Flavor has lived as an adjunct to the series finale, starting when they first aired as a two-hour movie of the week in June, 1991, seven weeks after Episode 27. And I rather expect it's been the same ever since; for who, watching the series on any of its various home video releases, would get within 45 minutes of the ultimate conclusion of the Best TV Show of the 1990s and say, "nope, we're stopping here"? No, Episode 28 just has that "warming up for the finale" vibe to it, and seems unlikely to ever be taken just as its own thing, even by the standards of a serial TV show.

This is to its benefit, I think. It's not a particularly bad episode, but it does have a distinct, unlovely "you go here and you go here feeling" in a lot of ways. It also has a distended sequence in the end that I frankly don't like much at all, and which goes down a lot smoother when you think of this as the weaker opening half of 90 minutes that goes into gonzo miracle batshit genius territory.

That being the Miss Twin Peaks pageant, which has been flittering around in the margins of scenes for several episodes now, and undoubtedly "had to" come along in the flesh at some point, but oof, it's just not very good. Sherilyn Fenn supposedly refused to be a part of it, which is why we never see Audrey in group shots, only on the scene where she's giving her "how I'd make the world better" speech, and to this I commend Fenn on her taste. The whole thing is jarring in the wrong way: it has an unpleasant mixture of meanness (and against the lovable denizens of Twin Peaks, so close to the end!) and tackiness, the pacing is off, what's meant to be a stirring speech delivered by Annie (Heather Graham) with inspiration from Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) suffers from corny, trite writing. Kimmy Robertson gets to show off her dance training (and why is Lucy, a grown adult, competing in a beauty pageant?), which is easily the most satisfying element of any of this; and I enjoy the sick joke of costuming the women in clear plastic for the opening number, and this in the first episode in a long time to mention Laura Palmer by name. But the whole thing is beneath the dignity of the show and the characters. Not down to weaselcam levels, but undignified.

It's a big chunk of the episode, and makes the whole thing worse overall than it ought to be, coming right after the extremely strong Episode 27 and the outright masterpiece Episode 29, but outside of the pageant folderol, there's a great deal of genuinely excellent material in this episode. Aye, the main point is to get us ready for the climax, which means in this case a little bit of setting characters on their final track, a little bit of clarifying exposition about the Black Lodge on stuff we should definitely have down pat by now if we've been watching the episodes and paying attention (though I wonder, were these last episodes in the can for an April airdate? Because if not, this might just be a way of casually reminding viewers where they were at two months ago), and mostly about heightening a crackling mood of menace. And, since the final episode is in some ways almost exclusively about a menacing mood that's practically a free-floating thing, detached from narrative signifiers, it's a fair thing for Episode 28 to do.

Mind you, the straightforward plot sequences are all pretty strong. The resolution to the Lucy/Andy (Harry Goaz)/Dick (Ian Buchanan) love triangle is awfully sweet, with Goaz in particular nailing the hell out of his reaction shots, and the line "Right now, I've got to find Agent Cooper", in his careful, paced-out way of speaking. It's enough to leave me with a kind disposition towards a plot that always felt like it took up far too much space for virtually no yield (Buchanan is a delight, but there were surely other ways of bringing in his character). In the episode's other love triangle - love quadrilateral? - with Nadine (Wendy Robie) learning of Ed (Everett McGill) and Nadine's (Peggy Lipton) plans to marry, Robie is absolutely terrific, first in her primly enthusiastic narration of her wrestling career, then in the wordless flash of panicked anger when she hears the news; the Super Nadine plot is hokey and dumb, sure, but Robie has played it to the hilt, and this might be her best scene of performance yet. Lara Flynn Boyle's accusatory delivery in Donna's scene with Ben (Richard Beymer) helps to retroactively justify how weirdly that plotline has been going (the mood of the moment suggests that we were supposed to get ahead of the plot, which I had forgotten). Even the episode's most blatant "we are now talking about the plot so that you, the show's audience, will understand exactly what's going on in the next episode"* scene, with Cooper discussing astrology to explain why he knows how to enter the Black Lodge, manages to be at least somewhat digestible thanks to the constant presence of Garland Briggs (Don S. Davis) as a quivering mass of confused, shivering human flesh.

Which brings me back around that overall blanket of menacing atmosphere. Tim Hunter wasn't the show's best director, but in his third and final turn in the director's seat (and let us note, in passing, that this is the final bit of Twin Peaks that was not directed by David Lynch - Fire Walk with Me, the Log Lady episode intros, the in-character interviews from the 2014 Blu-ray set and of course the 18 episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return, it's all pure Lynch from here on), he did manage a few truly excellent passages of sick-making tension and horror, surely none more satisfying than we get in the episode's second scene. The whole opening sequence is a highlight, in fact: the opening composition is lovely, with streams of light coming through rotting boards, casting a lovely glow on a decidedly grim-looking tableau of chained and panting men. And Leo's (Eric Da Re) slow-witted, childish plea for Briggs to save Shelly is weirdly tender and touching, coming from such a savage monstrosity of a character. But anyway, the big moment that people always remember this sequence for - maybe even the episode as a whole, is when Windom Earle (Kenneth Wesh) shuffle in in the morning, looking just awful, with pale skin and red-ringed eyes. And then he jiggles a bag in front of his face (we'll learn in a few moments that it's full of tarantulas, the show's final punishment for Leo Johnson), and when we cut back, he's grinning with a mouthful of jet black teeth. It's all the more horrifying for being otherwise uncommented upon; the music doesn't call our attention to it, and the shot doesn't linger. It's a jolt of pure "what the fuck" eeriness, the scariest moment in this whole series that doesn't involve Bob, I'll bet, left totally unexplained (I've always taken it to be a sign that Earle's night left him corrupted by the evil air thickening in Twin Peaks), and such a sublime way to enter the episode.

Later on, too much talking and too much overripe dialogue will return us to the old "Earle is a boring clown" routine, though there's actually a second good Earle scene here: his appearance in drag as a feral twin of the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson, who gets very little to do in the episode proper, but gives a particularly excellent performance in the episode intro), which works in a way that very few of his other disguises by virtue of perverting something familiar. Who doesn't love the Log Lady? And who could possibly feel comfortable seeing this grotesque parody of her.

This latter scene ties right into the long sequence at the end that serves as a good bookend to the haunted Earle shots from the start: the episode begins and ends on its best material. Here at the end, it's a lengthy passage of strobe lighting, as the pageant descend into chaos and hell. It's cheating, probably: strobe lighting is one of those things so keyed in to the basic rules of human perception that it has to work on a visceral level, and doubly so in a project taking its cues from David Lynch. But cheating or not, the whole sequence is nerve-shredding, particularly when Log Lady Earle shows up, and the LEDs on the bomb remote control he's holding stand out as the only visual anchor in the flickering image. It's fucking terrific, it wipes away the memory of the awful pageant quite effectively, and it's a great way to boost the audience's adrenaline to get us ready for the plunge about to come.

But before we take that plunge, I'd like to offer up a couple last complaints about this episode. There is, in the disappointingly useless scene between Ben and Audrey (it starts out well, with Ben as a convert to all the world's religions, before it downshifts into laying foundation for the plot to come), the indication that the Packards are laundering money by storing it in a bank, which seems to speak to a more fundamental misunderstanding of finances than even most screenwriters display. Or maybe it's simply that those wicked Packards have gotten a bank loan, which, same point.

And the other thing: what in God's creation is Donna wearing for the pageant? She's all tricked up with a huge red bow on her bust, and hair piled up like a crude beehive made of black spaghetti. My understanding is that Boyle was not well-liked on set, so perhaps this was the hair and wardrobe departments' last-minute attempt to get revenge on her, because whatever the hell else are we supposed to do with this:

Grade: B+

*Resulting in one of the most famously straightforward and comprehensible episodes of television since the finale of The Prisoner.