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Written by Harley Peyton
Directed by Todd Holland

Airdate: 19 January, 1991

Episode 20 of Twin Peaks is merely boring, and that's sufficient to make it a substantial improvement over the two episodes immediately preceding it. Oh, happy day.

Hell, even that's being pissier than the episode deserves. There's an uninterrupted ten minute stretch at the end that's actually, like, really good. If that's where we're at, then that's where we're at.

The biggest reason for this dramatic upswing in quality all the way up to "largely mediocre and forgettable" is the most obvious as well: this episode stays away from all the horrible subplots centered on characters we don't give a shit about. No dead old cradle-robbing men. No little boys playing idiotic pranks on long-suffering adults. Still the cardboard femme fatale (Annette McCarthy) who, in a shocking, just shocking twist, turns out to be lying about herself to James (James Marshall), though for reasons we don't know yet - but we can and most definitely should be able to guess, if we've seen so much as one film noir in our lives. So you can't have everything, but the happy news is that as this episode comes to a close, we've rounded the corner on the James's Big Mopey Road Trip storyline: only two more to go. The worst two, but at least the end is in sight.

Not that the writing is inherently better, just because it focuses on people that the show has bothered to build up: we've emphatically hit the point where every scene between Josie (Joan Chen) and Harry (Michael Ontkean) feels like sleepy wheel-spinning, and there's a scene that finds Catherine (Piper Laurie) seducing the increasingly demented Ben (Richard Beymer) that the actors themselves seem to be hopelessly confused by. And the show has greatly miscalculated the appeal of having an amnesiac middle-aged woman making out with a terrified high school boy.

But there's good stuff in here too! After being stuck in neutral for several episodes, Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) finally gets some of his bad boy nastiness back, in a fairly good exchange with Shelly (Mädchen Amick), who gets a terrifically satisfying slap in there. And while the whole drug bust plotline has at no point felt like it has real consequence or anything that ties it into the show at large, at least David Duchovny finally gets a substantial number of scenes to show off. His initial scene as a transwoman pretending to be a man is a marvelously light, subtle bit of acting, and all by itself argues that the actor and the character should have been given a lot more space. Farewell, Denise Bryson, you were too good for this show.

Mostly, though, it's the grace notes that work, most of them related to acting (Duchovny's first scene, Kyle MacLachlan's thunderstruck reaction shot to a half-eaten donut, Don S. Davis growing increasingly shake and scared but attempting to use his serene reserve to hide it). There's a lot of very stupid writing, and most of what isn't stupid, is boring. I will at least slightly look the other way for the much-derided Civil War shenanigans, mostly because of Beymer's commitment, but this episode falls into the low spot of that subplot, where it's broad enough to be stupid, but not grotesque enough to have the appeal of the weird.

We do have, at least, an earnest attempt to really go for the full David Lynch, at the opening and the close. The first scene, mind you, is a spectacular failure of execution: with cheap video effects spinning in circles and smeary videotape, I imagine, for some measure of "atmosphere" but without the thoughtfulness to pull it off (compare, for example, Lynch's much later INLAND EMPIRE), this is the most clear-cut example in the entire series of people who can't effectively ape Lynch's style attempt to do so anyway.

But then, we have those closing ten minutes, and they make up for a lot of sins: beginning roughly with Jean Renault's (Michael Parks) sermon-like monologue about the evil that has settled on Twin Peaks like a dark cloud, and moving into pure horror movie imagery as it wraps up. First, there's a sequence that's straight out of a slasher movie, only vastly stronger than most slashers, as Shelly nervously walks through her house, as a record plays madly, and she finally comes upon a newly-ambulatory Leo (Eric Da Re) with his paper birthday hat at a jaunty angle, and his face covered in food like another killer might be covered in viscera. It's a hell of a great jolt, and it whisks us right into another great horror sequence, as Cooper and Harry skulk through the darkened sheriff's office to find a tableaux of Baroque murder that would fit comfortably into a European art-horror from the '70s. It's genuinely disturbing and gross without a drop of visible blood (that deer head! that barbed wire trap for the hand!), and it's maddening that if Todd Holland could do this, that he wasn't bothering to try for the whole episode up to this point. Still, if there's only going to be one great sequence in an episode, it might as well come at the very end: that way you can at least feel jazzed up heading into the next episode.

Grade: C+