In the long, slow pan that will eventually find Sheriff Truman in bed with his would-be assassin in this episode's first scene, the camera sweeps past the shelves lining the walls of the Bookhouse Boys' clubhouse. Most of them are tough to make out but if you squint you'll see a copy of Sidney Sheldon's 1980 bestseller Rage Of Angels. There are at least two ways of reading this: 1) It's a clue alluding to the whole Black Lodge/White Lodge woodsy cosmological system that will be further developed by the appearance of angels in the forthcoming prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Or, 2) Hardcover copies of Rage Of Angels were pretty cheap and easy to come by in 1991 and it's there for the same reason that copies of Winston Groom's Forrest Gump sequel Gump And Co. line the shelves of Ikea stores. It's the beauty of this show that either reading, or both, could be right.
As we near the end of this second season, I find myself getting a bit sentimental. Sure, the back half of this season has been more down than up, but I'm sorry that the end is coming. True, that's due more for what the show once was and had the potential to be again than what it is at this point, but still, when we see Josie here for the last time, even though her character and accompanying plots were far from my favorite elements, I can't help but feel a little sad. Even the postcard from James makes me a little nostalgic. Come on back, James. We can make this show good again even if your mopey face is part of it.
Okay, on to the episode at hand, another pretty-good-of-its-kind entry in the Windom Earle/Black Lodge plot. Lynch's Gordon Cole is on hand for the next two episodes, which helps a lot. He's great with Coop, for whom he serves as a frustrating/beloved father figure. (And having worked with Lynch on two movies prior to this series, it might be safe to read a little bit of autobiography into MacLachlan's performance.) He's terrific with Shelley, too, particularly when he kisses her in front of Bobby next episode. In the Twin Peaks universe in which Coop stands as a beacon of goodness, he's much more a real man than Bobby will (most likely) ever be.
Other major developments: Audrey and Donna team up to crack "The Mystery Of What The Hell Is Up With Donna's Mom And Audrey's Dad." I referred to this plot as going nowhere and a few of you in the comments called me on it. Fair enough. I guess I misremembered how big a role it played in these final episodes but I will say it feels like it goes nowhere since it comes so late in the story and dead-ends, with so much else, in the season finale. Still, I really do enjoy Good Benjamin and his obsessive consumption of healthy vegetables and in context it would make sense that he would reach out to some idealized past love to complete his return to innocence.
Much of this episode doesn't go anywhere either, but that's part of the appeal. We get a lot of diner hang-out time with characters worth caring about between a silly opening and a rushed finale. Wow, that cave set looks cheap. Did anyone else think they just left it standing for use by Smallville however many years later? In fact, now that I think about it, Smallville's whole cryptograms-in-the-cave plot could be left over from here. A note to the curious who have never seen Smallville: It's not really worth watching. But for a while there it seemed like it might turn into something worth watching. But even Smallville rarely has as shrug-worthy of a final shot as Windom Earle finding more cave scratchings behind other cave scratchings. Weak.
Well, the finale of this episode almost seems like an apology for the last. After spending the whole episode waiting for Windom Earle to provide him with some beer–and getting an earful of Black Lodge/White Lodge talk while he waited–the character billed only as "Heavy Metal Youth" meets an unfortunate end inside a giant chess piece. There's a lot of audacity in this scene and a sense that Earle might be more than just a hammy disguise-hound. It feels like we're entering the endgame. (That's Ted Raimi as the unfortunate headbanger, by the way.)
It's nice to see Coop doing some real police work, too, making the connection between Leo and Earle. Too often of late the show has forgotten that he's really good at his job. Dale Cooper: Man Of Romance, however, needs a lot of work. Coop and Annie have virtually no chemistry and he seems smug and condescending when he talks to her in a way he never was in his scenes with Audrey. The Coop/Audrey romance was reportedly abandoned because MachLachlan felt it inappropriate for Coop, as an adult to be dating a teenager. But, boy, did those two have sparks. Here, no sparks. But I wonder if the show would somehow have gotten back around to pairing Cooper and Audrey in the future.
Nadine and Mike, on the other hand, seem to have sparks in excess. As silly as that plot started out, it's almost worth it to hear Mike talk about the combination of "sexual maturity and superhuman strength." (Apparently it works for him. It sounds kind of scary to me.)
And, apart from the broad comedy of Dick's wine tasting, and Gordon's previously mentioned Shelly smooch, that's pretty much it for this outing. We get some extra Windom Earle details–most notably the poem–more Hayward soap operatics, and the puzzle box, whose exact role escapes my memory but now seems largely there to keep Catherine involved in the show in some meaningful way. The focus is tighter, the extraneous sub-plots less extraneous, the humor not too distracting, and the finale pretty shockng. This feels like a show that could have gone on for a while, even if the end is near.