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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Twin Peaks: "Episode 17," "Episode 18"

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Image for article titled Twin Peaks: "Episode 17," "Episode 18"

Episode 17

Here's where my memories of the show and the show itself really start to part ways. I watched this second season in 1990 and '91 as a fairly unquestioning fan. Peaks got his claws into me early and deep in such a way that I could be personally offended when people talked about its declining quality, its ratings sank and, later in the season, was taken off the air with unaired episodes and no promise that we would ever see them, much less a third season. After all, it was still the best show on television, right?

I might not have been wrong about that. But with Episode 17 things officially start to take a turn. Witness Audrey's scene with Cooper, in which he relates a dark secret from his past involving falling in love with a woman he was charged to protect, particularly this exchange:

Audrey: What happened, did she die or something?

Cooper: As a matter of fact, she did.

But that's poetry compared to Audrey's flirtation with Bobby, which includes lines like, "School numbs my buns," and, "I like to lick," the latter an explanation as to why she prefers her ice cream in cones. It makes the scene of Super Nadine throwing Mike through the air look positively subtle.

Even some of the moments that ought to work get stretched out to the point of forever or collapse into self-parody. Did Catherine's scene with Truman have to take 25 full minutes? (Note: I might be off on that running time.) Did Cooper really have to add "urinating out in the open air" to pie, coffee, and the collision of maple syrup and sausage on his list of enthusiasms? Also, did they hire the actor playing the double-dealing Mountie from a male strip club? And how is One Eyed Jacks still in business?

This episode sets up a lot of what's to come but it's still a weirdly go-nowhere hour of Peaks. (And an oddly structured one as well. After carefully setting up an every-episode-is-a-day structure, why fast-forward three days now and then stretch this one to cover 48 hours?) But there are still moments to like here. Clarence Williams III is always a welcome presence, even if he's not given much to do–and will have to wait a week for a two-thirds-of-the-Mod-Squad reunion. Don Davis kills, as usual, as Major Briggs, which is good, since he plays a major part in the doings to come. One of the smartest choices made in this back half of the series was to have Briggs, the definition of an all-American solid citizen, serve as the Virgil for Cooper's descent into Twin Peaks' mystic underworld.

Then there are the opening scenes at the Palmer house. In the first MacLachlan again makes Cooper seem like a person who's somehow jumped to the next stage of human evolution. He's wonderfully gracious in his dealings with Mrs. Palmer. I like the subsequent post-funeral potluck as well, if only because it's nice to see all the characters in one place, and points intersecting that otherwise rarely meet.

It's the rest of the episode I could take or leave.

A couple of side notes: This episode was directed by Tina Rathbone, writer/director of Zelly And Me, a 1988 film starring, among others, David Lynch and Isabella Rosselini. I haven't seen it. Can anyone tell us if it's any good? Also, is there any reason Rathbone's directorial career ends here? She's working from a script by Tricia Brock, lately the director of episodes of Dirt and The L Word, who presumably has refrained from inserting any lines about numbing buns into her work.

Grade: C-

Episode 18

Why do I get the feeling I'm going to start shuddering whenever I hear Angelo Badalementi's James-rides-around-on-his-motorcycle theme? With this episode one of the series' most reviled subplots kicks in. James, apparently upset over Maddie's murder, hits the road and stumbles into the plot of an old film noir as filtered through a direct-to-video erotic thriller. Could this Evelyn woman who's hired him to fix her husband's Porsche be a femme fatale in disguise? It may take us five episodes to find out, episodes in which James, never really a compelling character on his own, is removed from the town doing his own thing. (What's the name of this show again, anyway?)

On the other hand, this episode ushers in the crossdressing FBI agent Dennis/Denice, played by David Duchovny, later to play the non-crossdressing FBI Agent Fox Mulder in The X-Files. I like this subplot for a couple of reasons. Cooper's non-judgmental and enthusiastically curious response to his old friend's new identity is completely in character and perfectly in tune with the show. It's a quirk, his habit of dressing up like a lady, but who doesn't have their quirks?

I'm also fond of Andy and Dick's competition for Lucy's affections, though I suspect I'd like it better in another series. It's broadly comic in a way that doesn't do Twin Peaks as a whole any favors, but I still enjoy watching Ian Buchanan's DIck try to fuss his way into Lucy's heart. And, when compared to watching Super Nadine say things like, "He has the cutest buns!", (again with the buns!) the storyline looks as dryly funny as a Whit Stillman movie.

On the other hand, the Super Nadine plot does allow us to meet Twin Peaks High's wrestling coach, Coach Wingate, played by the late Broadway vet Ron Taylor, who achieved television immortality as the voice of The Simpsons' Bleeding Gums Murphy. Wingate's presence proves there's at least one black person living in Twin Peaks. And speaking of black actors more famous for other shows, Clarence Williams III gets reunited with Mod Squad co-star Peggy Lipton when he stops by the diner for a bite to eat. They enjoy a pleasant, if inconsequential, exchange, however part of me wishes he would have whisked her out of town for a groovy relationship The Mod Squad could never get away with.

The other major developments this week involves Josie being forced to work as Catherine's maid, a fated predicated on her guilt in Andrew Packard's death only… he's not dead at all. Also, Coop gets a tape from the still-unseen Windom Earle and learns the game is afoot whether he likes it or not. And the mayor's brother gets married.

All in all, it's not a bad episode. Some of the sub-plots are total yawns and destined not to get much better. But it's quite well put together, especially if you don't remember how annoying both James' noirish spirit quest and the mayor's feud with his brother are destined to get. Also, while Ben Horne's descent will soon take an annoying turn, I appreciate his toxic nostalgia and the way the episode ends with footage of better times at the Great Northern, a place now haunted by the sordid choices of its owner.

The episode closes with some of Horne's home movies and that's the last viewers would see of Peaks for almost a month. We'll get back to it next week, however.

Grade: B