[Review by Jay Yencich]
[Writer: Mark Frost, David Lynch | Director: Duwayne Dunham | Aired: 04/12/1990]
Have there been many second episodes that were not fallings off from the excesses and intrigues of the original pilot? I’m not referring to second episodes of a season, which belong to a different branch of the taxonomy, I mean second episodes ever, or in the case of an opening arc, the first episode independent of that. Futurama’s moon tour was good, not sure that it was better than the pilot, and for dramas, well… nothing reviewed on this site has yet claimed the first episode to be inferior to the second. As I go through the old memory archives, even in shows that I adore, my response to a second episode is less than ecstatic whereas there’s often a pull to a pilot that has me watch and re-watch it even if I don’t intend to continue beyond.
If the Twin Peaks pilot sails through some rough waters on account of its trying to do too much, the second episode has ambitions so modest they risk becoming non-descript. Where the pilot is one of the high points of the show’s mystery/thriller drama, this is one of its valleys of domesticity, possessing a different “feel” than the preceding episode in direction and tone. Consider the camera work leading into each of the episodes. “Northwest Passage” [1×01] opens with assorted short shots on minutiae, ebbing and flowing with the river to offer us sometimes more to focus on, sometimes less, until our attentions can finally be trained on that tarp.
“Traces to Nowhere” gives us a similar quantity of detail in the room itself, between the badge resting on a book, the six-shooter, the clock-lamp chimera, a natural log bedframe, deer hooves acting as a rifle rack, faux candle lamps, taxidermied waterfowl, and the river scene wood relief, all leading to an upside-down Cooper narrating into his recorder. The visual and audio details are lovely and build up The Great Northern as a setting and Cooper as a persona, but the direction is more elaborative than elaborate, putting context over any sort of artistic fingerprinting.
The comparisons hold from there. “Traces” uses few if any shots built out of symbolism, as with the angle up the Palmer stairwell to the fan. The same goes for the abrupt shifts, leading to quicker and more emotional impressions, as there were in the glancing from object to object in the Hell Train interior, nor are there particularly strong visually-cued transitions permitting bolder and stranger leaps as there were initiated by the photos or magazines. Instead, pan shots, the perspectival switches between speaker and listener, and wide angles for multiple speakers.
I’m sure some of you think that it’s funny business to be opening with all this directorial talk without yet touching on the content, but it’s the earliest signal we get that this will be a different type of episode than the pilot. While the three episodes that open the series were all penned by the Frost/Lynch duo, this is the only one with a different director, and it shows immediately. As to that necessary content, I feel as if it mirrors the direction. “Traces to Nowhere” expounds more than it expands. It fleshes out certain dynamics and relationships amongst characters, some of whom interact for the first time here, and provides a little breathing space to get everyone near the same spot and on speaking terms. But it’s not “doing” anything special and the more plot-minded viewer could conceivably skip it and not lose a lot of ground since what it does, you could have extrapolated from the pilot.
Of course, if you’re into the show, you’re probably there for the interactions and for the textural bits. And since the writing holds, we get some of the more memorable conversations in the series. Cooper meticulously ordering breakfast and then being entranced by Audrey, who knows that she is charming, solicits validation from Cooper, and even manages to tell him a little bit of the truth. There’s the fish and percolator scene. Cooper’s first encounter with The Log Lady. Dinner with the Briggs family, which certainly helps confirm Garland as a favorite character of many. Audrey’s lackadaisical confession to her father about what scared the Norwegians off. I especially delight in the Norma/Nadine meeting at the hardware store, for how Nadine immediately tenses up and clutches her bag after realizing who she’s bumped into, how territorial she becomes when talking about Ed, all of Norma’s eye movements and facial tics and the deep breath of “oh here it comes” as Nadine describes the mechanics of the drape runner. It’s masterful. But many of these seem to only puff out a bit of what we already knew and few demanded to happen at this very moment, which renders them more parts than a whole, lovely as they are. The salient details, which complicate our setting and conception of what is happening, I seem to find elsewhere. Let’s shake those down and see what they yield.
The biggest scene for the episode, to me, isn’t one in which we see anything in happen, but is instead Doc Hayward’s account of the postmortem on Laura. The injuries, how she is described, all come across as very much deliberate and composed: A series of small wounds that caused her to bleed out, none individually fatal, bite marks on the tongue, self-inflicted, and evidence of binding and multiple penetration.
Drawing parallels out to her life, there are the rewarding if obvious links: Her involvement in too many things good and bad that sapped her of energy, her willed silence about the disparate and compartmentalized aspects and abuses of her life, how the darker side eventually closed in and trapped her, and how, hey, she had been sleeping with a whole range of people thanks to One-Eyed Jack’s and various other incidental encounters, people who were interested in her for sex and no other reason.
Stretch it out to the series as a whole and you get Laura as one connected to many, the stifling secrets everyone seems to be contending with, and the fact that everyone is boning everyone else. There’s a risk of getting too cute with these details, but having other characters around as analogs (Ronette), possible suspects (sundry), or reluctant sympathizers (James, Donna) helps keep them from decaying into artificiality. I buy into it for how purposeful it all looks. I buy into it for how Doc chokes up and gets distracted as he finishes.
A quick transition from “who would do a thing like that?” leads us to Leo, who comes across differently here than he did in the pilot. Then, he seemed smaller, leaner, intense, but without evident follow-through. As he vacuums out his truck, he’s more of a force, bigger behind his sweatshirt, cigarette, and sneer. You get to see how and why he’s able to keep Shelley under his thumb by withholding information from her (along with bloody laundry) and then demeaning her about it. A forceful pinch of the cheek becomes a gesture without its more television-typical affection, instead turning into a sign of intimidation, about getting more “use” out of her, about possession. Shelley isn’t a psychological wreck yet (or else, perhaps, she would not hide the shirt), but she’s been dealing with this long enough to establish her own expectations. New tidbits for us, new enough to confirm Leo’s moral/ethical alignment, but plainly not new to her.
A third bit of “information” that we get from the episode also comes fairly early as Ed speculates about his drink being drugged by Jacques Renault. Mention of Renault gets the ball rolling on both the One-Eyed Jack’s subplot (along with the perfume counter by way of the Pulaskis) and the snippets about the drug running (accompanied by Mike and Bobby’s chat about Leo in the jail). There’s just enough there to make you think about how the threads are interweaving, but those particular subplots don’t fit within the rigidly organized day that Cooper has planned out and, since he’s on the phone with Albert at the time, there’s not much reason to think that he’s been apprised of it at all. Still, good that these are on the table already.
The last developmental data nugget, I’m sure you’re thinking about, since that’s what we end on, but we’ll get to it as part of the Log Lady’s Corner.
Among the lowlights of the episode… I don’t know, this could have been the first series to do it, the first media, I really doubt it. Some soap had to have beaten it to the punch. But when Donna comes in to talk to Sarah just before the her medicine kicks in, even the first time I saw it, there was that flare of recognition in my brain: She’s going to see Laura’s face superimposed on Donna’s. It’s going to happen. And then we get the echo-y, repetitive, sounding-board dialogue between Sarah and Donna. And then it happens. And it’s awful. And then BOB. And then shrieking.
But I suppose I shouldn’t dismiss it wholly on the grounds of it being not to my taste. The dialogue, structurally, plays with the mirroring and dualities of Twin Peaks. What they say is the same, but the meaning is different from each to each and they have different understandings of the context. It’s at once stifling and capable of erupting, as it does, into a blast of emotion on Sarah’s part. The vision of Donna as Laura is not incidental, nor is it the first time a comparison is made (see Foreshadowing in “Northwest Passage” [1×01]), nor will this be the last of it, as Donna starts to get into Laura’s sunglasses and other effects.
The appearance of BOB is doubly significant, for the location, for the people present, for the possibility that Donna may have been a BOB target at this stage. But without those scenes that locate BOB in the house, maintained in the international version but dispersed throughout the season in the U.S., there’s no way into understanding the sudden appearance of a denim-clad man with straggly grey hair right here and now, whom no one else reacts to. Maybe the viewer has deduced that Sarah has visions from the necklace sequence concluding the pilot. Maybe not.
The other moment of infamy in the episode is that exchange between James and Laura in the Feb 5th flashback. Allow me to fill the role of transcriptionist:
LAURA: James, guess why I’m so happy today.
JAMES: Because your skin is so soft and you smell so good?
LAURA: (laughing) No.
LAURA: Because I really believe that you love me. Now my heart belongs to you.
Unnnnggggh. And this guy will have his own distinct arc in the middle of season two. And I will certainly have things to say about that. Sincere? Seemingly. Excruciating? Oh my, yes. I don’t know anyone that can get through it without cringing a bit. The least the show can do is call back to the exchange with Laura in the Jacoby tape, describing James as “sweet, but he’s so dumb.” But given that this is all we see of the hallowed James/Laura relationship, it’s more overwhelmingly sugary than the Boston Molasses Disaster [Ed. Note: too soon?].
Continuing the exploration of sincerity, I have a rather vexed opinion on the heart-to-heart where Donna confesses to Eileen. I don’t doubt the intentions of the writers and what they want me to feel. The acting helps sell me on all of this happening and bonus points are scored by playing “Falling” in the background, but the dialogue reads canned. This is really a scene that could have benefited from drawing on a specific memory or a few notes on the why of James’ appeal to Donna in order to reify what is otherwise an observed emotional experience.
Then again, that dream/nightmare dichotomy concords with at least the thematics of the show’s operations. Additionally, the fact that Donna, repeatedly and consistently, is able to address her own misgivings is more than most television characters are willing to provide. But then, since the big confession concluding the pilot was their first major scene together, Donna and James have effectively always been in love for us and we were never able to confirm with our own eyes that the two might have started slowly to feel this way in the presence of Laura. What they share with the viewer reflecting back on it is scant. And then there’s the dinner. The big rush into dinner, one day after Laura’s body is found.
Setting aside all that, which may be just me setting moments on a Procrustean bed until they’re minutes, “Traces to Nowhere,” a title of some poetic heft, mimetically!, doesn’t take us much of anywhere. February 5th turns out to be a dead end because James remains tight-lipped, letting go of that particular plot kite string. The Josie connection has mystery (just what did Laura mean by saying “I think now I understand how you feel about your husband’s death”?), but since Josie isn’t elaborating, whether she can or not, that’s another non-starter. Even the admonitions of Major Briggs to Bobby, well-delivered, authoritative, and fatherly, lose some of their force when you realize that the two characters are in different spheres later in the show’s run. The camera doesn’t bring the game it brought for the opener, the stakes are lower, the range is constricted to be less weird or humorous.
But if you enjoy the phrasing and formulations of the show so far, you can appreciate the episode. The first substantial socializings between Cooper and Audrey, Big Ed and Truman, Nadine and Norma, Pete and Cooper, Ben and Catherine, Ben and Audrey, Bobby and his family, The Log Lady in a more public sphere, even James returning to his holding cell with a more stone-faced confidence in himself. All are rewarding and fresh enough to retain interest even when dialogue runs ragged and the plot glides on pre-existing momentum, a sign of a competently-executed character drama. This strength permits one to enjoy and take in a set of scenes at the Packard residence between Cooper, Truman, Josie, and Pete, that otherwise are only there for flavor. So enjoy those jelly donuts. Enjoy the saccharine flashbacks. Enjoy the fish in the percolator. Enjoy the cherry pie. Enjoy the coffee.
I carry a log. Yes. Is it funny to you? It is not to me. Behind all things are reasons. Reasons can even explain the absurd. Do we have time to learn the reasons behind the human beings’ varied behavior? I think not. Some take the time. Are they called detectives? Watch, and see what life teaches.
The Logy Lady, at her best, is cryptic in the ways of the old Delphic prophets, making oracular statements there to be read into for all their possible symbolism and thematic tones. Sometimes, these remarks get an absurd flair, playing the utterly bizarre completely straight and then, somehow, earning that right to earnestness through setting the characters against the eccentricity of the town and its surroundings. At her worst, she’s used as a mishandled defense of the show, exposition with answers phrased as questions for no higher purpose than evoking a sense of mystery, statements that could be applied to nearly any episode. Log Lady Intro #2 is the latter.
As I mentioned in my review of the pilot, there’s a lot of directorial cues that encourage a viewing attentiveness towards the people and surroundings of the town to help piece together what is happening. All of these are non-verbal, just where the camera is pointed, how it’s angled, what’s in focus. To spell it out as such in an intro suggests that the show doesn’t trust the viewer enough with given information. This would be okay IF and likely only if there were lots of instances where you needed to be looking carefully for clues or anything that would embellish the show’s mythos. But the visuals of episode two are mostly ambience: More of The Great Northern, more of Leo’s house, more of the Double-R, the Briggs residence, the Packard residence, the Hayward residence, the hospital.
The most visually striking effects probably come from the two locations of Leo’s shack and Jacoby’s office. Blood on a blue shirt stands out for the color contrast. The appearance of the shack, with the washer on the porch, and later, the half-finished sheet rock and Shelly being backed into vertical boards, foiled insulation, and plastic drapery, that’s all weighty visual data that situates the Johnson residence in our mind and how Shelley is in an unfinished prison. Likewise, everything that Leo does leading up to his attacking her alerts us to how practiced he is: Get rid of any unusual evidence she might remember from the moment, put bar of soap in sock to conceal the effects, blast the radio so no one nearby can hear, get to work. Note also that this is as clever as the camera gets, mimicking our unease with shaky movements.
The decorations in Jacoby’s office are distinct to the point of garishness, but also designed with clear intent in mind. There are the glowing fake blowfish in the ornamental fish tank, Polynesian masks, the stereo with the extensive record collection, that fish tie set against the pineapple shirt, blue curtains flamboyantly patterned, fake palms, fake coconuts with hinges, literally painted sunsets. The aesthetic differences between the rest of the town and how Jacoby chooses to decorate, dress, and carry himself are stark, which casts doubt on Jacoby for his outsiderness. But this ends up as a false positive; Jacoby is an outsider, but a benign one. How could we ever think to doubt Hawaii?
But otherwise, outside of those moments that double as some of the ep’s more memorable scenes, there’s not a whole lot we get from applying intense scrutiny to the backdrops, or at least nothing in the way of clues. This weakens the “detectives” thematic the intro wants to push. As for what the characters themselves do, there’s not much support there either. Coop picks up on Harry seeing Josie, but it’s not anything pertinent to the case at hand. Hawk, expert tracker, loses track of MIKE wandering into the hospital’s Blue Room. What instead matters more is what we hear, what James says and doesn’t say about Laura and the necklace, what Ed observed about who was bartending at The Roadhouse. Our conclusions are more received than deduced by any detective.
- The more I think about it, the more I wonder whether or not what happens to Cooper at the end of the series isn’t something out of left field. We remember him as a unique hybrid of philosophy and excitability, astute, exuberant, and knowing where he comes from, but there are moments where he can seem manipulative and superior, as with his “we ask the questions” speech to Bobby in the pilot and his release of the same from custody. More rarely, you can also see him shy away from doing what would be right for the context. Cooper is about the only one around qualified to ask what the log saw in the diner scene. He doesn’t, once he discovers that he can’t channel that directly from Margaret. But more on this subject later.
- There was a setup of subterfuge during the show’s initial run that wanted people to think that Ben might be the killer. In light of this, regard how he lights up at his own mention of fire, something that we closely associate with BOB and the grander mythological concerns of the show.
- And there was also a third deception, less convincing, that wanted to fake people out into thinking Jacoby had done it. I’ve addressed much of the office, but as some additional fun, consider the blue curtains there, the red curtains we come to see later in the waiting room, and that Jacoby wears pseudo-3D glasses with red and blue lenses.
- I have heard that during the course of the Twin Peaks filming, Kyle MacLachlan started dating Lara Flynn Boyle and, at her prompting, encouraged the show’s writers to abandon the Cooper/Audrey romance under a pretense that someone as mature as Coop wouldn’t involve himself with someone so young. I like their chemistry, so this is one source of disappointment to me in the series.
- Drug use aside, Laura seems to have an Ivy League-applicant level of extracurriculars that she’s involved with.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Cooper’s organized whirlwind in light of a more relaxed, donut-loving Twin Peaks police station.
+ You have to listen for it in between the malapropisms, but Josie’s little grammatical mistakes are endearing.
+ They’re not around for long, but Mr. and Mrs. Pulaski have their own, local-tinged charm.
+ (squeals) The stereos and jukeboxes are now playing background music!
– I know you can get some stunning sunny days in February in Washington state, but the surroundings of Leo’s house look a tad lush for this time of year. A side effect of the divided shoot locations, I imagine.
– Not keen on the melodrama of replaying the Laura video with a “HELP ME” tacked to the end.
– Feeling like I spend much of my review time dogging Donna or James, I get a little bit of whiplash going straight from Leo swinging his makeshift weapon and closing in on Shelley to dinner at the Hayward house, possibly the sanest place in the show’s continuity.
* To find out that Bobby is diddling the wife of clear-and-present-danger Leo Johnson, knowing who Leo is, is a bit of a shock, but the back-and-forth between him and Mike suggests that Bobby has no respect for Leo anyway, aside from what threat he’s able to pose. Fast forward to Bobby and Shelley flaunting their tryst in front of an incapacitated Leo.
* It’s still within the scope of the same episode, but since it gets lip service later as James leaves town, when the full truth is revealed, note that Big Ed is the one picking up James and that his mother, who is likely not of any relation to Ed, is glossed over quickly. One wishes more came of this considering Big Ed is probably brother to James’ deceased father.
* You can catch that brief gesture of acknowledgment between Hawk and Ed as Ed picks up James in the station. Bookhouse Boys.
* Audrey’s swaying to the music looks ahead to her “dreamy music” sequence in the very next episode.
* Laura’s “getting lost in those woods again.” How many people come to get lost in those woods, again and again.