[Review by Jay Yencich]
[Writer: Mark Frost, David Lynch | Director: David Lynch | Aired: 04/19/1990]
Twin Peaks without its mythology is like Ben Horne without Jerry Horne, you know? (sighs) Fine, I’ll back up.
I enjoy the first two episodes of Twin Peaks, a lot actually. Reviewing them has helped me appreciate all the foundation they lay for character arcs, the surprising amount of forecasting to future events, the organized chaos of their unfurling into a television experience. Yet, as I remarked to Mikejer as I got rolling with this process, it’s sometimes hard to engage with early episodes. While I don’t dock them any points for the absence, the Twin Peaks of my memory is stenciled with images of contrasting zigzags, red curves of curtain, the phenomena of Lodges looming over everything. So too is the iconography of the series in its presentation and packaging into box sets so much about these serpentine patterns and visual hearkening to the Lodges. Neither of the first two episodes has anything outside of BOB and MIKE, both unnamed, that so much as glances off those ideas. And they don’t have Jerry either, and since we start with him, I’ll start there.
Ben without Jerry is like cake without ice cream, or ice cream without cake pieces in it (rimshot). Thank you. I will be here as long as I have to. More seriously, Ben without his brother can be an ogre, albeit an erudite one. He’s always looking for that angle into any situation or person that will allow him to stripmine all the value for himself. Whoever doesn’t serve his immediate needs will get blindsided or abandoned while he plays all sides. He lets Leland in on the sawmill acquisition scheme in order to facilitate the Ghostwood transaction, but leaves him oblivious as to the means and why of it. We see him talking to Josie intimately in front of the Martells at the town hall, while learning later that he’s literally and figuratively conducting business with Catherine, which itself covers further dealings with Josie. Even slinking around with Catherine as a co-conspirator, he talks down to her with every utterance until they’re able to return to that flush of the moment.
But Jerry. Jerry provides him a partner in their brand of hedonism, a schemer on the same footing with similar goals in mind. Ben will take what is his birthright and what he earns by flip of a coin, but that it’s left to chance rather than ruthless competition shows that Jerry is as much of an equal as Ben is likely to have. It doesn’t make Ben’s vices any more palatable, he’s still a brute in a suit, but to place Jerry there to shine light on what delight Ben gets out of these indulgences, that it isn’t purely power or control, and that is a worthy addition to an already extensive cast.
And Jerry’s arrival is as faithful as any of the show’s introductions: Hands-open gesture of “oh, there you all are,” ordering the bellhops around (without gratitude for their assistance, merely “Okay. Gone. Goodbye.”), some new scheme or find that must be divulged post-haste (butter and brie baguettes here), hamming it up with anyone possibly sympathetic, arousing the ire of the rest (looking at you, Sylvia), and then it’s the Horne Brothers Show and Ben slips into his part. We all have or know that pair or grouping of friends for which there is a distinct language, indecipherable to all outsiders, a new code of behavior that we are perplexed or aggravated by or merely smirk at. The Brothers Horne have that.
But consider the scene that Jerry walks into. As with any long-shot of the static mundane, it reaches a tinny, nervous comedy. MJ and I snickered when we first saw it, you may have too, though that’s only half of its success. I’ve argued before in favor of Audrey being more than a clever and magnetic femme fatale, and here we see her, silent cues, looking back and forth between her parents as Johnny quietly rocks and moans. There’s no conversation at this table, no intimacy, no hope of either. It’s perfunctory, ritualistic, and as Ben leaves you realize that he treats his familial duties as formality.
The entrance of Jerry disrupts the entropy, but Sylvia and Audrey recede into the scene, Sylvia staking the futile protest of a “BENJAMIN!” before recognizing that her regular pleas are useless (not that she seems to cherish his company anyway). Ben himself excludes those present in his speech, asking, “do you know who this reminds us of?” (emph. my own), meaning Ben and Jerry alone. The rest of the family leaves the baguettes untouched. These are the adults that Audrey Horne has been reliant upon her whole life. Small wonder she’s a daydreaming romantic.
Meanwhile, the Brothers Horne cavort, make references obscure to the company, and enter the hallway for some confidential scheming, about Ghostwood and the imminent prospect of nookie. Note the order of Jer’s responses to recent news. Exuent Brothers on their pleasure cruise, where they will make for One-Eyed Jack’s, and its girls dressed in what look to be sexy and plaid takes on the Red Queen’s footmen from Alice in Wonderland. Jerry will deride the help, Blackie will be introduced in dark angles to contrast with the colored curvature of the girls, Shakespeare will be recited, and the coin toss will slot Jerry in line for sloppy seconds and consolation as Ben, single-minded in his unseen approach (bonus director points), induces nervous gulps and aversions from gaze in his quarry.
Now, I realize as I get deeper, this particular review runs a severe risk of getting off track by nature of my own prose stylings (detail-oriented, but rambunctious) and the material involved: There’s simply so much I want to cover that no structure easily lends itself to the task. Chronological wouldn’t seem to do the trick and thematic might be difficult in that Twin Peaks rarely parcels out its themes and moods into discrete episodes. What I propose then to do is to cluster one part of the review around the backbone of the episode, three major sets of scenes that take up the bulk of the screentime, and then address the “ribs,” for want of continuation of simile, in a separate section, following that with a few more extra features unique to this review. I don’t want to impose a false hierarchy of importance here, so think of the categorization as specific to the time allotted.
This means that our next entry, by necessity, is going to be Cooper outdoors in the Tibet sequence. Not his first appearance in the episode, but the earlier bit little more than scaffolds future constructs: Cooper returns to his room, delightedly toots his whittled whistle, and gets a perfectly timed call from Hawk which summarizes Ronette’s condition/employment and the appearance of MIKE in the hospital halls before the note is slipped under his door. Because Twin Peaks insists on showing us how every character knows what they know, it’s necessary, but ultimately forgettable.
If we don’t recall that clip, we undoubtedly do remember the next day as Lucy, intently focused on the task, holds the tape measure at nose-level as Truman walks it out to three logs in the distance. Specifically, the exact distance from a pitcher’s mound to home plate. Appropriate as Cooper’s explanation comes out of left field (additional rimshot). “What do you think he’s up to?” Hawk inquires. “It beats me,” Truman replies.
The success of Tibet and Rocks is in how it’s structurally situated. We’re dropped in medias res with little to guide us other than actions and setup, a chalkboard with names, very specific distances, and soon, Andy hauling in a bucket of rocks. As Coop encourages the group to take their seats, it’s creating a mirror of an audience who, like us, has no inkling as to what is happening. They’re suspended. We’re suspended. They lean in. We lean in. And as we learn about Tibet, the seriousness with which Cooper takes his dreams (soon to be vital), and his own spiritual nature, we may be no less incredulous than we were entering (reaction shots from the police gallery), but we soon are convinced that at least something has paid off as Cooper’s intuitions are acted out with an utter faithfulness to and trust in a process.
It’s the little things that keep the method engaging. It’s how Hawk has to hold the bucket with oven mitts so that he doesn’t contaminate the energy of the rocks. It’s how Cooper zeroes in on the rock and recites the name, and how Truman precedes it by reading off any connection to Laura. It’s how we go through that long list, even of names we ourselves have already exonerated, and how they do have meaningful connections to what we know and will come to know (James, Josie, Johnny, Norma, and Shelley all arcing away, sometimes to quality effect, Jacoby struck, Jack with One-Eye being reinforced, Leo shattered). It’s that long, perfect arc of the successful throw, MacLachlan’s first try, making everyone’s reactions all the more authentic, and then the sobering silence that follows. It invites us to participate, and takes itself seriously.
But it’s one matter to create an interesting scene and quite another to make that scene mean in an interesting way, so I’ll bring out another recent revelation of mine. The method Coop outlines begins with the Js, and he also draws Rs and Ts on the board, implying that if he doesn’t get the result he wants, he’ll try those. He intuits that Leo is target for inquiry, but if you’ll recall last review, not all the Js are on the board, one is missing. One that happens to also have Rs and Ts. J[acques] R[enaul]t. A man just as culpable if not more, but because Cooper wasn’t paying attention when Renault was mentioned, he’s not on the list. That Cooper decides the Js he recorded on his own were sufficient is a shortcoming of his investigation, and by the time he circuitously gets round to old Jacques, he’s of little use. Further sneaky doubts cast on Coop as an investigator.
With that I’m left to consider the dream sequence as the last triptych panel, at a time when, broadly, dream sequences arouse public ire as storytelling devices. Account for the time period, as with any commentary on this show, and consider too the Lynchian aesthetic, which comes to dreams easily as breath.
A bookkeeping point: Much of what we see here is cropped and rearranged from the international version of “Northwest Passage” [1×01], which was intended to double as a feature-length film in the event the series wasn’t picked up. That incarnation of the pilot is worth its own commentary, but not here, so just know you’re missing some material.
I haven’t yet viewed any media that accurately charts the incoherence that heralds our descent into the wilderness of sleep, but we get enough here to go forth on as lucid if not distinct. Rumbling sounds, flashes of light and distorted speech, the agéd Cooper in a chair observing, the Man from Another Place shaking and shuffling. Surreal, yes, though one of the boons from the proximity to the Palmer residence scene is we now more easily situate BOB at the foot of the bed when accompanied by Sarah on the stairs. We’re not settled, but grounded, and flickers of the Hell Train and morgue announce the dream’s core topics, identical to those of the plot.
For as memorable as the Waiting Room is, it’s Al Strobel’s oratory as MIKE that gives me chills and sets my mind to alert. Revealing only a fraction of what he knows with a grin, it’s as if he’s weighing each word on his tongue, mouth ajar, before speaking. “I mean it like it is, like it sounds,” implies that we should take what is happening at face value, and yet as a reminder, a follow-up to a “we” unidentified and a generic account of residency, there’s a discomfiting quality that makes us doubt how it “is” or “sounds” even without the delivery of Strobel. From there, the tattoo and amputation make singular the “good versus evil”, “Devil and God” components of the narrative that are not as remarkable on their own.
And just where is BOB? The hospital boiler room, the other version informs, but seeing only pipes and concrete, red metal, strange light sources, distant hum and ringing, there is a sinister aspect to his situation. BOB’s monologue is a major casualty of the editing process, but as with MIKE, he’s not talking to someone else in the room, he’s talking directly to Cooper, the camera, the viewer, which accents the scraggliness and exaggerated body language. With the promise of further murders, the candle circle too, is snuffed (further rimshots) and we return, to Waiting.
A moment of your time to comment on appearances and ambience. I don’t know what is meant by the pins and sigils on Cooper’s lapel, I’d be eager to hear thoughts, but look at that tie. A narrow crimson line leading straight up between dark, diagonal slants. If that doesn’t just fit the setting. And the room itself, the curtains concealing who knows what, the notion they could stretch on into chambers indefinite, the zigzags, the antiques among the décor, a rather modest white statue, modern lamps, spotlights, shadows, shapes. What it is can’t be summed up, but the sum of the parts is atemporal and exceptional.
The imperative, “Let’s Rock!” leads to a standstill, the Man roughly rubbing his hands back and forth as a loud ghost drifts by. The Laura smiles and draws a half-gesture, finger to nose, reminiscent of the Bookhouse Boys signal, but Cooper as of yet is uninitiated and I’ll confess, it’s a stretch. Little to do but stretch here, so I’ll try to strike a balance between my literary analyst habits and what would amount to speculation. Here are some bullets.
- Gum: Is it adhesive? Or idle talk, and literal chewing gum? Style looks like a meaningful choice. We can’t understand when he’s talking about though (twenty-five years, mayhap), and the Room itself is outside of time proper.
- Cousin: Maddy, cue next episode, but speculation has been that there are multiple Laura look-alikes out there and they could be avatars of something Lodge-related.
- “I feel like I know her, but sometimes my arms bend back:” The dissociative aspects of Laura’s personality, compartmentalized as it was. “Bend back” refers to the binding Laura underwent before death, corroborated by autopsy and FWWM, but metaphorically, the constraints of societal and familial expectation, etc.
- “She’s filled with secrets:” DUH.
- Birds, music: White Lodge description. Windom Earle will reiterate later more explicitly.
Music and strobes flare up, The Man dances (observe the shoes), Laura whispers, and we have Cooper bolt upright in bed to make a late-night phone call, of dire present need, but not so crucial as to keep him from going back to bed as the jazz starts up again. Thus concludes one of the most iconic scenes in early 90s television, or television broadly. Take it in while you can, because you’re unlikely to get another TV dream quite as nuanced and weird as this one. Where the exposition is lacking, think of how it makes you hold your hands and body and you’re on the right path.
As the peripheral scenes open with Donna and James, I’ll make the brief admission that I’ve chased the poor lovebirds around like an erinye that punishes bad scripting instead of broken oaths. But in this episode, I’m atypically tolerant of them for this early in the run. The timing of the dinner being last episode’s hindsight, all that’s left is clean-up and the trusting parents going to bed so as to get to church in the morning. Doc, likely from his unfamiliarity with James or his habituation to Mike is a little hesitant to leave the two fledglings, instead wanting to confirm next day’s itinerary and thus maintain his own brand of the status quo. Eileen, having already been clued in, has fewer reservations. Nice, and subtle touches.
James voices his claim that “I think it would have turned out this way anyway” and that he nearly told her he loved her, looking at her alone in a hallway once. There’s no pizzazz to his rationale, but it’s very teenaged to frame it like that and also quite human to nurture that speck of an experience into something as consuming as love. What makes the scene for me, however is this: Donna keeps pressing him as he moves in, asking if they’re going to be together, and he never answers.
That she needs to ask, that he doesn’t respond, it confirms for me that their relationship is one born out of the shared stress of their losses and not one intended to last, which in turn justifies the anecdote’s flimsiness: It’s not really based in anything solid. We’ll see as Maddy works her way into the local scene that James’ own emotions aren’t wholly resolved, and his guilt projected onto that and other incidents will lead to the split with Donna. Let’s face it, given enough episodes, the writers would hooked them up again, but the way this iteration of their romance goes out gives this exchange a nice heft on re-watch.
Another thing to appreciate: The show entrusts us with these details and doesn’t rely on the intervention of a third-party to explain or philosophize. How easy might it have been to make Big Ed put James’ relationship frustrations in context of his own (aside from he and Donna both “know[ing] how to pick ’em”), or perhaps foreshadow the season two material with Ben Horne through the Hayward parents trying to talk to Donna? The youth are permitted to remain youth and struggle through on their own. Mind you, if they had drifted into monologues and exposition, I might not quibble with that, it’s anticipated, but that they don’t serves to validate the experience for both James and Donna.
Next on my docket is a sequence I’m not unequivocally positive about, which is Bobby and Mike wandering into the woods to get drugs. Sure, there are things to like. No dull scene is derived from walking around a forest at night in Twin Peaks and they play it up with the first-person view (if ever you have been deep in the woods without daylight, you have understood how little you know about where you are). There’s Mike’s incidentally bringing a switchblade to a shotgun fight (making the camera’s insistent focus on it comical). There’s Leo’s adolescent bully-styled flashlight play (hear that electric sizzle as he flips it on!). There’s a mystery figure— we do so love mystery figures. There’s Bobby nervously pressing him for an ID after Leo reveals his “problems” at home. And the whole thing is finished off with Leo laughing into the flashlight, then the camera holding as his expression goes sour and he demands that Bobby “go long,” lest he be taught what Leo knows of “shotgun formation” (continued obnoxious rimshots).
And yet parts aren’t on key with the characters. “Leo needs a new pair of shoes!” is a funny line, but it’s cribbed from The Big Book of Trite Mobster and Gambler Phrases. Leo wears a Canadian tuxedo most days, spending most of his time driving a semi and the rest, berating his matrimonial slave and skipping off to the woods to do various acts unbroadcasted on family channels. Why would he give a good ####### about fine shoes? Are the boys at the truck stop making fun of his lame kicks while he gases up? Boots maybe, or have him make an allusion to that ongoing house construction or the hot rod we see later, and then we could see whether or not Bobby accidentally confirms the house’s shabbiness or any other details.
And speaking of Bobby, are we really to believe that he, some eight to ten hours after having a gun leveled at him, would sneak back to fool around with the gun-leveler’s hot wife? Bobby is dumb and filled with bravado, but I think he has a whit more sense than that even with the convenient excuse of Leo being at the gas station. At least we gain a few things from that meeting, namely, the visual of Leo’s photo watching Shelley as she watches the TV, her dismissal of the glossy romantic narrative presented by Invitation to Love (speaks to how she got there), and the provoking of an apparent resolve in Bobby to step in the next time Leo attacks her. (I also doubt that seeing the aftermath of domestic violence was especially common on TV of the era)
Morning at the Hurley residence, meanwhile, brings the beginning of the end for Twin Peaks‘ famed Drape Runners Saga. It’s had a three-episode run and always looms bigger in our minds than its allotted time dictates, first impressions and all. We begin with that close-up of a doorknob and Ed’s hands trying to turn it with his wrists. A fine little gesture– who hasn’t been there?– so I’m willing to put aside the obvious inquiry of “hey, doesn’t the gas station have a sink?”
Ed slinks about like an intruder in his own home while Nadine is on her rowing machine and, rather rapidly, the poor sod stumbles over some runners stored at ankle-height in the middle of the room because of the Nadine-logic. A gob of grease drops meaningfully on a runner and Ed gets an earful, concluding with a “You make me sick!” As is the habitual response for him, he cleans up, heads for The Double-R, orders some coffee and talks about being “in that doghouse again” with one of the few people who will listen, Norma, who anticipates that Ed might not be there if he didn’t need to vent.
Later, as we know, the tenor of that scene is counterpointed by Nadine faking us out with her loud shouting only to triumphantly reveal that the grease was the key all along, making overtures towards a future wealth while Ed oscillates between dumb perplexity and “but money?” Whereas Ed never reaches that point of knowing how or why to respond (after thirty-odd years), it’s enough to produce a picture of their relationship and justify why Ed was sneaking around in the first place. What’s sensible to Nadine doesn’t work for the rest of the world and misunderstandings are included in the admission. It would be one thing if the result were only frustrated outbursts, but in her manic way, Nadine can also respond with a kind of affection that is, naturally, fully un-self-conscious and given with abandon. As this constitutes “peace” in their household, all the more paralyzing for Ed considering his alternatives and the other sneaking around he does.
Uncertain of where I might better address it, I’ll take it up here and ponder what Nadine’s role is in the Twin Peaks universe. That she belongs, none can deny, yet she remains at a few removes from the central dramas and, latent superpowers aside, has no connection to the mythic weirdness either. Would she have been written into it? I can hope. As it stands, her character is liminal, too abrasive for comic relief, too pitiful and unaware to serve as antagonist.
But by the ticking away of the scenes, as we have already talked Tibet, we’re now moving into The Double-R, where the Hayward’s post-church pie is interrupted. Making an immediate line for the jukebox, Audrey, alone as usual, puts on “Audrey’s Dance” and sashays up to the counter to make a predictable black coffee order, again trying for eye contact with the Hayward booth. Will and Eileen lack interest, but Donna bites and we get a rare opportunity to see Audrey interact with someone in her age bracket, with sense that Audrey might not have approached of her own volition.
The interactions between the two girls are about as stiff as Donna’s saunter over, not in a poorly written way, but in that halting way suggestive of two people accustomed to seeing each other yet not quite at ease. For example, when church is brought up as an opening to the conversation, Audrey claims to have gone “because of Laura” and Donna, scanning her a moment, responds with “what do you mean? I didn’t even know you liked her.” A valid inference on someone as internally oriented as Audrey, but also a bit of dissonance for Donna, who would otherwise know who did and didn’t care for Laura. It’s one early trace of how Donna will try to puzzle out all that Laura truly was.
For that particular topic though, Audrey isn’t yielding, nor would we expect her to elsewhere. It’s only the vague “things about Laura I didn’t like” with the counterweight of helping Johnny balancing out her opinion. Then, back to the old standoff, as Audrey traces the rim of the cup and Donna waggles her fingers, deserting the attempt to say whatever she was on the brink of saying. Coffee returns to the fore with some telling preferences, Donna takes hers with cream and sugar, like a sweet, unsullied young lass for whom the bitterness is yadda yadda, while Audrey restates Cooper’s preference, outing both her preoccupation with him and with a world that might be darker than she realizes.
These are all illustrative, though without new material, they could run afoul the rehashing problem that “Traces to Nowhere” [1×02] had. So here, we get an uncharacteristic breakthrough of Audrey playing part of her hand, asking if Laura ever mentioned her father, Ben. Donna stares a few more seconds, asks why, and following an attempt at deflection, Audrey elaborates that Ben used to sing to Laura when she was around. Based off the assorted trysts we’ve seen, Ben may as well sing to anyone with a pair of X chromosomes, but neither girl can crack that particular code at the moment. As if to avoid having to give away anything more for free, Audrey is pulled from her seat by the music, to dance, and by dancing ceases talking as everyone else looks on. But more on that a little later.
With my pilot commentary as a template here, you can reasonably expect I’m not hot on going from the cool, eerie jazz of “Audrey’s Dance” straight back to a police department on the verge of erupting, as Albert and his stoic, sunglassed team make their arrival. But we knew at least from the name-checks of the previous two episodes that we’d have to reckon with them eventually. The bloody rag, in this case, is a prop, to get us thinking about forensics again, and likewise the report, to provide Albert with the upper hand and the authority to back his brusque talk and demeaning demeanor.
Like anything worth its film, the scene is better as an experience than a recap of its happenings, so I’ll just touch on a few things. Albert repeatedly interrupting Lucy as she’s about to call Cooper, to pointlessly spell out his own name, and complain about the delays that he himself is causing. Lucy sticking her tongue out at him as he turns away. Cooper warning Truman, aware of Albert’s “lacking in some of the social niceties,” then grabbing Truman’s nose. His smiling as if unaware when Albert acts antagonistic with Truman responding in kind (“they’re bonding!” the expression seems to say). Coop will take the coarse exterior packaging if it gets him the results he wants, and he’s especially delighted by the labeling of the previous coroner report as “amateur’s hour.” Means there’s more to figure out.
A quick shift to night at the Packard cabin brings the immediate callback of “Everything smells like fish around here,” to which Pete quips about Catherine needing to wash her socks separately. While the plot necessitates that Pete give up the key to Josie so she can find out about the dual ledgers, the takeaways are more in the development of the martial issues of the household only glimpsed at in the pilot’s opening scene. How many times have I heard from someone that they thought Pete and Catherine were rival siblings for how they quarreled and spat at each other?
I suppose this is in our expectations; we don’t tune into many shows and see a relationship so damaged that its integrity as a relationship defies reason. Pete throws up screens with his deference to Josie, whom Catherine is less likely to converse with, and dawdles with the fish anecdote, though we know that here, the real cold fish is Catherine (rimshot quickly muffled). Plainly, neither is in a sainted position after mutually acting like provocateurs and baiters whenever there’s a chink in the other’s front. And the bickering concludes with them retiring to separate chambers. How icy.
With that, we reach the end of the ribs proper with Leland’s gramophone scene. It’s one where I don’t know if the writing justice I can do for it is adequate. I’ll try. Much like the dinner scene at the Great Northern, this is an example of what Twin Peaks excels at that I would call unique. It’s sad, tragic (which I mean), disconcerting in its spectacle, and in its excesses, something you might laugh at while feeling inhuman at doing so. There’s no one register that the scene inhabits, but it’s sprawled across various territories.
Here’s how I see it functioning. We get a few stray deep piano tones in the background transitioning to lit house against a dark suburban backdrop. Focus on a cracked, faded painting of a ten-point elk. Leland at the record player trying to collect himself. After much theatrics, he succeeds at the simple task of starting his 78 rpm single. We hear the forced levity of the big band’s blare, as Glenn Miller and His Orchestra kicks in with “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” a swing standard and 1940 Top 5 Billboard hit. Nonetheless, a tune out of key with a modern setting, both for its style and its content, hearkening back to the eras when anti-abbreviating phone numbers with state or city names was normal practice and having them as the content of a song, modern revival in “867-5309” by Tommy Tutone aside, was fine. Leland’s relief. Close-up on the needle as Leland heaves heavily and paces about the room, blinking, lips quavering.
Leland’s eyes dart to the photo of Laura as prom queen, as ideal, on the endtable. Phone begins ringing elsewhere. Leland takes up photo and, arms stiffened straight out, begins spinning with it, like the record on the turntable. Not dancing, no partner to judge movements by, merely spinning in the living room amidst furniture and family photos, first moaning, then screaming, faster and louder. Sarah rushes in, thinks about stopping the record a moment, runs to Leland, trying to stop his spin. Leland: “We have to dance. For Laura.” Resume spin. Sarah tries to wrestle the photo from his hands, but the frame smashes on the table and Leland’s hands are bloodied. Sarah: “What is going on in this house?” Leland traces Laura’s face and chest with his reddening fingers, continues moaning, peppy music still playing, phone still ringing. Sarah screams in frustration and slaps the needle off the record. Repeats question with shriller tones, directing it, “LELAND.” Leland holds photo up, still tracing. Sarah does her temple clutch. Leland begins to crumple, Laura’s photo with blood all over it, Leland resting his head on the image of her head.
All these constituent elements are required for the scene to affect us as it does. It’s sad in that, on our initial viewing, we can see how Leland’s world is fracturing and how his attempts to calm himself with nostalgia cannot succeed. The painting of idealized nature no longer perfectly serves its function as either art or representation, the music is lively but antiquated and irrelevant, and that the same music reminds him of dancing with his daughter when all he has left is a photo, both literally flat in its medium and figuratively flat in being a staged shot of her dolled up, only revealing the smallest fraction of who she was. All the photos present serve to emphasize this, the one-sided, artificial take. Meanwhile, the record still plays and the phone still rings and life is going on without him.
It’s tragic because, SPOILERS, we understand later that Leland was the one who murdered Laura under the influence of BOB and that as BOB takes over, Leland is only superficially aware of what’s happening, sleepwalking. There’s a haze over those actions that renders him unable to recognize them as done by his own hand. This is Leland awake and lucid, perhaps oblivious to his own guilt, perhaps not, and yet cognizant of how wrong everything is now. The blood on the photo, his blood and also by inheritance hers, renders the meaning apparent for any second-time viewer, melodramatic as it might be.
And it’s strange in that the spectacle of it all, as engrossing as it is, can become something one darkly snickers at as Leland whimpers and moans and rotates like a madman. You get that response there, maybe for a few seconds before the yells and yelps become too disturbing and the entrance of Sarah as a witness-bearing party renders the comedy impossible. And yet, it won’t be the last instance of Leland’s desire to dance being played for laughs, nor the last time it will be affecting in that upsetting manner, as no matter what the situation, Leland always dancing alone from here on out, dancing with that image of an angel in his mind and dancing with that devil that’s fighting for his soul.
That’s an attempt at it. If it points anyone in the right direction, wonderful, some success. It’s difficult, for the raw, strangeness of the grief and for the complicated execution. You’re not likely to forget the scene, but parsing it all out and holding all its ideas with equal weight turns into a juggling act.
I never was big into trying to hand out grades for episodes, pleading with MJ at times to avoid the whole shebang before screwing myself into the conviction that it could be done. When I was going in for my reviews and accompanying re-watch, my thoughts then were that “Zen…” was better though not dramatically so than the pilot. “Northwest Passage” [1×01] has some zeniths that are as good as any series, but the execution is dodgy and its shortcomings loom tall over the show. “Zen…” manages to build a great foundation for the episode between Jerry, Tibet, and The Dream of the Room, but the supporting scenes fell outside my immediate ken. Watching it now, there’s little wasted in the whole 43 minutes. Even certain moments of more limited scope, like say, the soon-to-be negated discovery of two ledgers, does much to show how damaged Pete and Catherine’s marriage is and that the Packard residence is a house divided.
I don’t know that I’ve ever come out of the spell of watching something and thought “That was perfect.” If it were up to me, I would probably scratch out a “sub-perfect” space to bury episodes of this caliber just to spare me the nuisance of determining just how to grade the minutiae. “Zen…” is a huge episode that does everything the series does well: Surreality, spirituality, demonstrative character interactions, clever dialogue, intriguing settings, long-range impact, and scenes of immiscible emotion. I’m giving it a 97 for now. I feel like there’s something missing, but I don’t quite know what it is. Maybe it’s the inconsistencies of Bobby and Leo, maybe it’s that there are a few quick filler scenes. I’m sure I can be talked into a perfect, I just haven’t reached that point yet on my own.
But I’ve got a few cards left before signing off for this round…
Having talked about all the scenes now on an individual level, there’s a major reveal I have in my back pocket. Before we get to the big finish though, one last thing. Mikejer, knowing my education and vocation, offered to let me write a poem for each review if I were so inspired. My occasional poetry inclinations approach zero, but I will act out one tic of mine.
/ ᴗ / ᴗ ᴗ / ᴗ /
Through the darkness of future pasts
ᴗ ᴗ / ᴗ / ᴗ /
The Magician longs to see
ᴗ / / ᴗ / ᴗ /
One chants out between two worlds
/ ᴗ / ᴗ /
Fire Walk With Me
I’ll endeavor to not make this too obscure, but the lines MIKE reads scan metrically. The first line is trochaic (/ ᴗ) with a dactyl substitution (/ ᴗ ᴗ) and ends on a monometer (/), the second, iambic (ᴗ /) with an anapest substitution (ᴗ ᴗ / in the initial foot). The third line is the most difficult because, being predominantly monosyllabic, you can stress “one” or “two” if you so desire or unstress “out” since meter should usually be carried on primary nouns and verbs and not adjectives or prepositions (should you go with the traditional route, the line becomes as iambic as line two). The final line is straightfoward, unless you think “Fire” is monosyllabic, but most people would pronounce it otherwise in the dialect spoken in Twin Peaks.
So, what am I driving at with all this? What do these meters mean? As you probably have heard in English courses when Shakespeare and the pentameter are mentioned, iambic meter is often closest to how we speak: Articles preceding nouns, conjunctions, linking verbs, and minor inflections (-ing, etc) of active continual verbs all go without stress. Trochaic, then, is a little bit disruptive. When metrical poetry utilizes trochees, you can usually hear the shift tonally. Most given names in English, for example, are trochaic or dactylic, which help to differentiate them from other nouns. The first two lines of MIKE’s speech are nearly composed of the same elements, not quite mirroring each other, and by starting out trochaicly (via my judgment call on “through”), it serves as an invocation, a call for the listener to attend to a unique kind of speech that is occurring.
The chaos of the third line’s scansion isn’t sloppy, but representative of the space it speaks about, the betweenness of Black and White Lodge, Lodges and Real World. That you can’t properly tell where one begins and the other ends is sonically reproduced in the meter’s mutability. The final line, “Fire Walk With Me,” however, is entirely symmetrical if you stand, so to speak, between the two worlds as divided on “Walk.” If you disagree with my scansion of the third line, then it’s more properly iambic and you still get a slightly-off iamb/trochee mirroring effect throughout.
Let’s pause a moment to appreciate how poetry was interjected into a television series and composed in a thoughtful manner.
So, anyway I’ve been pushing this idea that Cooper isn’t the white knight we make him out to be through the first two episodes we have him, but now I’m going to throw a little pet theory of mine out there for a reaction.
We all remember Leland’s big scene from this episode, the somberness giving way to increasing hysterics. The first viewing might have greater emotional ramifications for us because, up to this juncture, Leland has been the picture of composure, eerily unrattled by his daughter’s death while Sarah takes the role of the hair-pulling, clothes-rending emphatic griever. Here, Sarah still does some hair-pulling and screaming (let’s admit, she’s good at it), but it’s in response to Leland’s behavior, not the loss of Laura. Sarah can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong with him, or this house, specifically, an interesting wording on her part. What we know about Leland at the end of the murder mystery syncs up with what we see here. It’s not that he’s lost it so much as he’s regained it: This may be a moment of lucidity where Leland is mindful of what BOB has been doing while Leland has been riding in the backseat.
But let’s backtrack again. What was Leland doing the moment before he put the record on? He was snapping, vigorously but to no effect, in the direction of the gramophone. Snapping out of it, if you’ll pardon the bit of fun. Move forward and we get Cooper’s dream sequence, begin to see The Waiting Room, or the Red Room as it’s often called. The Man From Another Place and doppel-Laura talk at Cooper until the music kicks in, a jazzy track with snapping in the background. When Cooper wakes up, after he makes his call to Harry, as he’s recollecting and processing the dream and telling Truman that it can wait until tomorrow, what does he start doing? Snapping his fingers, staring blankly into space, then little by little, giving way to a smile.
If you want to dispute me on it, okay, that’s fine. It may not be enough to fully set up BOB’s possession of Cooper in the series finale, as I have argued myself that The Man From Another Place and one of the Lauras here may in fact be White Lodge, or at least on that border. But the snapping amongst the three groups draws a line to some power of the Lodges exerting itself on Cooper far earlier than we expected. And it’s easy to miss, so easy to miss after how eerie the MIKE and BOB sequences are and how peculiar and off-beat everything is in The Waiting Room. I certainly did, I just passed it off as Cooper half-remembering a background melody there and keeping time with it. Now, I’m convinced otherwise. It’s too specific and close together to be a coincidence, and without the explanation, Leland’s snapping doesn’t make a lick of sense. So there you are. Boom.
Sometimes ideas, like men, jump up and say, “Hello!” They introduce themselves, these ideas, with words. Are they words? These ideas speak so strangely. All that we see in this world is based on someone’s ideas. Some ideas are destructive, some are constructive. Some ideas can arrive in the form of a dream. I can say it again: Some ideas arrive in the form of a dream.
Okay, this one is a little more useful to this episode than the second one was, thankfully. My enthusiasm, however, gets the better of me and outpaces my desire for organization, so we’ve covered The Dream of the Lodges from multiple angles (strange speaking) and I’m not sure how much more I can add to that. Cooper explaining his Tibet dream has also been covered as much as it probably can be. I still have a few avenues in though, fret not.
The big one, to me, is Audrey turning on the music in the dinner, replicating what she did in Ben’s office, and then abruptly breaking off a question about the relationship between her father and Laura to comment on how “dreamy” the music is, soon lost to its sway. Maybe you’re of the mind that would say that she broke off because she didn’t know any more, or, since she’s not especially close to Donna (or anyone), that she didn’t want to reveal much.
There’s another element to it too, however. Audrey, we get the impression, has gone through her life with little conviction other than to do as she pleases, since her finances are secure through her family and anything she does to act out is ignored as an attention grab. Her world, in its way, is self-contained, acknowledging still that most people ignore her or don’t engage on a personal level. That changes as she gets involved with Cooper, infiltrates One-Eyed Jack’s at her own hazard, and subsequently suffers and becomes more engaged and present in her reality. For now, however, she remains entranced by that dreamy state, that dreamy music.
Other considerations: That Donna previously referred to her own feelings for James, set against the circumstances they arose in with Laura around, as being both a dream and a nightmare. Observant on her part, not prescient as such, but it is reflective of what comes to pass between the two of them. It’s like a dream at first, one that they share as somnambulists as if loving each other would be a way of transcending the horror of recent events. But then horror, as it often does in reality, continues, the dream turns to nightmare with further distress, and they separate.
I suppose that I can also mention the “pop-up men” of the show. There is Jerry’s much fussed-over arrival (deservedly so!), Leo popping up in the woods and the black figure popping up behind him, Ed popping in at home after the grease gun pops, Bobby pops up unexpectedly and irresponsibly at the Johnson shack, Audrey pops up at church and then The Double-R, Albert pops off in the direction of Truman and Lucy, and of course MIKE and BOB pop up over the course of The Waiting Room sequence. These are all significant events, but all, in their way, follow under the same header: Changes are afoot, plans in motion.
Oh, and Invitation to Love starts in this episode, and the soap opera genre, in and of itself, is a kind of dream/nightmare in which love and deception are made into fantastical things.
See? Told you I could come up with things to say.
- Oh hey, the new girl at One-Eyed Jack’s, whom Ben so greedily eyes, is a blonde. No sir, didn’t see that coming.
- And the doorway leading Mr. Horne and his quarry away, flanked by red curtains, you say? And he’s wearing a red tie?
- It’s Eileen who first marks the arrival of Audrey at The Double-R, and the reception is not favorable. We don’t have a clear timeline of events as to who married whom and when and under what context, but since the finale implies that Donna and Audrey are half-sisters, you have to be a little curious about Eileen’s opinion of the Horne family.
- “Agent Cooper likes his coffee black.” LIKE HE LIKES HIS LODGES? (thunders) I have earned that.
- The Man talks about where he and doppel-Laura are from in White Lodge terms, but his behavior in FWWM is very much Black Lodge. I suspect that the show may have eventually revealed them to be manifestations of the same entity.
- The plates on the car Bobby and Mike drive around in advertise “The Timber State.” There is no state with that nickname. (Washington is the Evergreen State)
- When Pete and Catherine are talking in the evening, they make reference to “that FBI man” visiting the same day. Of course, we know within the show’s timeline that Cooper was there yesterday, so my guess is that they either goofed or intended to put it alongside the Jer/Ben and Donna/James sequences before realizing that would have unbalanced the timing. I’d side with “goof” as the ledger is relevant in the next episode and delay wouldn’t be appropriate.
- Because few can quite make sense of the Red Room “dialogue,” there’s some desire to play around with it and try to figure out what it means. I’ve said what I think Laura’s bit is up to, but if your interest is purely literal, Nadine’s arms bend back as she wrecks the exercise machine and Donna looks stiff, slightly at a backward tilt, as she walks over to chat with Audrey. The issue is that the binding notion doesn’t work as well with Nadine (who could contain her?), even if Donna does push away from her “good girl” persona later in the season.
- (channeling Samuel Beckett) “Let’s rock!” (They do not rock)
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Ben, biting into the side of the sandwich like a ####### savage. Talking with his mouth full. Concluding with “Always… a pleasure.”
+ Antler chandeliers at One-Eyed Jacks’. And how the music stops as soon as Jer interrupts Ben and Blackie.
+ Perhaps you have noticed that one of the figurines on Ed’s entrance into the house is sporting an eyepatch.
+ A quick shout-out to the camera’s shot of a very February Mt. Si as a scene transition, since I’ve hiked the damned thing in that weather (no, the approach itself is softer and starts off-camera to the east).
+ “I’m going to go say ‘hi.'” (moments later) “Hi.”
+ Lucy, as Albert arrives, reading a big book labeled only TIBET.
– Maybe The Fugitive was still enough in the public consciousness some three decades after its original run, but that Cooper is interested in The One-Armed Man because he is The One-Armed Man is a little hokey.
– If Mike and Bobby are a known pair of trouble makers, almost always referred to in tandem, how is it that Mike always seems like the accessory and that we don’t learn much of anything about him for quite some time? Nadine has jack-all to do with Laura or even her own nephew, but we sure see her more often than Mike. Someone should hook the two of them up.
– Cooper has a dream that gets him interested in Tibet and teaches him a bizarre intuitive deductive technique! We never learn what the substance of that dream is 😦
* Though nigh indecipherable between bites of bread, this will not be the last time Ben cites Ginny and Jenny in elation. Hooray, non-throwaway references!
* Ben, wooing Blackie, is quoting Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 and cuts short right around the ending, at which point the “shade” of death is referenced and there are overtures that the verse of love makes the loved immortal. Blackie may be as lovely and temperate as he says, to him at least, but Ben’s own affections are intemperate and very much mortal if not ephemeral. Blackie herself will be in trouble down the line, but not by Ben’s hand.
* Whereas Laura recalls “get[ting] lost in those woods again,” who seems to have a knack for navigating them? Leo. Who would also know what he’s talking about when he calls her “a wild girl,” though Bobby’s pressing him on the matter yields nothing. Of course, Leo’s familiarity navigating the woods will result in wackiness as he happens upon a squatter in one of his hideouts down the line…
* Speaking of Leo and his preoccupations… “(hurk) (drool) new shoes (spit)”
* This won’t be the last we hear of Tibet either, as Windom Earle has an investment in the region as well, not so much the Buddhist aspect of it, but in the malevolent sorcerers who predates Buddhism’s introduction.
* I would be remiss if I did not note “Let’s Rock” is also written in red cursive on the windshield of Chester Desmond’s car in Fire Walk With Me after he disappears.