[Review by Jay Yencich]
[Writer: Robert Engels | Director: Tim Hunter | Aired: 05/03/1990]
The addition of Robert Engels to the writing staff completes The High Triumvirate of Twin Peaks Scribes who, in and of themselves, were credited with all of season one and all but eight episodes of season two. The remaining eight were split amongst three other writers, whereas on the directing side, it was uncommon for any non-Lynch to get more than three turns behind the camera. This is all to say that while there was a strong continuity of authorship through the show’s lifespan, its continuity of direction often lacked. It also might be the most interesting tidbit I have about this episode.
Given the choice, would you rather have Peyton’s task of coming in cold and having to bury one of the series’ most iconic characters, or Engels’ role in advancing the plot for the first time outside of the series’ creators, and having that as your lone entry in a shortened season? Neither is especially appealing. Where Peyton’s first foray had some missteps and misunderstandings of what had previously made some of the character interactions exceptional, you did have the notion that writing for characters like Albert, Major Briggs, Bobby, and others, he was at least having fun doing it. I don’t know what strong sense I have of Engels exiting his first go.
Through my first set of reviews here, I’ve developed a tic for looking at individual scenes and taking them as microcosms of what’s occurring at the macro, episode level. “The One-Armed Man” doesn’t have a whole lot of iconic scenes in it, more a collection of moments. That in mind, I’ll default to some of the new material Engels is able to bring to the show.
That Norma has recently played lovebird to a jailbird is a subtext that’s been built up from the pilot, with the talk of her leaving Hank and the back-and-forth of Ed and Nadine as backdrop to that. Hank, played by generic-brand Patrick Swayze impersonator, Chris Mulkey, finally gets to debut in this episode and we see what he’s all about.
Our understanding of Hank is constructed out of his conversations, with Norma and with the hearing committee. Norma isn’t totally comfortable seeing him, nor does Hank look relieved that she’s shown up at all, more as if she’s an object of some underlying frustration, as he opens with a rather curt “Haven’t seen you in a while.” Hank’s dialogue is littered with various cues, “you’ve got to back me up in there, Norma, please,” “I’ve got to get out,” “I’ll change,” “I swear on my life, I have changed,” that revise the expectations of him as he speaks. He pressures Norma by calling her for assistance, then shifts to invoke pity in how “they’re starting to put the zap to [him], big time,” plays up to her suspicions with the expected “no right to ask” segue, and finally moves his “change” of ways from the future tense to the past and sealing it with a “give me a chance.” The movement of it is made up as he goes along, but the effect is surely manipulative.
Manipulation is at the fore of the hearing as well. Hank first frames the accident as being trivial (“a vagrant nobody knows”) and victimizing him (“why did fate deal me this hand?”). As one of the decision-makers reminds him that fate was not what charged him, insinuating that he had been monitored long before being caught, he alters the narrative again, going from helpless bystander in fortune’s path, to suggesting that prison had a bit of luck in store for him providing a venue for atonement. Conversation shifts to his re-entry, with the camera taking Hank as a foreground blur and Norma, far off in the corner over his shoulder, offering her assistance by definition, “well, he is my husband, isn’t he?”
Much seems to be happening, when you really put the screws to it. Peggy Lipton as Norma gets in a lot of the gestural and facial movements we’ve appreciated in previous episodes and how Hank says what he says is something you can sift through for a while. Added to the various swerves in and outside of the hearing, you have the “catch you later” he leaves an uncomfortable Norma with, which is neither affectionate nor too familiar. As we hear him utter the same phrase to Josie, recently having opened his letter, there’s a sinister quality added to it. We start to ponder the predatory nature of the word “catch” and how he might have uttered these same words before to attempt to intimidate these women.
But then you might stop and look up from the screen or keyboard and think, “Wait, ‘catch you later?'” As a catch phrase? And if it’s supposed to be evil-sounding, then why is the delivery flat both times, and why is the recognition of how he’s moving the targets so subtle that you can almost overlook it with how muted the treatment is? Furthermore, what’s up with the domino? Aren’t dominos something that old people play around with? Isn’t that the opposite of threatening? Why was he sucking on the domino when no one could’ve been looking? And how about him calling Josie literally moments after she opened the letter? That was sure convenient.” And the illusion starts to fray a bit.
I could blather on specifically about Hank for a while, about how he’s a faulty foil for Sherriff Truman, about how his development never really takes him out of “named mook” territory, but we may as well spare him those fires for the moment, having barely arrived, and instead note some of the other notable coincidences of the episode.
One is at a scene at the Double-R shortly after the midway point, as Shelly arrives for her shift only to immediately commiserate with Norma about how she’s “got one man too many in my life, and I’m married to him.” The dark/light dichotomies of the series are evident enough in their sometimes uneven mirroring, but t the generational parallels are also handled expertly. Just as James can be a reflection of his uncle Ed, Norma is a further-along version of Shelly, once bright and radiant and still showing what luster she can, but otherwise consigned to menial work. Peculiar, that we never have any sense of Shelly’s family (what do THEY think of her marriage?), but Norma occupies that older sister/mother space for her and helps add to the sense of history within the town that most of the adults possess.
It’s a skosh clichéd for me that Norma’s proposal for getting themselves in a better frame of mind involves “a day of beauty,” but I can see it. It’s not as though they are getting dolled up to recruit more lovers, in fact, the opposite. Given how their respective situations are dominated by the fates and wills of men they no longer want any part of, there’s some confidence recovery that conceivably comes out of presenting themselves as unattainable objects of desire. No good for any of the gents who might come calling (perhaps Toad might tip better), but a spiritual good to have the agency to become wanted in however superficial a way.
But then, as Engels seems to have had many ideas of scenes and limited available locations, we simultaneously get James coming in to use the phone to call Donna. Keep that in mind, he’s the initiator of the conversation, and yet doesn’t have much to say, bails on a possible church dinner rendezvous, and the information supplied is all Donna’s. James doesn’t need to be at the diner for any reason we know, doesn’t need to tell Donna anything himself, and is basically there so that we can initiate his interaction with Maddy.
And I like the introduction to Maddy. There isn’t the beating-around-the-bush you might get with other shows where he’s mush-mouthed and Maddy won’t admit her resemblance. You can wonder if James’ unusually candid “I thought I did [know Laura]” would have come out had he not been talking to someone who looks almost exactly like her. His attraction to her, physically and emotionally, is strong enough to abort a phone call with Donna, after all, a warning of other coming attractions. With that slight discomfort from Maddy to go with the big smile, it’s not bad at all, I just find the means of getting there harder to justify.
The more flagrant of the coinkydinks is found at the Timber Falls Motel. Given that Ben is a money-hungry, driven sort, one would presume that he doesn’t devote many “working hours” to trysts with Catherine. Yet, there they are, and there Josie is, staking them out for the first time, right as the fuzz show up to question the titular one-armed man, also staying there. Hawk picks up on Josie’s presence, because duh, and that gets Harry’s little follow-up call to an evasive Josie. But the two schemers have limited concern of being noticed, despite Josie’s being able to track them there (some evidence had to have pointed the way), and despite Andy’s mishandling and misfire of his piece.
Worse, the repartee between the two is substandard. “Now, when the mill goes up in smoke, the headline we hear after is ‘Josie Packard Torches Bankrupt Mill in Insurance Fraud,’ not ‘Giant Weenie Roast in the Woods.'” “(hearty laughter)” (me rolling my eyes) And what reason does Ben have for a poker chip in pocket when he often goes, not to lose his shirt, but to take it off, as paraphrase. The chip’s being there benefits no one other than the audience, which should already know. Catherine doesn’t seem to care either until “Cooper’s Dreams” [1×06], when she seems to interpret it solely as him seeking a younger bit of tail.
And yet, as before, I like the Phillip Gerard incarnation of MIKE, for his weakness, how fragile he looks with his arms in the air, framed between two gunmen. There isn’t the sly gravitas of his more possessed self, but as shocking as it is to see him nervous, defensive, and with little authority, I think that Al Strobel’s playing of it has grown on me. At first, his eagerness to help is fear-driven, but he nevertheless rejects Harry’s implication that he knows the man in the sketch and he doesn’t break eye contact with the two officers except to reminisce about his sales work. You believe that his offer to outfit the department with shoes is sincerely both in his business interests and personal interests. When the boys finally try to nail him on the reference to the tattoo, you noticeably get some quickening of breath and his breakdown, while tearless, feels pathetic enough to be authentic.
But why have I been harping on all of these coincidences? Why target fairly benign devices that complement the overall small town feel by showing that there are only so many places to be? The reasons are twofold. One is that condensing and combining multiple ideas for a scene into one could be pragmatic if there were other, more important scenes that needed the spotlight. “The One-Armed Man” lacks those big important scenes, and it would be difficult to argue that it otherwise executes tight plotting and control when you have, among other offenders, an encounter with Dr. Jacoby and Cooper that doesn’t add much of anything one way or the other. Rather, it feels like there were too many ideas of what ought to go into the episode and this was the kludge to get it functioning. It’s a compromise more than it is a vision.
Secondly, this is the episode with the iconic “Gentlemen, who two events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention!” line. I remember a lot of quoting of it when Frost and Lynch tweeted the line simultaneously to herald the show’s revival. Yet, for a couple of months afterward, I couldn’t place exactly where the line was originally uttered. Couldn’t pick up on the context clues. Because, to an extent, the line matters for what Cooper is doing and for the larger enterprise of the show, but not for the episode in its entirety.
If I’m trying quite hard, I could say that because BOB is known as this force of malevolence and because doubts and aspersions are repeatedly cast in Ben Horne’s direction, that Ben being in the same motel as MIKE’s avatar is kind of a big deal. But then he takes a bath in lieu of beating a more suspicious retreat, so, whatever. There’s no significance to Shelly or Norma that James happens to meet Maddy at The Double-R. No agents Hank has to keep an eye on Josie that might excuse that unusual synchronicity of the phone call. When the convenience store is noted near Lydecker’s clinic, we get the twine, and all possible files to locate bird owners, but know that the Bobs aren’t the same, and no one goes off to research residences above convenience stores. Meanwhile, the mynah Waldo and the poker chip, pointing to Jacques Renault and his place of work, are of immense significance in resolving parts of the mystery. It’s maddening to view an episode that makes grand overtures towards the idea of universal meaning and connectivity while only spottily executing on it.
But I suppose I’ve groused enough about one botched thematic note. There are assorted other cheers and jeers to get to before we put a bow on this one.
Our entry point this round is the Palmer residence where, belatedly, relative to the dream/international pilot, we finally get Sarah providing the police with a sketch of BOB, courtesy of Andy of all people. The first interior shot gives us a juxtaposition of the color prom queen Laura photo with the larger, looming, black and white BOB sketch, which I can appreciate, and the discussion of one disheveled figure while another disheveled Leland (likely out dancing all night) appears from behind the screen. If you’re expecting me to lay out an assault on an apparent coincidence Doc and Donna being in the audience for Sarah’s bonus recounting of the necklace vision, I’ll take a pass on that on the grounds that the two families are supposedly close and they could be around for moral support in case Sarah has an incident. The scene ticks off all the major points on the list and shows a little extra thoughtfulness in its arrangements.
Less compelling is the Invitation to Love bit, which isn’t actually a commentary on anything in this script, as such, but more of an opportunity to play around with the soap opera conceits of double-crosses and inheritance plots. Sure, that’s active in the background, as Ben/Catherine/Josie/Leo/Hank all have their parts to play here, but it’s not specific enough. Mostly, I look at it as an opportunity to showcase Lucy’s charming misunderstandings and setting the stage for her later dispute with Andy.
I’m not terribly keen on the Jacoby interrogation either, magic tricks aside, because the conclusion with him at the graveyard in “Rest in Pain” [1×04] lent itself to a belief that he might be a little more forthcoming in the future. His caginess set against Cooper’s stoic impatience doesn’t feel like the appropriate follow-up, though it’s given a proper rationale: Patient confidentiality, which in turn makes Jacoby look shifty again when he doesn’t intend to be. Points for the connection to Leo, who will be seen with his ‘Vette later, and anything that gets Gordon Cole talking. Deductions for Jacoby, in a non-Hawaiian setting, as a non-Hawaiian, referring to the fellows as “howlies.” Get over your quirky self, Dr. J.
Of the girls’ room scene at Twin Peaks High with Donna and Audrey, only a few notes. One is that, given how arrested she is with solving the mystery later and how close to the situation she was in Fire Walk With Me, it’s surprising that it’s Audrey’s new perfume counter intel that gets Donna truly on the case and committed to its resolution. Their conversation is also wittier and less formal or reserved than it was in the earlier Double-R meeting.
There isn’t much more that I think could be said either than is already present in Shelley and Bobby’s gunplay/foreplay meeting. It’s a waypoint that gets us to more interesting events of Shelley’s commiseration with Norma and Bobby’s stealing off to Jacques’ apartment to plant the bloody shirt, while re-establishing the gun as something imminent (next episode even). Perhaps tally a few more fractions of a point for Bobby continuing to affirm his enmity towards James for seeing Laura behind his back, while he himself is seeing the front of Shelly.
The scene at the firing range provides a lot to passively appreciate along with the significant-but-currently-vague intimations towards Coop’s relationship with Caroline Earle. Harry Goaz in particular does a great job physically demonstrating just how unfamiliar Andy is with firing a gun. It also provides a vehicle for Cooper to speak of his own life which has heretofore been private whereas we know about the relationships of two-thirds of the recognized police force in town. The matter of the files from the vet is small-town kooky and plainly is trying to stall, but it’s plausible enough.
Among the assorted peripheral scenes, I think my favorite is Audrey confronting Ben about their earlier spat. I can acknowledge that someone might be dismissive of it as well. In foreground is Ben’s multitasking of exercise bike and foreign phone call as he is told the Norwegian/Swede joke that he will recount the next day during the meet-and-greet for those hard-partying Icelanders. Audrey, waiting until he’s finished, opens the salvo with “Dad, are you ashamed of me?”, Ben counters with the same tautology Norma brought, “Audrey, you’re my daughter,” and then it’s all tactical emotional warfare from there.
The skeptic would claim that the dialogue is riddled with tropes, lines like “I want to change my life,” “I saw a friend of mine cut down like a flower that had just begun to bloom,” “life can be so short,” “there isn’t all the time in the world,” “you have to start to think about the future, Daddy, just like I am,” and the ever-deadly, “Please let me be your daughter, again.” Then again, that’s the point, is it not?
For as complex and often carnal as Ben’s vices are, there is also that desire for simplicity that is evident in his fun with the brie-and-butter baguettes and his trip down the nostalgia rabbit hole in season two. While Audrey has a long and storied history of disappointing her father, often for the attention, she also likely knows how to appeal to his more naïve sensibilities. For the audience, the ruse is obvious. For Audrey, it’s calculated and successful.
Of course, lest we think him too much of a pushover, Ben’s emotional moment is cut short by the phone again, in which he advises discretion at a river meeting. On the other end of the receiver, Leo, for whom discretion still means pulling up in a red hot rod which undoubtedly generates a fair amount of noise. After all, Leo, doggedly, does Leo. The chat between him and Ben provides some amusing compare and contrast in levels of criminality. Ben is there in his overcoat and scarf and cigar, accustomed to being the man behind-the-scenes, while Leo, jacket, jeans, and cigarette, is more the muscle and likely deals with the smaller fries for lack of imagination. There are kernels of pertinent foreshadowing here and there, too, beyond the impending arson. With Ben referencing Hank, it’s implied that he could know more about Hank’s ties to Josie. Leo’s overall approach leaves him open to being used and abused by those more cunning than he.
In the larger scheme of things, though, I feel a loss of momentum and engagement towards the end here, which has manifested as so much recapitulation and reiteration, mountains out of probable molehills. The last scene I care to devote any time to is Donna and James in the woods. James is there to vocalize the “how is it possible?” of the doubting audience while Donna can affirm that Sarah has “dreams” and is “spooky.”
The more rationally-minded James proposes further police intervention, but Donna deflects that with “The police didn’t love Laura; nobody loved her but us.” This too is accurate, and shoots off a branch that permits the two of them to conduct a more personally-oriented investigation divergent from the procedural investigation, and establishes an “us against the world” mindset. As I’ve noted, reviewing this has made it seem strange to me that Donna delays so long in pursuing these loose ends, but I think the payoff long-term is rewarding enough, and James’ comments about thinking he’s going to see Laura anywhere, the day he’s seen Maddy, drives home that point as the talk of the locket bookends the episode. The constructions here are solid enough.
Yet, when I came in trying to commit to memory what “The One-Armed Man” had to offer as an episode, I got Andy at the shooting range, Hawk’s speech following, Jacoby and his golf balls, and Phillip Gerard being interrogated while Catherine and Ben carry on in the other room. Many happenings, certainly, and much to recover on review that adds to the show’s project. Objectively, it’s a fine episode, well-paced, demonstrates a solid comprehension of who the characters are.
Subjectively, I didn’t remember Coop’s speech about synchronicity, didn’t pull out Audrey’s daddy/daughter talk, or the diversion to the vet clinic, or Hank, or much of anything. Watching this episode, don’t feel my attention ever arrested in the same way that the prior ones can do it for me. There’s no central event to latch on to and while the wheels are in motion on a lot of different subplots, but not a lot is revealed that later becomes instrumental. We’re just dotting the various points in our progression from A to B.
Thus, while our previous episode had its own array of issues, I feel that its positives rightly give it a leg up over “The One-Armed Man.” The episode as a whole isn’t bad and its flaws are unextraordinary, but its high points are too peripheral to regard it as anything other than a minor drop off. Competent entry, worth watching for continuity, but not one you might reflect on fondly and re-watch out of context. It is what it is.
Even the ones who laugh are sometimes caught without an answer. These creatures who introduce themselves, but we swear we have met them somewhere before. Yes? Look in the mirror. What do you see? Is it a dream? Or a nightmare? Are we being introduced against our will? Are they mirrors? I can see the smoke. I can smell the fire. The battle is drawing nigh.
Before, I laid out the claim that Cooper’s “When two events occur simultaneously” speech fit the series better than the episode. To apply the same school of thought here is quite tempting. After all, there aren’t many instances of laughter, no fire and smoke save for Ben and Catherine’s smoldering talk, and no mirrors. Yet, at large, we know there are a few instances of creepy laughter to come from possessees, other faces looking back in the mirrors in both BOB reveals, and substantial amounts of fire to go around. The only thing out of place is references to “battle,” which I can hardly think was planned out or imminent at the time of shooting.
However, there are some moments in which the episode absolutely captures these remarks in ways that no other episode does. When Sarah is guiding the sketch, she insists that she’d never seen the man before, that he looked like an animal, and this is right when we see Leland at his physical worst and most snide. Sarah tries to plead with him, and cuts off, as if he’s been dismissive of her visions for some time. Of course, this is also a perfect power play if Leland is indeed not himself at the moment. And fascinating that the visionary would end up married to someone who is not entirely what he seems.
Secondly, there’s the interrogation of Gerard at the motel. When supplied with the sketch, he responds “No sir, I’ve never seen that man before in my life. But he kind of looks like someone, doesn’t he?” It’s that faint subconscious recognition that will end up with Mr. Gerard in dark places, both in the future and the past-to-come of the series.
Both instances, at large, can be regarded as some of those against-will introductions spoken of in the introduction. Sarah, in the wake of the murder, is now being forced to acknowledge Leland’s sporadic misbehavior and lack of niceties; Gerard likely hasn’t seen BOB in the flesh while he’s been Gerard, but seeing the sketch of him no doubt made him a little more psychologically accessible for MIKE in the future. Where Sarah now looks outward to the state of her marriage in the face of death, Phillip Gerard will be turning inward in some way, to make account of his own responses as his interrogation continues.
- Cooper claims to be “a strong sender,” and does not attend the sketch session. Based on the end of “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer” [1×03], you could also argue he’s a strong receiver.
- While Buffy certainly realized the “high school is hell” feeling more completely, red zigzags in the girl’s room as Donna and Audrey talk. Very Lodge-y.
- It’s supposed to just be target practice, but Cooper’s turning-on-a-dime, going from talking about the love of his life to getting six kill shots including a double nostril bull’s-eye is unsettling.
- “Philip Gerard” is also the name of the detective pursuing Dr. Richard Kimble in the original series of The Fugitive. We see what you’re up to, Twin Peaks.
- Maddy is from Missoula, which is David Lynch’s birthplace and often claimed as his hometown.
- While the appearance of one of our fine feathered friends prompted some frantic typing of “OWL OWL OWL LWO WOL” etc in my personal notes, to rephrase the quote attributed to Sigmund Freud, “sometimes an owl is just an owl,” even for how much Margaret will soon be talking about them.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ The Palmer family tea set.
+ Audrey taking the idea of the circus half-seriously.
+ Outside the convenience store, the motorcycle guy, “Hey Hawk! (high five)”
+ You can’t script a llama, but the llama’s interaction with Coop is perfect.
+ That Lucy’s concern for Andy’s well-being overtakes her desire to be mad at him.
+ Going from a recent viewing of Fire Walk With Me to seeing Sheryl Lee as Maddy is a real trip. Girl can act.
+ Andy hears the correct pronunciation of “Renault” repeatedly, and insistently sticks to the phonetic.
– I devoted a lot of last episode to complaining about Cooper becoming a “magic detective,” so to continue that, he claims to have read Andy/Lucy’s body language and determined there was a problem, but Andy was behind them heading to the shooting range and the timing of Andy’s arrival there doesn’t corroborate Cooper’s possibly turning back to watch (and why would he?)
– It’s cleared up in the next episode and this one already had enough on its plate, but token deductions for a lack of Ed/Nadine.
* While Sarah provides the description for the sketch, Maddy is wearing an ornate red dress. Not going to pretend the color choice is incidental. And then Leland walks in as the man is mentioned.
* Andy’s gun misfires outside the motel room and later he’ll be revealed as maybe being sterile in “Coma” [2×02]. I’ve known subtler foreshadowing and yet, here we are, applying intellectual scrutiny to dick jokes.
* Phillip Gerard lost his arm while driving around selling pharmaceuticals. MIKE’s presence is confirmed to be regulated by drugs and BOB’s is implied to be.
* The tagline for the Lydecker clinic: “Aid to the beast incarnate.” Tell me you don’t read that and get The Devil as The Beast connection and have your inner Archer shout “phrasing!” The non-Lydecker BOB is about as close to true evil as we’ll be getting in the series.
* Audrey’s eyeing of the photo of her and Laura at a ski cabin suggests the families were closer than any of the Hornes let on, which gives some credibility to her response in seeing Leland break down in “Cooper’s Dreams” [1×06].
* Find it amusing, as I do, that the bloody shirt was planted in Jacques apartment by someone who didn’t actually know it was Jacques’ blood on the shirt.
* Hank’s call to Josie will be, in future episodes, clarified as him being party to Andrew Packard’s (attempted) murder.