Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Twin Peaks Episode 29 (David Lynch, 1991)

As with all of these entries, this contains spoilers. But this one much more than most, since I’ll basically be discussing in excruciating detail how this show ends. So if you haven’t seen the series, and plan to, now’s the time to walk away.

Okay, this may seem like a cheat. Yes, I'm going to be talking about the final episode of Twin Peaks, not the film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (or even the 90-minute pilot). I know it's not a movie, and not even necessarily something that classifies as part of the horror genre. Hell, I'm not even really going to be talking about the television series: I'm going to be talking about an episode.

Hopefully you'll all forgive me in time.

In the meantime, let's talk about Lynch at his creepiest, which is really saying something. (Although my friend and Nosedive vet Matt Johnston has argued that Episode 14, the episode that reveals Laura Palmer's killer, is the scariest, the show's finale is the one that really does me in. Which isn't to say that Episode 14 isn't utterly terrifying.)

Well, the reason why I'm bending my self-created rules here slightly is two-fold: one, I've just re-watched the Twin Peaks series finale more than a few times (so I'm familiar enough to natter on about it) and two, because for me, it's one of the scariest things I've experienced on screen.

Seriously, folks. Those last 20 minutes freak me the hell out.

In the spring and summer of 1991, with the network reshuffling the show's schedule and the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer resolved, the once ultra-popular show Twin Peaks was dying a slow and painful death. Only the die-hard fans were really watching at that point (and again, ABC was making it damn difficult for them, as it kept getting preempted and having its time slot changed).

Now, there are different stories about what the goal of the series finale was: either an attempt to scam the network into giving them a third season, an attempt for fodder for a film (to be shot after Fire Walk With Me) or, as Onion AV Club film writer Keith Phipps put it, "a 'fuck you' to the network that caught fans in the crossfire." Considering the fates of Audrey Horne and Pete Martell, as well as the show's conclusion, it's tough to argue otherwise against that third scenario.

(In an interview with co-creator and episode co-writer Mark Frost on the Gold Edition DVD Boxed Set, he had kinda-sorta mapped out a story arc for a third season, but neither he nor anyone else involved with the show believed the show had a snowball's chance in hell of getting picked up for another season, so the point was more than a little moot.)

Whatever the goal was, due to the cancellation of the series and the dismally received prequel film, this is the note the Twin Peaks story ends on, and what viewers are left with.

And boy, what a dissonant, jarring note it is.

In this episode, Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan, in the role he was born to play), tracks down his former partner turned psychopath Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh), who has abducted Coop's girlfriend Annie (Heather Graham), and takes her into the Black Lodge (that weird red-curtained place where Michael J. Anderson talks and dances backwards).

Sure, there are other plot threads that the show wraps up (or at least acknowledges), such as the Mike, Nadine, Big Ed and Norma love square, the whole Ben Horne versus the Hayward family plotline, and Bobby and Shelly's engagement. But the real guts of the show are in those final 20 or so minutes. (Is anyone as shocked as I am that this aired on prime time network television in 1991? My brain still can't quite process this.)

Agent Cooper enters the Black Lodge to save Annie and confront his old nemesis. And that's where the nightmarish weirdness begins and doesn't relent until the closing credits roll. Hell, there's almost too much to discuss in this, so why not just see for yourself? There are so many aspects about it that are jarring, from Laura Palmer's shrieking doppelganger (was Cooper running away his undoing? Didn't Deputy Hawk warn him a few episodes back that the Black Lodge ensnares those who enter with false courage? Am I comfortable thinking about the show's beloved hero possibly succumbing to cowardice during the moment of truth? I am not. I am not.), to Cooper's white-eyed manically laughing doppelganger (did I ever think in a million years that Kyle MacLachlan could actually succeed at being scary? I did not. I did not.), to evil killer Bob (Frank Silva) sneaking right up to the camera while the strobe lights go off. Hell, even the inhuman-sounding laughter that Bob and the Little Man emit makes my skin crawl.

Simultaneously slow-paced and intense, concluding the story arc between Coop and Earle and throwing continuity and logic to the wind, I find the Black Lodge sequence one of the most truly terrifying I've seen.

What I find most disturbing about the Black Lodge sequence is not necessarily the weirdness, or the "anything goes" feeling it has, but that it leaves you with the sinking feeling that Dale's not going to escape or save the day. Within minutes, you can see the show's hero is in way over his head and trapped in a place to where he doesn't know the rules. And again, when he starts and runs away from Laura's screaming doppelganger, I can't help but think that that was his undoing. Not a pleasant thought.

And of course, there's that concluding scene.

Finally coming out of the Black Lodge with a bloody (and unconscious?) Annie, we see Dr. Hayward and Sheriff Truman sitting above a sleeping Coop in his room at the Great Northern. Coop gets up, asks how Annie is, and says he needs to brush his teeth. In his bathroom, he starts squeezing the toothpaste out into the sink, smashes the mirror with his forehead, and lo and behold, we see Bob's reflection in the shattered mirror. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a clip that has Coop's flat and insincere line delivery of: "I wasn't sleeping."

Also notice Laura's death scream when he smashes the mirror:

There really is also something about the producers' credits appearing over Coop's face that's bone chilling. They almost say, "That's right, fuckers. This is how we're going out." And aside from a dissatisfying prequel film released a year later (dissatisfying mainly because it's a prequel), this is it for the Twin Peaks storyline. Our hero has been either possessed or simply replaced a la the pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and that's it.

It's not very often you get a television series that concludes with evil being victorious (and damn near nonexistent on network television in 1991), which makes this episode all the more shocking. But it does succeed where many horror films fail in conveying the sinking feeling that all is not right with the world, but very, very wrong.

You can actually watch the entire episode here.

Brushing his teeth,

James "Smooth Criminal" Comtois

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Blogger The Management said...

If you want a *real* horrifying cliffhanger series ending, there's always the finale of "ALF."

11:08 AM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...


11:34 AM  
Blogger Goose said...

Aw, brings back memories.

Yeah, I believe when I saw this there was just pure horror and the ending, I believe I remember crying and laughing.

And, nightmares. Which I will probably have again tonight. Thanks James!

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An amazing ending to a disappointing season. God, remember James and that rich married woman? Insufferable.

I basically grew up in Twin Peaks, which probably explains "The Chalk Boy" to a large extent. The beach where Laura's body washes up to shore was MY beach and they occasionally had conventions in town.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Oh, good Christ, there's that shit with James and the married woman, Ben with his Civil War re-enactments, the whole pine weasel crap. Yeah, a lot of insipid drivel in that second season after they resolve the issue with Laura's killer.

I'm not sure if it's a relief or an annoyance that the show actually picked back up in the end. Maybe it would have been easier to just go, "The show jumped the shark and that was that." But no. It jumped the shark, then seemed to get its footing back in the last few episodes.

(Informal survey: yay or nay on the Windom Earle through-line? I for one actually dug it. But I have a hunch I may be in the minority here.)

Oh, I definitely noticed elements of Twin Peaks in The Chalk Boy, which is one of the many reasons why I dug it so much, sir!

1:38 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

For some reason, I always forget that Agent Cooper escaped the Black Lodge, and when I think back on the series, my heart sinks at the thought of Dale being there forever. But then, I think that his soul is trapped there, so maybe that's why I block out the last part.

To me, Hell really would be walking back and forth between two rooms, not knowing what fucked up shenanigans awaited me when I entered them, and having Laura Palmer's shriek ringing in my ears. [shudder]

2:30 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

The idea that Dale is forever trapped in there is almost too much for my mind to accept. Then again, seeing as how he dreams about being in the Red Room 25 years later, I dunno...

I think you're right, Lauren. That sounds like an idea of Hell that may keep me up for a couple nights.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

My husband reminded me that in "Fire Walk With Me," you see Dale and Laura smiling in what appears to be Heaven/the White Lodge.

Hopefully, we'll all be able to get some sleep now. :)

11:47 AM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Same here. Yeah, let's go with that.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Philucifer said...

Having re-watched the whole shebang again, and giggling like a school-girl through most of it, I have to say that the second season wasn't nearly as terrible as I remembered it being the first time around. Sure, there's all that crap (which you've mentioned -- The Civil War breakdown, Nadine's second teenager-hood, James and the rich woman, etc. But then, I've always disliked any subplot that has to do with James.) But it doesn't hijack the show like I thought it did mainly because of Cooper's through-line.

Personally, I love the Windom Earle section, and I think it's what gets the whole show back on track. I loved it when I was watching it on TV, and still do. Plus, of course, Leo-Stein. It's only fitting that Leo should go through eternity with a box of tarantulas perched precariously over his face.

And it's the whole dugpa mythology that I remember most vividly from the show, even though it's not really explicitely a part of it until the end. I feel like by taking that undercurrent of darkness, of dreams, of visions and making it explicit they reached whole other level.

The ending is incredible, of course. This show f'ed me up for years after and I think it could be one of my biggest influences.

The most terrifying Cooper moment in the whole episode (for me) is Cooper's doppleganger breaking the fourth wall and looking directly at the camera before he enters the Red Room the last time. Still gives me chills.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

I do think the second season both earns its bad rap and is much better than people give it credit for. On one hand, those previously-mentioned subplots are terrible. There are a few episodes after [SPOILER!] Leland dies where the show is horribly adrift and breaks its own rules (the show was structured to be more or less one day in the town). However, if you were to ask me my top five favorite episodes of the series, three or four of them would be from the second season.

I, too, really dig the Windom Earle storyline and its conclusion.

And that doppelganger Cooper looking at the camera, yeah. Whoa, that's unsettling.

5:50 PM  
Blogger SBookman said...

Terry Gilliam is often magnificently weird, but never scarily so like the scenes of Nadine waking up properly, and of the old clerk in the bank vault, both comprising very long takes.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Anything w/ James is boring. The whole beauty pageant was tasteless. Anne is a terrible character. Windom Earle is just sillyl.

.Nevertheless, Twin Peaks is so awesome I still enjoyed the second season. But the whole thing would've been better if they were only given 15 episodes total.

1:07 AM  

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