Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Twin Peaks: The Last Evening

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Twin Peaks: The Last Evening


SEASON 1, EPISODE 7
("Twin Peaks" reviews start here)

written & directed by Mark Frost


"We're in sync now, Jacques, can you feel it? Can you?"

The first season of "Twin Peaks" was pretty brief: seven episodes airing between April 8 and May 24, 1990. Much was packed into that short run, and much was packed into the final episode itself. Writing before the show became a success, author/co-creator of the show Mark Frost wanted to ensure that "Twin Peaks" would be picked up for another season. Hence we get a series of cliffhangers, which is probably the most noted aspect of the season finale. But perhaps most truly notable is the fact that this is the only episode of "Twin Peaks" written and directed by the same person. "Twin Peaks" is, of course, most often associated with David Lynch, but Mark Frost was the co-creator and on this episode, he's given free hand to do what he will. The differences between his approach, Lynch's, and the other directors' and writers' is fascinating.


Indeed, this episode justifies my conception to do a primarily formal analysis of the series, investigating what each director and writer brought to the show and how each episode differed from the last. Lynch and Frost established a tone with the premiere and within the parameters they set, different writers and directors brought different qualities to the forefront. One week we could get an emphasis on the surreal, otherworldly elements of the story and locale, on another a quieter focus on the characters, while yet another might choose to go the clever, snappy route. But always they were playing off two poles: Lynch on the one hand, Frost on the other.

Since they received co-creator credit and most often worked together (co-writing three episodes, which Lynch usually directing), it may seem a false opposition to set them up against one another. But in episode 7, we finally get to see Frost on his own. We got a hint in episode 5, which he wrote (it was directed by Leslie Linka Glatter). That episode missed the uncanny, mysterious touch that Lynch brought to the proceedings, as does this one. Both confirm that Frost was more interested in the "television" aspect of the series, which makes sense since his history was in the medium. His script focuses almost exclusively on the procedural aspects and character relationships of the story (and it is the script which most bares his imprint, the direction being smooth, occasionally elegant, but mostly quite conventional).

Though Frost has described his "cliffhanger" approach with a wink and a smile in interviews, suggesting that it was a "send-up" of soap operas, there's little in the material itself to suggest intentional camp. Indeed, this is one of the less self-aware episodes of the season and it tends to take the investigative and melodramatic elements at face value. If this is satire, it's quite deadpan. Also completely absent is any sense of mysticism or the uncanny. Frost's references appear to be film noir, TV soaps, and cop shows - he tweaks these conventions but does not seek to combine them with anything supernatural or postmodern or dreamlike. To put it succinctly, where Lynch and Frost most differ in their approach to "Twin Peaks" is that Lynch goes for surreal, while Frost goes for offbeat.

By now, the convention of "one day at a time" has pretty much been shattered, and "The Last Evening" (for once the German-imposed title actually fits, though "The Last Night" would be more appropriate) takes place over the course of several hours, all after nightfall. It picks up exactly where the previous episode left off and intercuts several storylines building towards their climaxes, most of which will unwind in the next season. There's James and Donna investigating Dr. Jacoby's connection to Laura, which leads to Jacoby getting assaulted and James getting framed in a drug bust. There's the intersection of Leo's revenge on Shelly, Leo's revenge on Bobby, Ben's betrayal of Leo through Hank, Josie's betrayal of Catherine through Hank, and the burning of the mill. And then there's the action unfolding at that woodland bordello, One Eyed Jacks, in which Agent Cooper stakes out slimy drug dealer Jacques Renault, who ends up in the hospital with Jacoby. And of course, a brief aside for one-eyed Nadine's graceful attempted suicide in a puffy pink dress.

Though he's very focused on pulling all of these plot strands together, Frost also takes his time with the characters, trying to explore and flesh out their relationships amidst all the hustle and bustle. This is effective with Catherine and Pete, who always seemed a disastrous couple - but as Catherine pleads with Pete to help her, we see their romantic roots. She recalls Pete as "the lumberjack who could scamper up a tree like a cat," and picturing Jack Nance doing just that will bring an amused smile to your face. Less effective is Leo's rage at Shelly's betrayal; he's just too one-note to pull it off. I mean, if you hit your wife in the face with soap on a good day, you really can't be that surprised when she shoots you. More successfully ambiguous is Hank who does wonders mixing baleful facial expressions with sinister subtext.

Probably the best benchmark of the directors is how they bring Cooper (or rather, Kyle MacLachlan) out of his shell. Several very good directors just couldn't nail his character and he appeared drab and depressed around the middle of the season. I noted that he made a comeback with the episode directed by Leslie Linka Glatter, but it may have been Frost's script that did the trick as much as Glatter's direction. Entirely in Frost's hands here, Agent Cooper is cool, calm, and confident once again. Lynch and Frost have slightly different conceptions of Cooper, who comes off as ever-so-slightly unhinged in Lynch's hands. Frost, on the other hand, presents him as the consummate professional and it's a delight to watch him reel in the fat trout that is Jacques Renault (as Jacques, Walter Olkewicz gives one of the juiciest performances in the series, which he reprised to chilling effect in the film).

Two other touchstones are Andy and Bobby. Bobby doesn't have as much to do in this episode so we don't get to see what approach Frost takes to his occasionally out-of-control character. But Andy, who veers from Gomer Pyle to downbeat, slightly melancholy slowpoke gets the latter treatment here - which I prefer. Lynch tends to accentuate the dumbbell/goofball aspect of his character whereas this and the previous episode leave Andy a few steps behind his peers, but in a fashion that's almost winningly sad. Less fortunate is Laura Palmer, heard on tape delivering some of the worst lines of the series: telling Dr. Jacoby that if he knew the identity of her "mystery man," then he'd be "history, man" - and that said "mystery man" "really lights my F-I-R-E." Dialogue like this is why, absent the eventual movie, Sheryl Lee's acting chops seemed uncertain. It's also Frost's one attempt at outright camp but it seems out of place.

Throughout, Frost tends to keep it simple: master shots where they'll suffice, inserts and reverse shots when necessary, but few of the stylistic flourishes we've come to expect from visiting directors. There are some graceful exceptions: a transition from a slow video zoom into Jacoby's eye to a spinning roulette wheel; a telephoto shot of Jacoby after he's been hit on the head which softens and foregrounds extremely lush, green grass; and also an extreme close-up of Jacques' mouth as he slobbers, repeating an exchange with Laura, "Bite the bullet, bay-bee - bite the bullet."

I like what Frost brings to "Twin Peaks," and I still credit him with a lot of what makes Agent Cooper tick (though this is purely educated conjecture on my part). But I like his work best in conjunction with Lynch and like episode 5, this finale is a bit lacking in the thick atmosphere and flavor we've come to expect from the show. The series will take a new direction in season 2 and if I remember correctly, the first half is a mixed bag (the second half is almost entirely a big dud). Many of the subplots, which weren't that great to begin with, go down the tubes. But the Laura Palmer mystery and the mystical aspects, which were always the most exciting elements, go into full throttle.

By that point, "Twin Peaks" is fully Lynchian and so in a sense, this is Mark Frost's swan song. He would not direct another episode, though he would pop up to write a few of the scripts, often in conjunction with several other writers. Occasionally he'd lock into his partnership with Lynch, just the two of them flying in tandem and that's when "Twin Peaks" reaches its highest altitude. As he leaves us here, nothing is resolved and the season ends with a bang...three of them actually.

That's it for "Twin Peaks" for a little while. I will probably resume my series recap with season two in November, as I have some other plans for October. At that point, I'll take us through to what was essentially the climax of the series, halfway through season two. I may then skip over all the other episodes to do an entry on the series finale (the only great episode after Laura's killer is revealed). But I'll decide that later. For now, I leave you with the image of Jack Nance scampering up a sequoia tree. Enjoy.

Next: Twin Peaks: May the Giant Be With You (season 2, episode 1)
Previous: Twin Peaks: Realization Time (season 1, episode 6)


For more on Twin Peaks:
Jim Emerson
Keith Phipps, The A.V. Club

On this site:
That gum you like is going to come back in style...
Twin Peaks in context
Twin Peaks (the pilot)
Twin Peaks: Traces to Nowhere
Twin Peaks: Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer
Twin Peaks: Rest in Pain
Twin Peaks: The One-Armed Man
Twin Peaks: Cooper's Dreams
Twin Peaks: Realization Time
*Twin Peaks: The Last Evening
Twin Peaks: May the Giant Be With You
Twin Peaks: Coma
Twin Peaks: The Man Behind Glass
Twin Peaks: Laura's Secret Diary
Twin Peaks: The Orchid's Curse
Twin Peaks: Demons
Twin Peaks: Lonely Souls
Twin Peaks: Drive With a Dead Girl
Twin Peaks: Arbitrary Law
Twin Peaks: Beyond Life and Death

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (the movie)
Critical idiocy vis a vis Fire Walk With Me

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