Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Twin Peaks: Rest in Pain

Friday, September 5, 2008

Twin Peaks: Rest in Pain


SEASON 1, EPISODE 3
("Twin Peaks" reviews start here)

directed by Tina Rathborne
written by Harley Peyton


"Oh yeah? Well, I've had just about enough of morons and half-wits, dolts, dunces, dullards and dumbbells. And you, chowderhead yokel, you blithering hayseed, you've had enough of me?"

In a 1990 cover story on David Lynch, Time Magazine references "Tina Rathborne, who directed the finest non-Lynch episode last season (Laura's funeral)." I find Lynch editor Duwayne Dunham's episode to be much better, and if memory serves, co-creator Mark Frost's finale is also strong. It doesn't help that this is the first episode not written by Lynch & Frost. Those duties are taken by Harley Peyton, who wrote the popular 80s film Less Than Zero (unseen by me, but understood to be very witty and sharp). The dialogue takes on a more absurd but artful edge, especially in the character of Albert Rosenfield, the cynical FBI agent who gets in some zingers at the expense of Twin Peaks' earnest townsfolk. See the above quote, to which Sheriff Truman responds with a (flagrantly telegraphed) punch to the face. Even chowderhead yokels have their limits.


But if some characters loosen up a bit, Agent Cooper is unusually subdued. He barely smiles throughout the episode and even archetypal Cooper lines ("there's nothing like the collision between maple syrup and ham") are delivered somewhat flatly. Perhaps MacLachlan was just having an off-day(s) but the performance reminded me of something Lynch once said in an interview, to the effect of "Kyle sometimes had to be coaxed into nailing Cooper - he could lose the thread and hold back a little too much in the wrong hands." On the basis of this episode, Rathborne's hands were the wrong ones, and Coop is a far cry from the chipper Boy Scout who marched into his hotel room with a big grin on his face to blow one note on his little flute - or the thoughtful investigator who suddenly breaks the solemn mood by pinching the sheriff's nose and making an odd noise. Here he seems tired and, well, pretty straight.

The episode opens with another flirtation between Cooper and Audrey (whose impenetrable cool has been melting for a few episodes now), followed by a rather unnecessary recap of last episode's dream sequence - which oddly enough, gets the description wrong. The first three episodes (including the pilot) of "Twin Peaks" escalate, ratcheting up the mystery, mysticism, and menace until we culminate with one of the most surreal sequences ever delivered on a television screen. "Rest in Pain" is inevitably a step back from the abyss. It has Laura's funeral to focus and centre it but in reality it's the least focused episode yet.

We get more time with each character though oddly enough Donna only appears briefly, in one silent close-up at the funeral. Otherwise, every character has a subplot - from Big Ed & Nadine's uncomfortable romance to Josie finding and losing Catherine's double ledgers to Bobby's uneasy relationship with his father, Major Briggs (who in the wake of last night's speech, speaks and behaves a lot like John McCain). There are even a few new strands introduced - a parole officer preparing Norma for her husband's release from prison and the sheriff's investigation of a drug cartel run by Canadians. With all these balls in the air, this is the most TVish of the episodes so far.

Laura's murder is already fading into the background; or at least it would be if the funeral wasn't the episode's centerpiece. That scene gathers the cast together, clad in black, and subjects them to a stream of abuse from an ever-angrier Bobby (Rathborne picks up on Lynch's fondness for the teenager's bizarre side, and gives him a strange but nicely framed gesture towards a crucifix in an early scene). Also by the graveside is Maddie, Laura's cousin - who is played, like Laura, by Sheryl Lee, in dorky glasses and a frumpy black hairdo (slowly Lynch will change her appearance until she's the foxy Veronica to Laura's Betty, in looks if not behavior). Then again, when she dons sunglasses for the funeral she's kind of a babe, isn't she? Her role in all of this is not yet clear, but it does add another echo of Laura's presence to the community.

Most of the episode is visually undistinctive, though Rathborne does have noticeably different stylistic approach from either Lynch or Dunham. Lynch's two episodes stretch out screentime, making you aware of every scene's awkwardness, and there's a very heightened sensibility applied to every shot. Dunham moved his 45 minutes along at a brisk, even pace. All three previous episodes were notable for their balance, pacing, and alternation of tone. "Rest in Pain" feels more simple and single-minded, which is somewhat less interesting, but Rathborne does sustain a mood. Unlike the other directors, she seems to favor less music and Badalamenti's score is far less intrusive this time around. The effect is to lower the camp quotient - "Twin Peaks" is still oddball but no longer self-consciously so (though there are frequent moments of dark comedy). And the quietness of the scenes amplifies the show's melancholy quality.

In the final scene, Leland Palmer stands alone on a dance floor. Earlier, we see him leap onto his daughter's coffin as it got stuck lowering into the grave while his wife yells at him: "Don't ruin this too!" It's macabre, but also quite funny. But in the end, there's nothing especially funny about Leland dancing by himself, begging women on the floor to dance with him. Here we do get Badalamenti's score, as Cooper and the cops sympathetically escort the distraught father out of the bar. This episode, if not as gripping as Dunham or mind-blowing as Lynch, is interesting because it sustains a less smirking, winking mood than usual and the relaxation of the show's cleverness (in the direction, not the writing) allows a more somber texture to come to the surface.

But, all in all, it's a less satisfying episode than the previous outings and an indication that perhaps much of "Twin Peaks"'s appeal relies on upping the stakes on every outing.

Next: Twin Peaks: The One-Armed Man (season 1, episode 4)
Previous: Twin Peaks: Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer (season 1, episode 2)


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

4 comments:

Tony Dayoub said...

Like in any serialized show, this is an example of how there is an ebb and flow in the life of the series. Not every episode can maintain the "upping the stakes" quality you mention. The show would soon descend into melodrama. In "Twin Peaks", especially, this is a danger because of the heightened reality of the soap opera dilemma's already at work here.

So I forgive this one because it has some of my favorite moments of the series, like every exchange involving Albert. But my favorite moment involves Shelley (as many of my favorites do), in which she is animatedly describing Leland's jump onto the casket to some of the locals.

Regarding "a rather unnecessary recap of last episode's dream sequence - which oddly enough, gets the description wrong", oddly enough, I never understood this glaring error either, until I saw the last half hour of the European version of the pilot. The description accurately matches up what occurs then. I suspect that the dream sequence may have originally been planned to be shown in full, then had to be cut for time.

I must admit, your references to these episodes by titles bothers me. According to Lynch, they were never meant to be referred to by titles, and in fact, every video release has referenced each episode by number only. So I'm not sure where you're getting these titles from. I guess part of my problem with them is that they seem a little prosaic. And I wonder if one of the reasons Lynch eschewed titles was because he saw each episode as chapters to a single story (as in soap opera).

Lynch is very conscientious about sticking to structural conventions (in this case TV's). This is evident in his disdain for chapter stops on DVDs of his movies, and his hatred of the iPhone for the way it downscales the scope of the moving picture:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWkWGXXIHw8

MovieMan0283 said...

Tony, you may be right - a similar thought occurred to me, though I couldn't reconcile the drawing of the sketch with it (I guess that footage was going to be part of the dream sequence too).

You're right about the ebb and flow, but after I just watched the next episode, a market improvement on this one, I could see in evern sharper relief what this one was missing. (That review will probably be up tomorrow.)

Tony Dayoub said...

You didn't address my comment on the episode titles, so I wasn't sure if you were ignoring it or not. But in the meantime I found this quote on http://www.lynchnet.com/tp/episodes.html :

"The episode titles were given to each episode by German Television and are not really official..."

Just an FYI in the interest of accuracy.

MovieMan0283 said...

Tony, sorry - I didn't see the second part of the comment on first reading.

I got the titles from an episode guide and I use them because it's a more interesting way to distinguish between the episodes. Aesthetically, it's more interesting to look on the sidebar or the top of the blog and see "Twin Peaks: Zen, or the Skill to Find a Killer" than "Twin Peaks: Season 1, Episode 2." To me, it's a silly enough detail that it doesn't detract from the seriousness of my analysis and meanwhile has kind of a campy charm (much like the show itself at times).