Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): TWIN PEAKS First Time Viewer Companion: S2E12 "The Black Widow"

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

TWIN PEAKS First Time Viewer Companion: S2E12 "The Black Widow"


These short Twin Peaks episode responses are spoiler-free for upcoming episodes, presented here for first-time viewers who want to read a veteran viewer's perspective on each entry while remaining in the dark about what's to come. They were first published as comments on a Reddit rewatch in 2016.

There is no more quintessential episode of mid-season 2 than this; it has everything one might find wacky, charming, or stupid about the larger stretch of 7 episodes or so. Ben in Civil War regalia? Check. Josie a maid? Check. Nadine being both a wrestler and a horny teenage girl? Check, check. Some Windom Earle teasers without actually seeing him? Check(mate?). The Nickelodeon shenanigans of the Little Nicky subplot? Hell, this is where we meet the infamous thought balloon! The Milford nonsense gets its most abjectly ridiculous scene (but not yet it's dumbest moment, believe it or not) with the flute music and Lucy wandering the station. The Evelyn Marsh melodramatics begin in earnest with her brother's absurdly unprompted soliloquies (the Twin Peaks Podcast dubbed him "Exposition Malcolm" which, combined with his ineptly florid dialogue and James' bewildered expression, makes me laugh out loud every time I watch his scenes). With Dead Dog Farm and Ernie Niles in confession mode, the drug subplot is in full swing, and we touch base with the supernatural via a hush-hush government infodump & a flashy but somewhat derivative Maj. Briggs cameo (in this case of Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Yup, there is no episode that better - or more likely, worse - epitomizes what makes people grind their teeth about the post-Laura arc. Speaking of which, this is indeed the very first episode in which Laura Palmer is never even mentioned once. It's genuinely jarring when her portrait appears under the end credits again.

Is it weird that I have immense affection for this episode? I mentioned the Nickelodeon quality of it, and the while episode has a bit of that cheesy afterschool entertainment nostalgia vibe to it. I feel like I first watched it and loved it when I was nine, even though I actually first watched - and hated - this at twenty-four. On my first few rewatches, the episode sunk even further. I was pretty sure, between the Nicky bubble and Andy swooning over flute music, that this was the nadir of the entire series. Unlike other bad episodes, I determined, this one didn't even have a single redeeming or standout scene - it was just pointless and ridiculous from start to finish. And I still think if Fire Walk With Me is the vital, artistically brilliant dark heart of the story, we are on the episode it's farthest from, the film's blank-eyed, goofy-grinned, so-corny-it's-evil doppelgänger.

I continued to revisit the whole series and when I randomly watched some standalone episodes, my take slowly evolved. The episode became a fascinating train-wreck disaster (just HOW bad can it get?) much like the wake episode, a historically important marker of how far the show could stray from its premise, and eventually a so-bad-it's-good guilty pleasure (maybe with the help of hilarious commentary from the Twin Peaks Rewatch podcast, which pointed out Nadine's oddly silent wrestling scene plays like it was supposed to have a laugh track stitched in). Now I regard it as a genuine camp classic, and enjoyed it more on this viewing than any previous, even noticing some genuinely good things I'd missed. Namely it is beautifully photographed, every scene employing rich, lush lighting effects, no doubt due to director Caleb Deschanel, who is also a noted cinematographer. Dead Dog Farm is still a favorite location. The last scene is a genuinely wonderful character moment - Bobby's great, it's good to see Maj. Briggs back, and this is hands-down Betty's best scene. The final shot of rolling blue-black thunderclouds is gorgeous, easily the coolest "executive producers Mark Frost & David Lynch" bumper of the series. Silly as the high school scenes are, there's something nice about seeing Donna and Mike back in their element. And Audrey is maybe the spunkiest and most charming she's been since season 1 (recall that Deschanel directed her best episode, with the closet-spying and cherry stem) - she even sneaks in a Cooper kiss! This can feels like the beginning of a revitalization for her.

Going forward, the "how the hell is this still Twin Peaks?" novelty factor wears thin for me, and I start marking time till the show genuinely improves. For now though, whether it's Stockholm Syndrome or what, I get a kick out of the wackiness.


Next: "Checkmate" • Previous: "Masked Ball"


Want more? Here's my other coverage of the episode:


More for first-time viewers (MOSTLY SPOILER-FREE)
(but be careful of video recommendations at the end of YouTube videos and image/link recommendations at the end of Tumblr posts)

+ My "Journey Through Twin Peaks" chapter on the ensemble going up to this episode, from 2014 (includes some brief clips of upcoming episodes, including the re-appearance of a character we haven't seen in a while):




For those who've already seen the full series & film
(SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING LINKS)

My dugpa comment on this episode, from 2015 (spoilers reveal minor upcoming plot details)

The comments section below may contain spoilers.

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