Lost in the Movies: Twin Peaks: Drive With a Dead Girl

Twin Peaks: Drive With a Dead Girl

-Episode 15 of the series-
("Twin Peaks" reviews start here)

directed by Caleb Deschanel
written by Scott Frost

"Diane, it's 11:05 pm. I'm in my room at the Great Northern Hotel. There's not a star in the sky tonight. Ben Horne is in custody. The trail narrows, Diane. I'm very close. But the last two steps are always the darkest and most difficult."

Episode 15 finds us roughly where we left off last time - or actually a little earlier. We are outside the Palmer home; it's the middle of the night. Despite the surrounding darkness, the windows are brightly lit - yet we cannot see inside. The foreboding music barely conceals muffled screams, which are extinguished with a loud thud. And then, silence. Something's happened here, but we're on the outside, held back. Of course, anyone who saw the previous episode knows about Maddy's murder - in full, violent detail - but it's telling that this time we're restrained from seeing it all. Episode 15 returns us to the show's more usual air, one of playful allusions to mayhem and murder, all from a tasteful distance and with a sense of humor, when necessary.

After co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost took over as director and writer, respectively, helming the severe culmination to fifteen episodes of clues, teases, and twists, a reprieve is in order. Scott Frost, Mark's brother and author of a book ostensibly written by Agent Cooper, steps in for the first time, and Caleb Deschanel returns to direct his second episode. Together, they create an occasionally zany episode (with Frost penning an effective, if often baroque, voice for Cooper). The growing flamboyance (already hinted at a few episodes ago) is grounded by the still-unfolding Laura Palmer murder mystery. The case will soon be complicated by the discovery of Laura's dead cousin, whose body is revealed early on, folded into Leland's golf bag.

Leland, now recognized as the killer, is henceforth on full display as a psychotic. He laughs, he cries, he sweats, he tap dances, and his presence increasingly makes Agent Cooper wary. Coop's sixth sense is telling him something, but he's not sure what exactly. We are sure - and only Ray Wise's utter commitment keeps Leland's behavior from seeming too over-the-top, even as the madman drives maniacally around town with a dead girl stuffed in his trunk. Wise is assisted in this by the occasional reminder that Leland may not really be Leland at all - twice we see Bob smiling back at Mr. Palmer from the mirror. Oddly enough, we start the episode with Leland - as if he was the main character. And, in an odd way, he is our protagonist. After all, this is the first time in two seasons of "Peaks" that we've known more about Laura's murder than Agent Cooper. Oh, sure, we knew clues he didn't - the secret diary, for example - but we never really felt as if we had an upper hand over his intuition and instinct. Now we do, and it's an odd sensation.

Of course, Laura's (and now Maddy's) murder is not the only event sending ripples through Twin Peaks (though maybe it should be). Bobby discovers Ben Horne's involvement with Leo and decides to blackmail the businessman - who is currently in jail, with his brother Jerry serving inefficiently as defense attorney. Pete shows up at Ben's cell to torment him with a recording of Catherine's voice, and then Pete visits with Sheriff Truman to ruefully reminisce about Josie...quickly initiating suspicion about her rapid departure. Meanwhile at the station, Lucy's obnoxious sister trots in to launch a series of ineffective and tiresome verbal volleys and elsewhere, Norma's mother arrives in town, new husband in tow. Ex-con Hank recognizes the fresh father-in-law as a former brother in shackles. Seeing that the newlywed has not told his wife about his prison history, Hank blackmails the degenerate gambler with ruthless suggestion.

This storyline, like most of the non-murder-related subplots, is not really why we watch "Twin Peaks." But these digressions do occasionally have their charms. Chiefly these belong to the characters and the actors who play them. Hank in particular continues to impress with his ability to seem sincere and snakey at the same time. We've seen enough of him by now to recognize that he's far more the latter, yet whenever he pleads with Norma for sympathy, something about him registers as sincere. And this ambiguity is spread generously amongst the cast. There are some basically good people in town, but few purely evil. Hank is rotten in his core, but there's some spark of human decency in him, even if he only burnishes it to clear the way for his selfish and criminal actions. Catherine plots dastardly murder and fraud and appears to be an ice queen, but there are increasing glimpses of warmth between her and Pete, and as she's betrayed on all sides, her cunning becomes more sympathetic. And even Ben Horne, that cigar-wielding tycoon by way of modern yuppie, is no longer a purely malignant figure.

It's telling that the series will essentially forgive him his past evils as it progresses, relegating him to pitiable status at times, but never again locating in him the capacity for murder, betrayal, and naked greed which characterized him for so long. I think this is a mistake, but it stems from something good, which is the ability to recognize a nascent shame and dignity in the man who owns half of Twin Peaks. The seed of both emotions can be found in his relationship to Audrey, but there's also a warmth which Jerry unexpected evokes. It's hinted at in this episode's most charming moment, one which is both an utter non sequitur and possibly the episode's goofily winning high point. As Ben's brother haphazardly prepares his new client's case, he notices the bunk beds in the cell and flops on the top mattress.

Sighing with satisfaction, seemingly oblivious to their present circumstances, he begins to speak wistfully: "You remember our first room, Ben? Me on the top bunk and you on the bottom bunk and Louise Dumbrowski dancing on the hook rug with a flashlight?"

It's hard to evoke the precise mood cultivated by the dreamily joyful music and the streaky video-looking photography, so instead I'll show it to you:
It's those final words - "Lord, what's become of us?" - which provides the amusingly poignant coda. What, indeed? And Ben and Jerry (hey, wait a second...) are not the only ones who could be asking themselves that question.

In the closing minutes of the episode, Audrey comes to Cooper's room, sits on his bed, and reminds us of the wonderful chemistry between these two characters, which is one of the best, relatively unsung qualities of the show. But in the middle of her visit, the phone rings. Cooper rushes down to the Falls. A body is pulled from the water. Sheriff Truman stands over the corpse and identifies it: "It's Maddy Ferguson."

She's dead, wrapped in plastic.

Next: Twin Peaks: Arbitrary Law (season 2, episode 9)
Previous: Twin Peaks: Lonely Souls (season 2, episode 7)

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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