Lost in the Movies: Twin Peaks: Laura's Secret Diary

Twin Peaks: Laura's Secret Diary

-Episode 11 of the series-
("Twin Peaks" reviews start here)

directed by Todd Holland
written by Jerry Stahl, with Mark Frost, Harley Peyton, and Robert Engels

"Have you ever experienced absolute loss? No, more than grief. It's deep down inside. Every cell screams. You can hear nothing else."

These are Leland Palmer's words as he sits in an interrogation room, encircled by Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman (and a weirdly cloaked-in-shadow Dr. Hayward), ready to confess to the smothering of Jacques Renault, the man he suspected of killing his daughter. To underscore this statement, first-time "Peaks" director Todd Holland (whom Keith Phipps informs us directed that Fred Savage-plays-Nintendo 80s opus The Wizard) opens by twisting through a brown, fuzzy tunnel, accompanied by warped female screams and a blaring flatline on the soundtrack. Though actually an extreme close-up of an air hole in a ceiling tile, we do get the sense we're travelling through Leland's veins, with every corpuscular entity vibrating with the pain of Laura's death. The moment is so surreal, like something out of Eraserhead, that it initially fooled me into thinking I was watching a Lynch episode. Sadly, the rest of the 45 minutes does not exhibit Lynch's bizarre elegance, though it's often lightly enjoyable.

As director, Holland joins a weird hodgepodge of writers assembled to script this episode (in addition to first-timer Jerry Stahl, who wrote Permanent Midnight, we get Mark Frost, co-creator and obsesser over the show's melodramatic elements; Harley Peyton, who wields snark with panache, though his usual mouthpiece Albert Rosenfield is not around; and Robert Engels, who proved himself in the last episode to be a connoisseur of Laura Palmer's secret world). The result is an occasionally hodgepodgey episode in which many subplots are given their day in the sun, but Holland provides a sheen of flamboyance. Altogether, the cross-purposes and meanderings of the material and the pleasantly identifiable but ultimately somewhat shallow moody style are indications of what's to come once Laura's murder is solved and the show sinks under its own weight.

But for now there's some forward momentum, even if this episode lags after the interest drummed up by the previous outing. We get another visit between Donna and Harold Smith, the lonely young man who is in possession of Laura's diary. Though Donna discovered the diary in Harold's room at the end of the last episode (and presumably he did not want her to find it) they're suddenly sharing its contents openly. A quiet friendship - even romance? - is growing between them; Donna, who fell right out of her best friend's traumatic murders into the comforting arms of James, is now flailing without his support. Her safe world has been shattered, and the immediate security she found is no longer secure.

As she and Harold sit in his cozy little room, reading Laura's spooky secrets over alcohol and a mini-picnic, a storm brews outside. At once fascinated with their lost friend's dark side, yet too frightened to experience the loneliness she couldn't escape, they're like us in the audience. After all, we are drawn into the world of "Twin Peaks" yet constantly have our fears and unease balanced out by quirky humor and hardboiled melodrama. But ultimately we keep coming back to the secrets and the darkness, closer and closer each time before retreating (or to be fair, being ordered to retreat) into something more understandable.

As for that storm outside, it's a surprise no one thought of it till now (unless I'm forgetting): why no rain in Twin Peaks since Laura's death? It gives the episode, uneven and at times tedious, a cohesive bond which holds it together. Meanwhile, we watch Andy lose a canister of sperm (don't ask), observe Norma and Hank prepare their diner for an expected food critic, and witness the return of Josie, whose mysterious diabolism is no longer so mysterious. We also return to One-Eyed Jack's, probably the most disappointing locale of the show (when first introduced, it was so fascinating!), where Audrey is being held hostage. At least on this episode, Holland's flamboyance enlivens the material and a scene in which the smooth Jean Renault shoots Audrey's tormentor has a kind of over-the-top appeal.

As lightning crackles throughout the town, Holland illuminates interiors with blue flashes, giving the proceedings a very colorful early 90s feel. Overall, the episode is drenched in atmosphere (from the dramatically moody shadows in the interrogation room to those lightning flashes to generally dark - but still poppy - lighting schemes Holland utilizes). But it is not the cultivated atmosphere of Lynch or even the underused Tim Hunter, who directed Episode 4. It's a bit easier to put your finger on, and while it's enjoyable to wallow in for the duration, it doesn't really plumb the depths that "Twin Peaks" is capable of reaching.

The screenplay is the same way, offering us quirky characters - like old-timer Judge Clinton Sternwood - who are appealing but don't have much to do or much to add. Looking back on season two with leisure and knowledge of what is to come, I can see what I couldn't quite see the first time around: the seeds of "Twin Peaks"' destruction are already being planted: a lazy reliance on wackiness, quirk, and artificial atmosphere which here is harmless and even charming but will eventually become toxic.

But as we approach the series' midnight hour, this is more or less a temporary lull, sustained for perhaps another episode or two (we'll see) but quickly shattered by the mysterious world of Twin Peaks which even Laura's secret diary can only allude to. White horses, mournful giants, and homicidal maniacs are not so far away.

Next: Twin Peaks: The Orchid's Curse (season 2, episode 5)
Previous: Twin Peaks: The Man Behind Glass (season 2, episode 3)

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


Tony Dayoub said...

I wasn't sure by what you wrote if you knew this or not, but it is notable that Jerry Stahl not only wrote Permanent Midnight, but based it on his own autobiography, a book about his rise as a Hollywood screenwriter and fall as a result of drug addiction.

Joel Bocko said...

I had heard that (and that it ties in somehow with Alf) but haven't seen the film yet; it's hovered near the top of my Netflix queue for a year or two but keeps being displaced. I'd be interested to know who contributed what to this screenplay, though I certainly have my suspicions.

Anonymous said...

Stahl also wrote the remarkable Cafe Flesh, the only porn film I've ever seen that also works as a good non-porn sci-fi film (or rather, you can take out the porn - not that you'd want to - and what's left is still a good film, thanks to Stahl's screenplay and the expressionistic direction of "Rinse Dream").

Joel Bocko said...

and the expressionistic direction of "Rinse Dream").

For a moment I thought "Rinse Dream" was a musical number - a sci-fi porn musical...now that would have been something.

Anonymous said...

I put "Rinse Dream" in quotes, because his real name is Stephen Sayadian.

And Cafe Flesh is, in fact, a sci-fi porn musical. The set-up is a post-apocalyptic world where only a tiny percentage of the population is still capable of having sex. The rest of the folks, the "sex-negatives," go to this Club where they can watch the "sex-positives" perform. The sex is presented like Surrealist musical numbers, stylized and grotesque.

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