Lost in the Movies: Twin Peaks: The Man Behind Glass

Twin Peaks: The Man Behind Glass

-Episode 10 of the series-
("Twin Peaks" reviews start here)

directed by Lesli Linka Glatter
written by Robert Engels

"You're dead, Laura, but your problems keep hanging around. It's almost like they didn't bury you deep enough."

"Twin Peaks" is at its best when it focuses on Laura Palmer's absence. This episode reminds us that the second season probably did this even better than the first, and that the decision to reveal Laura's killer was a mixed curse. It's usually pointed to as the demise of the show's drama, but what a build-up before that demise! Also, considering where some of the other subplots go (we get the intro to "Super Nadine" and while it's not so bad here, it will get much worse) the writers could make bigger mistakes than to dwell on the show's foundation. In terms of focusing on the mysterious legacy of Laura's life and death, this is one of the strongest episodes. We see the emotional fallout amongst her friends and families, witness how a physical resemblance confuses both cousin Maddy and boyfriend James, and end with an unexpected reveal: a hidden diary in the house of a recluse who seems to cling to Laura's memory (and apparently her memoirs) as if it was a carefully-preserved artifact of some lost, delicate epoch. And, as Laura's ghost hovers in the ether, we are also drawn closer to the mysterious vortex of long-haired Bob.

Lesli Linka Glatter, who helmed a somewhat interesting but not especially standout episode of "Twin Peaks" last season, shows here that she's very capable of tapping into that quintessentially ethereal mood. Perhaps Episode 5 paired her up with the wrong writer. Mark Frost, who tends to focus on the procedural and genre-centered aspects of the show, didn't quite suit Glatter's flair for the supernatural, ethereal, and romantic. Episode 10 is written by Robert Engels, a newcomer to "Twin Peaks."* But his sure hand with the Laura material will not go unnoticed: he would later co-write the Laura-focused prequel film with David Lynch. Together, Engels and Glatter weave an immersive, thoughtful, emotionally-driven episode which leads us deeper into the mystery and, subtly, towards its answers.

The episode begins with an overhead shot of an empty hospital bed with the sounds of a struggle and a flatline emanating from offscreen. In a long, fluid single take (one of many this episode will feature) we see Ronette Pulaski hurled onto the bed, struggling against the nurses trying to pin her down. Panning across the room, doctors and hospital machinery jostling for space in the crowded center of the crisis, we arrive at a door through which Cooper arrives. The shots that follow are all dramatic: a low-angle, wide-lensed shot as Cooper leans over Ronette, a close-up of her fingernail being pried loose, a thin paper with a letter on it being extracted, and a slo-mo close-up of Ronette's scream. Bob has struck again.

If this scene reminds us of the sordid violence surrounding Laura's death and Ronette's assault, the following scene underscores the wistful attraction of the victim herself. We are looking out a window, through a parted curtain as Donna approaches a house and Harold Smith, agoraphobic young man, opens the door for her. Again Glatter uses a long take, seating the two on a couch and holding them there as they cautiously begin to discuss Harold's condition and eventually his memories of Laura. Mostly, they engage in a subtle flirtation. The light is warm and soft, if slightly oppressive (a reminder that Harold lives in a hermetic universe) and Laura's presence hovers throughout the proceedings.

In the sheriff's office, meanwhile, we get one of the great monologues of the series. Sheriff Truman, pushed far enough by FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield's cheerfully cynical mockery, threatens violence, to which Rosenfield responds:

"You listen to me. While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that I am a naysayer and hatchet man in the fight against violence. I pride myself in taking a punch and I'll gladly take another, because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King. My concerns are global. I reject absolutely revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method [dramatic pause] is love. I love you, Sheriff Truman."
Usually writer Harley Peyton pens the juiciest Albert dialogue but here Engels proves himself to be Peyton's match, if in a highly unexpected way. But not all the proceedings at the station are laced with such amusement.

The one-armed man, mild-mannered Mr. Gerard, arrives to sell shoes, falls ill after seeing a wanted poster with Bob's face on it, and retreats to a bathroom stall where he fails to inject himself in time and emerges from the stall with a new ferocity in his eyes. He growls, "Bob, I know you're near. I'm after you now!" This is the one-armed man we recognize from Coop's dream, the one who spoke with a rich baritone, called himself Mike, and intoned, "Fire, walk with me!" Speaking of which, Leland Palmer shows up at the sheriff's station to identify the man in the wanted poster...he says that he recognizes Bob as a neighbor at his family's cabin in the woods. According to Leland, the long-haired creep would flick matches at him and sneer, "You wanna play with fire, little boy?" James earlier told Truman that Laura spoke these words one night when she was high, so apparently father and daughter are acquainted with the same man. Leland flicks a match at Cooper to demonstrate and Coop, who seems slightly perturbed by this action, picks up the still flickering match and blows it out. Cut to blackness: an allusion, I supposed, to the famous scene in Lawrence of Arabia.

But while glorious shots of a desert sunrise follow that shot in Lawrence, here we get a desert of another sort. OK, that's an exaggeration but, as with the two previous episodes, the middle sags here. It's burdened by attachment to subplots that, frankly, aren't all that interesting. This includes a phone call from Josie, Nadine awakening from her coma with superhuman strength, Shelly confronted with her responsibility for a comatose Leo, and the vaguely amusing but mostly tiresome Dick Tremayne (played gamely by Ian Buchanan), a flamboyant and prissy beau of Lucy who might have fathered Lucy's child. Trust me when I tell you this particular plotline goes nowhere, real slow (apparently Kimmy Robertson, who plays Lucy, agreed: latter-day interviews reveal that she stopped watching the show about halfway through the second season and the series became just another acting gig). We also get some time with Audrey at One-Eyed Jack's, where she's now being held prisoner. This storyline should excite but somehow it's dry and phony, a third-rate takeoff on musty pulp fiction.

Then we pick up speed as Laura floats to the forefront again. Donna has already confronted James and Maddy about their increasing coziness and as night falls on Twin Peaks we find her at Laura's tombstone, lamenting her dead friend's continual pull on the lives of her loved ones. Donna goes home to find James and Maddy kissing - their first, obviously inopportune, kiss - and flees to Harold Smith's house, where she will find Laura's diary (ominously, right next to a knife) in the final moments of the show. Maddy meanwhile remains behind. She seems distraught and confused, lamenting that everyone wants her to be Laura but that she isn't. Ironically, of course, she's come to look more and more like Laura with every passing day.

It was actually a stroke of genius to introduce Sheryl Lee into the cast - after making an impression as Laura's corpse, we meet her as innocent, dorky Maddy, cousin from out of town, in for the funeral. As she sticks around and becomes involved in James and Donna's investigation, she becomes more attractive and more vulnerable too. Though everyone seems to mistake her for Laura, she knows she's not Laura. Uncle Leland offers comfort and sympathy, patting her head and telling her everyone wishes things could be like they were. At that moment, Cooper and Sheriff Truman turn up to arrest Leland for the murder of Jacques Renault.

This stems out of an earlier scene, as Coop and Truman gather around Dr. Jacoby's Hawaiian-themed hospital room and hypnotize him, urging him to remember what he saw the other night when Jacques was killed in a nearby hospital bed. We don't actually hear Jacoby identify Leland - whom we ourselves saw kill Jacques in the season finale - but as he sifts through his memory in a trance, he begins to murmur increasingly alarmed answers to Coop's queries. "I know him..." he murmurs, and though this is a different mystery than the one at the show's center, it serves as a segue into nightfall, always the spookiest moment in a given episode of "Twin Peaks." The wind rustles through the pine trees, clouds slice the full moon, and an owl hoots and shifts its head from side to side. This is the moment when we find Donna at Laura's graveside and before she says anything, we can imagine her thinking, like Jacoby, "I knew her..."

And yet, as this episode asks, who really knew Laura, in the end? How much is left unknown? As the mystery's solution approaches, the mystery itself is enriched and deepened.

Warning: The comments below discuss many late season 2 storylines (including new actors/characters), and as such they contains some minor spoilers although nothing too specific or crucial.

*Update 2014: Engels was not a newcomer to the series; he first appeared in episode 4, which I praised, and was one of the show's head writers along with Harley Peyton - junior only to Lynch and Frost on the writing staff. Not sure why I wrote the above, but consider it corrected.

Next: Laura's Secret Diary (season 2, episode 4)
Previous: Twin Peaks: Coma (season 2, 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


Unknown said...

Ah, the Dick Tremayne subplot, the worst single aspect of Season 2.

Super-Nadine also goes nowhere, but the continuing development of the Donna/Harold relationship is nice. And I love anything to do with Sheryl Lee.

Thanks for a good write-up of a better-than-average episode.

Joel Bocko said...

Hmmm, Jerry. I don't know...it has some stiff competition.

The mayor and his brother fighting over the woman whose sexiness kills old men (or something like that)?

James biking out of town to end up on the front cover of a Danielle Steele paperback with an older woman and some who-the-hell-cares melodrama plot?

Billy Zane showing up in town to seduce a suddenly virginal Audrey Horne (while we wait for the other shoe to drop and it turns out...there is no twist, he simply showed up for no reason, mugged around for a few episodes, and disappeared)?

I'll admit I find David Duchovney in drag and Maj. Briggs (a great character) bits mildly entertaining. Though of course there was also that fashion show, though I guess you could place that under the Dick Tremayne subplot. Re-watching season 2 a few months after I discovered the series, I am reminded that even the best episodes planted some seeds of the disappointments to come (and apparently Mark Frost thought they should have planted MORE seeds, weaving Windham Earle into episodes leading up to the reveal of Laura's killer. Um, no.)

And what about the Civil War reenactments (what was this, a Ken Burns thing?) which at least have the redeeming value of reuniting Riff & Tony from West Side Story?

The second season is almost three seasons in one: the genuinely good, sometimes, great section leading up to the revelation and capture of Laura's killer; the really horrible letdown afterwards when the writers concoct a bunch of half-baked quirky storylines only to kill them off after a few episodes when it's clear they are all - almost every single one of them - dead ends; and finally the Windham Earle/Heather Graham episodes which I wasn't crazy about, though they were certainly an improvement on the middle of the season, and did lead up to a great conclusion.

Have you read Keith Phipp's Episode Guide at the A.V. club? He has some very funny write-ups on these episodes, which I don't think I have the stomach to deal with now - after the climax of the series, I plan to skip ahead about ten episodes to the great finale.

To me the best elements of Twin Peaks are the mysteries, mostly revolving around Laura. Harold Smith is an interesting character. Obviously Bob and his connection to the woods is fascinating to explore. Even the James-Maddy-Donna love triangle, silly as it is, is charming...Lynch and many of the writers and directors who worked with him on this show have a way with teenage romance. And the drug/prostitution/criminal underground stuff, before it veers off into cartoonish pulp fiction territory, is great too (Jacques Renault is probably one of the best characters on the show).

Which reminds me, Bobby's involvement with all that just drops off the radar in season 2. And he even stops going to school (as do Audrey, Donna, and James...until Nadine starts thinking she's 18 anyway)! More evidence that Twin Peaks had morphed from offbeat to cartoonish and goofy by the middle of season 2 (remember how big a role the high school played in the series premiere?).

But I don't think the Josie stuff was ever that great. Nor was anything to do with Big Ed and Nadine, all the way back to the drape runners, very fascinating. Ultimately the heart of the show was Laura and I wonder if the show really could have succeeded for seasons on end, without keeping that in mind. Perhaps it would have inevitably gone off-track sooner rather than later. I guess we'll never know.

Unknown said...

Most of the other low points you just mentioned (not including the fun reuniting of West Side Story's Tony and Riff) are, indeed, low points.

But I do like the Heather Graham/Windham Earle episodes. And I like the Josie Packard stuff - Dan O'Herlihy, who plays Josie's former lover/master, is one of my favorite character actors, and what eventually happens to Josie is genuinely chilling.

And we seem to be in agreement about the greatness of the concluding episode. Windham Earle and the Black Lodge provided more than enough potential for a compelling Season 3.

Tony Dayoub said...

I echo your sentiments, C. While not up to the level of the Laura storyline, as a major Coop fan I have a soft spot for the Windham Earle storyline, dumbstruck Leo and all.

"Billy Zane showing up in town to seduce a suddenly virginal Audrey Horne ..."

MovieMan, I don't agree with your characterization of Audrey as suddenly virginal. It always seemed apt that just as Donna and Laura appeared "virginal" to everyone else, while being engaged in sexual activity (Laura to a dangerous degree), that the misfit Audrey would engage in sexually precocious behavior as a way of overcompensating for her social awkwardness. In some ways, I think she sought to emulate Laura who appeared to be someone who had it all together (tutoring her brother, object of Ben Horne's admiration, at least from her perspective). So she poured on the flirtatiousness. But like the expression goes, she was all bark and no bite.

It was only once she started to mature towards the end of the series that a viable adult relationship became possible for her.

Joel Bocko said...

Tony, you're right about Audrey - it was a bit of a cheap shot. Doesn't justify Billy Zane though!

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