Lost in the Movies: Twin Peaks: May the Giant Be With You

Twin Peaks: May the Giant Be With You

-Episode 8 of the series-
("Twin Peaks" reviews start here)

directed by David Lynch
written by Mark Frost (teleplay), Mark Frost & David Lynch (story)

"This leaves only the third man..."

And who is that third man, the one Agent Cooper says waited outside the cabin to kill Laura Palmer several nights earlier? (Hint: it's not Harry Lime.) After taking the summer off, "Twin Peaks"' second season emerged in a hail of hype as the fall of '90 rolled around. The show had been such an unexpected breakaway success in the spring, and its first season was so brief (starting in March and ending in May) that the media hadn't really been able to jump on the bandwagon yet. But by now the stars had aligned and as season two kicked off, the positive press was in full swing. Kyle MacLachlan appeared on "Saturday Night Live," in a skit that isn't very funny, maybe because "Twin Peaks" is so knowingly absurd to begin with. Meanwhile magazines and talk shows featured interviews with the actors, and Time put David Lynch on its cover. He was just releasing Wild at Heart, a hit at Cannes, in American theaters and it seemed that the decidedly offbeat auteur had crossed over into mainstream appeal without sacrificing his avant-garde bona fides. In its inimitable fashion, Time designated Lynch the "Czar of Bizarre" and proclaimed, "He has proved that an eccentric artist can toil in American TV without compromising his vision," and "The quirky outsider is close to becoming David Lynch Inc."

A scant three months later, Time wrote, in a passing blurb planted amongst capsule reviews, "Cut the hype, lower the expectations: Twin Peaks is not the second coming," and grumbled, "This season's inert, slowly paced premiere (directed with an uncharacteristic lack of flair by creator David Lynch) almost sank the ship before it left port." (Don't follow this link unless you already know who killed Laura.) Apparently "Twin Peaks"' moment had passed, and with it David Lynch's 15 minutes as a mainstream celebrity. Within another four months, the show - having entered a pitiful artistic decline after revealing Laura's killer - would be ignominiously cancelled. A prequel movie, released in the dregs of summer, received some of the worst reviews of the year, left theaters in a flash, and was quickly forgotten. What happened? In part it had to do with Lynch's, and co-creator Mark Frost's, network-induced haste to reveal just who that "third man" was, a fact which Lynch remains bitter about to this day. Yet though this "killed the goose" in Lynch's phrase, it also made for gripping television, and the first half of season two offers up some of the best "Twin Peaks" has to offer.

That said, I'm not sure Time is wrong in its assessment of the season opener. When I was knee-deep in "Twin Peaks" this past summer, I relished the beginning of season two - even thought it was one of the best episodes. But without a deep stake in its mystery, and with the novelty of Lynch's purposefully maddening approach having worn off, I can see that much of Episode 8 is burdened with exposition, that its 90-minute running time is inflated and overlong, and that it mostly just spins its wheels. The episode begins with the longer version of the series credits, with the title appearing over the spinning lumber mill saws just like in the pilot episode. Already we have an indication that Lynch will be trying to match that episode's scope and vision. But whereas the pilot introduced us into a mystery, expanding its parameters as we went along, season two's opener actually dampens a lot of the suspense and leaves us roughly where we were, only less so.

Season one ended with Cooper getting shot, the climax to an episode of cliffhangers. Season two opens with Cooper lying on the floor of his hotel room while a doddering old waiter walks into the room, leaves him a glass of milk, hangs up his phone, and then leaves him to bleed to death. This sounds simple, but it takes exactly five minutes to unfold. It's actually quite amusing in its tedium; no one knows how to frustrate audience expectations more artfully than David Lynch and he seems to take perverse pleasure in dragging out the extremely awkward, frustrating exchange, which culminates with Cooper offering a weary thumbs-up to the waiter, who doesn't seem to understand what's going on.

Then a giant appears in the room with Cooper, offering some advice including the immortal bromide, "The owls are not what they seem." After he disappears, we cut to another scene from last season's closer. Lynch films the confrontation between Ben Horne, businessman and lecherous owner of the brothel he's frequenting, and his daughter Audrey, who has gone undercover in the brothel as a prostitute (not knowing that her father was the owner and a frequent client of One Eyed Jacks), with unsettling aplomb. The room is draped in deep reds and Lynch allows wide-lensed Steadicam shots to create a queasy, sickly dread of impending incest. But the flirtation (Audrey wears a feline mask and slaps her father's hand away) is never consummated (Ben is called away and never finds out it was his daughter in the bed) and while this is a relief, it essentially renders last season's cliffhanger a massive tease - a deus ex machina having released the tension.

Much the same is true of Cooper's recovery. Eventually, after several minutes of uncharacteristically boring recital into his trusty tape recorder, Cooper is rescued by local law enforcement. He wakes up in the hospital the next day and pulls himself out of bed rather rapidly. Oh, sure, he grimaces and winces through the rest of the episode, resulting in a sour MacLachlan performance that other directors had fallen prey to, but which Lynch had heretofore avoided. But the shooting is left unresolved - Cooper can't remember who did it, and its aftereffects are negligible, though it gives cynical FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield an excuse to show up in town again. Though Lynch and Frost collaborated on the story, it's Frost who wrote the teleplay and one senses him trying to undo his over-the-top shenanigans from the previous outing.

Meanwhile, perhaps in an attempt to reel in new and curious viewers, Episode 8 goes out of its way to explain what passed before. This is partially done through flashbacks (some of which, like Ronette Pulaski's comatose recollection of her bedraggled escape from death, are artfully suggestive and disturbing). It's also done through long scenes of dialogue, some more effective than others. Probably the best such moment is when Audrey, still trapped in her blood-red bordello, prays to Agent Cooper. It has a touchingly pulpy feel - Nancy Drew meets lurid paperback sex tale - and further acquaints us with Audrey's innocent, naive, sweet side, which was initially obscured by her lusty playacting.

Of course the episode is not all letdown and exposition. There are some notable twists and typical (by which I mean out-of-left-field) Lynchian moments. Among the former is Leland Palmer's suddenly snow-white hair and his penchant for launching into cheery tunes. It's undeniably hilarious when he bursts in on a conspiratorial meeting of the Horne brothers and leads them in an impromptu hoe-down. As he taps his feet on the stairs, singing "Doodley-doodley-dosey-day," Jerry does a handstand and Ben leaps onto his desk for a delicate softshoe. This scene is delightfully absurd and brings to mind some of Lynch's craziest gambits from the previous season (the irascible David Patrick Kelly, as Jerry Horne, seems to be Lynch's id). Only Lynch would have the chutzpah to stage this peculiar scene, non sequitur that it is, and to film it in one long take, from a high angle with a wide lens.

Other Lynchian moments occur at exactly the half-hour and one-hour mark, in the same location: the RR Diner. First it's a meeting between Donna and Maddie, in which Maddie waits in a booth, deadpan and clad in cool shades, which she offers up to Donna. (Donna will wear these sunglasses, while smoking a cigarette, on a conjugal visit to James; he, and we, will be mystified as to why she's suddenly playing the femme fatale. Asketh not what Lynch is up to, and ye shall receive. Insensible as it might be, the Donna-visits-jail sequence smolders with noirish sexual energy and is a Lynchian treat.)

When Maddie first appeared, it was a bit of a joke. Yet the first time we see Maddie in Episode 8, her hair has what shampoo commercials like to call "volume," and bangs have replaced the waxy waves. She's still wearing her clunky glasses but not for long. In the diner, after Donna sits down across from her, Maddie takes out her glasses and solemnly snaps them in half, intoning, "I hate them. I'm never wearing these again."

The moment is so silly that it's also elating. One senses Lynch, frustrated with the way the costumer had concealed Sheryl Lee, finally tearing off her "disguise." Actually, this serves a plot point as well, because Maddie is becoming more and more like Laura - she disguised herself as her cousin in the season finale and Laura's boyfriend James is starting to fall for her. But, innocent as she is, she's also falling prey to Laura's darkness: in her first scene of the episode, she envisions a dark stain spreading across the carpet. It will not be her last disturbing hallucination.

That's the first Lynchian moment in the diner, and the second arrives exactly thirty minutes later, when Bobby Briggs accidentally runs into his father, who is savoring a huckleberry pie. Major Briggs is a great character, one who was barely utilized in season one but will become increasingly important in episodes to come, eventually serving as virtually the only highlight of the grim episodes following season two's climax. Here he is still a bit of a mystery to us - and to his son as well, who asks his dad what exactly it is that he does at his job, to which the deadpan but dignified Major responds, "It's classified."

He is, however, willing to discuss a dream he had the other night, in which he stood in a beautiful, oddly familiar palace in the middle of the woods, strolling through its white, peaceful rooms and greeting his son at the door, before embracing him. The usually mopey Bobby finds this inexplicably moving and begins to weep. It's quintessential Lynch: goofy and mystical, absurd and sincerely moving. I wasn't so caught up in it this time around, but on first viewing I thought it one of the best moments in the whole series, an intriguing harbinger of mystical delights to come.

The episode ends with another odd scene, a family dinner with the Palmers and the Haywards. We're suddenly reminded that Donna has a younger sister - and even introduced to a second younger sister who plays the piano while dressed up as a fairy (where are they in every other part of every other episode? Oh well...). Leland expresses his joy at the occasion and launches into an increasingly manic rendition of "Come on everyone, get happy..." before collapsing on the floor. Meanwhile Donna has whispered to Maddie that she's going to explore Laura's involvement in the Meals on Wheels program, as suggested by an anonymous note. This is the only real forward-looking element of the episode and if most of season two's premiere is disappointing (at least on return viewing) it leaves room for plenty of intriguing developments to come in the season ahead.

Next: Twin Peaks: Coma (season 2, episode 2)
Previous: Twin Peaks: The Last Evening (season 1, 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


Unknown said...

I can hardly bear any criticism of this episode which is a personal favorite. I particularly love the near-stasis of the scenes between Agent Cooper lying prone on the hotel floor, the old waiter (The Searcher's Hank Worden), and The Giant ("You will need ... medical attention"). But there are other great eccentric scenes - Major Briggs discussing his dream with Bobby, Audrey in the cat mask, everything to do with Leland and his newly whitened hair, Alicia Witt playing the piano .... For me, the episode works as a stand-alone, a completely self-contained world.

Joel Bocko said...

Yeah, it's odd, I genuinely loved this episode the first-time around. Didn't do it for me a few months later...go figure. I liked the second episode a lot though. It seems like the second season improves the mystery quotient as it brings "who killed Laura Palmer?" to a head, but the subplots were already starting to sag before the series jumped the shark. The scenes you describe are very good, though.

Joel Bocko said...

Oh, and the fact that the waiter (who I believe was about 90 at the time) is the crazy Comanche in the rocking chair from The Searchers is admittedly awesome.

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