Peak peak Rumination 7: Bury her deep enough

Have you started dancing the #TwinPeaksRewatch dance? Check the schedule at the bottom of this post!

This week’s offering on episodes 9 and 10 by me, Morgan Davie! I’ve been enjoying pulling this blog series together, and we have writers lined up for almost the whole series now – a couple slots left to fill though if anyone’s out there…

Illustration by Grant Buist (@fitz_bunny), check out his strip Jitterati, and his tweets about the episode (linked below).

You’ll also find Paul Scoones’s info on the original NZ screenings of these episodes below.

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Twin Peaks walks a strange and difficult path. It’s a show that became a smash hit in its first season for a loopy, off-beat rhythm that never becomes tiresome or frustrating, a large cast who all have roles to play, its filmic sensibilities that don’t get lost on the small screen, and perhaps above all its ability to straddle drama, comedy and horror without stumbling. Every aspect of its genius requires the balance of a tightrope walker. As the show settles in for the long march of a standard 22-episode second season, the challenge becomes clear: how can they possibly keep this up?

For everyone involved with the show, it must have been tempting to hope that Twin Peaks would just work. That the world created by Lynch and Frost would somehow guide the way plots and characters meshed together, grounding the scares and the laughs and the weirdness. Is it that simple? Silly stuff will work if Lucy does it? Dangerous people become scary if they threaten Audrey like Leo threatened Shelley? Throw some cheerleaders in the background at the hotel, because why not? Do these things and the fact it is Twin Peaks will carry you through, right?

Turns out: nope. And episodes 9 and 10 give a side-by-side case study showing exactly why.

Episode 9 is a David Lynch joint, working from (and almost certainly elaborating on) a script by Harley Peyton. It is shot through with perfect Peaks moments:

  • Donna’s encounter with Mrs Tremond and her mysterious grandson, which is filled with unease, almost with dread;
  • Cooper and Truman spending a long time trying to get the stools to work at Ronette’s bedside, both comedic and human;
  • Ronette’s reaction to the picture of Bob, a harrowing reminder of the horrific sexualised violence at the heart of the mystery;
  • The Log Lady’s interactions with Norma and then with Major Briggs; three characters who seem unfailingly decent and thoughtful, whose interactions still manage to be deeply compelling thanks to their very different energies and concerns;
  • The song sequence with James, Donna and Maddie – the unexpected choice of music, the blocking that isolates all three in emptiness in what seems an enormous living room area, the absence of setup for the scene so it arrives like a dream, the storytelling, using nothing but significant looks to unfold a growing love triangle; and then as if that isn’t enough, the truly nerve-rending intrusion of Bob into the scene, crawling over the furniture towards a terror-paralysed Maddie.

In every one of these scenes the show is negotiating that treacherous pathway, and landing sure-footed every time. As a viewer, you can never quite relax, never sure where exactly the show is leading you or whether its next step will reassure you or make you more anxious. Even the comedy isn’t quite a release, because you can never entirely trust it. The show moves through enough of these moments in this episode that it starts to look easy.

Then you come into episode 10, where early-career director Lesli Linka Glatter directs a Robert Engels script, and the truth is revealed: making Twin Peaks work is really, really hard. The discovery of Ronette’s (off-screen) assault seems somehow less traumatic than her interview in the previous episode. Audrey’s horrific situation, forcibly shot up with heroin while her captors try to decide what to do with her, happens at a strange remove. No less than four significant new characters get introduced – Harold Smith, Dick Tremayne, and the pairing of Jean Renault and Nancy – and they all struggle to establish themselves as anything more than channels for mystery, humour and threat respectively. Most egregiously, the development of the Donna/James/Maddie love triangle unfolds in exactly the manner and tone of Invitation to Love, the overwrought soap opera that had been lovingly mocked all the previous season. And in every case, it isn’t that the episode gets it wrong, particularly. Glatter doesn’t do anything foolish; Engels doesn’t make any unwise choices. But the exquisite sense of balance isn’t there. You can feel the show grabbing on to the handholds of broad comedy and broad wickedness as it moves to its next perch. Nothing in this terrain is easy.

Twin Peaks will struggle with this challenge for the remainder of its televisual life. The achievements of season one might have felt like they solved a problem, but really they posed one, and the only answer the show ever had was David Lynch himself. So much of the show’s truest ideal self is about capturing his vision. As much as its a coproduction with Mark Frost, and Lynch himself always hurries to give Frost full credit, the show is deeply infused with Lynch’s sensibility. (There’s a reason why the adjective “Frostian” never became a thing.) Without Lynch’s guiding presence right there in the mix – it drifts.

Partly this is a result of where we were in TV history. Twin Peaks today would recruit a writer’s room and directing team with prestige-TV experience, who know how to dance through tone and rhythm shifts and how to note the subtleties of a showrunner’s vision. While they still wouldn’t be able to do a simulacrum of David Lynch – who could? – they would at least chase his style competently. But that workforce just didn’t exist back in the late 80s and early 90s. This show was out on its own, trying something knew, and Lynch bore the burden of making it work.

So this episode pairing marks a small sign of things to come – how Twin Peaks is a show that will struggle to meet its own high standards, and how it will start trying different ways to be compelling without Lynch in the director’s seat.

And it also shows how, even in the absence of Lynch’s sure touch, it can still find its way to magic. Perhaps my favourite moment in all of Twin Peaks falls in the Lynch-less episode 10. The abrasive and unpleasant Albert Rosenfield provokes Sheriff Truman one too many times, and then, when Truman promises another black eye if this continues, Albert responds with a response that is impossible to pin down into any standard mode for TV storytelling. It is an interaction that transcends expectation and fully lives up to the show’s promise:

“Now you listen to me. While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that I am a naysayer and hatchetman 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… is love. I love you Sheriff Truman.”

Cooper observes that Albert’s path is “a strange and difficult one.” Twin Peaks the show is on a similar course; and watching this moment you can’t help but wish both journeyers the very best.

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If you’ve read this far, why not look at this list rating all 117 sweaters seen on Twin Peaks?

And if you enjoyed this, maybe you’d be interested in my deep dive into the first three seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

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Enjoy Grant Buist’s livetweet of these episodes (click on a tweet and scroll down to read the whole sequence):

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Listings for the original NZ screenings, courtesy of ace TV researcher Paul Scoones:
(See Paul’s full post for more information on Twin Peaks in New Zealand.)

Episode 9: ‘Coma’
NZ: 4 June 1991; Tuesday 8:30-9:30 (US: 6 October 1990)

Agent Cooper gets some uncalled-for help, and some unwelcome news; Audrey is in more trouble than she thinks; Donna plans to meet a stranger; and a distressed Leland Palmer makes a frightening discovery.

Episode 10: ‘The Man Behind the Glass’
NZ: 11 June 1991; Tuesday 8:30-9:30 (US: 13 October 1990)

The trail to Laura’s killer takes a new turn; Blackie O’Reilly sees a golden opportunity; James Hurley and Madeline Ferguson strike an unforeseen chord; and Dr Jacoby undergoes hypnosis.

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Rewatch Schedule:
Join the hashtag #TwinPeaksRewatch
15 Jan: Pilot: Starting at the start
22 Jan: Eps 1 and 2: Damn fine cup of coffee
27 Jan: Eps 3 and 4: Laughing at prayers
5 Feb: Eps 5 and 6: Invitation to Love
12 Feb: Ep 7*: Biting the bullet
19 Feb: Ep 8: We want to help you
26 Feb: Eps 9 and 10: Bury her deep enough
5 Mar: Eps 11 and 12: Sometimes the Can-Do Girls Can’t
12 Mar: Eps 13 and 14
19 Mar: Eps 15 and 16
26 Mar: Eps 17 and 18
2 Apr: Eps 19 and 20
9 Apr: Eps 21 and 22
16 Apr: Eps 23 and 24
23 Apr: Eps 25 and 26
30 Apr: Eps 27 and 28
7 May: Ep 29**
14 May: Fire Walk With Me***
21 May: NEW TWIN PEAKS!

* optional: The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and The Autobiography of Dale Cooper books
** optional: The Secret History of Twin Peaks book
*** optional: The Missing Pieces

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One Comment

  1. Pingback: The Ruminator – Peak peak Rumination 17: Wow, Bob, wow.

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