Peak peak Rumination 8: Sometimes the Can-Do Girls Can’t

Have you started walking through the #TwinPeaksRewatch woods? Check the schedule at the bottom of this post!

This week’s offering on episodes 11 and 12 by the inimitable Grant Buist (@fitz_bunny)! Partnered with a wonderful illustration by the inimitable Grant Buist (@fitz_bunny)! That’s right, Grant’s serving us a double helping of cherry pie this week – which makes it the perfect week to check out his strip Jitterati, if you haven’t got around to that yet…

You’ll also find below the details of the original NZ screenings of these episodes, courtesy Paul Scoones.

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Watching Twin Peaks again in 2017 is like sliding into a bubble bath. Despite the dark core of sexual violence and deception, on the surface its world is blissfully unencumbered by boorish politicians, invasive technology and environmental chaos.

This is, of course, too good to last. Soon the town’s senile mayor will warrant his own brief subplot, an original Macintosh Portable will make a jarring appearance (all 7kg of it) and one too many of the guest directors, lacking David Lynch’s genius with sound design and tone, will conclude that what they really need to underscore the emotional tension of a scene is a bloody big thunderstorm.

But not yet. At this stage, the second season still has the formidable momentum of the first behind it and elements are being deftly arranged for the big mid-season reveal of Who Killed Laura Palmer. The story still has purpose and a destination, even if that destination will annoy and alienate much of its remaining audience, and, without the attention of its mercurial creators, drive the series immediately into a ditch.

Many clever articles and theses have persuasively argued that the second season of Twin Peaks is an underrated masterpiece. This is not one of those articles. There as just as many exceptional moments as in the first season, but stretched over twenty-two episodes instead of eight, and concentrated at the beginning, middle and end. The highs are still high. The lows, yet to come, are painfully low.

“There’s things you can’t get anywhere”
What to do with these sterling women characters? What to do when you discover so many of the young actors who started off in the pilot with low-key roles have considerable screen presence and charisma? The writers are tasked with providing worthy challenges for these characters, conflict that will allow them to grow, worthwhile screen time for their stories. In Sheryl Lee’s case this leads to her promotion from a dead catalyst to her appearance in every single episode (in person, or as a voice or image), and her utterly harrowing lead performance in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Not all the actors are as lucky. Not all of them are given the material they deserve.

Lara Flynn Boyle is the main victim here. Her performance as Donna in the pilot is agonisingly human, wracked simultaneously by grief and love. She’s set up as the show’s moral centre, an ordinary girl seduced and soon obsessed by the secret life of her best friend.

Then Audrey Horne walks into the breakfast room of the Great Northern Hotel and asks Agent Cooper if his palms ever itch.

Again… what to do with these sterling women characters? What to do after a season of careful character building and insights, when one of the main themes of the show is the evil that men do, and there are so very many evil men to weigh them down? Without the overview and discipline of a modern writers’ room (as pointed out last week by Morgan), many of the challenges in the second season turn out to be traps. The conflict that makes for good soap opera drama becomes a stormwater sump, with characters bobbing around helplessly and inconclusively, learning nothing and marking time, like squandered Doctor Who companions.

Shelly will never escape from Leo, or from Bobby’s half-arsed schemes. She sits glumly in the Roadhouse’s improvised courtroom, dressed in her best while male guest stars determine her fate. Piper Laurie will spend six episodes sweltering underneath some of the most diabolical makeup ever committed to screen. And Audrey, the breakout character from the first season, spends seven episodes cooling her heels at One Eyed Jack’s until Cooper rediscovers the helpful note she left him, before he was distracted by bullets and giants.

“I thought you liked this guy?”
Without the encumbrance of the painfully wooden James, Donna regains some drive in these two episodes as she explores another unknown facet of Laura’s life; her relationship with Harold Smith, a remarkably urbane shut-in who jealously guards Laura’s secret diary. To Donna, this diary is another talisman of Laura’s, like her sunglasses, but it also contains her voice, like Dr. Jacoby’s microcassettes. Although Harold assures her the diary contains “no solutions”, Donna still concocts an unnecessarily complicated scheme with the estranged Maddy to steal it (“I think that there’s a doohickey on the right-hand side”) a week after putting Jacoby in hospital with similar shenanigans. This is doubly ridiculous because Harold is reading the diary to her. With patience, she would’ve learnt everything Laura was willing to reveal, as well as a fair bit about orchids, without breaking Harold like a toy.

The centrepiece of these scenes is a soliloquy by Lara Flynn Boyle, one of those fine Twin Peaks moments where the writing, performance, lighting and score are all in sync. Although the story she tells the agog Harold still includes Laura, it’s her story, in her own voice. She stops chasing ghosts for a moment, and it’s magic.

Meanwhile, back to Audrey. Meanwhile, back to where she’s been since the end of the previous season. Audrey has too much gumption to be a damsel in distress. It seems regressive for someone with her initiative, a character whose courage and enthusiasm is matched only by Kyle MacLachlan’s Cooper. Their interaction in the revived series should be worth watching.

After three episodes filled with drug stupefaction and sporadic squeezing by wicked Canadians, she’s completely passive in her own rescue. Cooper, dressed in one of Sterling Archer’s coveted black turtlenecks, pads through the slightly shonky red-draped corridors of “The Worst Little Whorehouse in Canada” (© Craig Ranapia) while Jean Renault and Blackie connive over strawberries and heroin. Cooper punches Blackie’s sister in the stomach (ouch!), cuts Audrey’s Bondage 101 ropes and slings her unconscious form over his shoulder like the proverbial sack. It must’ve been rather a long day on set.

“Heaven is a large and interesting place, sir”
These are average episodes, but even average episodes of an exceptional series are still okay. After a magnificent spiralling opening shot from the interior of a sound proofing tile, Leland Palmer gets a dry run at a later speech which is the emotional climax of the entire series. Sure, Norma’s about to be distracted by a food critic, and Lucy’s out of town for half an episode, but at least Little Nicky and Evelyn Marsh are still nowhere to be seen. The revived series will add a multitude of new actors, many from the daunting ensemble David Lynch has built since the last time he was in Twin Peaks, but one hopes there’s time and space in the eighteen new episodes to simply give the original women characters something worthwhile to do.

Grant Buist draws the cartoon strips Jitterati and Brunswick, and has written the musical Fitz Bunny: Lust for Glory. He lives in Ōtaki, which has 11% of the population of Twin Peaks.

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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 11: ‘Laura’s Secret Diary’
NZ: 18 June 1991; Tuesday 8:30-9:30 (US: 20 October 1990)

Ben Horne baffles Agent Cooper when he asks him to save Audrey’s life, Donna goes on another picnic, Lucy’s love life becomes difficult and Josie introduces her cousin from Hong Kong.

Episode 12: ‘The Orchid’s Curse’
NZ: 25 June 1991; Tuesday 8:30-9:30 (US: 27 October 1990)

Cooper tells Truman where Audrey Horne is, Donna and Maddy plan to steal Laura Palmer’s secret diary and Benjamin Horne gets a surprise visitor and a business proposition.

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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’t12 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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