Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, May 23, 2020

Twin Peaks, Episode 2.13: Checkmate

Twin Peaks: Checkmate

Here are the actual pertinent things that happen in “Twin Peaks, Episode 2.13: Checkmate.” The recently returned Major Briggs confirms that the local Air Force branch in Twin Peaks is investigating the strange, supernatural forces within the woods. (As an off-shoot of Project Blue Book.) Cooper continues to attempt to clear his name, by confronting Jean Renault at Dead Dog Farm. Coop's former partner, turned insane supervillain, Windom Earle draws ever closer to the town, leaving more ominous hints and dead bodies in his wake. But lots of other shit happens too.

Initially, I thought “Fright Night/Child's Play” director Tom Holland directed this one but, no, it's Todd Holland, who previously directed  episode 2.4, “Laura's Secret Diary.” While Todd doesn't have the horror pedigree as that other Holland, having mostly done television and family films like “The Wizard” or “Krippendorf's Tribe,” he does bring some likable horror-like visuals to the episode. “Checkmate” begins with the oddball image of a radiation logo rushing towards the camera, before Major Briggs appears on a stone throne in the woods. What that means exactly, who knows? But it's a fittingly “Peaks”-esque image. The episode concludes with the Shelly/Leo story arc finally moving forward again. This sequence features a creepy clown doll in a bed, the empty wheelchair squeaking across the floor, and finally Leo leaping out the dark with a disturbing look on his face. It feels like something out of one of the classier eighties slasher flick. You can also see this instinct in the grisly discovery made at the episode's end.

“Checkmate” also sees another long-lingering subplot moving towards an actual resolution. After staking out Dead Dog Farm, Cooper comes face-to-face with Jean Renault. Denise ends up saving the day, in a relatively well-handled sequence. It's a decently directed series of scenes, making good use of shadows. What really makes it interesting is the monologue Jean delivers while confronting Cooper. Michael Parks, adapt even when speaking with a goofy accent, certainly brings a degree of menacing gravitas to this sequence. From the moment Parks first showed up on “Peaks,” I was waiting for him to get a stand-out scene like this. The show waited almost literally to the last minute but at least Parks was finally allowed to deliver.

“Checkmate” sees another long-gestating story arc actually threatening to get interesting for a few minutes. Ed and Norma meet up at his home and – for the first time in the 21 episodes of the show that aired up to this point – actually consummate their passion for one another. It's refreshing to see, after so much teasing and discussion between these two, for them to finally get back together. Naturally, the simmering tension between Hank and Ed explodes into violence shortly afterwards. It would be a satisfying pay-off to this lingering story arc... If it didn't end with super-strong “teenage” Nadine wandering in and throwing Hank through some banisters. Truly, “Twin Peaks: Season Two's” frustrating balance between goofy comic relief and overstuffed writing has never been more apparent than in this moment.

While “Checkmate” is one of the better episodes to emerge out of this period in the show's history, there's still a lot of time wasted on season two's unfortunate filler. Sweet, stupid James Hurley is still being drawn into some half-assed film noir “Double Indemnity”/Skinemax plot. Andy – who I must reiterate that I like – and Dick continue to investigate the possibly demonic origins of Nicky. Ben Horne's obsession with the Civil War continues to grow. (Both of these are also examples of the show's then-difficulty with re-creating the quirky humor of the earlier episodes.) I really have to keep myself from holding down the fast-forward button during these scenes. Still, “Checkmate” earns some points for actually resolving, or at least moving forward, some plot points. [7/10]

Twin Peaks, Episode 2.12: The Black Widow

Twin Peaks: The Black Widow

With his FBI credentials still suspended, Dale Cooper decides to find a home around Twin Peaks. He decides to take a look at a piece of dilapidated property called Dead Dog Farm. Inside, he discovers evidence that is possibly related to the attempt to frame him for drug trafficking. Coop and Denise quickly circle in on Ernie, Hanks' former cellmate and new father-in-law, as someone that can help them. Meanwhile, the mayor's brother dies while in the throes of passion with his considerably younger bride. Though there is some debate over whether or not this was an accident. All the while, Dale is still receiving secret massages from Windom Earle...

The most interesting part about “The Black Widow,” another middling episode, involves Major Briggs' continued disappearance. While talking with another officer from the same department, it is revealed that the strange radio signals they have been monitoring – initially said to be from outer space – are in fact emanating from the forest. Briggs returns in the episode's final few minutes, re-appearing just as mysteriously as he disappeared. Considering how the strange going-ons in the woods at least link back to the mysteries of BOB and Cooper's dreams, at least this stuff still feels like “Twin Peaks.” As opposed to the increasingly contrived program it was becoming in the second half of its sophomore season.

The new character of Denise does, at least, injects some fresh energy into “Peaks'” current events. There's a very cute scene where Cooper and Audrey's conversation about her dad's latest controversy is interrupted by Denise entering the room. Instead of commenting on Denise being transgender, she is instead just impressed that the FBI has female agents at all. The show's continued, matter-of-fact acceptance of Denise remains a surprisingly sweet side of the season.

While “Twin Peaks” has always possessed a quirky sense of humor, that was always tempered by a harsher surrealism or sense of tragedy. As those elements have receded, “Twin Peaks'” quirky side is starting to grow out-of-control. Nadine's super-strong high school adventures, which including body slamming Mike with ease here, is just one symptom of this. Andy and Dick becoming increasingly certain that their ward, Nicky, is some sort of devil child could not be more of a desperate attempt to spin a nothing subplot into something. The same could be said for the possible black widow, who the men of Twin Peaks are transfixed by, or Ben Horne's sudden obsession with the Civil War. Quirk, when separated from a contrasting cynicism or sense of heart, becomes twee, annoying, or even insincere.

And when it comes to the show's other lingering subplots... How many times can I say I don't care about this bullshit? Catherine mistreating Josie, James' side-quest at the mystery woman's mansion, the growing drama between Hank and Norma, Bobby's attempt to get a job with Horne and resolve his and Shelly's money problems: Sincerely, I ask, do any “Peaks”-heads find this stuff involving or at the very least interesting? Most of these characters I've never liked very much and, now divorced from the show's more important lore, I can barely keep myself from dozing off during their scenes. [5/10]

Friday, May 22, 2020

Twin Peaks, Episode 2.11: Masked Ball

Twin Peaks: Masked Ball

Proving that “Twin Peaks” was still capable of deflating decent cliffhangers even into its second season, “Masked Ball” begins with Major Briggs' wife assuring Cooper that her husband disappears in the woods all the time and this isn't really a cause for concern. The matter is barely mentioned again throughout the episode. The episode turns its focus to the wedding of the mayor's brother, still a great source of discord between them. Meanwhile, Dale Cooper receives a recorded message from Windom Earle. Also, tons of other bullshit is still happening in the town of Twin Peaks.

“Masked Ball” makes it clear that “Twin Peaks” isn't going to get better for a while now. The parts continue to eat the whole. The conflict between Josie Packard and Catherine Martell, always a plot tumor on the best days, moves back to the forefront. The show attempts to builds some intrigue around these event, even making it the basis of the episode's cliffhanger. But I can't connect with this stuff at all. As bad as that particular plot thread is, none of “Peaks'” useless threads compare to James Hurley hitting the road and being manipulated by a mysterious femme fatale. James' petulant, annoying side has only shown itself more and more here of late. Once he's removed from Twin Peaks itself, from the surrounding cast members we are invested in, his story becomes utterly superfluous.

And those are only the serious subplots. “Twin Peaks” is spending plenty of time with its goofy story threads too. Dick Tremayne begins mentoring a young boy, in order to prove his worthiness to Lucy. The kid, in an especially desperate twist, turns out to be some sort of “Problem Child”-esque hellion. Nadine continues to lift giant weights all around the the high school. The mayor's wedding, which features an amusing performance from the great Tony Jay, does get a good gag out of the Log Lady's apparent enthusiasm for weddings.

“Masked Ball” does have a bright spot or an interesting introduction at the very least. This episode sees a pre-”X Files” David Duchovny appear as Denise, the FBI agent sent to investigate the drug trafficking charges against Cooper. It is, especially for the time, a surprisingly sincere depiction of a transgender person. Although there is some initial surprise over Denise, formally Dennis, transiting, the show mostly respects her identity and choices. The scene where she explains how she discovered her true gender is rather sweet . Considering transgender issues weren't not widely understood at all in 1990, this shows how truly ahead-of-its-time “Twin Peaks” was.

The only other scene that really sticks out to me in “Masked Ball” occurs when Ben Horne watches an old family movie on a projector. For a character who is more-often-than-not portrayed as a villain, it's surprisingly touching to see him get a nostalgic, even remorseful, moment to himself. Ben Horne may be a crook, a schemer, and a sleazeball, but he's also still human who sometimes wonders ruefully how he got to this point in life. Still, “Twin Peaks” is continuing to struggle in some very obvious ways during the middle stretch of its second season. [6/10]

Twin Peaks, Episode 2.10: Dispute Between Brothers

Twin Peaks, Episode 2.10: Dispute Between Brothers

Laura Palmer's murder might have been resolved but “Twin Peaks” was destined to continue. The town is still reeling from the death of Leland Palmer. Agent Dale Cooper says his good-byes around the small town he has become very attached to. Just as he's getting ready to leave for good, other agents from FBI's internal affairs barge in and tell him his badge is suspended, immediately. His credentials are being called into question, over Dale crossing over into Canada to rescue Audrey from One Eyed Jack's. During a midnight fishing trip with Major Briggs, yet more unexpected events occur.

From this point on, “Twin Peaks” will start to struggle. It's the kind of growing pains any show has to face if it runs long enough. With the resolution of Laura's murder, there's no reason for Dale Cooper, FBI Agent, to remain in the small town of Twin Peaks. Obviously, the show can't continue on without its protagonist. So the extremely sudden internal affairs investigation was cooked up to keep him in town. It is, to say the least, an awkward narrative choice. It's also a sign that “Peaks” is starting to loose its identity. Without the Palmer investigation to drive the show forward, the show is consumed by its time-wasting subplots and other irrelevant details.

Granted, there are still on-going stories I care about in “Twin Peaks.” The opening half of this episode, devoted to Leland's funeral, is not without its graceful moments. Especially when Sarah Palmer recalls the details of Laura and Donna's childhood friendship. It's touching and sweet, the kind of honest emotion this show could touch on when it was on-point. There are other decent moments. When Sheriff Truman presents Dale with a home-made fishing lure, it's an adorable and quirky moment. Finally, Audrey's attempt to say good-bye to Dale, neither totally satisfied with how things have turned out between them, is cute and funny and flirtatious.

Yet, ultimately, this show just can't make me really care about its other, floundering plot points. Leo's wheelchair nudges forward a moment, freaking out Shelly. The town mayor argues with his brother. Josie Parkard wanders into Truman's cabin in the middle of the night. Norma's mom turns out to be a food critic and negs her. Hank visits One Eyed Jack's and Jean Renault is planning something. And, listen, I think Nadine's super-strong teenage adventure is funny. But moments of broad, physical slapstick on the cheerleader squad could not feel more out of place.

Since it's clear that “Twin Peaks” doesn't really know what to do with itself right now, at least until Window Earle comes into town, so it grasps at straws for anything to fill its spooky supernatural content. So, while out fishing with Cooper, Major Briggs is seemingly abducted by aliens. While it's barely been set-up before, the way “Peaks” mixes its spiritualistic elements with a more sc-fi driven angel is mildly interesting. Mark Frost's interest in how the occult and actual government agencies have crossed over is obviously an influence on this story turn. It's not as compelling as the mystery of Laura Palmer's murder but it's, if nothing else, a lot more interesting than Nadine tossing male cheerleaders through the air.

So “Twin Peaks” is in a pretty tight place, continuing forward even though it barely has a plan for how to operate without its central mystery. If you think this is lame, things are going to get worst before they get better. [6/10]

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Twin Peaks, Episode 2.9: Arbitrary Law

Twin Peaks: Arbitrary Law

I'm not telling you anything you don't know when I say David Lynch never intended to reveal who Laura Palmer's killer was. However, pressure from the network – in response to an impatient public who wandered away from season two – forced his hand. And so, “Arbitrary Law” has Cooper continue to be unsure about Benjamin Horne's guilt. A page from Laura's secret diary reveals she had the same dream as him, about the red room. His intuition further guides him to the Road House, gathering all the major suspects in the bar. This is when the Giant reappears and Laura's killer is revealed to him. Once Leland – possessed by BOB – is contained at the police station, the truth comes out.

Tim Hunter, previously of “The One-Armed Man,” directed “Arbitrary Law.” While Hunter is clearly an accomplished director in his own regard, his work sometimes comes off as a pale imitation of Lynch. There is definitely some tension in the sequence where Donna is in the Palmer home with Leland. We the audience knows he is still under BOB's control, which does create some suspense... However, cutaways to Frank Silva's grimacing, contorting, yelling face feel a little on-the-nose, and ingenuine, in a way that they didn't when Lynch did something similar. The scene in the Road House is better, especially the selected use of some freeze frames, before Cooper realizes the truth.

The best stuff in “Arbitrary Law” is driven by the show's actors. This episode is truly a display for Ray Wise. When acting as BOB, he sweats and glares in an unhinged manner that certainly comes off as creepy. Yet what impresses even more is when BOB exits Leland's body, “pulling the ripcord” as he goes. As Leland lays dying, all his horrible memories come rushing back. Not only is this a fantastic show of Wise's talent, it's also “Twin Peaks” revealing one of its darkest metaphors. As a boy, BOB asked Leland if he wanted to play and came inside him. And so the show presents its villain as symbolic of the horrible cycle of childhood sex abuse. Leland was assaulted as a child, internalized that abuse, and became an abuser himself. This isn't always true but it sometimes is and it's a sad, horrible fact about the real life issues “Twin Peaks” interrogates.

It's a lot to take in within a short amount of time. However, in one of its swiftest and most concise writing moves, “Twin Peaks” manages to resolve these events in an emotional way. As Leland dies, Cooper guides him to catharsis and resolution. Kyle MacLachlan has never been better than he is here. “Twin Peaks” tossed a lot of balls into the air and didn't catch them all, especially in its second season. Yet it pulled few punches with the reveal of Laura's killer and managed to find the perfect way to resolve this particular story.

Oh yeah, there's other stuff in this episode too. I know, with the most important story line in “Twin Peaks” being wrapped up here, it's really difficult to care much at all about any of the show's other subplots. Dick Tremayne is brought back into the story, making it clear that the love triangle around Lucy's baby isn't over yet. Even worst – much, much worst – is the scene devoted to James and Donna's relationship. Within the course of one episode, he goes from proposing to her to storming out of town. This is the most emotionally facile of all the show's overheated supporting storylines. If James never came back to the town of Twin Peaks, I wouldn't have been upset at all.

Still, once again, these setbacks only distract so much from the stuff this show does really, really well. “Arbitrary Law's” closing minutes, in which Dale, Sheriff Truman, Albert, and Major Briggs discuss BOB and the nature of evil so neatly sums up the characters' – and the show's – philosophy. Cooper believes it is the good man's responsibility to fight evil. Albert sums it up, when he states that BOB is the evil that men do. It's pretty powerful stuff. “Twin Peaks” was such a good show when it got out of its way and focused on its best elements. [8/10]

Twin Peaks, Episode 2.8: Drive with a Dead Girl

Twin Peaks: Drive with a Dead Girl

Let's get right to it: Sheriff Truman and the rest of the Twin Peaks police department think they might have Laura Palmer's killer, now that Benjamin Horne is in custody. (Jerry, an incompetent lawyer, struggles to put a defense together... With Pete arriving to provide proof that Catherine is still alive, giving Ben an alibi but infuriating him.) Dale Cooper, however, is not so sure. In fact, he's closer than he thinks. BOB remains in control of Leland and is casually driving around Twin Peaks, with Maddie's corpse stuffed in his trunk. This, of course, is not the only thing happening around town.

“Drive with a Dead Girl” has a great first scene. It's an exterior shot of the Palmer house, the screams of Maddie's final moments alive audible from outside the building. It's an unnerving moment, a perfect capturing of how horrible things happen behind normal doors... And then “Twin Peaks” dives right into all the bullshit subplots I can't even begin to care about. Josie gets name-dropped by both Pete and Sheriff Truman. Bobby further concocts his plot to profit off of Leo's condition, temporarily pleasing Shelly. Most superfluously, Norma's mother and her new husband arrives in town. This has to be among the show's most irrelevant complications, a desperate attempt to give Norma and Hank something, anything, to do in the show's on-going drama.

A lot of “Drive with a Dead Girl” is filled up with stuff like this but, I'll admit, I do like some of these diversions. The continued drama around Lucy's pregnancy admittedly takes a few amusing turns here. The arrival of her obnoxious sister, played by a suitably talkative Kathleen Wilhoite, creates a funny sequence where she repeatedly interrupts a conversation between them. Caleb Deschanel returns to direct this episode and he does a good Lynch impersonation during a scene where Ben and Jerry reminiscences about their childhood girlfriend and her flashlight. It's a totally unnecessary sequence but one I sure do like a lot.

Of course, the scenes most interesting about “Drive with a Dead Girl” are those involving Leland. He comes face to face with Cooper twice, the FBI agent somehow missing his erratic behavior. (Such as a fittingly unhinged sequence of Leland driving his car while singing in a manic fashion.) The truth of the evil inside him, evident inside a mirror or simply in his trunk, is right under everyone's noses. And that's exactly the point. The everyday kind of evil that resides in people's hearts, that drives fathers to molest their own daughters, that happens behind closed doors in any town, is always right in front of us.

There's also one more scene in “Drive with a Dead Girl” that I like. Audrey has a talk with Cooper in his hotel room. In this moment, we see that Audrey really does love her father. That all her actions have been driven by a desire to receive that love from him in return, that the manipulative and ethically hollow Ben Horne was unable to give. It's also a moment that shows off what Sherilyn Fenn could achieve as an actress, when the show actually gave her something meaningful to work with.

Sometimes, “Drive with a Dead Girl” does feel a bit like “Twin Peaks” trying to drag the story line out a little longer. We already know who Laura's killer is but the show is not quite ready for the other characters to know that, just yet. While there is some bullshit to wade through, the episode still has enough potent moments to make it worth engaging with. [7/10]

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Twin Peaks, Episode 2.7: Lonely Souls

Twin Peaks: Lonely Souls

With ratings sagging in season two, network executives demanded that the identity of Laura Palmer's killer be revealed. In order to resolve this mystery, David Lynch would return to direct. With the MIKE personality taking full control of Philip Gerard, he leads the Twin Peaks PD to the Great Northern. They also investigate Harold Smith's cabin, finding he has committed suicide and discovering Laura's secret journal. Audrey confronts her father and discovers he was sleeping with Laura, who then passes this info on to Cooper. This is enough to convince Truman and Coop that Ben Horne might be their perp. While intrigue abounds all around town, the real killer – Killer BOB's host – reveals himself in the Palmer household, just as Maddie is about to head home.

Though “Peaks” was always a nice looking show, the Lynch directed episodes were especially distinguished by his particular visual approach. “Lonely Souls” features some especially great sequences. Lynch ramps up the absurdity in that uniquely disquieting, Lynchian way when he has MIKE convulsing and freaking out while surrounded by clog dancers. Just the use of camera makes simple moments memorable. Such as the way the Log Lady enters the shot in the police station. Or a long shot in the Palmer home, scored to Louis Armstrong's “What a Wonderful World,” a simple enough scene that plays as very creepy in retrospect.

Because, of course, anyone reading this blog probably knows who Laura Palmer's killer actually was. Lynch reserves his most unnerving directional decisions for the reveal of Killer BOB's true identity. A record spins listlessly on the phonograph, filling the room with a clicking noise. Sarah Palmer crawls through the house, disorientated, as she observes the pale horse of death. Finally, BOB smiles from the mirror as Leland snaps gloves onto his hands. The following minutes have to rank among network television's most unnerving events. Lynch turns up the slow-motion shrieks of anguish. The high contrast lighting makes the scene even more nightmarish. The punches connect with Maddie's face with such ferocity, I can't believe the show got away with it. The final concussive act of violence that ends her life is so blunt, so sudden, it absolutely unnerves.

I'll never forget when I was watching through “Peaks” with my mom. Her reaction to that scene was a horrified shout of “Leland is Bob?! Leland raped and murdered his own daughter?!” I can only imagine everyone watching in 1990 reacted similarly. Of course, Laura's father being her killer is the ultimate example of “Twin Peaks'” exploration of the dark underbelly of the American small town. Behind closed doors, a father raped and molested his own daughter... A crime that happens in every small town. Maddie's death, an extension of Laura's death, causes everyone in the Road House to pause in stunned, crying silence. (A mood furthered by the mournful melody of Julee Cruise's “The World Spin,” one of two songs from “Industrial Symphony No. 1” used in this episode.) The murder is simply another form of the death of innocence that Laura experienced the first time her dad touched her.

Simply put, it's one of the most mesmerizing moments I've ever seen in any television series. It's so good that, honestly, you wonder how it can even be on the same television show as some of “Peaks'” other plot lines. It's certainly a lot harder to be invested in the reveal that Horne's mysterious Japanese investor is actually Catherine, a twist that was easily seen coming. (Though how exactly she reveals this info to Pete is kind of cute.) The plot line surrounding Bobby, Shelly, and Leo continues to revolve, with an audio tape discovered in a boot. At least Audrey actually does something productive in this episode, revealing crucial information to Cooper. It's good to know that character can still be used well, when the show isn't spinning its wheels.

Yet I can't really be too annoyed with “Lonely Souls.” David Lynch managed to sneak something truly subversive and unnerving onto regular TV in 1990. The murder of Maddie could easily rank among any moment from his films for its pure power. It all adds up to what might be the show's best episode. It's my favorite at the very least. Lynch wouldn't come back to “Peaks” for a while but he certainly left off on an unforgettable note. [9/10]