A few interesting new arrivals to town this week…
Before we get started, some of you might be confused about who the hell I am and what the hell this is doing here. It looks kinda random, I’ll admit, especially this episode is pretty much in the middle of Twin Peaks’ original run. Well, this column just moved here this month(along with me) as a part of FSR’s acquisition of One Perfect Shot. We’re going to go through the whole series to-date as well as Fire Walk With Me, all in an effort to get as many people as possible caught up with the show before it’s long-long-awaited third season debuts next year on Showtime. The head Honcho here has been gracious enough to allow me to continue my obsessed ramblings, so from now on each Tuesday there will be another episode guide. If you want to catch up, you can check out all my posts til now right here.
EPISODE 18: “MASKED BALL”
Written by Barry Pullman, Directed by Duwayne Dunham
Airdate December 15th, 1990
We open on a scene of James easy riding through Washington State, hitting the open road to clear his clouded head.
Meanwhile back in Twin Peaks, Coop and Truman are informing Major Briggs’ wife Betty about his odd disappearance, but she’s not too concerned, she says it happens a lot, especially if it’s in regards to his work. She asks Coop if it seemed like it was. He can’t be sure. She asks then if the Major disappeared suddenly. Coop says yes. Betty says the fact that they were in the woods is very significant as the Major talks about them constantly. Coop asks if the Major has been attempting to contact some force in the woods as a part of his work. Betty knows the drill, though: that’s classified, she says. There’s not much more they can do, then. She says Briggs left some notes she can go home and get for them. When she leaves, Coop says he isn’t convinced the Major just walked off on his own, and he shouldn’t be, not after what he saw at the end of the last episode. Andy and Hawk arrive with wedding presents for Dougie Milford and his new bride. Lucy’s out helping with the wedding so there’s a temp at the desk. She breaks in with a call for Coop; it’s Gordon Cole, wanting Coop to know he’s got his full support in the investigation against him, which Cole says is going to be starting soon, as the DEA is sending down a top dog to head it up, Dennis Bryson. Coop knows the name.
Coop reports for his interrogation with Roger Hardy and the other Internal Affairs agents. Coop says he has no defense for his actions in Canada because he is certain of their rightness. He’ll of course accept whatever penalties come from breaking jurisdiction, but he did nothing wrong criminally and will represent himself in court if need be. Roger voices his admiration for Coop’s standing up for himself. Coop starts talking about a bigger game, wind, animals, darkness, love, and Roger is lost. He reigns it in by telling Coop he’s likely to be extradited on the charges. Coop can’t alter this, so won’t worry about it. How very Zen of him. Roger says Coop’s suspension will continue and the DEA will start their investigation today. Furthermore, given all he’s been through, Roger might recommend Coop for a full psychological evaluation. Dale appreciates his candor.
At Twin Peaks High School, everyone is humoring Nadine’s delusions. She asks Donna if she’s still going out with Mike Nelson. She isn’t, which makes Nadine happy, because she thinks there’s some major chemistry developing between them. Mike of course is oblivious to this. Donna asks her about Ed, isn’t she still seeing him? Nadine says sometimes Ed acts like he’s old enough to be her father; for now, she’s content being young and free.
James stops off for a beer at a roadside bar. There’s a cherry Corvette convertible in the lot, and an equally alluring woman sitting by herself at the bar. She’s very weird, and very forward. She asks if he’s handy with cars as she tweaked her husband’s Jag and needs it repaired before he comes home. She lives just up the road. So now we know she’s rich, horny, and her husband’s out of town. James, like any teenage boy would, jumps at the chance to help out. She introduces herself: Evelyn Marsh.
Andy’s leaving flowers for Lucy at her desk when Dick Tremayne shows up with Little Nicky, his charge from the Happy Helping Hand organization. They’re on their way to get a malted and wanted to see if Lucy could join them. Andy has to remind Dick that she’s helping with the Milford wedding. Drat, this means no malted, which upsets Little Nicky but Dick doesn’t budge, so Andy offers to take them instead. Dick begrudgingly obliges. I should note that the “Little” I’m putting in front of Nicky isn’t to allude to the Adam Sandler film, but because that’s what they call him. Every time. This is likely alluding to the same thing Sandler’s film is, that since a prominent alias for Satan is “Old Nick,” his son therefore would be “Little Nicky.” That might spoil a little of this Little Nicky’s behavior to come, but it had to be done.
In Truman’s office, Coop asks him and Hawk if they’ve ever heard of the White Lodge. They obviously have, but first Hawk wants to know how Coop heard about it. From Major Briggs. Hawk tells Coop that he may be fearless in this world, but there are other worlds; his people believe the White Lodge is where the spirits who rule man and nature reside. He then presents Coop with the idea of the White Lodge’s counterpart, the Black Lodge, which legend tells is the shadow self of the White Lodge. Hawk says every spirit must pass through the Lodges on its way to perfection, and while there it will meet its own shadow self, or what his people call the “dweller on the threshold.” Hawk closes with a stern admonition: enter the Black Lodge with imperfect courage and it will annihilate your soul. Sounds like a great place. The temp interrupts to let Coop know that DEA Agent Dennis Bryson is here to see him. Coop isn’t at all intimidated by this, as he and Bryson are old friends. Then Bryson walks in, and he’s a she, Dennis is Denise (and both are David Duchovny).
Mike Nelson is working out at the school gym when Nadine saunters in and starts hitting on him by lifting more weight than he can. Mike is perplexed, but the wrestling Coach is impressed and wants to know if Nadine’s ever thought about going out for the team.
Josie is still staying at Truman’s, recovering from her ordeal, whatever it was. Truman needs to know what happened, and he needs it to be the truth. Josie explains she used to work for a man called Thomas Eckhardt in Hong Kong. He took her off the streets, taught her about life and business, and became like her father, her master, and her lover. Then she met Andrew Packard, and though she was afraid to cross Eckhardt like that, she accepted his proposal of marriage anyway. Truman wants to know who Jonathan Lee – who she’s passed off as her cousin and her assistant, separately – really is. Josie says he works for Eckhardt and would have killed her if she hadn’t escaped him, because Eckhardt wants her all for himself, he always has, and whereas Andrew had the resources to protect her, she doesn’t think Truman is any match for Eckhardt’s wrathful influence. She lies and says she thinks Eckhardt is responsible for Andrew’s death – if he is, he’s not solely responsible, because we know Josie and Hank arranged and executed the murder – and says she’d rather die herself than go back to him, another reason she escaped from Jonathan, but now she’s worried that by doing so she’s doomed both herself and Truman.
There’s a 2/3rds Mod Squad reunion at the Double R when Norma (Peggy Lipton) serves Agent Hardy (Clarence Williams III) some coffee. It’s interrupted by Hank and Ernie returning from their “hunting expedition,” a.k.a. the trip to One Eyed Jacks to set up a drug deal with Jean Renault. Norma tells Ernie that Vivian’s gone back to Seattle, which is just as well what with the four kilos of cocaine he has to move in the next few days. Andy, Dick and Nicky are at the counter enjoying coffees and a malted, respectively, until Little Nicky reveals his devilish side by pranking them both.
James is working under Evelyn’s hood. That’s not a metaphor, he’s literally working under the hood of her husband’s Jag. She calls the car just another unique, perfect toy that Jeffrey owns, and counts herself as a part of that collection. James starts rambling about straddling his bike, revving the throttle, and rocketing into the darkness. These are metaphors, and very, very thin ones. Evelyn offers him the room over the garage while he works over the next few days. James accepts because of course he does: a femme fatale is only worth her weight in wiles.
Ben Horne, meanwhile, is reveling in old Super 8 movies of how simple life at The Great Northern used to be before his father died and Catherine robbed him of the mill and Ghostwood Estates. He’s a bit broken, Ben, he’s shaggy and unshaved, his physical appearance a mirror to his unsteady mental state. His life has reached a crossroads, and he seems either unwilling or unable to decide how to proceed. His mother comes on the screen. He approaches her image and kisses it as the film ends. Hank enters. Ben wastes no time proclaiming Hank is a failure, because Catherine’s alive and responsible for his downfall, the exact opposite of what Hank was contracted to arrange. Not to mention in the meantime Ben was arrested for murder and his lawyer was publically revealed to be an incestuous psychotic: neither are great for the reputation of one in the hospitality business. Then he goes on a bit about Feng Shui, but Hank cuts this nonsense out. He informs Ben that he’s out of One Eyed Jacks, it’s one more thing Ben doesn’t own anymore. Hank says it’s been taken over and also, he doesn’t work for Ben anymore. That’s when Ben figures out it’s Jean Renault calling the shots now. Hank says it doesn’t matter who is calling them, only that Ben isn’t; he’s a mess, and he’s out. Hank goes, and Ben proves this “mess” comment correct by making shadow puppets of bucks in the light of the projector.
In his room, Cooper gets a letter from Windom Earle – another chess move – and a microcassette. On the tape we hear Earle for the first time, talking about how their chess game is leading them towards a classical confrontation, and taunting Coop about his next move, mocking how Coop is patterned in his thinking, and thus vulnerable. Earle explains how his knights and rooks will advance his influence, how his pawns and even his queen will be sacrificed in the obtaining of his goal: to kill the king. There’s a lot of crypticness to what Earle is saying here, but one thig is crystal clear: dude is not talking about chess.
Dougie’s wedding begins at The Great Northern. His bride Lana is quite beautiful, quite young, and Teen Witch(Robyn Lively). When objections are asked for, Dougie’s brother Dwayne, the Mayor, calls Lana a gold digger. Truman walks him out before another geriatric brawl can ensue.
Denise calls Coop over for a drink at the wedding reception. She gives him the bad news first: cocaine residue was found in Coop’s car. Denise admits it looks like a frame, but she’ll needs evidence to prove it. They segue into Denise’s change: seems she went undercover as a transvestite for a bust, and it just felt right. This came as a complete surprise to everyone, including Denise. Dancing ensues, Coop with Audrey, and Andy with Denise.
Josie is telling Catherine that Andrew was killed by Eckhardt, and now Catherine is in danger. Catherine knows this, just like she knows that Josie had a hand in Andrew’s death, and her near-death in the mill fire. What she doesn’t know is why Josie would want to save her now? Josie says she was forced into all of those things and now she’s come to Catherine because she has nowhere else to go, she’s at her sister-in-law’s mercy. This is not a good place to be. Catherine makes Josie an offer she can’t refuse: from now on Josie is her maid, and if she disobeys in the slightest, Catherine will contact Eckhardt and hand her over to him. Josie agrees and leaves. As she does … Andrew Packard (Dan O’Herlihy) enters, not at all dead. Everything is going according to plan, he says, and now all they have to do is wait for Eckhardt to come seeking his true love. When he does…they’ll be waiting.
(A reminder here that O’Herlihy is the father of the actor Gavan O’Herlihy, who plays the crooked Canadian Mountie Preston King. Both are quite Irish, so do a fine job hiding their accents.)
The episode was the second written by Barry Pullman, after episode 12. He would write two more episodes, 24 and the penultimate, 28. Behind Mark Frost, Robert Engels, and Harley Peyton, Pullman contributed the most scripts to Twin Peaks, and unlike those others, each of his episodes was a solo gig. Series editor Duwayne Dunham directed, his first episode behind the camera since the very first episode (not the pilot), and given that Dunham was involved with the series more than most all of the other directors owing to his status as editor, his episodes are very closely akin to the aesthetic Lynch established, and having that here in an environment that narratively wasn’t so familiar helped give the disparate plotlines a visual link with the series up to now.
This episode marks the first aural appearance of Windom Earle, the arrival of Denise Bryson, and the return of Andrew Packard. These characters are central to the three biggest subplots propelling the narrative at this point. Though the first and the last are just starting, the middle is progressing as expected, slowly and with the introduction of many new characters besides Bryson: Agent Hardy, RCMP King, Ernie Niles. In the meantime, though, the episode neglects several of the main characters whose own subplots are ongoing: there’s no Shelly, no Bobby, no Leo, no Ed, no Sarah, no Lucy. And then there’s the James subplot. You guys know I love Twin Peaks, blindingly-so to a degree. But even I can’t convince myself that the Evelyn Marsh story is anywhere near a high point of the series. In fact, I can’t tell which subplot is worse, by which I mean more pointless: the James/Evelyn noir or the Andy/Dick/Little Nicky atrocity. On the one hand, James’ is the more egregiously-useless because it is the only subplot in the series to take place entirely unconnected to the town of Twin Peaks (One Eyed Jacks is connected through Ben and others), but the Helping Hands story is so off-tone, even for the quirky brand of comedy Twin Peaks employs, that it’s never anything but angrily distracting. Both, of course, are the result of the writers having to scramble for content after being made to drop the idea of a Cooper-Audrey romance, but still, there had to be other directions things could have gone.
There are some highlights too, though, namely in the brief discussion of the Black and White Lodges. These spiritual locales become central not just to the second half of the second season but to the series overall, and the pace at which this story is parsed out over the next 11 episodes is an example of Twin Peaks’ plotting at its finest.
For some viewers, though, episode 18 is where the narrative starts to get muddled. There were already a score of characters to keep up with, and now there were more, even weirder ones. It can feel a tad bit desperate at times, like the writers were trying to expand their particular brand of weirdness, which is fine, except that weirdness is Lynch’s, and he’s not the one doing it. Still, this episode is more streamlined than the last, perhaps owing to more concentrated plot management, and of course the stuff about Earle and the Lodges. Perhaps if there’d been another scene or two of those stories rather than, say, Dougie Milford’s wedding, old viewers would have felt the Twin Peakiness a little more and stuck around.
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: Perspectives on Twin Peaks
If you want more Twin Peaks goodness, check out my book, linked above, which compiles my entire episode guide – the most complete in print, don’t you know – as well as 18 original essays including my hypothetical claim that Mulholland Drive can be seen as a Twin Peaks film. And between Tuesdays follow me on Twitter for more trivia, tidbits, and assorted ephemera. See you next week.