Thoughts on The Black Widow:
Ben Horne: Bobby, you’re standing in front of a mammoth sky scraper. A leviathan that rips a hole in the clouds. Now, what is the first question that comes to your mind? The first question that you ask yourself is; ‘what’s on the top floor, who’s up there in the penthouse and why.’”
Bobby pays another visit to Ben Horne, whose insanity is flowering wonderfully, like a mutant sunflower. When he’s not building “sky scrapers” out of his office furniture he’s reenacting the battle at Gettysburg, and apparently rooting for the South to win. What I like about his initial conversation with Bobby is the suggestiveness of the above line, given what we’re learning about the forms of metaphysical power that are manifesting themselves in Twin Peaks. It’s the sort of thinking/questioning that Cooper has been doing as relates to the Giant, the Little Man, and the various-and-sundry spirits and weird goings-on happening in Twin Peaks. It’s also the sort of questioning that I’ve been doing as an audience member. Who’s controlling this whole thing (if anyone)? Why are they there?
Ben Horne: “Show me something that I don’t already know.”
By hiring Bobby Briggs to play secret paparazzi and follow Hank Jennings around, Ben Horne and the show’s writers drag voyeurism-as-subtext back into the light.
Cooper: “What is it?”
Irene: “A puzzle…”
We rejoin Cooper, now dressed in civilian-as-lumberjack clothes and hunting for real estate in Twin Peaks. It’s awfully odd, seeing Coop without his slick suits, less buttoned-down than dressed down. Still, it’s also somehow fitting. Cooper is becoming more and more at one with the town he’s come to love, and his decision to buy property – first brought up back in the first season – makes perfect sense. It’s through that decision that we’re introduced to the enigmatic “Dead Dog Farm,” a place that seems to have an aspect of the supernatural about it. Irene the realtor describes it as “a puzzle,” which also describes the show itself. And as for that weird, offputting name? Irene tells Cooper that “Of all the people in the world the best and the worst are drawn to a dead dog. Most turn away. Only those with the purest of heart can feel its pain – and somewhere in between the rest of us struggle.”
That’s kind of nifty, and it continues to underline the qualities of compassion and empathy – two traits that Cooper typically has in spades. Of course, there’s a perverse reverse-angle to the sentiment as well – one that goes unspoken. It’s not just those who are “purest of heart” who are drawn to a dead dog, it’s also “the worst” sort of people. And as if to confirm this, Coop and Irene discover that the property has been used by drug dealers/drug smugglers in the recent past. Coop, stripped of his badge and his authority, tells Irene that they’ll need to call Sherriff Truman.
Judie: “…the number one thing to know about Nicky is that throughout his brief life he has been very confused and perhaps traumatized by a persistent random misfortune.”
Surprisingly, the Dick/Andy/Lucy storyline hasn’t worn out its welcome with me yet. I found its insertion into the events of “Arbitrary Law” to be bizarre and infuriating – when held up against a storyline like Leland Palmer’s, this Bizarre Love Triangle (holla, New Order fans!) pales in comparison. And, as always, there’s a running risk of Andy descending into utter Lenny-of-Mice-and-Men-style buffoonery. But I kind of love Ian Buchanan’s performance in the part, and I love the way he plays off of Andy particularly. He’s like a buttery/oily ingratiating version of Albert – contempt barely disguised by a veneer of urbane sophistication. I’m not sure where this Nicky storyline is going, but the sight of Dick and Nicky in matching outfits as Dick tries “manfully” to change a tire and Nicky annoys him was pretty amusing for this viewer. Your mileage may vary, as usual.
Dick: “Andy I believe that Little Nicky, incredible as it may seem, may in fact be the devil.”
I’m also admittedly intrigued by Nicky’s background, which involves his parents being killed, and eventually the possibility that ‘Little Nicky’ (Anyone else instinctively think of that stupid Adam Sandler movie whenever Nicky’s referred to that way?) is malevolent – a kind of proto-Orphan/post-Damien for the early 90’s – especially the way in which Dick voices this possibility to Andy, creating the oddest of potential bonds between them. And then of course, there’s having a case worker assigned to him who’s played by a quasi-unrecognizable Molly Shannon. It is BIZARRE to see Shannon pop up here. Her cadences and her mannerisms are so familiar to me from her years on SNL, but she’s so relatively subdued here that its as if we’re watching her performing under a skin she’ll soon shed.
Mayor Milford: “Doug… Oh I hate to say it, but I told you so.”
We rejoin Truman and Andy as they attend to Doug Milford’s dead body. He appears to have died before or after some vigorous sex with a young Robyn Lively (She’ll always be “Teen Witch” to me. Also: Doogie Howser, M.D.! The Karate Kid III! Silver Spoons! Punky Brewster! Knight Rider! Children of the 80’s, unite!). I guess that puts an end to the Dispute Between Brothers. I’m a big fan of the way Mayor Milford manages to finally “win” their argument, with a simultaneously petty/sorrowful “I told you so.”
But what’s the deal with “My Secret Life,” by Chris Gerrfey? Well, it’s not a “real” book as far as I can tell. So, given that, and given that we’re told nothing else about it, I’m assuming that what’s “important” (relatively speaking) about this book is the title: “My Secret Life.” That is, after all, what so much of Twin Peaks focuses on; the double existence, the doppelganger, the shadow-self, the secrets all people keep, and the ways in which those secrets can destroy them.
Teen Witch’s character (hey, even Mayor Milford calls her a witch!), Lana, gets attended to by Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill, aka Tommy Turquoise aka Optimus Smooth aka Ladies, Wait Your Turn, and Hawk turns the full magnitude of his surprisingly-inappropriately-timed Lady-Macking powers on Milford as she sits weeping after having apparently killed a man with her own particular set of powers, which seem to involve grievously injuring/killing the men who attempt to Mack her. A surfeit of characters with strange backgrounds and weird anti-superpowers (I’m only partially kidding) seems to be infusing the town of Twin Peaks. Both Nicky and Lana seem to bring misfortune to those around them. the Mad Pirate Nadine has, for some reason, super strength. There’s also Cooper, he of the Intuition and Prophetic Dreams and Noble Purpose. Is there a pattern here?
…Seriously, who hits on a woman who’s just unintentionally murdered someone in bed?
Hawk, that’s who.
The show itself seems to realize that this is (entertainingly) ridiculous, and so chooses to finish off this scene by having Andy undercut Hawk’s sudden gamma-assisted machismo-surge with a well-timed door-opening.
Coach: Boys, there’s a story about a great football coach… whose name escapes me at this time, who was dead set against having a black players on his team. Until somebody brought him the finest black halfback anyone had ever seen. And when what’s his name saw him run fifty yards and no one lay a hand on him he shouted, ‘look at that Indian go.’ That coach accepted that athlete’s desire to compete.”
I have absolutely zero idea what to make of Nadine’s decision to move into the field of wrestling, but having competed in the sport myself I was surprised at the burst of sudden, unexpected nostalgia for a sport that I regularly cursed and would never willingly revisit. A former teammate once described the sport thusly: “Wrestlers are always trying to get other people to ‘join the fun,’ to be a part of the team, and we always tell people that it’s because the sport is challenging and rewarding to the body and the mind, because the competition is fierce and honorable, but the truth is that we just want other people to share in our neverending pain.”
Amen to that. Twin Peaks’ high school wrestling coach is another new character that I’m enjoying. I enjoyed his daffy “inspirational” speech featuring a coach who’s name escaped him and a black halfback who was also, apparently, an Indian. Or something. And while none of this is in any way “compelling” or “addictive” or whathaveyou, it is (for now) amusing. I hope Twin Peaks follows Nadine’s further adventures in flirting-via-assault.
While I’m not too troubled by the splintered focus of the show now, finding most of these plot-threads entertaining, if a clear step down from earlier episodes in terms of the kind of ooky-spooky atmosphere Lynch has evoked so admirably, I’m starting to understand the idea of this being Twin Peaks’ “fallow period.” While I’m enjoying characters like Dick Tremayne and situations like Nadine’s Bizarro-“Grease” regression, I’m also noticing that the show as a whole has taken on a kind of overall flatness. It’s gone from art house to Full House in some respects (especially technically – Caleb Deschanel shoots the majority of the episode like every other television show you’ve ever seen; like an episode of “Bones” if that episode had featured the characters on acid). This becomes most apparent to me when Donna pops back up, looking more and more Flynn Boyle-ish with every episode. Here are my issues/questions:
Does anyone other than Sarah Palmer and the Police know that Leland killed Laura? Was Leland posthumously charged? Looking back on the episode Dispute Between Brothers I’m sort of amazed I didn’t ask this immediately. Where’s the town-wide reaction to that news? Above and beyond that, both Laura and Maddie are dead. Why is Donna so chipper and emotionally okay with all of this?
The disappearance of Major Briggs continues to give us a cool/spooky/unearthly element to latch onto as we head deeper into Northern Exposure territory for the show overall. Colonel Riley’s introduction allows the show to feed us more exposition about what makes Twin Peaks “special,” and I’m generally a sucker for scenes where the military debriefs people on creepy things. These scenes are a close cousin to what internet film critic Vern describes as the scenes in which we the audience learn how much of a badass a character is.
Colonel Riley: “Our monitors are pointed at deep space but the messages we intercepted, that Briggs showed you, were sent from right here in these woods.”
Riley asks Cooper if he noticed any wildlife prior to the Major’s disappearance – any birds, or owls. Cooper tells him that just before the Major disappeared he did indeed hear an owl (and we the audience saw one). We also learn that the messages that the Major shared with Cooper (“The owls are not what they seem” and “CooperCooperCooper” written over and over) originated from the woods around Twin Peaks – the very location that’s been the focal point of the figurative and literal heart of darkness in this town. The suggestion is that these signals came from earth and were sent up into space – a reversal of the sorts of “extraterrestrial transmission” we typically see in films and TV. What does this mean? Who knows! But of interest to me, mythically-speaking, is the primitive idea of a “Sky God” or “High God” that ancient cultures attempted to commune with.
Finally, Cooper brings up the words “White Lodge,” which the Major spoke directly before disappearing. He’s told that those words are classified, and that the Major’s disappearance is the sort of high-level security event that “makes the Cold War look like the sniffles.” Isn’t THAT intriguing.
Having been denied the illicit fruit of Dale Cooper, Audrey apparently decides to just grab the next walking meatsack that passes her by, selecting Bobby Briggs as her new flirting-buddy. I enjoy Audrey’s character, but she’s much more interesting as a fundamentally-decent person with an older-than-her-years, femme fatale façade. In the aftermath of her conversation with Cooper I worried that the show wouldn’t bother to keep her that complex, leaving her to two-dimensional vamping. While I’d never begrudge two-dimensional vamping from such an admirably three-dimensional woman, doing that would make her less interesting. But the show has kept Audrey firmly in Saucy Nancy Drew territory, loyal to Cooper and interested in helping him. This is confirmed when she reenters one of the Great Northern’s copious Secret Passages (all buildings should have secret passages – it makes life more interesting) in order to learn about the pictures that Bobby’s taken for Ben. Glad to see Audrey’s still indulging in skulking and skullduggery over stem-tying (not that there’s anything objectionable about that).
Catherine: “Here’s to me.”
The Catherine/Pete/Josie story continues to be weird and not exactly entertaining for me, but not boring either. It’s downright odd to see Josie in a maid’s outfit, serving the Martells as Catherine and Pete enjoy champagne and Pete strains at poetry to impress her. Catherine clearly hasn’t changed, enjoying torturing Josie slowly and openly seizing glory for herself with a man who already thinks she’s glorious.
Cooper: “He anticipated my response to his opening move perfectly. He’s toying with me Diane.”
We make a welcome return to Cooper and the burgeoning Windom Earle storyline. I like how they’re keeping Earle veiled, his presence portended in chess moves and in half-explicated scraps of conversation. I also like the continued threat presented by Jean Renault and his Evil Mountie Henchman. After all of the metaphysical tomfoolery it’s a mundane frame job that might serve as Cooper’s undoing. Starting down this road, plot-wise, was a wise move on the show’s part. Cooper disempowered is just as interesting to me as Cooper empowered. Seeing Cooper without the symbols of his office allows us to reevaluate him through a new lens.
And speaking of new lenses, Audrey pops up again to share Bobby’s pictures with Coop – pictures which show Hank Jennings, Ernie “The Professor” Niles, Jean Renault and his Evil Mountie Henchman at Dead Dog Farm. This photographic evidence provides Cooper with a seemingly swift path back into the good graces of the FBI, which is both reassuring and disappointing. I have to remind myself that this was a different era, in which storylines were dealt with in a much shorter stretch of time, instead of the more popular “decompression” method used so often these days. For a good example of how our storytelling has changed, examine the difference between a film like The Shadow (starring a pre-corpulence Alec Baldwin) and Batman Begins (starring a pre-Alec-Baldwin Christian Bale). In the former, we meet Baldwin as an opium dealing murderer who is tutored by a Wise Monk with the voice of a 70 year-old smoker to renounce his evil ways and fight injustice. We witness a scene in which the Monk tells Baldwin this, and then we cut to a scroll which explains that Baldwin trained in special arts to prepare himself to fight evil. The film then IMMEDIATELY cuts to seven years later, with Baldwin fully in control of his freaky plastic-face powers. There is no training. One minute, Baldwin is a long-haired, freakily-fingernailed nihilist living in abject sin, the next he’s a sleek, tux-wearing dandy who can somehow turn his face into rigid, unmoving plastic. Contrast that with Batman Begins, in which the majority of that film is devoted to showing us, painstakingly, how Bruce Wayne goes from pissy and isolated to…well…pissy and isolated, but with much cooler toys.
All of which is to say that drawing out the drama on something like Cooper’s suspension is something I’d expect to see now, in an age where every story has a prequel, every prequel expands every story beat, and events are given much more space to play out (see also: Lost). It’s not something that you did then, and when you did you were typically punished for doing so in terms of the ratings. Laura’s murder is a perfect example of this – that storyline could easily play out over several seasons in today’s televisual climate with these new, decompressed expectations, but waiting a whole SEASON to learn the solution to that mystery in the climate of 1991? That was apparently asking a lot of audiences at the time.
Hawk: “Harry, do you still have that bottle of Irish in your office? I want to put some in a little warm milk for the widow Milford.”
Yeah, Hawk knows where it’s at – it’s all about getting grieving widows nice and tipsy and primed for sweet, sweet, loving. That’s not creepy AT ALL.
Lana: “And then I said well what do you think underpants are for anyway?”
But hey, I’m all about Equal Opportunity Creepiness, which Lana decides to take advantage of as quickly as possible – somehow drawing all the men in her general vicinity to her and quasi-entrancing them as she tells wildly-inappropriate stories for their rapt attention. Is it just me, or was Lana just launching into a story about sodomy-by-horse when the scene cuts away?
Major Briggs: “How long have I been gone?”
The Black Widow ends on a perfect note, leaving me eager to see what happens next. As Bobby and his mother talk about the Major – as Bobby recounts for her the Major’s dream of a “big house made of white marble and lots of lights” where both father and son were “Living a life of deep harmony and joy,or something like that…” – Major Briggs reappears as if from nowhere, wearing what appear to be World War II aviator togs (implying some element of potential time travel, an aspect that makes perfect sense if we view the metaphysical aspects of Twin Peaks as existing “out of time,” something that’s been all but confirmed for us thanks to the kooky way in which Cooper and Laura communicated across time and space in Cooper’s vision). He’s returned, seemingly illuminated, and as the episode comes to a close his wife asks him if everything’s alright, to which he ominously replies: “No dear, not really.”
Perfectly tantalizing. Bring on the weird.