Call it a hunch, but William Hastings probably isn’t the only guy who had his mind blown by this week’s Twin Peaks – he’s just the messiest.
We’re 11 episodes deep now, and David Lynch and Mark Frost’s reborn show is so damned good that it often feels unfair to everything else on television. When these two are operating at their Peak powers, even the best and brightest of the competition can’t hold a candle to the duo’s ability to leap back and forth between comedy, tragedy, suspense and outright horror (like ol’ Bill Hastings losing his head, or half of it anyway). It’s simply impossible to predict where this thing will go within any given scene, much less from one to the next. This wild blend of moods and styles draws you into the resulting drama rather than pushing you out of it. It leaves you desperate to see what these black magicians will do next.
Take the extended sequence at the Double R Diner, featuring Deputy Bobby Briggs, his ex-wife Shelly and their wayward daughter Becky Burnett. It begins as a touching, gutting scene of family drama, in which the estranged couple try, gently but desperately, to help their girl escape her no-good husband Steven. His latest affair sent her rushing to the apartment of the other woman (Alicia Witt, reprising her brief role in the original series as Donna Hayward’s kid sister), guns blazing. It also left Shelly sprawled on the lawn of Carl Rodd‘s trailer park, when her attempt to stop the young woman by clinging to the hood of her own stolen car ended in failure.
The resulting performances are as sumptuous as one of Norma Jennings‘ cherry pies. In Bobby’s frustration with his shitheel son-in-law, actor Dana Ashbrook brings out flashes of the angry young man the character once was. As Becky, Amanda Seyfried is saucer-eyed wonder; her denial that her spouse beats her is as transparent as her parents’ need to believe it is heartbreaking – after all, Shelly herself was once in an abusive marriage. Mädchen Amick radiates the character’s older-but-wiser experience throughout the scene. Eventually, the trio reach an unspoken decision to pretend they’ve gotten somewhere and end the argument – a sensation familiar to anyone who’s repeatedly faced down the same interpersonal issue with no real results.
Suddenly, a familiar face appears in the window, rapidly approaching the diner: Red, the magic-wielding druglord whose taunting of Richard Horne sent the young sociopath on his fatal ride a few weeks ago. He’s also the former Mrs. Briggs’s new boyfriend, and she rushes out to neck with him like a teenager in love – leaving her actual one-time teenage lover Bobby looking like a sad puppy. Like her daughter, Shelly remains drawn to bad boys, even though it seems she has no idea how bad the boy really is.
No sooner does she sit back down than our false sense of security is shattered by gunshots. Rushing outside to confront the shooter, Bobby discovers neither hit men nor homicidal maniacs, but a furious mother in the middle of a traffic jam, berating her gun-nut husband for leaving a loaded weapon in the family car. Bobby stares at the kid who fired the shots – the boy’s “fuck you” demeanor is a miniature replica of his father’s – and winces at the cycle of macho idiocy already at work.
Meanwhile, the car behind the young gunman’s vehicle honks and honks. An older woman is furious about the traffic jam preventing her from getting home for dinner – and it’s clear something is wrong here. As her demeanor reaches white-hot panic, the woman bellows, “Her uncle is joining us! She hasn’t seen him in a very long while!” Wait – whose uncle? “We’re late! We’ve got miles to go! Please, we have to get home! She’s sick!” Then the horror begins: As the driver shrieks and shrieks, a girl rises up from the shadows of the passenger seat, arms outstretched like a zombie, green vomit leaking from her mouth. Then the sequence ends, its final moments chillingly unexplained.
And there’s no shortage of scary stuff elsewhere in this episode. Earlier, a trio of kids playing catch near the street – a nerve-wracking callback to Richard’s hit-and-run – discover Miriam, the witness Horne tried to kill, as she crawls out of the woods to ask for help. And back in South Dakota, Albert, Gordon, Tammy and the duplicitous Diane have a run-in with the Woodsmen that leaves Bill Hastings dead and nearly sucks our man Gordon through a vortex into their dark world.
Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, our amnesiac hero Dale Cooper/Dougie Jones gets summoned to a Casino-style execution by the Mitchum Brothers (Robert Knepper and Jim Belushi, a Coen-esque joy to watch together). But thanks to the intervention of the one-armed man, “Dougie” saves his own life by presenting Belushi’s character Bradley with a gift he saw in a dream: a cherry pie. The $30 million insurance check he hands them as a result of his “investigation” into their arson claim doesn’t hurt either. And when the trio dine out afterwards to celebrate, Coop’s voracious appetite for the aforementioned delicacy (“Damn good!”) delivers a mainline hit of nostalgia every bit as powerful as the jolt you get from seeing Bobby and Shelly together, or from hearing Hawk and the Log Lady exchange cryptic mysticisms earlier.
But as impressive as all this stuff is on its own, seeing all of it in a single sequence – a sequence that really works – is a minor miracle. In its way, the psychologically super-charged time Shelly, Bobby and Becky spend in and around the Double R is as much of a technical/dramatic achievement as any tricky long take, dazzling musical montage or arthouse-in-your-living-room avant garde experiment. Its emotional highs and lows are seamlessly paced and utterly unpredictable. It’s Twin Peaks in miniature. Damn good.
Previously: Come Blow Your Horne