It’s little surprise that the second season of Twin Peaks fumbles upon resolution of its central mystery, the murder of small-town homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). In conception, this most famous of all corpses was the symbolic heart of the show and, given his druthers, co-creator David Lynch might very well have left her death unresolved and unexplained. No mistake that, just before her daughter’s killer is revealed, Mrs. Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) beholds a pale horse, a stark visual reminder of Twin Peaks’ old-time religious origins (a “truth-will-out” variation on Revelation) as well as a starkly implicit query (Where do we go from here?). As Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) stares contentedly at his Killer Bob-maligned reflection, it’s clear that the world is about to change, drastically and horrifically. The subsequent murder of Laura’s brunette doppelganger cousin Maddy (Lee again) is quintessential Lynch, perhaps his finest work. While Leland brutalizes Maddy (a sequence all the more sickening for its television-necessitated reliance on implication), Lynch intercuts a surrealist meeting of the minds at Twin Peaks’s backwater bar The Roadhouse.
Here is Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) sitting face to face with a gigantism-stricken resident (Carel Struycken) of the Black Lodge, a so-called “waiting room” between Heaven and Earth. “It is happening again,” the giant intones while Cooper helplessly looks on, trying to make sense of—and make peace with—an impossibly cryptic situation. After Leland smashes Maddy’s head into a country scene painting of Missoula, Montana (Missoula resident Lynch’s perverse complement to “There’s no place like home”), the giant’s mortal counterpart—a decrepit, elderly waiter cruelly nicknamed Señor Droolcup (Hank Worden)—extends a kindly hand to Cooper before offering, all in one, an apologetic show of solidarity and an incitement to a shared display, between several Twin Peaks residents, of indescribable, somewhat inexplicable grief. “I’m so sorry,” he says, shuffling off while Roadhouse singer Julee Cruise reminds all in attendance that “The World Spins.”
A tough act to follow and—save for Twin Peaks’ final Lynch-directed episode and the film prequel Fire Walk With Me (both masterpieces in their own right)—the series never again reaches such crystalline high points. From here, the focus shifts quite rightly to Cooper, whose semi-illegal activities during the Laura Palmer case leave him suspended from the F.B.I. and provide a good enough reason for him to stick around town. During a tense standoff, minor villain Jean Renault (Michael Parks) suggests to Cooper that he is the cause of Twin Peaks’s nightmares, a sentiment not far removed from the narrative’s eventual reverse-closure resolution in Fire Walk With Me, which posits Cooper as Laura’s spirit-world complement, her key to transcendence. Cooper’s later actions in the series, including his Holmes/Moriarty relationship with his verbose and taunting former mentor Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh, having way too much fun) is thus never more than an enjoyable diversion, a way for Laura’s limbo-lost guardian angel (and the series surrounding him) to mark time until his inevitable appointment with destiny.
The great moments in these later episodes become increasingly isolated, restricted to such incidental vignettes as Ben and Jerry Horne’s (Richard Beymer and David Patrick Kelly) virgin-no-more recollection of the flashlight-twirling Louise Dombrowski or hard-of-hearing F.B.I. director Gordon Cole’s (Lynch) endearing flirtations with RR Diner waitress Shelly Johnson (Madchen Amick). Yet even Twin Peaks’s worst plotlines (Pine Weasel and Evelyn Marsh, I’m looking at you) are made up for by Lynch’s final episode. Apparently subject to a last-minute overhaul (see co-creator Mark Frost and company’s original, ridiculously literal script here), this uncompromised leap into the subconscious begins by stripping away all the extraneous plotlines (sometimes explosively) until only Cooper is left, navigating his way through the red-curtained Black Lodge, confronting and finally succumbing to his demons. Concluding with the bleakest of final shots (less a cliffhanger than a soul-deadening summative image), the episode only gains in power with all that has preceded and all that (in the Möbius strip-closing Fire Walk With Me) is yet to come again.
CBS DVD in association with Paramount presents the second season of Twin Peaks in near-pristine 1.33:1 hi-definition transfers reportedly supervised and approved by David Lynch. Film Freak Central compadre Bill Chambers hints at some flaws in the audio-video presentation, and I think he’s got a point. To these ears, the newly created English 5.1 surround track tends to favor music over dialogue, the former at times drowning out the latter. I could see this being an intentional choice on Lynch’s part, though only the Black Lodge residents know if he’ll ever speak to it. In comparison to the Spanish and Portuguese tracks (identified as mono on the packaging and 2.0 on the DVD menus), the English audio is a resonant revelation. From a visual standpoint, I fall back on that old DVD reviewer chestnut: Twin Peaks has never, ever looked better than it does here.
Slim pickings, perhaps only a palette-cleanser for the rumored complete series box set. None of the interviews here are filmed with the homemade je ne sais quoi of Artisan’s long out-of-print first-season box set (where a stubble-sporting Richard Beymer opined by way of introduction: "I’ve always wanted to go up the Amazon!"). Each of the six discs contains a short interview with a behind-the-scenes Twin Peaks personality-Stephen Gyllenhaal, one of the better late-season directors, provides the most valuable insights. The sixth disc also contains a dumbed-down version of the first-season box set’s interview grid (its most salient and superficial point of interest is determining who’s aged the best and worst) where various cast members recall their time working on this television milestone.
Hot damn, this pie is good!