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Twin Peaks: The Return Recap Part 14

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Twin Peaks: The Return Recap: Part 14

Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

Twin Peaks: The Return Recap: Part 14

The latest Twin Peaks: The Return is, to invoke the Bard, “such stuff as dreams are made on.” David Lynch has always conjured up his disorienting, often disturbing narratives according to an intuitive dream logic. The original Twin Peaks often used Agent Cooper’s dreams to forward, and occasionally frustrate, the central mystery of who killed Laura Palmer. And the new series has taken several dreamlike excursions into far leftfield, in particular the recursive flashbacks of “Part 8.” But never before has Lynch commented quite so explicitly about the philosophical, even metaphysical, function of dreams. Suffice it to say, dreams and visions—as well as a few rather gnomic discussions thereof—take up practically the entirety of “Part 14.”

Twin Peaks: The Return Recap Part 13

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Twin Peaks: The Return Recap: Part 13

Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

Twin Peaks: The Return Recap: Part 13

Last night’s episode of Twin Peaks: The Return testified to the life-affirming power of cherry pie, gave viewers an object lesson in Existentialism 101, and suggested, in suitably surreal fashion, that the more things change, the more they stay the same. A recurrent leitmotiv in the show’s iconography, cherry pie signifies David Lynch’s unabashed embrace of old-fashioned Americana, a deep-running feeling of kinship and respect for the salt-of-the-earth denizens of the country’s outlying and often overlooked small towns. In “Part 13,” a damn good slice of cherry pie plays a pivotal role in several storylines.

Twin Peaks: The Return Recap Part 12

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Twin Peaks: The Return Recap: Part 12

Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

Twin Peaks: The Return Recap: Part 12

Tinkering with the basic building blocks of serialized television has always been a key component of David Lynch’s approach to Twin Peaks, particularly when it concerns tone and timing. The protracted opening segment of “May the Giant Be With You,” for example, demonstrates Lynch’s longstanding penchant for deliberately confounding viewer expectations. And you’d doubtless be in the triple digits by now if you were keeping a running count of the scenes sprinkled throughout the new series that linger lovingly over seemingly inconsequential details. But last night’s installment of Twin Peaks: The Return takes the concept of delayed gratification to whole new levels of perversity—and even apologists for deep-seated perversity are going to have a tough time justifying long stretches of this one.

Big Love Recap: Season 3, Episode 8, "Rough Edges"

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<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 3, Episode 8, “Rough Edges”
<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 3, Episode 8, “Rough Edges”

“Rough Edges,” written by Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer and directed by Dan Attias, just plunges forward, pell-mell, not terribly concerned with if it makes a lot of sense (that Woodruff letter storyline still feels dropped in from another series entirely, Mormon content notwithstanding) but having a good time going ahead anyway. If nothing else, the episode cemented Nicki (Chloë Sevigny) as this season’s most compelling character; the long web of lies she’s been spinning all season crumbled around her in the wake of the infatuated Ray the DA pursuing her so far as her home. The episode also dove into the headlong descent toward the season finale (in two weeks), which was no easy trick, since this season has already had, like, 50 season finales. So this time, Big Love really, really means it.

Big Love Recap: Season 3, Episode 7, "Fight or Flight"

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<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 3, Episode 7, “Fight or Flight”
<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 3, Episode 7, “Fight or Flight”

As if making penance for the last two weeks of limited Juniper Creek storylines, Sunday night’s Big Love, “Fight or Flight,” written by Patricia Breen and directed by Adam Davidson, was probably the most Juniper Creek-heavy episode of the season, if not since Season One. Some of this was interesting. Some of it wasn’t. But pretty much all of it trafficked in the strange weirdness of the setting, and that kept some of the tragic things that happened at Juniper Creek from fully passing over from bizarre to truly affecting.

Big Love Recap: Season 3, Episode 4, "On Trial"

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<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 3, Episode 4, “On Trial”
<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 3, Episode 4, “On Trial”

One of the best things about Big Love is that it’s decidedly agnostic about its purported protagonist, Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton). The show is smart enough to admit when he does a good thing but also keeps its distance from the man, as though it’s always concerned that he might turn into the second coming of Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton). Critics of Big Love have frequently said the show presents a too idyllic vision of polygamy, but that’s not entirely accurate. The show has frequently criticized Bill and his vision, particularly via Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Sarah (Amanda Seyfried) and Barb’s mom, Nancy (Ellen Burstyn), and it’s shown how the polygamist lifestyle, even in a seemingly ideal set-up, manages to marginalize women and take away their ability to realize their potential. The show’s detachment, however, gets it into trouble with its critics where other HBO series (notably, The Sopranos) used that detachment to force the audience to probe their complicity in the actions seen on screen. On Big Love, the Henrickson household is presented so appealingly that we WANT it to be the kind of idyllic place it really can’t be, but it never really will be. The foundation it’s built on is the one of sand from the parable.

Big Love Recap: Season 3, Episode 3, "Prom Queen"

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<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 3, Episode 3, “Prom Queen”
<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 3, Episode 3, “Prom Queen”

At the end of Sunday’s typically overstuffed and compelling Big Love episode, “Prom Night” (conveniently scheduled directly opposite a surprisingly compelling Super Bowl by an HBO that is either confident in the show’s ability to pull in good ratings on rebroadcasts or just wants to rid itself of the thing already), written by Eileen Myers and directed by David Petrarca, I was contemplating which of two utterly predictable directions the storyline featuring Nicki (Chloë Sevigny) infiltrating the team working to build a case against her father Roman (Harry Dean Stanton) would take. It stands to reason that her new closeness to the attractive young DA she’s working with will either lead to her giving him misleading signals (and leading him to try to date her, since she’s ostensibly single) or to her eventually agreeing to testify against her father and thus dooming her family to exposure in a court of law.

In general, when criticizing works of art that fall within the Western narrative tradition (or, in Hollywood parlance, the three-act structure), it’s a pretty big sin to call a story “predictable.” This is usually shorthand for saying that something is formulaic or that it does nothing new within the genre it lives in. Certainly some forms of predictability are OK if the film, book, or play we’re tackling doesn’t claim to be reinventing the wheel—i.e., one of the chief pleasures of the romantic comedy is the almost religious quality to checking off the waypoints on the journey to getting the happy couple together at the end of the piece, and a work like this is usually judged by the skill used to bring the audience to a point they already know they’re going to. But, as I thought about the predictable nature of these storylines, I realized that essentially every storyline on Big Love is predictable, but I’m also not convinced that on television that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Big Love Recap: Season 3, Episode 2, "Empire"

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<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 3, Episode 2, “Empire”
<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 3, Episode 2, “Empire”

The biggest complaint usually leveled against Big Love is that the scenes set at the Juniper Creek compound, focusing on the shenanigans of the United Effort Brotherhood, are just never as compelling as the scenes set among the Henricksons in their Salt Lake City-metro area compound. In the first two seasons, there was a real effort made to draw the various Henricksons into these storylines (mostly Bill, though Nicki would also get involved and the other two wives would stop by from time to time), and this mostly served to highlight how much weaker these storylines were when compared to anything going on with Bill, Barb, Nicki, Margie and the kids. This season, however, the two settings have so far remained completely separate, as though Big Love had randomly turned itself into one of those movies where a whole bunch of directors get together to make a variety of short films about a common subject (in this case, polygamy). This has served to make the Juniper Creek scenes glide by more easily than they did in the past. It’s also served to highlight just where the disparity between the two storylines comes from.

Big Love Recap: Season 2, Episode 9, "Circle the Wagons"

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<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 2, Episode 9, “Circle the Wagons”
<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 2, Episode 9, “Circle the Wagons”

After last week’s generally excellent “Kingdom Come”, Big Love retreats to its Juniper Creek storyline in “Circle Your Wagons,” written by Doug Jung and directed by John Strickland. This is probably the most interesting that Juniper Creek has been in a good long time (perhaps mostly because the compound has been largely sidelined throughout season two), but it is still grating and rather boring to have to go to the compound for lots of backstabbing and squabbling politics when our hearts and interest lie with Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and his increasingly unruly wives. Unfortunately, the Henrickson storylines are also lacking, and the episode ends up being one of the more lackluster ones in the otherwise sterling second season.

One of the nice things about “Circle Your Wagons” is that the show rebounds from a few weeks of sturm und drang with an episode that reminds us that Big Love can be a really wickedly funny comedy when it wants to be. Sure, there are the concerns over who will lead the UEB in the absence of Roman and Bill’s politicking with his wives to let him buy the gaming company he has already purchased, but the episode features some choice laugh moments as well, from Margie (Ginnifer Goodwin) running into an ex-boyfriend she wants nothing to do with, to Lois (Grace Zabriskie) slowly getting the wheels in her head to turn so she can extricate herself from her marriage to Frank (the absent Bruce Dern). Zabriskie plays the role of Lois, Bill’s mother, rather broadly, so she doesn’t always fit in with the other goings-on, but she’s a welcome respite from the Juniper Creek storylines, where she’s one of the few characters who isn’t either ridiculously quirky or all-consumingly self-serious.

Big Love Recap: Season 2, Episode 7, "Good Guys and Bad Guys"

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<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 2, Episode 7, “Good Guys and Bad Guys”
<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 2, Episode 7, “Good Guys and Bad Guys”

Big Love’s seventh episode of its second season, “Good Guys and Bad Guys,” written by series creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer and directed by Michael Lehmann (yes, the Heathers director), bounced back and forth between the series’ best and worst impulses, often irritatingly. Even the scenes at Juniper Creek, often the series’ Achilles’ heel, bounced back and forth between very good and overstated and over-obvious. The war between the two sects of polygamists arrived as promised, and if it wasn’t quite as bad as the audience might have feared, it didn’t work entirely, either.

At least the episode crystallized the season as being the Ginnifer Goodwin show. The other actors have all turned in great performances from week to week, but Goodwin has taken her character, Margie, to new heights this year. From her adoring glances toward her mother during that awkward get-to-know-the-family-you-don’t-know-is-my-family meal to her near meltdown when Nicki (Chloë Sevigny) outed the Henricksons as polygamists to Margie’s mother, Goodwin took her meatiest script yet and knocked everything she was given out of the park. It’s rare to have a show that has, effectively, four lead characters, but the one thing Big Love does better than just about anybody else is balancing those characters and their storylines. The show has subtly shown the selfishness of Bill (Bill Paxton), increased Barb’s (Jeanne Tripplehorn) claustrophobia, redeemed Nicki’s shrewish character from the first season and given Margie more to do, all without losing track of the other leads (or the Henrickson children).