Jul 16, 2020
Twin Peaks: The 6 nuttiest moments from season two
When Twin Peaks premiered as a midseason replacement in April of 1990, ABC didn’t have high hopes for it. Created by director David Lynch (known for decidedly non-commercial fare like Blue Velvet) and Hill Street Blues writer Mark Frost, Twin Peaks was a dark, violent, enigmatic tale of murder in a small town which frequently dealt in the surreal and the supernatural, with plenty of literary and religious allusions to go along with it. I’m guessing the network’s motivation in picking up the show was mostly along the lines of, “Well, we’ve got to put something on against Cheers.” (Or possibly, “At least it can’t possibly be as bad as Cop Rock.”)
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In anticipation of the show’s revival on Showtime this Sunday, I decided to rewatch the entire series for the first time since it originally aired. And after over 25 years and scores of imitators, Twin Peaks admittedly doesn’t feel all that bizarre or outré anymore, but at the time, we primetime TV viewers had never seen anything like it. The show quickly became a cult sensation and a top 30 show, making the covers of Time and Rolling Stone and consuming the nation with one burning question: who killed Laura Palmer?
And then… the season one finale happened.
Lynch and Frost had never planned to reveal Laura Palmer’s murderer in the season finale (in fact, Lynch never wanted to reveal the killer at all), but somehow, viewers became convinced that the resolution to the show’s central mystery was imminent. I’m sure promos for the finale didn’t help, which I clearly recall featuring shots of Sheriff Harry S. Truman walking towards an unknown person and putting him under arrest for the murder of Laura Palmer.
Of course, this turned out to be a bait and switch—the guy arrested was merely a person of interest, and the season ended on inconclusive cliffhangers—and the backlash was almost immediate. The audience bailed on the show, and not even Lynch and Frost acceding to network demands and finally revealing Laura’s killer midway through season two made a difference. And by then, Lynch had mostly walked away from the show to direct Wild at Heart, leaving Twin Peaks in the hands of writers who turned it into a rather lackluster drama rife with awful attempts at humor.
During my recent rewatch, I realized that I, like many viewers, had checked out not long after the reveal of Laura’s killer and was seeing most of season two for the first time. And after surviving a rather brutal slog of 10-12 episodes, what I mostly learned was there’s a pretty fine line between “charmingly quirky” and “utterly inane”. On the surface, it was the same show, but all those elements that felt so intriguing when tied into a larger mystery arc just seemed lame and annoying on their own. All sense of menace and foreboding had been drained from the show, leaving nothing but unfunny, ridiculous antics in its place. Here, in order of least to most absurd, are the most ridiculous moments from season two of Twin Peaks.
Honorable mention: This headline
I realize we weren’t a terribly politically correct country in 1990, but I’m pretty sure most newspapers even then would know better than to run this bizarrely racist headline. And what’s with the exclamation points? It’s almost like this headline should have read “Rare Unicorn Killed!!”, which would have at been a bit more understandable.
6. Blackmailed into being the maid
At the start of the series, Josie Packard is the widow of the late owner of the local saw mill, who often butts heads with her late husband’s sister, Catherine Martell. Eventually, Josie’s culpability in her husband’s death comes out, and Catherine responds by forcing Josie to basically become the family maid.
Remember that plot arc on Seinfeld where Jerry and George pitch a sitcom to NBC where Jerry gets into a car accident but the other driver has no insurance, and so he’s sentenced to become Jerry’s butler? That’s what this whole plotline feels like.
5. Soul trapped in a nightstand knob
Josie eventually kills one of her tormentors in a hotel room and then drops dead for no apparent reason, which is silly enough, but then in a moment that makes no sense even by Peaks standards, the camera pans over to a nightstand where rudimentary early ‘90s CGI is used to show that Josie’s soul is now trapped in the drawer knob.
So many questions, so little time. Was the bedside lamp already occupied? And why just the knob? Couldn’t they have at least had her soul trapped in limbo inside the drawer? Unfortunately, Josie Packard won’t be appearing in the new series, so we won’t get to see her freed from purgatory after a guest decides for the first time in 25 years to look for the Gideon Bible.
4. Piper Laurie disguised as a Japanese businessman
In the season one finale, the saw mill gets burned down as the result of complicated machinations and double-crossings between Josie, Catherine, and wealthy business owner Ben Horne. When season two starts, Catherine is missing and presumed dead in the fire. And that’s when “Mr. Tojamura” suddenly arrives at the hotel.
Clearly, they thought this reveal would be a huge surprise, because Piper Laurie’s name is even left out of the opening credits for these episodes, but it’s plainly obvious this is Catherine under a ton of makeup. I mean, even if you don’t actually recognize her, there’s no doubt that this is a woman, and how many other female characters were missing at the time? And even putting all that aside, there’s frankly no reason for the disguise at all—“Tojamura” has an Asian assistant (a real Asian, not a guy in makeup), so why couldn’t the assistant just take on the role of Tojamura?
3. Pill overdose brings on regression to high school age, plus superhuman strength
When Twin Peaks premiered, the Log Lady quickly became a pop culture icon, but for me the most memorable background character in season one was Nadine Hurley, a kooky housewife with an eyepatch who for some reason is obsessed with inventing perfectly silent drape runners. She succeeds but her patent is denied, causing her to attempt suicide by overdosing on pills. And that’s when things get strange.
When Nadine recovers from her suicide attempt in season two, she turns out to have amnesia about everything that’s happened to her in the last twenty years, and now believes herself to be a high school student again. Even more preposterous, the local high school actually indulges Nadine’s delusions and lets a 35-year-old woman attend classes.
What’s that? Still not weird enough for you? Well, it turns out that along with amnesia, Nadine has also inexplicably acquired superhuman strength, making her strong enough to do leg lifts with 600 lbs of weights and also hurl a teenager several hundred feet through the air, among other incredible feats.
And you know, if this whole unfunny regression/super-strength angle had been just a quirky background subplot in a couple of episodes, it would have almost been tolerable. But this literally becomes one of the major plotlines of season two, taking up valuable time in nearly every episode, including the finale.
2. Cross-dressing David Duchovny
Duchovny appears as FBI Agent Dennis Bryson, who arrives in Twin Peaks to investigate Agent Cooper for possible misconduct, only now he’s wearing a dress and asking to be called “Denise”. And that’s really the whole point of his guest appearance: everyone standing around and gawking at a cross-dresser. (And yes, I can say “cross-dresser”, because there’s no indication other than the name that Dennis/Denise actually feels he is a female; he simply enjoys dressing like one, making him no more “transgender” than Ed Wood.)
Unfortunately, this plotline reaches peak stupidity when Bryson is able to rescue Agent Cooper from hostage-takers by dressing up as a waitress and bringing them food, and the criminals have no problem letting him in. Because how could a little ol’ woman (even one who’s 6’2 in heels) possibly be a threat?
I’ll grant that there were some nice moments with Dennis/Denise, such as Agent Cooper treating his former coworker’s new habit as a perfectly natural and normal thing, but everything else about this storyline falls flat.
1. The whole damn finale
Season two ends with Agent Cooper finally reaching the Black Lodge and reuniting with the Man from Another Place, Bob, the late Laura Palmer, FBI agent-turned-serial killer Windom Earle, and various doppelgangers. Lynch directed the finale and reportedly threw out the script and had the actors improvise and it shows. Years later, it’s amazing to contemplate a broadcast network turning over some 20 minutes of airtime to a nearly silent sequence of Cooper running around aimlessly among red curtains, punctuated only occasionally by people talking in forward-reversespeak and Laura Palmer screaming her damn fool head off.
Having said that, unlike most of the entries on this list, I actually enjoyed this sequence a great deal more than what made up most of the second season. A lot of it is creepy as hell, save for this moment where (I think) Bob is supposed to be extracting Windom Earle’s soul. I assume it was supposed to be taken deadly seriously, but nowadays, all I can think of is Joe Pesci getting his head torched in Home Alone.
But all in all, the Black Lodge sequence is one of the few moments of the second season where the nuttiness actually worked. And of course, it contains the one line from Laura Palmer that inspired the whole reboot season in the first place, so at least it’s got that going for it.
The new Twin Peaks premieres this Sunday on Showtime. I’ve been mostly avoiding spoilers because I want to be surprised about who shows up in the new version, but it’s my understanding that almost the entire original cast returns for the new series. Yes, even cross-dressing David Duchovny. If that’s not worth a Showtime subscription, I don’t know what is.