Twin Peaks S02E06: “Demons” (3/11/90)

“Demons” picks up right where the previous episode – “The Orchid’s Curse” – left off, placing us between Harold Smith and Maddy Ferguson and Donna Hayward, just as Harold has discovered that Donna’s confidence was partly a ruse to allow Maddy to access Laura’s diary. If this sequence was expressionist when we last left it, with Harold raking a gardening claw across his face, then it’s even more so now, with Harold howling and crying out to the night in yet another indication of BOB’s growing presence, and the way it cuts across the languorous, silky atmosphere of the series. In my last review I suggested that this episode with Harold, Maddy and Donna almost felt like a self-contained film-within-the-film, and that atmosphere continues here, with director Lesli Glatter choosing to cordon off this episode in a self-contained prologue in the midst of the credits, which are broken in half for (I think) the first time in the series.

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That’s the perfect prologue for what I think of as the first episode in the series in which BOB truly plays a central role. Granted, he doesn’t appear in any direct way, but his agency percolates throughout virtually every scene, thanks to two central revelations: firstly, that the One-Armed Man has been harbouring MIKE, BOB’s onetime companion; and, secondly, that BOB has been residing in the Great Northern, in one form or another, for over forty years. Here, as throughout the rest of the episode, that produces a bit of a schizoid aesthetic, since while BOB consummates the style of the series as a whole he also ruptures and displaces it at the same time. On the one hand, of course, BOB personifies the Black Lodge, Agent Cooper’s dream, the supernatural substrate of Twin Peaks, and everything about David Lynch’s “look” that serves to communicate all that. At the same time, however, BOB also tends to dissolve the cosy, warm, pearl-filtered world of Twin Peaks in his wake, or at least open up its cloistered aesthetic to wider and more anarchic forces.

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Both those tendencies would culminate, of course, in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the first and only time in the Twin Peaks canon that BOB would be a genuine protagonist (rather than a presence or potential) which is perhaps why it remains the Twin Peaks text that both feels truest and falsest to the spirit of the show as a whole. For now, however, the emergence of BOB means that “Demons” has some of the most studied, sombre and sustained atmospheres in the series as a whole but also some of the glitchiest and most atonal moments as well – moments that, unsurprisingly, frequently gesture forward already to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Chief amongst these is a weird sunny interlude on the banks of a lake that we’ve never seen before, but which appears to be located somewhere near the gazebo where Donna, Maddy and James met to conduct their raid on Dr. Jacoby’s office early in the season. While the ambiguous and abstracted topography of Twin Peaks – woods, traffic lights, diner, waterfall – is part of the charm, this whole lakeside sequence looks and feels as if it’s shot in a different aesthetic universe, let alone a different physical location, from the rest of the series.

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In part, that’s because the lakeside interlude – which features Maddy telling James that she intends to depart Twin Peaks – is clearly shot in summer, with a bank of evergreen trees blazing under a bright blue sky. It’s also because the daytime backdrop jars with the fact that virtually every major scene of note over the last couple of episodes has been shot at night, producing a cumulatively noirish tone in the leadup to revelation of Laura’s killer. But the main issue is that this scene is flooded with natural light, and naturalistic lighting, which, given the extent to which Lynch’s warm palettes have been themselves naturalised over the course of the series, feels almost expressionist in its rawness and nakedness. In a very different manner from Harold’s opening howl, then, this pleasant lakeside sequence reminded me of my first viewing of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and my shock at seeing all the characters and scenarios shot without the warm palettes and filters of the series proper (or, rather, of seeing all those palettes and filters condensed into an even more heightened depiction of the Black Lodge than would have been possible in the series proper).

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Clearly, Maddy’s announcement of her decision to depart Twin Peaks involves a fair amount of dramatic irony, while her fate would well and truly contain and neutralise the brightness of this announcement. For now, however, this scene is one of several weird bursts of exuberance and radiance across “Demons,” all of which give the episode a strange manic jouissance that makes it more recognisably Lynchian than much of what has gone before. This atmosphere is perhaps best showcased through the ongoing subplot around Leo Johnson, Shelley Johnson and Bobby Briggs, with Shelley and Bobby finally bringing Leo home during this episode and manically partying around him. At one level that creates a crazy, carnivalesque vibe, but something about the soapiness of the Johnson house presents it ever devolving into out-and-out comedy either. Instead, the climactic moment occurs when Leo lurches forwards into his welcome-home cake and sits up again masked in icing like an urban slasher, since this sequence as a whole is increasingly driven by the kinds of inane jouissance to be found in slasher films, with Leo seeming to become more and more inhuman, more and more voracious in his stillness and silence, as Bobby and Shelley just party harder and harder around him.

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That manic exuberance isn’t restricted to Leo’s house, however, since this is also the episode where David Lynch makes his first onscreen appearances in the series as Special Agent Gordon Cole. Although we heard Cole on the other end of a phone call in a previous episode, this is the first time we’ve actually seen him, and his manner is both so heightened and so close to Lynch’s regular speaking manner that it’s almost like seeing Lynch play himself – or getting some insight into how performative his public self actually is. I kind of like the fact that Lynch first appears in an episode that he neither wrote or directed, although his appearance is probably no accident, since it’s across these couple of episodes that the series starts to anticipate the heightened stylistics of “Lonely Souls,” the next episode (and I think the best episode) in this season, which was directed by Lynch. I presume that the cast and crew knew the directorial schedule some way ahead of time, so it makes sense that these last few episodes revolving around the investigation into Laura’s murder would have set the scene for Lynch’s grand directorial gesture.

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Along with Leo Johnson and Special Agent Gordon Cole, there’s another character who adds to the manic energy of “Demons” – Tojamura. As mentioned in the previous review, this part of the second season witnesses an influx of shady Chinese and Japanese business merchants, a subplot that already seems to have run its course by this episode. For me, this has always been one of the weakest parts of the second season – at least at this point – partly because the business transactions are just not that interesting, and partly because it tends to rob Josie Packard – and Josie’s romance with Harry Truman – of a great deal of her languor, elegance and presence. Tojamura, however, is an exception, and exists at an oblique remove from the rest of the business narrative, something that becomes particularly acute during this episode in a series of scenes that take place in and around the Great Northern.

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Both more and less of a character than the Chinese and Japanese investors – for reasons that become clear presently – Tojamura plays more like a deconstruction of the Orientalist overtones of the series than a genuinely eerie character in his own right. Like so many of the other absurd aspects of the series, it’s unclear just how much we’re meant to laugh here, and that just makes Tojamura’s interactions all the more unsettling, especially those that occur with Pete Martell and Ben Horne at the Great Northern. Obviously, these particular scenes become more pregnant with meaning upon a second viewing, but even on a first viewing Tojamura seems to derealise the Great Northern Hotel in his wake, forming a segue between the more frenetic, anarchic parts of the episode and the depictions of the hotel, which tend to conform to what might be described as the classicist Twin Peaks style.

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Nowhere is that change in mood clearer than in the way in which the Great Northern Hotel is reframed during a terrific sequence between Cooper and Ben Horne in which we start to get our first real glimpses of Audrey’s father possible involvement in Laura’s murder. Apparently both Richard Beymer and Ray Wise were told that they might end up being Laura’s killer, and Beymer certainly plays Horne that way here, with the result that when he is – mistakenly – accused a couple of episodes later the series feels all but wrapped up. Yet at the very moment in “Demons” at which suspicion starts to narrow on Horne we also get a sense of something that exceeds him in the shape of the hotel itself. It’s all that more noticeable in that up until this point, the Great Northern has epitomised everything comforting and cosy about Twin Peaks, partly because of the way in which it condenses the warm, coral-filtered, wood-panelled aesthetic of the series as a whole, but also because it’s Dale Cooper’s temporary home, and the closest we come to seeing Cooper exhibit a domestic and private self.

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In many ways, however, the scene between Agent Cooper and Ben changes all that, partly because it presents us with our first real vision of the Great Northern in the quiet depths of the night. Yet another reason for the hotel’s comforting overtones has been the continual, cacophonous, picaresque displays that seem to take place within it, from the endless rotation of potential investors in Horne’s schemes, to Leland’s spontaneous serenades, to Jerry Horne’s histrionic culinary reveries. Indeed, one of the running jokes in the first season is that the hotel is rarely quiet even at night, with Cooper’s dream accentuated by the gang of Icelandic tourists that stay up partying for several days straight. It’s quite chilling, then, to see it so utterly deserted, more continuous with the surrounding woods than ever before.

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It’s apposite, then, that “Demons” sees the one-armed man transforming into MIKE for the first time, and that MIKE in turn discloses that BOB has been residing in the Great Northern for the past few decades. All of a sudden, a different supernatural topography is grafted over Twin Peaks, in which it is not merely the exurban fringe spaces but the home and hearth of the town that are prey to dark forces and perverse inclinations. More on that next time, but for now it’s worth ending with how this deepens and textures Agent Cooper as well. While we know that Cooper has a dark past, that darkness has never seemed to colour him as pervasively as it does in these episodes, especially once MIKE reveals that only “the gifted and the damned” can see BOB. What makes Cooper so astute and sympathetic, then, also leaves him vulnerable to BOB – his home, after all, is also in the Great Northern – and this dyadic aspect of Coop will gradually become one of the hallmarks of the later part of this season.

About Billy Stevenson (936 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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