Twin Peaks S02E08: “Drive With a Dead Girl” (17/11/90)
“Drive with a Dead Girl,” the eighth episode of the second season of Twin Peaks, had a lot to live up to. For one thing, it’s the first episode in the series that occurs after Laura Palmer’s killer has been revealed. For another thing, it comes straight on the heels of an episode directed by David Lynch – and one of the most beautiful sequences in Lynch’s entire filmography. It feels appropriate, then, that the director this time around was Caleb Deschanel. Not only did Deschanel direct the penultimate episode of the first season – and so knew how to build continuity around Lynch and Frost’s climactic moments – but he was trained and worked mainly as a cinematographer, with the result that his direction feels peculiarly attuned to the spaces, angles and types of light present in the previous episodes.
That’s not to say that there aren’t the occasional misfires, with an early, extended flashback to Ben and Jerry Horne’s childhood playing as a bit of a half-hearted effort to recapture the panoramic musical medley that effectively constituted Lynch’s previous episode. But it does mean that “Drive with a Dead Girl” has a directorial signature that is almost as compulsive as that of “Lonely Souls,” especially in and around the Great Northern, which is lit completely differently from any episode so far. Over the first season, the hotel was always a repository of domestic comfort, converging on the warm, enveloping tones of Dale Cooper’s bedroom, the one place where Coop came close to demonstrating a private self in his one-way conversations with Diane.
As the second season progressed, however, the Great Northern took on a more sinister bent, partly because of the gradual implication of Ben Horne and partly because of MIKE’s revelation that BOB had been residing in the hotel for the last forty years. Yet while this detracted from the cosiness of the Great Northern, it did so by just intensifying its warm, insular textures until they became stifling and suffocating. Nowhere was that clearer than in the eerie conversation between Dale and Ben in the dead of night – the first time we’d ever really seen the hotel empty, or quiet – that first really established Horne as the probable killer.
In “Drive with a Dead Girl,” however, Deschanel does something very different, emphasising the porosity and openness of the Great Northern as never before. In effect, that involves a very simple – but drastic – decision: to light certain portions of the hotel with natural light, rather than the warm, pearl-filtered lamps and fixtures that have suffused it so far. It’s particularly clear in a sequence in which MIKE is held by the police in the hotel and chained to his bed in a room that’s shot from the exact opposite vantage point of Dale’s room. Whereas it feels as if the series frames Dale’s room so as to always exclude depicting its windows (if such windows even exists), virtually every shot of MIKE’s room is overwhelmed by the massive flood of natural light coming through his windows.
It feels only appropriate, then, when MIKE escapes out the window – and his escape forms the epicentre of an episode in which natural light and open space are used to generate horror as never before in the series, as Leland hides in plain sight and Cooper and Harry Truman remain oblivious to his culpability. That all culminates in one of the best scenes of the episode, in which Leland packs Maddy’s body into a bag, places it in his trunk, and goes out for a joyride with some vague idea of golf at the end of it all, swerving and bending his car across the road until he’s picked up by Harry and Cooper and has to plead grief as an excuse for his dangerous driving, all the while clutching his golf stick to murder them as well if the situation demands.
It’s a sequence that, in its vertiginous, panoramic and expansive sense of space, immediately distinguishes itself from the cloistered chambers of the previous episodes, part of a gradual expansion of BOB into the space around and beyond Leland that climaxes with his escape into the woods at the end of the next episode. In that sense, the dramatic kernel of “Drive With a Dead Girl” is Leland’s return to “normality,” although BOB and Leland feel more converged than they have ever been – crying and laughing seems like the same gesture – which makes it all the more dramatic when Cooper finally manages to wrench them apart in the following episode.
The funny thing is that the “evil” Leland never feels like a previously unrevealed side to his personality, but just a slightly different inflection of the manic intensity that was always there. At times, it is almost as if Deschanel has simply taken all the traits that made Leland so eerie to begin with – the histrionic gestures and compulsive singing – and simply continued them without any real regard for the murder that has just occurred. That studied oblivion on the director’s part matches Leland’s own oblivion, which is perhaps why he seems more fatherly and avuncular, in a way, than ever before, channeling 40s and 50s musicals – especially Rogers and Hammerstein – as he heads out for a round of nine holes.
As might be expected, that makes for quite a horrific contrast with the image of Maddy zipped up in the bag in the back of his boot, not least because the revelation of his real relationship with Laura is still quite fresh, making this feel a bit like witnessing the the disposal of her body as well. Apparently Ray Wise was shocked to find out his character was the murderer, since he’d come to see Sheryl Lee as a surrogate for his own new daughter and actually carried a photograph of her around in his pocket as well. And that shock feels like a key part of his performance, as Wise – like Leland himself – struggles to come to terms with what it is that his character has actually done.
Of course, like any Twin Peaks episode, there is more going on here as well. In fact, “Drive with a Dead Girl” also sets up quite a bit of what occurs after the Palmer investigation ends, with Lucy Moran’s sister and new nephew entering the picture, along with Norma’s mother and new husband, all of whom have implications further down the track. More on that later, though, since the focus of this episode is all Leland, and probably the best single performance Wise put in, if only because it consists of him revising and reimagining what his performances up until this point have actually meant.
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