Twin Peaks S02E14: “Double Play” (2/2/91)
“Double Play” marks the beginning of a fairly cinematic string of Twin Peaks episodes that all, in one way or another, seem to anticipate Lynch’s stamp on the season finale. In part, that’s because it’s the first episode in some time to be helmed by an established cinematic director – Uli Edel, who directed Last Exit to Brooklyn and would go on to direct the erotic thriller Body of Evidence. Edel brings a new confidence to the series – a strong sense of being back on track – opening with a series of jagged close-ups of Windom Earle’s first victim that really recalls the expressionism of the earlier episodes, and then shifting to a series of forensic gestures – the way the body is handled and examined, the removal of a chess piece from the mouth – that recalls the autopsy and analysis of Laura’s body as well.
From there, Edel briefly moves to a terrific continuation of the slasher sequence with Shelley and Leo, in a kind of mirroring of the ending of the previous episode, which moved from the Johnson household to Windom Earle’s calling card at the Sheriff’s Department. This sequence is one of the highlights of the later part of the second series, as all the features that made the Johnson house the most melodramatic in the series are now reinflected to make it the most suited to slasher horror as well. In particular, its permeability and porosity turns it into a kind of abstraction of slasher suburbia – with frameworks where the interior walls should be and plastic sheeting where the exterior walls should be, it’s both one giant room and one giant threshold, a house wrapped in plastic that seems to personify and invoke Laura’s presence even more than her own, which is perhaps why it seemed inevitable that Leo should turn out to have played such a key role in her murder.
In that sense, the Johnson house feels more like a notional space than an actual space, the archetype or floor plan of a typical suburban house rather than a particular house in itself (and the archetype, in one way or another, of every other house in the series as well). As the Black Lodge starts to loom, the series – as the title of this episode might suggest – starts to deal more and more with doubles, and it’s here that the Johnson house really starts to feel like the double of the Palmer house, as Leo and Shelley dance their slasher dance in a space that – oddly – reminded me a lot of the hypothetical spaces of Lars von Trier’s Dogville and Manderlay. As I mentioned in the last review, Leo always exhibited the weird fusion of inexorable weight and elusive mobility that characterises the most insatiable slashers, occupying space in an incredibly heavy-set way and yet capable of shifting at a moment’s notice. Not surprisingly, then, the devolution of his monotone mobility and blankly threatening personality into full-blown slasher is perfectly suited to the weird spatiality of his half-completed house which, like a stage set, feels both more corporeal and more conjectural than any other residence in the series.
Given that opening, it’s perhaps not surprising that Cooper is also faced with his own double, in the form of Windom Earle, who now really starts to become a character in his own right. By the end of the second season, Earle has succeeded in presenting Cooper with his own doppelganger and even now the uneasy identification between them feels as if its starting to converge the cosier and eerier strains of the show into something quite different from what has gone before. Given that Coop is already something of a mythical character, it works surprisingly well to see him pitted against a nemesis , not least because of the way in which it opens up his life before Twin Peaks, embedding him in his distant past and in the outermost reaches of his personality and perception until Earle almost functions like Cooper’s psychological proprioception – the boundary between his mind and the world, and the very cusp of his intuitive, supernatural epistemology. At the same time, by opening up the wider ambit of Cooper’s career, Earle’s presence also inevitably brings the Teresa Banks investigation back into the picture, resurrecting Laura’s presence in the process, albeit now as just one node among the many situations that opened up Cooper’s eyes to alternative forms of knowledge and experience.
Given Edel’s taste for the fringes and peripheries of Cooper’s Twin Peaks experience, it makes sense that he also directs the material that takes place outside of Twin Peaks especially well, with the James Hurley-Evelyn Marsh subplot almost feeling like a dress rehearsal for his own erotic thriller, Body of Evidence, which was released two years later. In particular, Edel is the first director to really foreground the connection between cars and sexuality in this part of the series, reintroducing the subplot with a long, lingering pan over a series of model cars before introducing us to Evelyn’s husband for the first and only time by way of long conversation between him and James about cars, with the garage in the backdrop. As Evelyn joins the scene, her own continuity with the cars James is servicing becomes really clear for the first time too, since both exude a kind of lithe, mechanical eroticism, sleekly sensuous and coldly indifferent at the same time.
All of a sudden, them, it makes sense that, for all the sexual tension, there has been no suggestion of actual sex. Instead, all James’ sexual appetite has been deflected into his care and love as an auto mechanic, which makes Evelyn’s sabotage of the car to kill her husband – an event that occurs at the end of this scene – all the more of a betrayal of James. It’s timely, too, that Donna is now introduced into this subplot – she tracks James down in a kind of sequel to her investigation into Laura – not only because it’s needed to ramp up the tension and provide some continuity with the rest of the plot, but also because her warm, earthy eroticism – so continuous, all of a sudden with Laura’s – makes for a pointed contrast to Evelyn’s automotive, post-human sexuality.
That perfectly pitched melodrama carries over to the subplot revolving around Catherine Martell, Pete Martell and Josie, which reaches an operatic register in this episode and now feels as if it is totally sequestered from the rest of the other characters and scenarios. As Udel seems to realise, however, that gives him carte blanche to use it as a vehicle for condensing and intensifying all the series’ soapiest tendencies, with a procession of histrionic string sequences (so different to Badalamenti’s padded synths), 180-degree blocking, three point lighting and what looks like motion interpolation all converging on the return of Catherine’s brother Andrew. It’s hard not to feel that it’s being played for laughs, though not necessarily in a knowing or scathing way, but with a kind of love for the constitutive intensity and affective commitment of soap opera, since Piper Laurie and Jack Nance, in particular, are nothing if not committed to this heightened tone (at one point a critical news article reads “Asian man killed!”).
All in all, then, this is one of the strongest Twin Peaks episodes for some time, although the emergence of such powerful subplots just makes the lingering redundancies – Ben Horne’s Confederate obsession, the Mayor’s infatuation with his brother’s widow – all the more irritating (when on earth will they go away?). Similarly, the bromance vibe that gathers around Cooper, Hawk, Harry and Dr. Jacoby in the face of “The Black Widow” doesn’t work at all, and is so incongruous that it almost feels reactionary, like a way of cutting against and disavowing the more feminised and melodramatic modes that were so prominent in the previous episodes. Still, Edel makes up for it with a fantastic concluding sequence that follows Leo, after he has escaped from Shelley and Pete, as he stumbles through the woods in the middle of the night, finally arriving at Windom Earle’s cabin, where we glimpse Cooper’s nemesis for the very first time.
What ensues is one of the most atmospheric fragments in the back end of the season, thanks in part to the highly mobile camera that follows Leo as he stumbles disoriented through the woods, and which evokes a vast, windy, cosmic flux of space that looks more like the trailers for the 2017 digital return than any other part of the series so far. At the same time, it directly quotes several of the POV sequences from the early Friday the 13th films, right down to the first appearance of the cabin, so it’s a fantastic twist that Leo turns out to be the vulnerable party when he confronts Earle, as his slasher presence and potentiality is absorbed into a wider and more lurking sense of evil. Watching it in retrospect, it’s hard not to see an allegory of the demise of slasher films in the early 90s and the subsequent movements towards a more mystical and supernatural form of horror – a form of horror that will become particularly pronounced over the next episode, thanks in part to Diane Keaton’s direction, which is similar in some respects to Edel’s, but also departs dramatically from his vision in certain key particulars. Until then, damn fine coffee!
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