Twin Peaks S02E15: “Slaves and Masters” (9/2/91)

Like the previous episode of Twin Peaks, “Slaves and Masters” has a quite heightened cinematic style, but in a completely different way, since this time around it’s not Uli Edel but Diane Keaton who is directing. Throughout the episode, Keaton goes off-script continually – in a great way – in terms of augmenting the dialogue with elaborate visual conceits, making for one of the most stylish episodes of the series outside of those directed by David Lynch. In addition, Keaton lends an intensely introspective focus and grace to the female characters in the series, many of whom – like Josie, Nadine and Norma – all reach critical crises during this episode, and all of whom take on a new radiance and burnished brilliance. In other words, “Slaves and Masters” feels directed by someone with a deep knowledge of cinematic process but who had also studied and immersed themselves in the series as a spectator, as Keaton quotes and reimagines Lynchian motifs – both from Twin Peaks and Lynch’s wider filmography – more succinctly and elegantly than any other one-time director who worked on the series.

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For the most part Keaton’s vision subsists on quiet, contemplative close-ups combined with dramatic sequences of images that don’t quite solidify into full-blown montage but instead feel more like pillow shots inserted between the action in order to provide some of the atmosphere and ambience that was so lacking mid-season. Drawing upon and further sensualising the cryptic minutiae so prevalent in the early part of the season, Keaton evinces a wonderfully tactile attention to fingers, faces and lips, often through highly textural superimpositions and slow-motion sequences. In one wonderful scene, the camera follows Evelyn Marsh as she runs her fingers over a series of photographs of herself, all the while clutching a shot glass and blowing smoke rings. Time and again, Keaton returns to fingers, and to bright red fingernails, in a wonderful riff on Lynch’s palette and the growing omniscience of the Black Lodge as a stylistic horizon for the series.

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It’s a testament to Keaton’s sense of style, then, that this is the first and only part of the second season where the Ben Horne subplot really works. In part, that’s because of how she stages Horne’s recreation of the Civil War at the Great Northern as a kind of mock-cinematic tableau, offsetting the irritation of Horne speaking in character as a Confederate general with a wonderful and utterly unexpected nod in the direction of Blue Velvet. But it’s also a matter of how much she gives Audrey Horne to do in these sequences, going way beyond the script in the way in which she frames and handles Audrey’s movement and body language, bringing her back into the life of the series more emphatically than at any point before Leland Palmer’s arrest. Sure, some of her gestures and inflections might feel a bit out of character, but that just reiterates the sense that she is finally waking up and being given more to do than just lurk in the corridor outside Horne’s office waiting for Bobby Briggs to arrive.

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If it feels right that Ben Horne’s Civil War narrative comes to a close on Keaton’s watch, it feels just as right that she has the job of wrapping up the Evelyn Marsh subplot as well. Up until this point, Marsh has been presented more or less as a femme fatale, but Keaton manages to discover a different kind of pathos and sympathy in her gestures and body language that finally allows this subplot to become something other than a mere rehearsal for the erotic thrillers of the 1990s and their outdated gender politics. With Catherine Martell, too, Keaton knows just how to create the right amount of absurdity, while she seems to be the only director to date who recognises that Windom Earle is scarier in his absence than in his presence, subsuming all his scenes into expressionist close-ups of objects and fixtures and turning him into a condition of possibility more than a fully-fledged character, not unlike the role that Laura herself played during the first season.

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However, Keaton’s greatest achievement is arguably the way in which she handles Norma Jennings. More than any other actress in the series, Peggy Lipton managed to channel all the melancholy and reflexive sadness of soap opera, but it’s only in Keaton’s hands that she really shines to her full potential, even or especially if this tends to occur in the incidental visual moments or small scenes that aren’t necessarily integral to the main thrust of the script. In one of the most beautiful scenes, Norma embraces Shelley after hearing that she has decided to come back to work. It’s a fleeting moment, and yet it captures Norma more succinctly than nearly any other scene this season, lending her introspective melancholy to the episode as a whole, a wonderfully and unexpectedly auteurist gesture from Keaton that would inexorably shape the renewed romanticism of the next couple of episodes as well.

About Billy Stevenson (695 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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