Twin Peaks S02E17: “Wounds and Scars” (28/3/91)
Throughout the second season of Twin Peaks, there was a steady influx of new characters, but “Wounds and Scars,” the seventeenth episode, provided the only two – with the exception of Special Agent Denise Bryson – who really stick. On the one hand, there’s Annie Blackburn, Norma’s sister, played by a very young Heather Graham, and the most compelling of a long line of characters to be introduced in and around the RR Diner. On the other hand, there’s Windom Earle, who from this point on tends to be presented less in his insane, anarchic, natural state, and instead deflected into his various personae, who effectively become semi-independent characters in their own right, fleshing out the texture of the town with a new set of offbeat, eerie, incidental presences.
At the same time, “Wounds and Scars” is also the third instalment in a rough trilogy of episodes from the later part of the second season that were directed with a more conscious cinematic sensibility. After Uli Edel with “Double Play” and Diane Keaton with “Slaves and Masters,” we’re now presented with James Foley’s vision of Twin Peaks, which tends to be more hard-boiled, and to take more of its cues from classically masculine genre cinema. That’s clear, first and foremost, in Harry Truman’s response to the mysterious demise of Josie – and the revelation that she had been playing him all along – with the episode bookended by his moody mourning alone in the Bookhouse.
At the beginning he’s lying in a drunken stupor, at the end he’s collapsed in bed and on the verge of being seduced by Jones, Thomas Eckhardt’s assistance, but in both cases the tone is closer to the James Hurley-Evelyn Marsh subplot in its raw, sado-masochistic sexual angst than anything remotely resembling the Harry we’ve known for two seasons, which is perhaps why I’ve always found this turn a bit implausible. After all, the turnaround in Josie’s character already felt pretty sudden – so untrue to her complexity and compassion in the first season – while Harry has always worked best as the only mild character in the midst of all the turmoil, the point of normality against which Twin Peaks’ eccentricity defined itself, rendering his gin-soaked angst a bit unconvincing here.
More interestingly, John Wheeler is more or less presented as a western protagonist, dressed entirely in black and immersing Audrey in the great outdoors in a sustained picnic sequence in which she feels utterly unrecognisable from a couple of episodes ago, when she seemed doomed to spend the rest of the season lurking outside Ben Horne’s door. Once again, I attribute that to Keaton, who managed to discover an expansive, cinematic, mock-Western aesthetic in Horne’s Civil War recreations that make it almost feel like a foregone conclusion that John and Audrey should now recline against backdrops that have more in common with the American South and Southwest than the moody Pacific Northwest landscapes of the series so far.
Indeed, as the series enters these final episodes, the directors all begin to seek lines of flight from the insular regionalism of Twin Peaks, as if trying to find a way to escape the series but still take the series with them in the process. Sometimes these escape routes are purely geographical, and involve locations that look as if they have been shot elsewhere – or locations that simply aren’t so emphatic in their cloistered regionalism and focused atmospherics – along with figures, accents and inflections – especially from Windom Earle – that seem to bespeak a world outside the town. As the finale looms closer, however, these escape routes also start to take on a supernatural edge, to the point where it almost feels as if the dark forces coalescing around the characters are synonymous with the town limits, which is presumably just one of the reasons why Lynch has chosen to – apparently – set a great deal of the new season outside Twin Peaks.
No character personifies that uncanny invasion quite like Earle, who really starts to progress from a cheesy, cut-out nemesis to a genuine force of doom and foreboding over the course of this episode. As mentioned, I tend to feel that Earle works best in disguise – the contrast between his real self and the perky good humour of his disguises is so eerie – and he rotates through a variety of personae here, culminating with an incredible scene in which he rocks up at the Hayward household posing as a friend of Dr. Hayward – a friend, it turns out, died many years before – timing his visit so as to catch Donna home alone.
It’s the very best scene with Earle so far and, as might be imagined, echoes that almost-fateful scene between Donna and Leland in “Drive with a Dead Girl” in which she was just on the verge of inchoately recognising him as her best friend’s killer – and possibly being killed by him herself – before being interrupted at the last minute by Cooper and Truman at the door. Here, there’s the same subliminal apprehension of evil, partly because Earle, like Leland, intensifies normality just enough to estrange any scene in which he appears and to suffuse any encounter with the slightest shiver – a shiver that lingers long after he has left and lends Donna’s subsequent conversation with her parents a similarly eerie vibe. In fact, for the remainder of the episode the Hayward household takes on some of the suspense it enjoyed in the early days of the Palmer investigation, culminating with the revelation of some previously unsuspected liaison between Donna’s mother and Ben Horne – a terrific development that goes a long way towards restoring Horne with some of the duplicitous depth that initially made him so memorable.
Looking back on this, I’ve realised that I haven’t mentioned Annie at all, and that’s partly because she doesn’t play a major or direct role in this episode. Nevertheless, her presence suffuses “Wounds and Scars” in her impact – already – upon Cooper, who is brought into such vibrant relief that he feels more like himself than he has in a long time. As the episode proceeds, it feels as if Annie has already managed to stimulate and cultivate everything distinctive about his character, which becomes more and more focused, pointed and beautiful over these last seasons, rendering his final transformation – and his final question about Annie, which ended the series – even more traumatic. The fact that the episode ends on such a slapstick, carnivalesque note with Horne’s pine weasel benefit – a dress rehearsal for the penultimate Miss Twin Peaks pageant – just makes this burnished mutual awareness between Cooper and Annie all the more striking, and it flourishes into one of the most beautiful relationships in the entire series over the next few episodes.
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