After the incredible conclusion to “The Path to the Black Lodge,” it’d be hard for the follow-up episode, “Miss Twin Peaks,” not to be a bit of a comedown, so it’s not surprising that this tends to be quite derided in the fan community, where it often serves as a synecdoche for everything problematic about the later part of the second season. Stepping back from the negative hype, however, “Miss Twin Peaks” more than deserves its place between “The Path to the Black Lodge” and “Beyond Life and Death,” building to an almost equally incredible conclusion of its own. At the same time, it’s worth remembering that it screened on the same night as the finale, and is meant to be seen as a prologue to Lynch’s episode, rather than a self-contained gesture in its own right.
As part of that lead in to the concluding episode, “Miss Twin Peaks” recapitulates so many of the series’ tics and motifs that I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being a point of reference in the third season. From the opening scene, in which the RR Diner provides three pies for the pageant – now celebrating the twentieth anniversary of its first winner, Norma Jennings – the contest is continually framed as a “healing” experience for the town after Laura’s death, making for the first real reference to the Palmer case in about ten episodes. Characters who have seemed to go astray or have been taken down unusual narrative paths return to the fold in this episode, especially Audrey Horne, who is back in red after a long stint in black, and enjoined by her father to win the Miss Twin Peaks pageant in order to help him further undermine the proposed Ghostwood Estate.
Incredible as it may sound, Horne’s own narrative also just gets better and better in the process, as his investigations into the Martell finances – centring on a Seattle bank – adds yet another source of intrigue to his redemption and rehabilitation narrative. At the same time, his relationship with Eileen and Donna Hayward reaches its climax here as well, with Horne finally telling Donna the truth about her parentage in what is intended, on the surface of it, to be yet another gesture of self-abnegating honesty, but actually ends up resonating in quite an eerie and unsettling with his “fatherly” proximity to Laura, and all the rest of his daughters at One-Eyed Jack’s. It’s a wonderful flash point for an episode that manages to converge all the cosiest and creepiest tendencies of the series into a single climactic sequence, paving the way for Lynch’s perfectly modulated tone in the finale.
Key to that convergence is the gradual abstraction of Earle from the action, with “Miss Twin Peaks” now distending him into the distant past as it emerges that he has been seeking out the Black Lodge since at least 1965. At the same time, the Lodge takes on a new temporal dimension with the dawning realisation – on both Cooper and Earle’s parts – that it doesn’t represent a discrete place so much as a “crevice in time” that is only accessible at certain moments in the year and from within certain states of mind. Compounding that is the sudden realisation – again, it seems to hit both Cooper and Earle simultaneously – that the Lodge requires a certain modicum of fear to be apprehended in the first place (and it turns out that Josie Packard died of fear), lending even the most upbeat moments in this penultimate offering a stifling, escalating sense of dread.
All that culminates with the Miss Twin Peaks pageant, as the choreographed parade starts to move every gesture and inflection back into the more dreamlike, stylised inflections and motions of the first season, until the Red Room is all but present in the lithe, feminine, fetishistic contours of this extended mise-en-scene. Still, the pageant doesn’t quite hit the right note either – we still haven’t quite reached full Lynchian genius – since some of the acts and moments are just a little too silly and carnivalesque for the hypnagogic immersion of the Black Lodge, especially the performance of the “Black Widow” – how is this subplot even still continuing? – who presents a piece of “contortionist jazz exotica” that doesn’t quite gel with the atmosphere and ambience.
Yet that all changes once Earle arrives in his greatest and most uncanny disguise, dressing himself up as the Log Lady to beautifully and eerily undercut the fetishistic scrutiny of Lynch’s camera, not least because we only get the briefest glimpses of him moving about behind the scenes and crawling through the rigging to orchestrate his final attack upon the winner. When it comes, this final strobe-and-smoke sequence is almost as affecting as the end of the previous episode, as Annie finds herself chloroformed by Earle’s Log Lady and dragged off as he sets off a train of fireworks by remote control in his wake. When the lights come back on, Cooper is more disoriented, disheveled and distressed than ever before, tears streaming from his eyes – whether from smoke or terror is unclear – as he comes to terms with the most traumatic sequel to the death of Maddy Ferguson that could be imagined or staged. Already, it feels as if he’s in the Black Lodge, and from hereon out the series – and prequel – deals with a very different kind of Cooper, as he embarks upon a journey that will last him some twenty-five years.