Heartbreaking. Harrowing. Horrific. Devastating. All the superlatives apply to the last third of this episode. I was actually scared to review it. I dreaded watching it again, because of how powerful it is. And I dreaded not doing it justice in my write-up. The final seventeen minutes of this episode are the show’s peak – maybe even David Lynch’s, give or take Blue Velvet. But what of the twenty-eight minutes or so that precede them?
I was amused that the first scene features Gordon saying goodbye. He’s gotta go direct the episode! And Lynch certainly makes his presence felt well before the final act. For instance, I don’t think anyone else would’ve had what looks like a few dozen young marines playing with bouncy balls in the Great Northern lobby.
That’s the scene where the episode first points a finger at Ben as a suspect, with Mike having some sort of seizure when Ben approaches. Later, he doesn’t directly answer when Audrey asks him if he killed Laura (both actors do a great job here; it’s compelling to see Audrey have the moral high ground). Then Cooper finds that she mentions him in her diary. I wonder how many people watching the episode for the first time actually believed Ben was the murderer. I don’t think I bought it at the time, but I don’t know why. Maybe it was too conventional an answer.
Maddy telling Sarah and Leland that she’ll be heading home sounds mundane, but Lynch stages it in a way that makes you sit up and take notice. It’s all done in one, unedited three-minute take. The camera is in movement for the whole scene, which is set to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” playing on the living room record player. It ends as follows, with the three characters cozily sitting together in bathrobes:
Leland: “We love you very much.”
Maddy: “I love you too.”
Louis Armstrong: “What a wonderful world.”
This should all feel cloying, but the lovey-dovey, “everything is fine” mood is so (intentionally) exaggerated that it left me feeling uneasy. Contributing to this is the weird way the shot ends, with the family looking like they’re about to be eaten by the record player, which is out of focus in the foreground. It’s an image that contradicts – almost subconsciously – everything else in the scene.
When you know what happens later, certain details pop out. The painting that opens the scene bears the inscription, “Missoula, Montana”, where Maddy is from. Those are the last words she’ll ever hear, and that painting is the last thing she’ll ever see. Maddy says she’ll “come galloping back often”, a strange phrase that I’ve never heard outside of this episode, but which foreshadows Sarah’s vision later on. And in a dark irony, Maddy also says she misses having a life of her own, mere hours from losing said life altogether.
The week before this episode aired, I saw an ad in a magazine that said the killer would be revealed. That affected the way I viewed it, but I think I would’ve felt something was up anyway. It’s like Lynch allowed the strong emotions evoked by the last act to colour the rest of the episode.
I’m warning you this last part is going to be detailed. Because every moment is perfect.
It starts with a shot of a tree. It’s night, and there is some light on the tree, perhaps from the moon. The leaves are rustling. The score is telling us it’s time to feel bad. We cut to some shots of the Palmer living room. We see that the record is still spinning on the turntable though it’s over, so the needle keeps making that thumping sound, which we hear throughout the scene. Again: something’s not right. It’s not a wonderful world anymore. Then we get a zig-zagging floor-level shot, moving backwards. Next a hand creeping down the stairs. It’s Sarah, calling for her husband, only able to crawl. What the fuck is going on?
We then cut to Ben’s arrival at the Sheriff’s office. That danger drone from the previous scene remains on the soundtrack. Ben being taken in feels insignificant compared to whatever else is going on. In the foreground, arms holding a log appear. A cue on the score amplifies the foreboding mood. In the background and out of focus, Cooper slowly turns toward the Log Lady, whose presence he has sensed, and walks towards her. Cooper, in a hushed tone: “Something is happening, isn’t it, Margaret?” She, fearfully: “Yes.” The score responds in kind, carrying into the next scene.
We’re at Pete’s house. WHY?! What could possibly be going on there? Wtf is Mr. Tajamura doing there?! Why does he kiss Pete so forcefully? Lynch is using disorientation to make the viewer lose his moorings again. If, like me, you hadn’t guessed that Mr. Tajamura was really Catherine, hearing her voice suddenly come from him was freaky. As is this shot of her:
Pete’s reaction when he figures out it’s her is very sweet.
Then, that moonlit tree again: back to the Palmers’. From the floor, Sarah has a vision of a white horse appearing in the living room. She passes out, the camera moves away from her, going out of focus for a couple of seconds (which adds to the atmosphere) until it lands on the record player, still unattended. Cut to a different angle on the record player. Slow tilt up to Leland fixing his tie in the mirror. I repeat: What the fuck is going on?
Julee Cruise is singing in the Road House. After a conversation about Harold, James tells Donna that Maddy is going home. The way Donna says, “That’s weird. She never said anything to me.” adds a note of unease. Donna sweetly mouths the words of the song, “I want you, rockin’ back inside my heart” to James. Cooper has arrived with Harry and Margaret. We dissolve to a bit later. The song is now a sad, slow number, “The World Spins”. Cruise and the band disappear, replaced by the Giant. “It is happening again.” he tells Cooper. “It is happening again.”
Back to that damn record player. Leland makes one of the creepiest smiles I’ve ever seen. Except that in the mirror, it’s BOB looking back at him. He puts on some latex gloves, and we hear Maddy from upstairs wondering what “that smell” is. When she arrives downstairs, Lynch has her in a spotlight. She sees that Leland is BOB, screams and runs up the stairs. He runs after her with a disquietingly gleeful speed.
BOB drags Maddy off the stairs and into the living room, punches her in the face (the sound is sickeningly realistic), chases her, taunts her, hits her again, kisses her sensually. Most of this is in slow motion, the pitch of her voice lowered as she cries and screams, “SOMEBODY HELP ME!” To make things even sadder, once in a while Leland resurfaces, sobbing, moaning “Laura”, and grotesquely “dancing” with her as she coughs up blood and the two of them waver in and out of focus.
The scene is artistically accomplished, but it never lets you pause to admire it. It’s far too viscerally effective for that. Lynch makes you feel the horror of BOB’s viciousness, and he makes you feel every bit of the heartbreaking loss of poor, innocent Maddy’s life.
Once BOB’s finally killed her, we’re back at the Road House. The Giant disappears, leaving Cooper feeling impotent. He doesn’t know how to make use of the Giant’s message. The last two minutes of the episode are exactly what the viewer needs after that wrenching murder: a grieving period. The band resumes the mournful song, Cooper looks lost.
The waiter from the season premiere comes by to say, “I’m SO sorry.” He could be talking about failing to call Cooper a doctor, but he could just as easily be referring to what just happened to Maddy. Bobby, sitting at the bar, looks around with a desperately sad expression on his face, as though Laura had just died again. Donna senses the same thing, and starts crying uncontrollably.
- The ad I mentioned in the review:
- I was so affected by this episode the first time I saw it that I wrote a “novelization” of it, something I had never done, and have not done since (which is probably for the best).
- Lynch reproduces a shot I like from the pilot for some reason:
- Bobby telling Shelley “I’m missing Economics as it is” is a funny meta-joke about how these supposedly teen-aged characters are never in school.
- Poor Eric DaRe, coming in to work just to sit still and spit up.
- Shelley telling Norma she’ll have to be away from her job for a while is such a sweet scene, with Norma radiating motherly comfort. Those two have one of my favourite relationships on the show.
- Hey, look, it’s Bobby’s red-jacketed pal Mike. Haven’t seen him in a while.
- Really like Harry’s “Is that specific enough for you?” after he tells Ben why they want him to come with them.
- I looked up symbolic meanings of a white horse. In several mythologies, they are guides between the worlds of the living and the dead. So this particular white horse seems to have come for Maddy.
- Once we know who the killer is, we realize that the show gave us almost no way to figure it out for ourselves. But this was never meant to be a whodunit in the usual sense. In fact, Lynch/Frost didn’t want to ever reveal the killer; they only did so at ABC’s behest. But I’m really glad that happened, since it resulted in this amazing episode.
- More than 25 years later, I’m still shocked that this made it onto the air. The murder scene is the most violent and disturbing thing I’ve ever seen on network tv.
- Missoula, Montana is also where David Lynch was born.
- Coming up next: brace yourself for the worst stretch of Twin Peaks episodes.
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