Twin Peaks, Ep. 2.01, “May The Giant Be With You”: The pressure of a phenomenon

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Twin Peaks, Season 2, Episode 1, “May The Giant Be With You”
Written by Mark Frost
Directed by David Lynch
Aired September 30, 1990 on ABC

It was Laura and I saw her glowing. In the dark woods I saw her smiling. We were crying and I saw her laughing. In our sadness I saw her dancing. It was Laura living in my dreams. It was Laura. The glow was life. Her smile was to say it was alright to cry. The woods was our sadness. The dance was her calling. It was Laura and she came to kiss me goodbye.

The question of who killed Laura Palmer holds a particular and acute power. Not only did it captivate millions of people in 1990, but it has continued to have the same effect on millions more in the decades since thanks to home video and, most importantly, Netflix. When I first started watching Twin Peaks as a teenager some years ago, I wasn’t as familiar with the phenomenon, having only been told by many about how powerful the show’s legacy had become. The first season of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s series immediately gripped me, not only with that central question but (more importantly) with the remarkable world and characters that these men had carefully crafted.

But there was no way I could avoid hearing and reading about the countless misgivings about the second season, with its boring and ridiculous storylines and its aimless meandering. The unassailable excellence of the first seven episodes is generally not argued against, but the second season is hounded by accusations of indulgence (more coffee! more pie!) and creative flailing after the unexpected runaway success of the first season. Some say the creators up the weirdness quotient–starting in the premiere–to cater to audiences, adding in The Giant and just being especially eccentric. It’s understandable that Lynch and Frost would feel increased pressure among that success, not to mention the heightened scrutiny and expectations from producers and studio heads, and much of what comes after they backed away must be reckoned with (just WAIT until we get to that James storyline). That said, knowing what we know about Lynch in particular, it seems hard to believe that the weirdness on display here is solely a virtue of attempted viewer satisfaction and even if it is, Lynch surely enjoyed doing it (for a time, anyway).

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Where do you come from?
The question is: Where have you gone?

The reason I remain unconvinced by this theory is that Lynch is not typically one to cow-tow to what people want. The original plan, as he loves to talk about, was to never reveal the identity of Laura’s killer. Though he buckled on that, he calls it his biggest regret, and the show we do get is still mostly uninterested in providing many satisfying answers. For example, the finale of the first season left FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) shot and bleeding out on the floor of his hotel room at The Great Northern. We don’t find out who actually did it until much, much later in the season, almost as an afterthought. These types of things are never what Lynch and Frost are interested in.

Les Chappell raised a great point in his review of “The Last Evening”, the first season finale, highlighting how interesting is to consider what the reaction to Twin Peaks would be were it to have aired today in our instant-reaction culture. Much of our modern television owes an outrageous amount to this series (the lack of interest in answers to mysteries, for example, plagued showrunners like Lost‘s Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof). Whatever criticisms you may have, the pure impact of Twin Peaks is massive on an arguably unparalleled scale, and every choice made is not only part of this show’s DNA, but the DNA of many shows to come. Television storytelling was never the same.

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The first thing I will tell you is: There’s a man in a smiling bag. The second thing is: The owls are not what they seem. The third thing is: Without chemicals, he points.

This episode marks our introduction to The Giant (Carel Struycken), who gives Cooper the above three clues, ostensibly to help with his investigation. He is, Cooper assumes, an ally. More importantly, however, he introduces the notion that Cooper’s visions from back in “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer” were actually, on some level, real. It appears that Cooper’s dreamworld can in fact physically interact with the real world, the Giant takes Cooper’s ring and promises to return it once his clues come true. Speaking of choices, an important one was certainly made between the first and second seasons in this regard. Going all in on the supernatural elements of the series and making them literal was a conscious decision in terms of what kind of story this was going to be, and in some ways this made later arcs more comfortable to deal with. We’ll deal with that when the time comes, but we’ll note for now the significance of this moment.

Anyway, most of the premiere is spent waiting to see if those clues will come true (“Is that bag smiling?” Cooper asks, very clearly wanting to believe) and finding out some small (and big) things in the murder investigation. Sheriff Truman (Michael Ontkean) listens to the tape Laura sent to Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), painting Leo Johnson (Eric Da Re) in a bad light and allowing Jacoby to suggest that Laura had “allowed herself to be killed”, an interesting theory. It’s too bad that the tape turns out to be a red herring, as Andy (Harry Goaz) figures out that Leo has an alibi for the night Teresa Banks was killed, which essentially absolves him of guilt in Laura’s murder, assuming it’s the same killer in both cases. The biggest reveal comes at the end, as Lynch does what he does best by utterly unsettling us. We first spend some moments in several empty hallways in the hospital, complete with flickering lights and Angelo Badalamenti’s menacing score. Then Ronette (Phoebe Augustine) awakes from her coma and has terrifying flashbacks to the night Laura was killed (is anyone better at horrifying through brief images than David Lynch?), clearly depicting BOB (Frank Silva) murdering Laura.

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A path is formed by laying one stone at a time.

Not everything in this premiere is quite as effective. The James and Donna storyline, as always, is terrible. Their relationship was never going anywhere, narratively speaking, and it isn’t made any newer or more interesting with Donna’s new behaviour, seemingly trying to emulate Laura. Much of the broad comedy, which seems broader and more frequent than ever, falls a little flat. Balancing suffocating darkness with silly comedy is always a tricky task, but one that the show is usually excellent at walking. But with Andy getting dazed after stepping comically on a loose board and constantly making fun of hospital food for some bizarre reason (not to mention “HOT DAMN THAT PIE’S GOOD”), the line is far blurrier than it normally is.

There are some quieter, more deeply affecting moments in this episode, though. Major Briggs explaining his vision to Bobby (“I wish you nothing but the very best in all things.”). Cooper explaining his dying wishes to Diane as he lay bleeding on the floor (“I would like in general to treat people with much more care and respect. I would like to climb a tall hill. Not too tall. Sit in the cool grass. Not too cool. And feel the sun on my face.”) So don’t be afraid, there’s still so much to come.

“I guess you can say that about most anything in life: it’s not so bad as long as you can keep the fear from your mind.”

Pie crusts and coffee grounds:

  • Welcome to Sound on Sight’s coverage of the second season of Twin Peaks! I’m Jake, and I’ll be your guide. I love this show so much. Thank you for joining me as we look back and analyze the series, one stone at a time, as we anticipate the new episodes in 2016 (and don’t worry, there will be plenty of speculation and thoughts on the decision to bring the show back and what we can expect and hope for).
  • Log Lady intro: “Hello again. Can you see through a wall? Can you see through human skin? X-rays see through solid, or so-called solid objects. There are things in life that exist, and yet our eyes cannot see them. Have you ever seen something startling that others cannot see? Why are some things kept from our vision? Is life a puzzle? I am filled with questions. Sometimes my questions are answered. In my heart, I can tell if the answer is correct. I am my own judge. In a dream, are all the characters really you? Different aspects of you? Do answers come in dreams? One more thing: I grew up in the woods. I understand many things because of the woods. Trees standing together, growing alongside one another, providing so much. I chew pitch gum. On the outside, let’s say of the ponderosa pine, sometimes pitch oozes out. Runny pitch is no good to chew. Hard, brittle pitch is no good. But in between there exists a firm, slightly crusted pitch with such a flavor. This is the pitch I chew.”
  • Who Killed Laura Palmer?: With Leo seemingly out of the picture, and if we trust Ronette’s flashbacks, it appears this BOB — whoever he is — killed Laura. But who is he?
  • Some strange stuff is going on with Leland this episode, with his hair turning completely white overnight and his constant singing and general merriment. This culminates in the scene where Harriet reads the poem that kicks off this review, followed by Leland getting up and singing “Come On Get Happy” until he collapses but still insists that he feels happy. Not so sure about that, Leland! Seen below looking Christ-like.
  • Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 2Audrey is in trouble after going undercover at One-Eyed-Jacks without telling anyone except for Cooper in a note that is tragically lost under his bed. She comes face-to-mask with her father, as she discovers that he owns the place while trying to hide her identity from him in a particularly disturbing scene that foreshadows another certain storyline (*mysteriously nods at people that have seen the series*).
  • Donna is at least doing a little detective work of her own, joining the Meals on Wheels program that Laura was a part of after receiving an anonymous note telling her to look into it. Watch this space.
  • Lucy listing off everything that happened in the finale to waken Cooper is pretty hilarious. “Leo Johnston was shot, Jacques Renault was strangled, the mill burned, Shelly and Pete got smoke inhalation, Catherine and Josie are missing, Nadine is in a coma from taking sleeping pills.” Dale: “How long have I been out?!”
  • “You will require medical attention.”
  • “Hell of a way to kill a tick.”
  • Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 2Pete on Catherine: “I always figured I’d be the one to go first. I mean, if you was laying odds on the last person standing after an atomic war, I’d bet on her.”

 Next time: Audrey and Donna do some investigating of their own and we meet David Lynch’s son!