Twin Peaks, Ep. 1.08, “The Last Evening”: A fire fueled by gasoline and personal histories

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Twin Peaks, Season 1, Episode 8, “The Last Evening”
Written by Mark Frost
Directed by Mark Frost
Aired May 23, 1990 on ABC

Oh, I’ve been going over this in my mind and… see if you can follow my thinking. We’re all born into life and we have a certain number of years to move and breathe and have our vein. That’s from a book on Oriental philosophy I read when I was in the joint. And maybe somebody, somewhere, knows how much time we have. I don’t, do you?” – Hank Jennings

It’s interesting to consider how Twin Peaks would have been received if it aired today. The viewing culture of the 2010s is one that’s been bred for the ad infinitum dissection of television shows: episodes are picked apart in real-time on Twitter, reviewers dig for greater analysis in the days between installments, and cliffhangers and twist endings can spark wars in comment sections. One wonders how the first eight episodes of Twin Peaks—loaded with symbolism, often emotionally extreme, at times determined to frustrate the viewer—would survive in an environment made so contentious by endless discussion of its spiritual successors LOST and The Sopranos. How many interpretations of the Log Lady’s words would there be? Would Cooper’s love of coffee launch a thousand memes immediately? And would James and Donna be more loathed than Nikki and Paolo?

It’s something of a chicken/egg question to ask, given how important Twin Peaks was to creating this culture in the first place, but it’s reasonable to assume that it would survive, and even thrive, in a modern-day setting. That assumption comes from just how well the show continues to hold up under scrutiny 25 years later, brushing off its more dated attributes by virtue of its distinctive weirdness and solid construction. Episodes of Twin Peaks aren’t convoluted for the sake of being convoluted, nor are they hours of television that force reveals on viewers. Indeed, the impression a viewer gets from the very beginning is that this is a path that has been expertly charted, and even when a curve ball comes up—i.e. a dream sequence full of backwards talk and vague symbolism—it’s all part of the plan. One may quibble with certain parts of the series, but there’s no question they’re parts of a whole.

“The Last Evening,” the first season finale of Twin Peaks, is an episode that feeds into that conviction, but one that would almost certainly blow up the Internet if it aired today, given how much it leaves on the table. It doesn’t provide the definitive answer to the question of who killed Laura Palmer (even though Cooper and Truman feel they’ve identified the guilty party), places the survival of a half-dozen characters in doubt, and introduces new threads of conspiracy through the show’s already tangled web. Yet, at the same time, it’s a supremely rewarding finale for those who have been paying close attention, one where knowledge of the connections and history between characters give better payoffs than the murder investigation.

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It’s telling for Twin Peaks that of these payoffs, the most viscerally and emotionally satisfying is that of Deputy Andy. All season long he’s been poor, hapless Andy, caught between the roles of well-meaning but clumsy and outright comic relief. But when Jacques Renault walks into the trap Cooper set for him and he manages to get his hands on a gun, it’s Andy who’s quickest on the draw, and thus the one who saves Truman’s life—not Bookhouse Boys Hawk or Big Ed, but the deputy who dropped his gun back in “The One-Armed Man.” It’s almost ridiculous how triumphant a minor character’s victory can feel, and how stunning it can feel when Lucy’s reveal lets the wind out of his sails. The entire scene is spectacularly played by Harry Goaz and Kimmy Robertson, who have been acting out this seemingly minor domestic dispute for eight episodes. Her reassurances to him in “Northwest Passage,” his attempts to figure out what’s wrong, and now the knowledge they’re going to be parents—it’s a story far more fleshed out than its limited screen time should allow

If Deputy Andy proves himself possessed of unexpected virtue, Josie Packard proves herself sorely lacking. Hints that Josie isn’t what she seems have been creeping in for the last few episodes, but the eventual reveal—that she orchestrated the accident that killed her husband and paid Hank to go to prison on a lesser charge to avoid suspicion—is far heavier than expected. Hank’s allowed to do most of the heavy lifting in this scene, in an excellent blend of threat and exposition, coming across as the malevolent entity dragging Josie’s secrets out of the shadows. (Episode writer/director Mark Frost heightens that feeling with the scene’s framing, with the antlers on the wall of the Packard home giving Hank a near-demonic set of horns.) While it makes her seem passive, that’s a feeling entirely in keeping with our understanding of Josie. All of her behaviors indicate she’s a step removed from events, acting through proxies like Hank or Truman, content to move past any ramifications of her actions.

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Hank’s influence is felt in other parts of the narrative too, which also illustrate the depth of the stories being played out, one brief scene at a time. While Big Ed and Norma don’t share any scenes together in “The Last Evening”, the episode provides a lot of evidence of why they didn’t leave their spouses years ago to be with each other. Norma’s a sharp woman, and her reticence to let Hank close proves she can see parts of his darker nature, but Hank in the moment can project enough charm and sincerity that it’s entirely believable Norma wouldn’t want to give up this marriage entirely. And Big Ed’s genuine grief at finding Nadine post-suicide attempt indicates a deeper affection for her than their previous awkward engagements have felt. Norma stated in “Cooper’s Dreams” that their desire not to hurt anyone kept them apart, but the interactions here give the feeling they didn’t want to hurt themselves either.

As far as dysfunctional relationships go though, the prize for self-awareness goes to Pete and Catherine Martell, the latter of whom, out of desperation, finally comes out and calls their marriage “a living train wreck.” It’s almost certain that Catherine is manipulating Pete—witness Piper Laurie’s glorious eye-roll once he tearfully embraces her—yet the interaction is one that feels grounded in some form of truth. Both Laurie and Jack Nance give terrific weight to small phrases as they go back and forth with each other, musing about the circumstances that brought their lives to this point (“I never should have taken you to that house on the hill.” “Oh, I have no complaints about the house”). When Pete declares that Catherine is his wife, regardless of what else has transpired, and storms into the burning mill, it’s a moment as loaded as Andy’s successful disarming of Jacques.

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All of these resonant personal moves happen in this episode—and in a sign of how rich the world of Twin Peaks is, that’s not even counting everything tied up with Laura’s murder. Events have the feeling of being tied up nicely here, with Jacques Renault in police custody filling in the gaps about the night at the cabin, and James supplying the missing Laura tape that alludes to a “mystery man” and a red Corvette. Leo Johnson appears to be the man of the hour, and Cooper and Truman are heading for a badly needed win. What could possibly go wrong?

The short answer to that is everything: James’s delivery of the tape is tainted by the discovery of a bag of cocaine in his trunk, planted by Bobby and found due to his “anonymous” tip, and Jacques has the life smothered out of him by the vengeful Leland Palmer. The former has been clearly implied through the last few episodes, but it’s the latter that truly grips the attention. Much like Andy, Leland has walked a fine line as a character, moving between shattered emotional wreck and uncomfortable comic relief as necessary. Now with a suspect in custody, his features take on a focus unseen up to this point, and his look is that of a man possessed. Even in the final moments of strangling Jacques, the cadence of his sobbing is different, almost bordering on determined grief.

As for Leo Johnson himself, he’s busy stalking through Twin Peaks as an arsonist axe murderer. The vibe of a horror movie runs through a lot of “The Last Evening”—Hank’s threats to Josie, Leland stalking down the hospital hallway—and Leo personifies the most terrifying moments in the ominous way he pulls the towel out of Shelly’s reach, and the way he surprises Bobby from behind the door. Leo hasn’t had much in the way of characterization throughout the series, introduced to the audience as an unrepentant wife-beater with bad hair and rarely moving past that degree, so accelerating him to stock villain is entirely in keeping with the heightened emotion of the series. The unexpected speed with which Hank’s bullet takes him out of action feels similarly in keeping, given Hank’s previously asserted superiority over Leo—and makes for an amusing bit of serendipity, given that it was Bobby’s call to the police about James that allows Hank to get close enough in the first place.

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But even if Leo is Laura’s murderer, and even if Hank’s bullet takes him out of action, that doesn’t come close to eradicating the darkness that continues to swirl about the town. Ben Horne’s been pulling the strings since the season started, and now his machinations have all come to fruition: Catherine lured to the mill, the Icelanders’ signature on the Ghostwood contract, and his hired goon bleeding out on the couch. Much of Twin Peaks has relied on the darkness that lurks behind a seemingly benign facade, and Ben’s evil grin of victory hints that there’s no need for facade anymore. What will he do now that his plots have turned out for the best? And more importantly, what reaction will he have to seeing Audrey decked out as the Queen of Diamonds?

Finally, there’s the most distressing of cliffhangers, as Cooper returns to his hotel room expecting to finally get a good night’s sleep, only to be greeted by a figure in black who puts three bullets into his chest. As far as twist endings go, this is one of the oldest in the book—so much so that it’s foreshadowed by Invitation To Love this very episode—but its existence doesn’t feel contrived, because of the mindset Twin Peaks places the viewer in. No sooner has the shock of the event worn off than the viewers are busy asking who could have done this: Did Hank make it from the Johnson home to the Great Northern? Has Leland snapped entirely after strangling Jacques? Is the Log Lady taking revenge for some imagined slight? It’s simply the latest mystery to be introduced, and the fact that it happens to a character as beloved and competent as Cooper only heightens the intensity.

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Twin Peaks will have a lot to prove in 2016 when its Showtime debut places it before the trial by fire of the modern TV audience, yet its greatest hurdle will be the bar set in the show’s debut. More than two decades later, season one of Twin Peaks remains a monumental achievement in television, a show that simultaneously works because and in spite of its tonal weirdness. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination—the James/Donna relationship is a narrative dead end, the idea of the “evil” in the woods is introduced and largely abandoned—but so much of its construction and imagery is so marvelously defined that it earns its place in the pantheon of television.

Pie crusts and coffee grounds:

  • Log Lady intro: “A drunken man walks in a way that is quite impossible for a sober man to imitate, and vice versa. An evil man has a way, no matter how clever—to the trained eye, his way will show itself. Am I being too secretive? No. One can never answer questions at the wrong moment. Life, like music, has a rhythm. This particular song will end with three sharp notes, like deathly drumbeats.”
  • Who Killed Laura Palmer? Between Jacoby’s tape, Jacques’s confession, and his own axe murderer tendencies, Leo Johnson appears to have soared past all competition and validated Cooper’s certainty in his guilt. But without a direct confession—and the heavy implication that Hank’s bullet may keep him from ever seeing trial—it’s by no means an slam-dunk identification. Particularly given the unknown identity of whoever put Jacoby in the hospital.
  • This Week On Invitation To Love: Montana’s shot again with Chet and Jared as horrified onlookers, and this time it looks to be for good. Was it Emerald or Jade who fired the final shots? Judging by the look on Leo’s face, he’s hoping that if he doesn’t know who shot him, he can at least learn that fact before he expires.
  • It’s surprising how much of a red herring the half-heart necklace turned out to be, given how much buildup it received in the pilot. Jacoby’s possession of it is secondary to the tape implicating Leo as Laura’s “mystery man,” and questions of how he got it are much less important than whether or not he’ll survive his attack.
  • Speaking of Jacoby, Frost’s choice to open the episode with the tropical backdrop and wave sound effects of the good doctor’s apartment goes a long way towards establishing a sense of otherworldliness right away.
  • The connections between the various characters are so knotted at this point, it’s almost surprising to see Catherine see a trussed-up Shelly and have no idea who she is. Though it’s not surprising, given that Catherine Martell wouldn’t be caught dead eating at the Double R.
  • “I first lay eyes on Mimsy.” “Weird.”
  • “Hey, remember that mystery man I told you about? Well, if I tell you his name then you’re gonna be in trouble. He wouldn’t be such a mystery man any more but you might be history man. I think, a couple of times, he’s tried to kill me. But guess what, as you know, I sure got off on it. Hmm, isn’t sex weird? This guy can really light my f – i – r – e as in red corvette. Uh-oh, here comes mom with milk and cookies.”
  • “So, I’ve been asking myself, what does that do to the market value of 18 months?”
  • “I can’t understand a word you’re saying. You have a thing in your mouth.”
  • “This is such stuff as dreams are made of.”

Next time: Sound On Sight begins its coverage of the oft-controversial season two of Twin Peaks, and Jake Pitre takes over reviewing duties with the premiere, “May The Giant Be With You.”




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