Twin Peaks, Season 2, Episode 14, “Double Play”
Written by Scott Frost
Directed by Uli Edel
Originally aired February 2, 1991 on ABC
One of the most successful things about Twin Peaks was its uniquely seamless ability to balance the dark and the light. Thanks largely to the competent handling of David Lynch, the series has become known for its horrifying and surreal moments as well as its goofy humour, and for the then-unparalleled way it could flit between them, combine them, and manipulate them. One single scene could be simultaneously terrifying and chuckle-inducing, and it became up to viewers to determine how they were supposed to feel about that. It was challenging, but remarkably and consistently effective.
It’s such a shame, then, that at some point during the second season, the series lost this ability. The balance is gone, and in its place is the skewed amateurish juggling of tone seen in this episode, far more reminiscent of the many poor copycat shows that would try to emulate the core Peaks style in the ensuing decades. A disturbing scene, such as Leo’s attack on Shelly, is contrasted against a truly ridiculous scene, like when the mayor comes to shoot Lana and Dr. Jacoby with a shotgun. The power of the Leo/Shelly scene is robbed, and the Lana scene ends up feeling even less funny than it otherwise would have.
This leaves everything feeling horribly disjointed, and makes it increasingly difficult to care about any particular storyline. There is a very subtle art to mixing light and dark, comic and surreal, melodrama and horror. It is incredibly rare, but Twin Peaks had it, and is still capable of it, which makes it all the more disappointing when it feels like it’s scrambling. It is uncharacteristic of the series to take all these parts and struggle to make them fit into any sort of whole, and it’s disheartening to watch. Some of the parts, of course, work quite well on their own, but it is bizarre to have them clash so obstructively.
The episode also fails in its expository attempt to make the audience fear Windom Earle. After having the seeds of this storyline planted throughout the season, he becomes the main villain here, but not before Cooper explains just how evil he is, more than once. “Windom Earle is a genius, and he’s taken his first pawn in a very sick game,” he says early on. “You don’t know what he’s capable of, Harry. You don’t know,” he says later. This is a classic example of telling and not showing, and it’s an unfortunate trap for the show to fall into when fully introducing such a significant villain for the rest of the season. Earle doesn’t show up until the very end, as Leo stumbles across his cabin in the woods. The audience feels a certain kind of fear because of Uli Edel’s effectively creepy direction, but it is not as organic because, on some level, viewers have merely been told to be scared of this man.
Now that Jean Renault is dead, that storyline is also wrapped up in an offhand piece of dialogue, as Cooper tells Harry that the FBI and the DEA have cleared him of all charges (shocker), though he remains suspended for the time being. Thomas Eckhart is also in town, presumably to cause trouble for Catherine, Andrew, and Josie, but he’s seen for only a less-than-subtle moment, as he stares into the fireplace at the Great Northern, the fire reflected in his glasses (i.e. the melodramatic way of saying this guy is BAD NEWS). Speaking of trouble, Major Briggs shows up briefly to reveal another small piece to Cooper and Harry. He admits that his superiors may not have the best intentions in mind in their search for the White Lodge, and that their questioning of him made him uncomfortable. He says that during his disappearance, he was taken to the Lodge, but he remembers nothing. “But I have the clear intuitive sense that there is much trouble ahead,” he adds.
That will likely turn out to be true, but the trouble right now for Twin Peaks is in the writing itself. At this point, the problem is not so much that the storylines are less interesting, but that the show seems to have lost many elements of its essence. This is what people are talking about when they disregard the second season of Twin Peaks, because it’s at times like this, in the middle of the season, that it very often legitimately feels like a different show. All TV series progress with time, change and tell stories differently, but they are rendered stale if they lose sight of what made them special in the first place. Twin Peaks still has plenty of magic, the creative team just needs to figure out how to recapture it before it’s too late.
Pie crusts and coffee grounds
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- It’s a great moment when Briggs comes into the sheriff’s department and collapses on the floor, and Lucy checks her makeup before doing anything about it.
- The James melodrama love affair seems to be over. Please?
- Ben continues to be stuck in the Civil War, but Dr. Jacoby has a pretty brilliant take on what’s happening with him. “Actually what he is doing is quite healthy. By reversing the South’s defeat in the Civil War, he will in turn reverse his own setbacks!”
- “We forgot the wienies. All beef, with the skin on.”
- “Is it hot in here?”