Twin Peaks, Season 2, Episode 15, “Slaves And Masters”
Written by Harley Peyton & Robert Engels
Directed by Diane Keaton
Aired February 9, 1991 on ABC
“About the uniform, Coop. Replacing the quiet elegance of the dark suit and tie with the casual indifference of these muted earth tones is a form of fashion suicide, but, uh, call me crazy, on you it works.” — Albert Rosenfeld
“Slaves And Masters” is an episode of Twin Peaks that’s ripe with the feeling of change. The plots that the show spent too much time on over the last few episodes are finally drawing to a close, and the mysterious figures—Windom Earle, Thomas Eckhardt, Andrew Packard—are emerging from the shadows to take a more active role in taking what they feel they’re owed from the town. While not a good episode of Twin Peaks by any stretch of the imagination, still suffering from the same problems of balanced tone and unsubtle approach that go beyond any one storyline, it’s the first time in a while where the writers appear to acknowledge that they’ve made mistakes and it’s time to transition over into something else.
Let’s deal with the transition first and bid farewell to the worst Twin Peaks plot ever, the soap opera sojourn of James Hurley. James is facing imprisonment after the death of Mr. Marsh, and Donna’s trying to help him get out of it, and Malcolm is trying to kill James off… who thought this was a good idea again? To paraphrase Donna, it’s “pointless and stupid,” not one redeeming element in all these weeks, no depth added to characters or the world of the show, not once interesting or even enjoyable to watch. It’s also made distracting in its death throes thanks to the cinematography: “Slaves And Masters” is directed by Diane Keaton—yes, that Diane Keaton—and she tries far too hard to emulate the David Lynch style in these scenes by overlaying shots of Evelyn in her funeral veil, going for ethereal but feeling like an unpleasant fever dream.It was a misstep for everyone involved, and the best thing about it is that it’s over.
Also this week, we bid farewell to the career of Civil War enthusiast Benjamin Horne, whose mania has now grown to encompass the entire Great Northern and draft its employees into his own drum line. This story has been at least entertaining in its delirium, but has now crossed over into full-bore cartoon, Richard Beymer’s Southern accent now thick as molasses. And the way Twin Peaks chooses to get him out of it—Audrey, Jerry, Dr. Jacoby, and Bobby all roleplaying a Southern victory—is a solution you’d expect from a multicam sitcom, not a show that was at one point a groundbreaking television drama. If the James arc was Twin Peaks throwing itself too deeply into melodrama, this arc is Twin Peaks throwing too deeply into comedy, both missing the fact that the show was always better for the way it wound its way through both genres without truly belonging to either.
The need for this balance is apparent in Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh), who gets his first significant screen time in “Slaves And Masters” as he turns Leo Johnson into a captive audience for his madness. Despite being painted as a master tactician—called “cold, and hard, and brilliant” by Cooper last week—he conducts himself like a loon, capering around in long underwear, playing a flute, and spoon-feeding gruel to Leo. And the fake mustache and plaid suit he wears to go undercover at the Great Northern is ridiculous, maybe not Mr. Tojamura ridiculous but still an outfit that a seasoned investigator should be able to see something wrong with, as Cooper almost does when Earle walks past. As Jake said last week, Twin Peaks spent so long trying to convince us that Earle was an evil mastermind that it hurts all the more when he comes across as an articulate court jester.
However, by finally giving us a face to the mystique, Earle takes his first steps towards becoming an active villain in this universe. His next scheme, involving a search for a “queen” with candidates Shelly, Audrey, and Donna in his search for a “queen,” is one that takes his actions from a one-on-one vendetta to one that encompasses the entire town. And by placing Caroline’s death mask in Cooper’s bedroom, he produces a one-two punch against his adversary, first by penetrating his inner sanctum and then by subverting the tape recorder that’s so often Cooper’s last refuge in times of trouble. Presented as simply seeking revenge, he now gives the appearance of having a longer game in mind.
Against Earle’s efforts, Cooper and Truman are gathering their resources. Albert returns to Twin Peaks, assigned by direct order of Gordon Cole to assist with the investigation (“As he so succinctly put it: ‘I’M WORRIED ABOUT COOP!’”), and both his forensics skills and Miguel Ferrer’s performance are always welcome. And to counter Earle, Cooper recruits the most unlikely of players to try to force a standstill in the fatal chess game. The revelation that seemingly simple Pete is a master chess player—with the utmost respect for the work of Jose Raul Capablanca—is a typically bizarre Twin Peaks reveal, the show’s constant affection for giving its characters hidden depths.
Speaking of hidden depths, the combination of Albert and Pete yields the answer to a season one mystery that’s been on the back burner since season one. A chance run-in with the Martell household’s dry cleaning sparks a memory from Cooper, and a fabric test of Josie’s coat reveals a perfect match to the fabric left outside his door from the cliffhanger shooting of “The Last Evening.” The implication of Josie Packard as the gunwoman is a surprising twist, yet upon consideration it makes the most sense. It was too subtle for BOB/Leland, Jean Renault was busy with his own schemes, Hank and Leo had their own gunplay going on at the same time, Ben had no motivations: why shouldn’t the mysterious foreigner with the dark past be responsible for this? (Especially given the recent killing of Jonathan, which the local news advertises with the woefully politically incorrect headline “Asian Man Killed!”)
And if that’s not true, she’s certainly moving towards the point where killing someone is a viable option. Catherine’s threat to involve Thomas Eckhardt (David Warner, bringing his usual sinister English flavor to Twin Peaks) has now reached the point of open negotiations at the dinner table where Josie’s waiting on both of them, serving up a pig’s head at the same time Catherine’s planning to serve her up. Joan Chen expertly plays Josie’s increasing desperation, her carefully manicured nails practically tearing through her maid’s outfit and skin as the walls start closing in. Josie’s kept secrets from everyone, even lover Truman and best friend Pete, it’s not a long shot to see her as willing to do anything to throw off suspicion. And if true, it raises even more questions, chief amongst them being if she was the culprit in “The Mystery Of The Fish In The Percolator.”
The one oasis of domestic bliss in Twin Peaks this week is Ed and Norma, finally enjoying each other in safety with Hank in jail for the time being—and for a long time, should Truman and Norma’s hopes bear out. Once again, the natural chemistry between Everett McGill and Peggy Lipton raises this story above many of the various romances in this world, the sorrow and nostalgia in each of their voices over empty lives feeling sincere rather than corny. And it turns on a dime once Nadine walks in, sharing the bed for a spell and giving her blessing to the two because of her fling with Mike. This is the tonal balance that Twin Peaks should shoot for: it’s still not perfect because the Nadine plot is too silly for words, but it’s getting there. And “getting there” is the best praise that can go to “Slaves And Masters,” which doesn’t go all the way to redeeming the series but gives the impression of finding a pathway out of the darkness.
Pie crusts and coffee grounds:
- Log Lady intro: “A death mask. Is there a reason for a death mask? It is barely a physical resemblance. In death, the muscles so relaxed, the face so without the animating spark. A death mask is almost an intrusion on a beautiful memory. And yet, who could throw away the casting of a loved one? Who would not want to study it longingly, as the distant freight train blows its mournful tone?”
- Owl sightings become more and more prevalent as the season progresses, with two this week. There’s one sitting on the bar next to an increasingly desperate Evelyn and a rack of owl postcards greeting the mustachioed Earle.
- While the direction suffers from trying to be overly Lynchian, there is a fun dialogue moment early on that fits with Lynch’s fascination with odd distracted moments in the everyday, as the sheriff’s deputy spells out Jaguar “J-a-g-w…” Similarly, the sight of the smoking mailmen is a distinctive image if nothing else.
- Some homages to better days of Twin Peaks: James picks up a Dr. Jacoby habit and palms a cocktail umbrella from the bar, and Cooper smell-checks the percolator to make sure a fish didn’t wind up in there.
- Some vintage Audrey manipulation here as she shoots down Jerry’s attempted power play with a reminder that if Ben remains incompetent she’ll take control of the estate and will have even fewer tolerance for Jerry’s high jinks than his brother does.
- “What about Leo-stein?”
- “And then he played Zeus at the power station.”
- “I turned all my Christmases into a week full of Mondays.”
- “For the good and honest way you taste.”
- “Now Dale, listen carefully. It’s your move.”