Twin Peaks, Season 2, Episode 21, “Miss Twin Peaks”
Written by Barry Pullman
Directed by Tim Hunter
Aired June 10, 1991 on ABC
“Why have we all lost touch with this beauty? We tell ourselves the world is not alive so that we won’t feel its pain. But instead we feel it all the more. Maybe saving a forest starts with preserving the little feelings that die inside us every day. Those parts of ourselves we deny. Because if that interior land is not honored, then neither will we honor the land we walk.” – Annie Blackburn
Twin Peaks is a show that’s fascinated with the female form. The pilot episode of the series is literally all about the female body, the wrapped-in-plastic form of Laura Palmer and whatever secrets surround this sad sight. And from there it only escalates. The seductive swaying of Audrey Horne to music only she can hear. Norma and Shelly hiding adultery behind their demure waitress outfits. The girls of One-Eyed Jack’s, dressed up and dealt to customers like hand of poker. The near-identical figures of Laura and her cousin Maddie. The unknown motivations and alluring figures of Josie Packard, Lana Budding Milford, Ms. Jones, even Evelyn Marsh. So many of the show’s plots place women front and center, relying on both their physical allure and their hidden depths to drive the story forward.
In that way, it’s not surprising that the penultimate episode of Twin Peaks, and so much of what this second half of the season has built to—when it’s built to anything at all—is the Miss Twin Peaks Beauty Pageant. On the surface, it’s a silly and trivial thing for this dark and philosophical show to do, going hand in hand with talk of dark Tibetan sorcerers and real estate machinations. Yet in “Miss Twin Peaks” it works, the women of Twin Peaks all vying for the same prize as they also unwittingly set themselves up as the prize Windom Earle seeks to claim the Black Lodge. It tees everything up perfectly for the finale, restoring Twin Peaks to its prime state.
The largest reason for the success of “Miss Twin Peaks” is the way that it functions as a way to bring the entire cast together. All of the major female characters are either competing in or judging the pageant, restoring the feeling of community that was so central to the early episodes. This is is a silly thing, but to a small town community like Twin Peaks, it matters a lot. One of the episode’s most subtle details comes when Annie mentions Laura Palmer for the first time in many episodes, and Shelly and Norma are silent for a few seconds. It’s an interesting reminder of the scar inflicted on this town, and that outsiders like Annie have no way of fully comprehending.
As such, all of the female characters get their own moments to shine, and it’s a fun showcase for all of them. Beyond the inexplicable dance number featuring slickers and umbrellas, everyone has their individual showcase. Shelly and Donna are unable to stop from snickering (and smoking) during the choreography for said dance number, reminding you that this show used to have a teenage element. Lucy gets the chance to show off some pretty impressive tap dancing moves for a woman in her first trimester, while Annie gets a monologue that’s some of Heather Graham’s better work on the series to date. Everyone in their training and speeches is working towards a common goal, which gives the whole affair a sense of direction and unity.
Amidst the pageantry, some of the long-standing plotlines of the back half of this season are resolved. Donna finally confronts Ben Horne about the various pieces that she’s assembled, and draws the conclusion that most of the audience had already come to: she might be his daughter. It’s a resolution that draws a lot out of food emotional work from both Lara Flynn Boyle and Richard Beymer, particularly the latter as his quest to do good has been one of the strongest individual arcs post-murder investigation. The resolution of the Andy/Dick/Lucy love triangle is less satisfying to witness, largely because there was never any doubt that she’d pick the wonderful Deputy Andy and because Dick had obviously stopped caring about the contest a few episodes ago. It was entirely without suspense, and it seems almost fitting that Andy almost immediately runs off to the other side of the plot.
That other side of the plot turns out to be picking up a major head of steam—literally in fact, as Major Briggs is liberated from his prison by an uncharacteristically charitable Leo, leading Cooper and Harry to finally decipher the true meaning of the Black Lodge. The mythology of Twin Peaks has always felt somewhat scattershot, given that its centerpiece was inspired by a David Lynch dream shot as a potential ending to sell the pilot as a movie, and retroactively made part of the show in the third episode because Lynch liked it so much. Yet the connections drawn here make sense—Cooper tying it to the evil in the woods Harry mentioned in “Rest In Pain,” the return of the Black Lodge spirits with Josie’s death in “The Condemned Woman.” Even if it’s reverse engineering, it still gives the feeling of a cohesive whole.
And of course, all of these conclusions are conveyed via bonsai to Windom Earle, who is growing more and more terrifying as he gets closer to the Lodge. It’s as if his proximity to this source of dark energy is bleeding into him, to the point that he takes on a demonic visage as he teases Leo’s final torment. His soliloquy to Leo is Kenneth Welsh’s best work to date, a relish to his words and almost impish glee that his prize is so nearly within reach. (“I haven’t been this excited since I punctured Catherine’s aorta.”) His strange games and infatuations have been swept aside as neatly as he swept aside the chess game last week, boiled down to a much simpler—and much more engaging—desire. And the pacing of his final gift to Leo, following the string from his teeth to the cage of spiders, leaves no doubt of the prevailing sadism and joy in fear that would impress even BOB.
When the two plots come together, as they do in the final scene of “Miss Twin Peaks,” it’s a perfect fusing. Earle continues his absurd costume trend by posing as the Log Lady, to the complete bemusement of Bobby Briggs, and shuts down what should be Annie’s glorious victory. The strobe light—echoes of the flickering fluorescent over Laura’s body so long ago—splits the screen, and Cooper’s moment of recognition is similarly split with Earle’s malicious grin, his version of a benevolent visage warped into something horrible. There’s a flash of fire, another moment of darkness, and when the dust settles the peace of Twin Peaks has once again been shattered as their town’s brightest light is taken away from them.
Fear is the key to the Black Lodge, as both Cooper and Earle realize this week—and with the town thrown into chaos, there’s plenty of fear to go around. Only this time, thanks to that most unlikely of sources in Deputy Andy, there’s a chance that this one might make it home alive. “Miss Twin Peaks” does an admirable job of building up Twin Peaks only to knock it down again, and sets up a series of events for the finale where no solution or reality is off the table.
Pie crusts and coffee grounds:
- Log Lady intro: “A log is a portion of a tree. At the end of a crosscut log—many of you know this—there are rings. Each ring represents one year in the life of the tree. How long it takes to a grow a tree! I don’t mind telling you some things. Many things I, I mustn’t say. Just notice that my fireplace is boarded up. There will never be a fire there. On the mantelpiece, in that jar, are some of the ashes of my husband. My log hears things I cannot hear. But my log tells me about the sounds, about the new words. Even though it has stopped growing larger, my log is aware.”
- In less successful plots, Andrew, Catherine, and Pete continue their efforts to find out what’s inside Thomas Eckhardt’s puzzle box, finally cracking it enough to reveal a key to a safety deposit box. This one remains frustratingly divorced from the action of the series, though all three actors are good enough that they’re relishing how they’ve put themselves into a Treasure Of The Sierra Madre scenario.
- Deja vu in Ben’s office, as a shot of Ben looking down on his daughter mirrors his posture all the way back in “Traces To Nowhere.”
- Audrey gives her speech to the room, and barely spares a glance for Cooper. That’s somehow sadder than anything involving her separation from John Justice Wheeler.
- Speaking of, Cooper and Annie consummate their love in Cooper’s hotel room prior to the pageant. The relationship is still devoid of sparks, but Cooper’s restored outlook on life lets Kyle MacLachlan have a lot more energy than he’s had in recent weeks.
- Shelly and Bobby reunite this week after the strange affair of Gordon Cole, as Bobby rightly admits he’s been a colossal jackass since hooking up with Horne Enterprises.
- “Dale, I could kiss your pointy little head.”
- “Now bend forward like a sapling in the wind.”
- “I can see half my life’s history in your face, and I’m not sure I want to.”
- “They were lovely. Dark. The king of Romania was unable to attend.”
Next time: It’s the end of our Twin Peaks episodic coverage. And to mark the occasion, something special: Les and Jake will be teaming up to enter the Black Lodge together, discussing and uncovering the secrets of “Beyond Life And Death.” They just have one big question: How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie?