While Twin Peaks is a web of contradictions—combining as it does comedy and horror, “high” art and “low” art, pathos and irony—its central contradiction really boils down to this: while it has the structure of a whodunit, it rejects the entire notion of a solution.
Here’s what I mean. The whodunit, as a literary and cinematic narrative form, has always posited a reductive view of human nature. Human motivation exists in a whodunit as little more than a piece of the puzzle. This isn’t to say that whodunits can’t be well-written or fun, but it is to say that their overriding objective is to answer one central question: who is the murderer? Once that question has been answered, the whodunit is over. The who is more important than the why. The killer, once revealed, ceases to be a source of interest or contemplation. The end of a whodunit reassures us that the bad person has been weeded out from among the good people and that order has been restored. (Noir, in contrast to the whodunit, has always been more interested in the why than in the who. This is the reason that so many noirs are told from the point of view of the killer rather than the cop.)
By the eighth episode of Twin Peaks, however, it seems very clear to me that the show is philosophically opposed to the underlying moral implications of the whodunit. The show has increasingly slippery notions of who is “good” and who is “bad” among its cast of characters. By the time the finale of season one slams to a close, so many fluctuating personalities are in play that we can’t really be sure of anyone.
Of course, our clearest moral compass seems to be Agent Cooper. Wolfing down pie and coffee, spurning the advances of young girls, praying for the safe return of the Dali Lama to Tibet, he goes about his duties like a cheerful monk. Yet there’s something about Cooper that won’t let you settle on him too long. It is found in Kyle MacLachlan’s bizarro Boy Scout vibe—the overly intense eye contact, the insistent smile, the almost cartoonish extremity of his G-man rectitude. He’s likable and unsettling at the same time. I love Cooper, and part of what I love about him is that he’s not the one normal man in a landscape of weirdness. He’s a peculiar creation in his own right—a mystic and a stoic with a badge and a gun.
In “The Last Evening” (written and directed by series co-creator Mark Frost) we see the first leg of Cooper’s investigation into the murder of Laura Palmer come to a surprising ending. Cooper and Big Ed infiltrate the brothel One-Eyed Jacks, where Cooper comes face to face with Jacques Renault. We’ve been hearing about this casino dealer turned drug smuggler for quite some time now, and we have every reason to believe that he knows some important things about what happened the night Laura died. (We have no reason to think that he’s the murderer. We’re only on episode eight, damn it.) Jacques doesn’t disappoint. Played by Walter Olkewicz, he’s a sweaty creep whose mouth is given a moist close-up as he recounts a bondage party with Laura, Ronette Pulaski (who has been in a coma since episode one) and super-creep Leo Johnson at Jacques’s cabin in the woods. The party ended, alas, with Leo leaving with girls and Jacques passed out on the floor.
While Cooper and Sheriff Truman (with some surprising help from the emotional fragile Deputy Andy) put the lasso on Jacques, James and Donna discover Laura’s secret tape from Dr. Jacoby’s office. The tape gives us a tantalizing clue, as well as a disturbing look at Laura. Giggling on the tape she tells Jacoby:
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 anymore, 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. Isn’t sex weird? This guy can really light my F-I-R-E. As in red Corvette.
Is the mystery man the same masked man who later attacks Jacoby? I guess we’ll find out.
On the Packard/Martell sawmill front: Leo Johnson beats up his wife Shelley and ties her to a post at the sawmill, which he has rigged with an explosive device (as I have stated in earlier posts, this isn’t a show that shies away from the goofiest of goofy clichés). Catherine Martell goes out to the mill and saves Shelley. Josie Packard is revealed to be in cahoots with Hank Jennings, going all the way back to the death of her husband. Leo tries to kill Shelley’s boyfriend Bobby, but he’s shot by Hank.
We’re left with a couple of cliffhangers. Intrepid Audrey Horne has infiltrated One-Eye Jack’s brothel as prostitute, but now finds herself in a bedroom with her own father being escorted in to “meet the new girl.” (Eww.) And Agent Cooper orders room service back at the lodge, answers the door, and gets shot three times.
And that’s where Twin Peaks leaves us—uncertain but intrigued. And ready for Season Two.
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