Okay! That took much longer than I'd thought, but I've finally finished the second season of Twin Peaks. I got in the first eight or so episodes while living in San Jose, then put it on hiatus after the move; then I got distracted by Monk, a show that's the polar opposite of Twin Peaks in most ways; and finally picked it back up again, finishing it on a nicer TV with a better sound system.
The second season is MUCH longer than the first, which is a blessing... and a curse. It gives a wider canvas, and more time to get to know characters and explore plots. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be quite enough plot to usefully fill up the available time, and so much of the show seems to dither in tertiary storylines that are neither interesting nor relevant. Still, the best stuff is at least as great as anything from the first season.
On a technical note, they hired a guy to write some additional music for the show, which means that we now have about five themes instead of just three. The cast list also continues to expand, which is awesome; several good folks rotate through, including a great appearance by Heather Graham near the end.
There's also more effort put into building a mythology, which I'm always in favor of. It doesn't totally make sense, but it is nicely atmospheric and, well, Lynch-ian, which this world could use more of.
The first part of the second season continues to march towards the resolution of the Laura Palmer murder. It's cool and interesting that they resolve this mid-season like they do, since everything about the entire show up until now has revolved around that mystery. I'd be inclined to think that they'd want to make that a season-ending thing. Then again, if they want people to stick around for future seasons, they need to give them a reason to keep watching once that mystery is solved.
I was really happy with how the mystery turned out. Leland wasn't even on my radar as a possible suspect. It felt like we had already learned his "secret" in the form of his murder of Jacque. He had enough bizarre, out-there stuff going on (white hair, helpless dancing) that he stayed in the center of the picture without seeming suspicious.
Leland was also a shocking choice. Again, I'm surprised that this showed on network television. The details we've learned about Laura Palmer's life and death are grisly enough; adding molestation and incest to the list seems to push it over the edge. On an artistic standpoint, the Palmer/Bob link is absolutely chilling. Bob is just an incredibly scary dude; as Pat has pointed out, the shot of Bob climbing over the couch is among the most frightening shots on television, even though, well, it's technically just a guy climbing over a couch. (Lynch has to be the absolute master of establishing a pervasive sense of dread that causes you to flinch at even mundane images.) I think they keep things going for exactly the right amount of time, too. After we learn about Bob's possession of Leland, there are a couple of episodes where we see Leland carrying on about town, with the populace totally oblivious to his actions. Most worrisome: the encounter where he's stopped by the police while speeding, with Maddy's corpse hidden in the trunk; he's within seconds of apparently opening the trunk (with unknown consequences) then the police are called away.
The final resolution of the Palmer mystery is nicely laced with mysticism. We supposedly know what's happened now, but there's this whole huge metaphysical backstory of Bob and Mike and possession and such that still hangs in the distance. It's an interesting position: we get closure, but it keeps things from closing off.
And, from there, things start to get REALLY weird. And not always in a good way.
It kind of feels like the show starts casting about for a purpose. Now, in general, I'm all about strange stories that don't make sense. I like them to be well-done, though. Here, it felt like they were either killing time, or else casting about to try and find something interesting to continue the series with. Some things worked, a bunch didn't. Complaints first:
James' story (fixing the car, having an affair, framed for murder) was surprisingly boring. It seemed like there was potential there, but I could never make myself care.
On a related note, I liked Donna much less in the second season than I had in the first. She used to be a stalwart friend; now, she's this combination of mean and brittle that's pretty off-putting. I do like her original transformation (suddenly starting to smoke and talking like a femme fatale from a noir movie), but when it carries over throughout the entire season and culminates with histrionic fits with her parents... well, I just don't get a lot out of it.
The Nadine transformation seems totally unnecessary. It leads to a bunch of scenes that I'm almost certain are supposed to be humorous farce, but I just couldn't laugh at any of them. It stretches out for a loooooooong time, too, covering almost the whole season... and, in the end, it doesn't make any difference. (The one exception: I did love the scene where she beats the tar out of Hank.)
Lucy's baby situation was occasionally funny, but again, didn't seem to add much.
Okay, enough complaining. On to what did work:
Windom Earl made an excellent successor to Bob as the primary villain. He was just as scary, and in a completely different way. I enjoyed his mixture of intelligence and insanity. The way he wormed his way into Twin Peaks was excellent as well; it's a perversion of Dale Cooper's integration into this community.
Similarly, the Leo/Windom pairing worked for me. I wasn't a fan of Leo in the first season, but it's really hard not to feel sorry for him by the end of the second season. Dare I say he might be approaching redemption? (Or a facefull of spiders, which is mostly the same thing.) Their encounters are frightening, and also surprisingly darkly funny. (The scene where Leo steals and uses the trigger to his shock collar is one of those things where I feel bad at myself for laughing.)
I was pleasantly surprised by the transformation of Major Briggs in the second season. In the first season he had just seemed like a parody of a stuffy military man and not-with-it parent, defined entirely by his estrangement from Bobby. In the second season, Bobby thankfully recedes into the background, and Briggs becomes much more important. I like all the plot lines that he opens up: initially aliens, but then a more mystical line that eventually leads to the Black Lodge. I'm also impressed that his actual delivery never changes from the first season, while our attitude towards him totally shifts: he still talks the same way, but where we used to find him fussy and boring, he now comes across as wise.
Even though it ended up being a bit of a shaggy dog story, I did enjoy the Packard plot. The Josie/Truman stuff was a bit overdramatic, but otherwise, it had a really nice rhythm to it, continually spinning out, drawing in new characters, and surprising me. Mr. Packard's return was especially interesting; his absence had felt palpable in the first season, with his mill possibly the single most important aspect of the town. Eckhart was a good interior antagonist for the short time that he was on-screen. Pete is a reliably entertaining character, and I especially enjoyed seeing his interactions with Packard. On a related note, the evolution of the Ghostwood Estates project was also cool.
Let's see... Ben Horne gets to do some great stuff here. Early on he's the prime suspect in Laura's murder. He loses almost everything when Catherine visits him in prison, and slips into madness. This is another subplot that doesn't end up actually meaning anything, but it is entertaining and interesting, which is all that I ask for. He slips into civil war mania, with great results. After he is "cured", he decides to turn over a new leaf... and fight the Ghostwood Estates project by embracing environmentalism. I like how we can't be sure whether he actually is trying to be good, or if this is just an excuse for him to be bad in a new way.
The FBI is pretty great. The plot with Cooper losing his badge is unnecessary, but all of the other agents we meet more than make up for it. David Duchovny is hilarious as a cross-dressing investigator. Albert returns from the first season, just as irascible as before, but he finally starts to warm to Twin Peaks and shows a core of compassion inside. And best of all, Gordon Cole (who I think is David Lynch himself) is absolutely hilarious as THE LOUDEST MAN ON THE SHOW. I think my favorite scene with him is when he asks TO HAVE A PRIVATE WORD WITH AGENT COOPER, then they proceed to chat in a separate room, and of course everyone else can hear everything Gordon says. Besides the straight-up comedy of Lynch's delivery, though, I really enjoy the rapport between Cole and Cooper; it's great to see the complete trust Cole has in him.
Miss Twin Peaks stretches on for just a bit too long, but in general is a good idea. There are a ton of great female characters on the show, and it's a great opportunity to spend more time with them. It is pretty funny how badly the show tries to convince us that Miss Twin Peaks is important, though. There's constant talk about how "this could change your life!" and "Miss Twin Peaks is a critical forum that will allow us to get our message out!" Really... it's a beauty pageant. It's okay.
And, last but certainly not least, the Black Lodge. Hands-down the best thing to happen after Leland dies. The hunt is good: spooky and atmospheric, with the added tension that comes from Windom's involvement and our knowledge that he's tracking the actions of the good guys. I'm a sucker for iconography, and the map that they come up with is pretty cool and compelling. The payoff comes in the finale, when we're treated to a really long sequence in the Lodge itself that's pure Lynch. I can't do justice to it: it's strange, and terrifying, and funny, and perverse.
I'm guessing that Lynch didn't know at the time that the show would be canceled; if he did, then I'm mad at him for ending it on the shot that he did, with Cooper/Bob laughing maniacally at himself in the bathroom mirror, echoing the horror we felt when we first discovered the Leland/Bob link. I had initially thought that Bob had honored Cooper's deal with Windhom: Annie gets to live, because Cooper has (unhesitatingly, I might add) agreed to surrender his soul. Upon further reflection, though, the Cooper we're seeing might be the doppelganger that appeared in the Black Lodge after Windom died. That's also a chilling scenario, and would make more sense in the context of a theoretical third season: the real Cooper is trapped in the Black Lodge, with his greatest enemy free outside of it. Furthermore, only Briggs knows (via the psychic Mrs. Palmer) that Windom and Cooper were in the Black Lodge, so I could imagine Briggs at some point organizing another expedition in there to rescue him.
I'm still a bit uncertain about just what to make of the Black Lodge. From the setup, we've learned that it's a realm of pure evil. It's the home of Bob, and we can assume similar demonic features. From what we actually see of the Lodge, though, it doesn't seem quite as clear. Oh, there's definitely evil IN there, but is the lodge itself pure evil? We see the Giant, who I tend to think of as a force for good. Of course, there's the midget as well; I can't really categorize him in one way or another. I suppose it's possible that they aren't "really" there, that they're just visions called up by the Lodge. Alternately, and more chillingly, perhaps they really ARE all evil, just in more subtle ways than Bob. It's interesting to think that the entire series has been directed to bringing Cooper to this place at this time: not just Bob and Windom, but also the forces that seemed to be on his side, collaborating for the greater ill.
Oh, oh, oh! Random note: when we see Laura in the Black Lodge, she says something like, "I will see you again in twenty-five years." Wouldn't it be AWESOME if David Lynch did a new Twin Peaks thing twenty-five years after that? Which would be... 2016? It's not THAT far off.
The mean awesomeness of the second season of Twin Peaks was a definite step down from the first one, but the sum awesomeness was greater. I feel like they could have trimmed it down to 14 episodes or so and made one of the best television seasons ever. As it stands, it left us with haunting visuals, two phenomenal villains, a tantalizing mythology, and some of the most fascinating characters in any television drama. I call that a win. Now, who wants some coffee and pie?