Welcome to Twin Peaks:/\/\ First-Watch Recap: Season 2: Ep. 2.11 “Masked Ball” (Original airdate Saturday, December 15, 1990) — a review

Welcome to my First-Watch of the original 30 episodes of the 1990-91 television series Twin Peaks. Below are the bulletpointed notes I jotted down while watching the episode “Masked Ball.”

  • On this day in history, Rachel Brosnahan, who is Midge Maisel in the terrific Amazon Prime series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, is born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That’s right, Ms. Brosnahan turns 30 years old this December. Makes me feel even older.
  • “Because I Love You (The Postman Song),” by Stevie B is still at #1 on the US charts. “High Enough,” by the Damn Yankees, enters the Top-10 at #10, and will eventually peak at #3. Damn.
  • The previous day—Friday, December 14, 1990—Look Who’s Talking Too began playing in the theaters for anyone who didn’t get enough the first time.
  • On the comics page, Calvin is pretending that Hobbes is his lawyer, helping to prove that he deserves to be on Santa’s “good” list. Hobbes advises his client to settle out of court or plead insanity.
  • Road (Exterior) |||— JAMES HURLEY is on a motorcycle, rocketing around the curves on the tree-lined two-lane asphalt. This sequence goes on for far too long.
  • Sheriff’s Station |||— BETTY BRIGGS is explaining that her husband, MAJOR GARLAND BRIGGS, has disappeared before, usually work-related. AGENT DALE COOPER explains what happened when he and Maj. Briggs went on their fishing trip.
  • Mrs. Briggs says that the fact that the disappearance occurred in the woods is significant. Agent Cooper asks her if Maj. Briggs has been attempting to contact some entity living in the woods. “That’s classified,” she says.
  • SHERIFF HARRY S. TRUMAN tells her that they’ll keep looking for her husband. Mrs. Briggs says her husband left some notes that she can bring by later. We’re going to assume they’re not classified.
  • DEPUTY ANDY BRENNAN comes into the station and says he found a matching scarf and ascot set for the upcoming Milford nuptuals.
  • GORDON COLE, Cooper’s supervisor, calls to tell the agent that he supports him during this investigation from internal affairs. He also says that the DEA is sending a top dog to investigate the drug angle.
  • The DEA agent is DENNIS BRYSON. Agent Cooper says he’s a good man.
  • Cooper goes before a three-man panel in the conference room, led by AGENT ROGER HARDY.
  • Cooper says that he is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing. He adds that he understands the game they’re playing, that he knows the board, and the moves he’s supposed to make. But, now he’s looking beyond the edge of the board in order to play the bigger game.
  • Or somesuch metaphysical BS. Roger doesn’t know what the hell Cooper is talking about either. Cooper sounds like he swallowed a self-help book from the NEW AGE section.
  • Roger says that the next moves are up to the Canadian government and the DEA investigation that begins today. It’s possible that Agent Cooper could be extradicted for murder and drug trafficking. Roger adds that he may recommend a full psychological workup as well. Plus, Cooper is still on suspension.
  • Twin Peaks High School |||— NADINE HURLEY talks to DONNA HAYWARD at the lockers. Nadine wants to know if Donna is still dating MIKE NELSON. Nadine says that the two of them have some serious chemistry. When Donna asks after BIG ED HURLEY, Nadine’s husband, Nadine says that Ed acts like he’s old enough to be her father.
  • More inspiring, curvy roads and James Hurley on his motorcycle.
  • James pulls into the parking lot of Wallies Hideout, another roadhouse with beer neons in the windows.
  • Wallies Hideout |||— James walks into the roadhouse, taking a seat next to a beautiful woman at the bar. This is EVELYN MARSH (Annette McCarthy). Evelyn asks James if he knows anything about cars. She wrecked her husband’s Jaguar and she needs it to be repaired before he gets back from his business trip. She tells James she lives right up the road.
  • James, suddenly all suave and debonair, asks Evelyn if she’s in a hurry. He wants to play the jukebox first.
  • Evelyn, a serious femme fatale, slides him the money for the jukebox. Soon, every teenager’s favorite—spooky blues music—begins playing us out of the scene.
  • Sheriff’s Station |||— DICK TREMAYNE enters with his Big Brother child. LUCY MORAN isn’t there, but Deputy Andy offers to take both Dick and the child to get a malted.
  • Agent Cooper asks DEPUTY HAWK and Sheriff Harry if either had heard of something called the White Lodge. Hawk says that Cooper may be fearless in this world, but there are other worlds. Tell me more, Cooper says.
  • Hawk says that the White Lodge is where the spirits that rule man and nature reside. The Black Lodge, the shadow-self of the White, is where, legend says, every spirit must pass on the way to perfection. There, you will meet your own shadow-self. “The dweller on the threshold.” If you confront the Black Lodge with imperfect courage, it will utterly annihilate your soul.
  • Whafuh? This muddled piece of claptrap seems important to the show’s theology.
  • Dennis Bryson, the DEA agent, shows up. Only, he presents as female now and goes by DENISE. She and Cooper know each other from previous cases.
  • Denise is played by a pre-Mulder David Duchovny in drag. This just further fuels my theory that The X-Files was inspired, at least in part, by Twin Peaks. All the trees. Scully’s dad playing around as Maj. Briggs. Project Blue Book and alien abductions. Now Mulder.
  • Okay, as evidence it seems pretty scant. Still, it may be true.
  • Denise and Cooper promise to catch up. She says she is staying at the Great Northern Hotel, of course, and asks about the food.
  • Twin Peaks High School |||— Nadine Hurley is flirting with Mike Nelson in the gym while doing 600-pound leg lifts like it is nothing. The coach asks her if she wants to join the wrestling team.
  • Sheriff Harry’s Place |||— I’m not sure we’ve ever been here in this series. JOSIE PACKARD is in Harry’s bed. Sheriff Harry brings her a glass of water, and then the two lovebirds cuddle a bit.
  • Harry tells Josie he needs the truth from her. Josie says she used to work for THOMAS ECKHARDT in Hong Kong. He took her off the streets when she was sixteen. She came from a poor family. He taught her about life and business. He was her father, her master, her lover. Ewww. . .
  • When ANDREW PACKARD asked her to marry him, she said “yes.”
  • Sheriff Harry: “Who is Mr. Lee, this cousin?”
  • Josie says she was trying to keep Harry out of all of this. Her “cousin” threatened to kill him if she didn’t go with him. Mr. Eckhardt wants her back. She now believes that Eckhardt was responsible for Andrew’s death. She escaped from them at the airport in Seattle. She’d rather die than go back to Eckhardt. Now she’s afraid he’ll kill both of them.
  • Double R Diner |||— NORMA JENNINGS brings pie to Agent Roger Hardy for a little Mod Squad reunion.
  • HANK JENNINGS and ERNIE NILES return from their “hunting” trip. Norma tells her stepfather Ernie that her mother, VIVIAN NILES, has returned to Seattle and that’s where she thinks Ernie should go, too. Hank tells Ernie that’s better since he has four kilos of cocaine to unload.
  • Meanwhile, Deputy Andy, Dick Tremayne, and the Big Brother child, LITTLE NICKY, sit at the counter. Andy and Dick get pie. Nicky gets a giant malted topped with whipped cream. Nicky blows whipped cream all over Dick. While Andy is getting another napkin for Dick to clean himself up, Little Nicky spins Andy’s stool, which throws Andy to the floor when he sits down.
  • Little Nicky is a little monster, it seems. Where are we going with this?
  • Marsh House |||— Speaking of where are we going with this, this is another Evelyn Marsh/James Hurley scene. This time, at the Marsh residence, in the garage.
  • James thinks he can repair the Jaguar. Evelyn says that her husband, JEFFREY MARSH, loves this car. James asks where her husband is. She doesn’t know this week. He travels frequently on business.
  • Evelyn offers James room and board, a bedroom above the garage, until he repairs the automobile. And anything else he thinks is fair.
  • Hmm. James is on his soul-searching Then Came Bronson motorcycle ride to escape the snarled plot lines of Twin Peaks, only to land smack dab in the middle of some noirish soft porn. Anything else he thinks is fair, indeed.
  • By the way, Then Came Bronson starred Michael Parks, who is JACQUES RENAULT on this series. Small world.
  • Great Northern Hotel |||— A disheveled BENJAMIN HORNE is watching an old film of what appears to be the groundbreaking ceremony for the Great Northern itself. A young Ben, and his brother JERRY HORNE, are in the film. Ben kisses his mother on the screen. The film ends.
  • Hank Jennings barges in. “A stag party?” he asks.
  • Ben demands to know where Hank’s been. Hank says he’s had a killer schedule. Ben tells Hank that CATHERINE MARTELL is still alive, and she is blackmailing him. Plus, he was arrested for LAURA PALMER‘s murder (remember Laura? This is a series about Laura), and LELAND PALMER, his lawyer, is a homicidal maniac.
  • Ben suddenly decides he wants to rearrange the furniture in his office.
  • Hank tells Ben that he no longer owns One Eyed Jacks, which means that Hank no longer works for Ben.
  • Jean Renault,” Ben says, seething. Ben says that Jacques is a psychopath and that Hank is dancing with the devil. Hank says that Ben is out; he screwed up.
  • After Hank leaves his office, Ben begins making shadow puppets on the movie screen.
  • In his hotel room, Agent Cooper goes through his mail. He has received a letter from WINDOM EARLE. It contains a chess move, “P to Q4,” and a microcassette. Cooper plays the cassette.
  • Earle says that Cooper’s “responding move was nothing if not reflective of your predilection for the tidy and fastidious.” He adds that Cooper’s response is leading them to a classical confrontation, but he knows that Cooper is questioning his true intentions. He suggests that Cooper’s predictability leaves him open to attack. Earle says his goal will be obtained at any cost. The king must die.
  • On the surface, Earle seems to be talking about chess. But, there’s subtext here. And creepy, foreboding music.
  • Church (I assume) |||— DOUGIE MILFORD and his young bride, LANA BUDDING (Robyn Lively), exchange vows. The wedding is officiated by REV. CLARENCE BROCKLEHURT, who we haven’t seen in a while.
  • MAYOR DWAYNE MILFORD interrupts the ceremony, calling Lana a gold digger who wants his brother’s money and publishing empire. Sheriff Harry escorts the mayor from the building.
  • Great Northern Hotel |||— The phone rings in Agent Cooper’s room. It’s Denise.
  • Cooper meets Denise at the wedding reception. It appears that the DEA agent caught the bouquet. She says she had an unfair advantage as a varsity wide receiver.
  • Denise tells Cooper that she found cocaine residue in Cooper’s car that she’ll bet matches the lot stolen from the mountie. She says it looks like a frame job, but she needs proof.
  • Bride and groom feed each other cake. At their table, Mayor Dwayne says his brother’s always been a sucker. PETE MARTELL is sitting next to the mayor. The mayor makes fishing metaphors that seem to affect Pete, who we all know would rather be fishing.
  • Agent Cooper asks about Denise’s “change.” She says she began crossdressing for a job, but found that wearing women’s clothes relaxed him.
  • Sheriff Harry walks up. Cooper introduces himself to Dougie’s bride. Harry says he’s had to separate Dougie and Dwayne several times.
  • Meanwhile, Mayor Dwayne tells Pete Martell that he was married to the same woman for half a century.
  • Cooper ends up dancing with AUDREY HORNE, who needed to be worked into the episode in some way. Deputy Andy dances with Denise.
  • Blue Pine Lodge |||— Josie Packard talks to Catherine Martell. Josie says that Mr. Eckhardt killed Andrew Packard. Catherine says tell me something I don’t know. Josie tells Catherine that she is in terrible danger.
  • Catherine says she knows that Josie helped kill her brother, tried to cheat her out of the land, utterly destroying her existence, and now she wants to save her.
  • Josie says she did the things she did in order to stay alive. Now she has nothing and is at Catherine’s mercy.
  • Catherine tells Josie that she now works for her, here at the house, as a maid. She’s to move into the servant’s quarters. If Josie disobeys, lies, or contradicts a single thing Catherine tells her, she’ll find Mr. Eckhardt and turn her over to him. Josie says that she understands.
  • Catherine dismisses Josie, telling her she’ll take breakfast in her room at 7 am.
  • After Josie leaves the room, ANDREW PACKARD (Dan O’Herlihy) enters. He says everything is going as planned. They are luring Thomas Eckhardt to Twin Peaks.

Smoke and mirrors.

That was probably the title for a Twin Peaks episode, now that I think about it. After watching this episode, the myriad story threads being woven have left me slightly dizzy and confused, as if I just ran a series of wind sprints in the middle of August.

Let’s parse this out a bit. One of the reasons I’m completing this exercise is to gain a better understanding of television story structure and of the enduring appeal and influence of this television series. There have been better television series in the three decades since Twin Peaks. As I am nearly two-thirds of the way through the original series, I feel like I can say this with some confidence. Objectively, this show isn’t that good.

My opinion, of course.

The main story line is about Agent Cooper’s investigation of the death of Laura Palmer. That was the catalyst for Cooper’s arrival in Twin Peaks. It’s what set everything in motion, at least in the present. Backstory only became important later.

What, in this episode, is related to the main story line?

All of that mystical mumbo-jumbo about the White and Black Lodges factors in somehow, as does the disappearance of Maj. Garland Briggs. Somehow, Cooper’s former partner, Windom Earle, with his infernal chess game, is also related to this plot. Laura Palmer’s death had supernatural overtones, and, at its heart, Twin Peaks is a supernatural mystery show.

That’s it. To me, everything else seems extraneous. Smoke and mirrors. Misdirection. I’ll get you to look over here, even though the real stuff is going down over there.

Among the misdirection: James Hurley’s wild ride into a James M. Cain novel; Nadine Hurley’s very specific amnesia and superhuman strength; the Little Nicky sequence; whatever it is Ben Horne is doing watching home movies; the Josie Packard/Catherine Martell/Andrew Packard/Thomas Eckhardt subplot; Dougie and Dwayne Milford’s feud and the entire wedding scene.

Even Cooper’s suspension and the ongoing investigations by Agent Roger Hardy and the DEA’s Denise Bryson are a clever bit of misdirection. It appeared that the reason for Cooper’s presence in Twin Peaks ended with the revelation of her killer, so he had to be suspended so that he could remain behind. This means the entire Jacques Renault/Hank Jennings/Mountie King/Ernie Niles subplot are essentially meaningless. It’s a foregone conclusion that Cooper will be reinstated at the FBI.

When you carve all of that away, what remains is pretty thin.

I’ll hedge my bets by saying that I could be wrong here. Maybe the whole Josie Packard/Hong Kong affair will factor heavily into what happens in the next eleven episodes, but it certainly doesn’t feel like that. Maybe Nadine’s superhuman strength will allow her to defeat whatever monster lives in the Black Lodge. Who knows? I still feel like I’m being misled.

The creativity of the show still interests me. It’s stylistic touches are great. But, more and more, the bulk of this show seems boring to me. A self-perpetuating soap opera.

This one gets 2-out-of-5 stars from me. Come on, guys. You can do better than this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.