2.9: Arbitrary Law
Even though Tim Hunter does an admirable job here, one can readily see how matters would be even more improved if Lynch had been available. There are moments where Arbitrary Law oversteps its marks, where it collapses into unnecessary exposition for the dumb viewers at home (presumably) at the behest of dumb execs worried it will all be a turn-off. Yet 2.9 also features Ray Wise fully off the leash, and Coop returning to the firmer ground of the properly intuitive FBI agent. Which closes the door on the reason he showed up in the town in the first place.
Frost, Peyton and Engels share the credit for writing this, and the cracks do show at times. Much of the exposition appears to be herding disparate Lynchian elements into a coherent order, attempting to make clear that, yes, the overarching plot is entirely solid and completely cohesive. Which isn’t really what you want or need from his milieu. Sometimes the scramble to pull everything together leads to inconsistencies within the scene itself.
Albert: Cooper. An observation. I don’t know where this is headed. But the only one of us with the coordinates for this destination in his hardware is you. Go on whatever vision quest you require. Stand on the rim of a volcano, stand alone and do your dance. Just find this beast before he takes another bite.
Albert is back, but barely registers as the Albert we know and loved in Season One. His presence is strictly as supporting furniture, his desire to bring Maddy’s killer to justice is earnestly felt, following on from the surprisingly big-hearted Buddhist lover of peace and Harry we saw last time, rather than the caustic cynic of before. The one flash of that Albert is his response to the strange gathering at the Road House (“I think it’s going terrifically well. Don’t you?”)
Agent Cooper: I don’t know where to start.
Albert: You’re on the path. You don’t need to know where it leads. Just follow.
He’s on hand for some necessary forensic work, including the latest letter and the fur of Ben’s stuffed fox. His pep talk for the benefit of Coop is all very well, but moments before Coop is announcing himself with the confidence of a Columbo with all the facts (“Harry, don’t make any calls. I need 24 hours… To finish this”). Then he’s expressing doubts (not just here, but later too to Mike/Gerard)? It could almost be the writers expressing their own nervousness about tying everything up (likely calling Lynch on the phone, who responds “You can do this, guys” in Gordon Cole mode).
Cumulatively, however, the episode is so full of arresting elements that it mostly overcomes there occasionally shonky touch. The trip by Coop and Donna to visit Mrs Tremond, whose son spoke the words Andy recites in the diner as Harold Smith’s suicide note (“J’ai une âme solitaire… I am a lonely soul”) is good strong, weird soup. It proffers the kind of narrative non sequitur one might see Lynch employing; “I’ve never seen her before in my life’ advises the real Mrs Tremond of Donna. The old woman and grandson whom Donna met most definitely do not live in her house.
What does it mean? Just now, not an awful lot. We learn in Fire Walk with Me that she and her grandson are emissaries from the (which? Black?) Lodge. The cream corn they prize is actually the “physical” (or visualised form of, at least) embodiment of garmonbozia, the negative spiritual energy produced by pain and suffering, and the substance Bob feeds off.
Where does this place the Tremonds? Well, the good and bad of the lodge denizens are never wholly clear. We assume the Giant is a goodly dude (although he appears in the Black Lodge at one point; it has been suggested this is why some prefer to see the draped room as a waiting room rather than the Black Lodge itself) and the waiter is his vassal, and that Mike is on the side of right because he opposes Bob (but Mike was once bad). Mrs Tremond turns up in the Black Lodge in Fire Walk with Me (under a different name), but that raises the question of why its inhabitants are such prodigious clue droppers (because they are tricksters, or simply because they have a beef with Bob?)
Donna: February 22nd. Last night I had the strangest dream. I was in a red room with a small man dressed in red and an old man, sitting in a chair. I wanted to tell him who Bob is because I thought he could help me. But my words came out slow and odd. It was so frustrating to try to talk. I got up and walked over to the old man. Like I was going to kiss him. Then I leaned over and whispered the secret in his ear. Somebody has to stop Bob. Bob’s only afraid of one man. He told me once. A man named Mike. I wonder if this was Mike in my dream. Even if it was only a dream, I hope he heard me. No one in the real world would believe me.
February 23rd: Tonight is the night I die. I know I have to because it is the only way to keep Bob away from me. The only way is to tear him out from inside. I know he wants me. I can feel his fire. But if I die he can’t hurt me anymore.
The Man from Another Place is presented coyly in the series; he resides in the Black Lodge, but his motives are oblique. After all, he’s just a wee, backwards dancing and talking smiling chap. Isn’t he? This episode overtly connects him with darkness, even as it becomes overtly expository in the process. In Fire Walk with Me (in which one gets the impression Lynch and Frost were painstakingly pulling together a shedload of random elements to make sense from, rather than because they had it all bashed out; a bit like the way the trio of writers here are going for pat summaries but instead Lynch and Frost ratchet things up to eleven on the weirdness scale), The Man from Another Place is revealed as (an aspect of) Mike, the spirit who possessed Gerard, which pretty much damns him to the dark side. He is only nominally “good” (better than Bob) because of his ruckus with Bob over his fair share of garmonbozia (there’s good reason Lynch doesn’t generally map out his work for us, isn’t there?)
Agent Cooper: Laura and I had the same dream.
Andy: That’s impossible.
Agent Cooper: Yes, it is.
Cooper, during the climactic explanation of everything, which actually runs pretty traditionally as these things go, opines that the answer was right in front of him all along. The evidence of Leland’s guilt includes how the little man in his dream danced (“After Laura’s death Leland danced compulsively”), pretty much nailing the little fella down as a bad seed. This is reinforced by Coop’s exhibit B; Bob the killer had grey hair (“Leland’s turned grey overnight”). And then there is the childhood of Leland with Mr Robertson (son of Robert = Bob), with the letters under victims’ fingernails forming R-O-B-T (“The signature on a demon’s self-portrait”).
None of this is exactly rigorous, even to one of Coop’s intuitive indulgence; his catching sight of the fox in Ben’s office is more satisfying as a piece of sleuth work. His detection really comes down to his finally recalling the words Laura whispered in the dream in 1.3 (when he is an “old man” of 55!); “My father killed me”.
Agent Cooper: In the pursuit of Laura’s killer I have employed Bureau guidelines, deductive technique, Tibetan method, instinct, and luck. But now I find myself in need of something new, which, for want of a better word, we shall call… magic.
Much as I rate this episode, I don’t think they made all they could of Coop’s clearing things up like a Zen Hercule Poirot. The gathering at the Road House is nicely done, with Coop, Albert, Ben Horne. Leland, Harry, Bobby, Leo, and the waiter and Briggs all making a show. Coop announces his objective (“I have reason to believe the killer is in this room”). There’s a frisson of delight on the writers’ parts in making this an arcane Agatha Christie moment. There’s even some atmospheric lightning on call (Albert’s non-verbalised response says it all).
Leland: I know that gum. I used to chew it when I was a kid. That’s my favourite gum in the world.
Waiter: That gum you like is going to come back in style.
Yet lines like the above are just a little too neat, wrapping the appealingly tendrilous mess of the murder mystery into a neat bow. It sounds absurd to be complaining about such a thing; perhaps it’s a post-Lost traumatic disorder, where the wrong sort of clarification is as unsatisfying as none at all. After all, if anyone gets the benefit of the doubt in not tying things up, it’s Lynch (motor forward to Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. for further illustration of this).
At any rate, the ring is returned to Coop and he slyly invites Leland/Bob along to the police station to help out with Ben’s charge sheet (“You might like to bring along Leland Palmer as your attorney”).
Wise really goes for it in this episode but, rather than the scene in the cells, I’d pinpoint the most disturbing moment as the one where Donna pays a call the Palmer home wearing Laura’s sunglasses. There’s a bit more of writers’ clumsiness here, setting up Leland almost as if Donna is trying to bait him into a confession/attack (“Did you know they found Laura’s secret diary?”) It works, because the scene is weighed down with tension; Leland goes to make lemonade while Donna waits.
And then he starts to dance with her, clinching her tightly… and then the doorbell rings (“You stay right there”). Events are unspooling at a rate of knots, and anything might happen next. Lara Flynn Boyle plays the terror at what might or might not have just happened laudably, rarely having been given much chance to go such places. Her response is thrown in another direction overwhelmed by the news of Maddy’s death (existentially dopey James complains that “It doesn’t matter, if we’re happy and the rest of the world goes to hell”).
Agent Cooper: That’s not Leland.
The scene in the cell begins superbly, Leland thrown in as if he’s a wild animal captured in a cage. Which, essentially, he is. Leland begins screaming and bouncing himself off the walls. Wise indulges a gleeful, chucklesome malevolence in his tone, with an arresting third person disposition (“I suppose you want to ask him some questions, huh?”) and an off-hand way of confessing (“Oh-ho ho ho – That’s a yes”).
Leland/Bob: What do you think? I guess I kinda-sorta did. I have this thing for knives. Just like what happened to you in Pittsburgh that time, huh Cooper?
His admission to murdering Maddy leads to a slice of second-rate Exorcist antics, though, as Leland unnerves Coop by showing he knows far more than he should about the agent’s history. It’s then that we enter the territory of unnecessarily over-emphatic distinguishing between Bob and Leland. Not that this isn’t in the DNA of the show, but it serves to backpedal over how uncomfortable and un-ABC network this content is. You can almost hear the writers voicing this during the final scene, as Coop asks “Is it easier to believe a man could rape and murder his own daughter, any more comforting?”
Bob: Leland, Leland. You’ve been a good vehicle and I’ve enjoyed the ride. But now he’s weak and full of holes. It’s almost time to shuffle off to Buffalo.
Special Agent Cooper: Does Leland know what you’ve done?
Bob: Leland’s a babe in the woods, with a large hole where his conscience used to be. When I go, pull that ripcord and you watch Leland remember. Watch him, but not for long.
Harry: That’s enough for me.
So it is that Leland regains his knowledge of his deeds (“Oh God have mercy on me! What have I done? What have I done?”) The lead out feels like a well-intentioned overkill. The idea of his seeking atonement for his deeds before he passes, and Coop seeing him off (“The time has come for you to seek the path”) is a good one, but it lacks restraint and Coop comes across whiffing more of a Christian priest than anything else.
Leland: She’s there. Laura. She’s beautiful.
On the other hand, the metaphor for generational patterns of abuse is maintained (“I was just a boy. I saw him in my dream. He said he wanted to play. He opened me and I invited him and he came inside me… When he was inside I didn’t know and when he was gone I couldn’t remember”). It’s just that this is a delicate balancing act and Frost et al rather labour the pay-off.
There’s little room for other plotlines here (Mr Tojamura makes “his” last call, on Ben, and Norma’s mum acts bitchy), so it initially looks like a discordant surprise when they pick the Lucy/Dick/Andy love triangle. Particularly so as we cut to Dick, midway through Leland’s interrogation. What’s going on there? That he’s responsible for setting off the sprinkler system through indulging his smoking habit, so trigger the soaking demise of Leland, is the kind of perversely humorous choice that actually works.
Albert: Maybe that’s all Bob is. The evil that men do. Maybe it doesn’t matter what we call it.
Agent Cooper: May be not, but if he’s real he was here and we had him trapped and he got away, where’s Bob now?
I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the epilogue. It strays perilously close to X-Files territory of meaningless pseudo-philosophical waffle about the case in hand (one of the surprising things about revisiting the series is how much X-Files plunders it, and also how much Peaks employs narrative quirks that would be completely at home therein).
There’s back and forth about the nature of Bob, which might be aimed at fans of the show wanting answers (“Does it really matter what the cause is?”), to which the answer appears to be that it does, certainly to the network (“Yes, because our job is to stop it”). The most resonant aspect of this in retrospect is the pondering of where Bob has spirited himself away to. We see the owl as a familiar, presumably carrying the essence of Bob back to the Black Lodge. The next time we will see him in person, he will be possessing Coop himself. One wonders what befell the FBI man in the quarter century since.
This really is the cut-off point in the quality of Twin Peaks until the Windom Earle Big Bad plotline really kicks in. The fall off is quite precipitous, alas, sending viewers to the ropes early in the very next episode. There are still strong elements of course, but unlike in these last two the inferior ones are doing the main work and overwhelming them. As it is, the conclusion to the Laura Palmer murder is mostly a satisfying one, it just could have done with that extra bit of finessing. That Lynch touch, basically.