Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews Twin Peaks Episode 16 — “Arbitrary Law”
They say that hindsight is 20-20 and though prophetic dreams might not be so clear, the powers that be behind Twin Peaks could certainly have done with a Red Room-style vision back in 1990. For the last few episodes things have been building up to the definitive revelation of Laura’s murderer, a fact which ultimately sealed the show’s inconclusive fate. Episode 16 is the moment when the show implodes though still manages to rank among the series’ best.
After greeting us with the close-up of the plastic-wrapped Maddy’s face, Episode 16 cuts to a shot of Cooper, Albert, Harry and Hawk walking silently down a path. Albert presents the evidence from Maddy’s body to Cooper – the cut-out letter ‘O’ and the fox hair that Leland got from Ben’s office. Harry is eager to put Ben away for good but Cooper asks for another twenty-four hours to solve the case using his methods. Harry agrees and the clock is set ticking indicating to the audience that the mystery will soon be solved. This first scene sets a sombre tone and it’s Albert’s speech to Cooper that really sets the wheels in motion that will lead to the capture of the possessed Leland;
“Cooper, an observation. I don’t know where this is headed but the only one of us with the co-ordinates for the destination in his hardware is you. Go on whatever vision quest you require, stand on the rim of the volcano, stand alone and do your dance, just find this beast before he takes another bite.”
Says Albert Rosenfield in possibly his most sincere scene, played so well by Miguel Ferrer. Cooper is definitely on a path now and while it’s all very exciting it has the feeling of happening too fast. There are some great moments, like Donna overhearing Andy repeating the words of Harold Smith‘s suicide note to himself in the Double R, which tie together perfectly the threads of Donna and the detective’s story but it all adds to the sense of hurried momentum. Before he hung himself Harold leaves a page of Laura’s diary with his neighbour, addressed to Donna. The page describes the same Red Room dream of Cooper’s and how Laura plans to die to finally be free of Bob.
It’s clear from the get go that Bob’s/Leland’s time is nearly up and later on it looks like he’s about to put Donna in his death bag as well before he gets captured. Thanks to a distraction from Harry, Donna remains unharmed and she dashes off to meet James as she realises what has happened to Maddy.
In one of the less exciting scenes, though equally harmful to the plotting of the later episodes, Donna meets James and tells him what she had deduced has happened. James is understandably upset but less understandably suddenly declares his intentions to leave Twin Peaks marking the beginning of one of the series’ great go-nowhere storylines.
Meanwhile more interesting things are happening, and following his gut Cooper assembles a group of people at the Roadhouse; Ben, Leo, Bobby, Leland, Ed, Albert, Harry and Hawk. Among them are the key suspects in Laura’s murder case, but someone is missing. Soon Major Briggs, in one of two serendipitously odd appearances, turns up with the elderly waiter who would seem to be the vessel through which the giant travels when he’s not appearing to Cooper in visions. In another great piece of writing, Cooper describes his methods to the small crowd he has assembled;
“Gentlemen, two days ago a young woman was murdered by the same individual I believe responsible for the death of Laura Palmer. I have reason to believe that the killer is in this room. As a member of the Bureau I spend most of my time seeking simple answers to difficult questions. 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 lack of a better word, we shall call magic.”
Magic is right and, as with many elements of this episode, though it feels like the conclusion is being rushed the way it’s executed is perfect. After he arrives the old waiter hands Cooper a stick of gum, which Leland remarks is his favourite kind. This triggers Cooper’s memory and flashing back to his Red Room dream this time the detective remembers what Laura whispered in his ear – “my father killed me”. Having completed his quest to solve Laura’s murder Cooper’s ring is returned to him by the giant. As always the cinematography is great but the return of the ring seems to be particularly influential, the way it falls on the floor and how Cooper looks down at it is more than a bit reminiscent of the famous scene in The Lord of the Rings.
Thinking fast Cooper tricks Leland into returning to the police station with Ben, Harry is tipped off beforehand and instead of Ben, Leland is pushed into the interrogation room. What follows not only ties up for good the question of Laura’s murderer but features some incredible acting on the part of Ray Wise. Cooper gets to talk to Bob for the first time through Leland confessing everything that happened knowing that he will soon leave the body he inhabits, which he has apparently possessed since Leland was a child, and when he does that Leland will remember every horrific thing that he’s done.
It’s clear Bob isn’t happy at being temporarily trapped but the downpour caused by the sprinklers, set off by Dick Tremayne’s cigarette smoke, is the thing that really gets him going.
“I’ll catch you with my death bag, you may think I’ve gone insane, but I promise I will kill again” Bob chants before the sprinklers are set off and he sets about killing Leland.
The contrast between the craziness of Bob and the distressed Leland after he is left for dead is incredibly effective, and as the sprinklers continue to sprinkle it’s hard not to feel a little moist in the eye area. MacLachlan does a fine job guiding Leland to the light and the show could have ended as soon as he passed on and it wouldn’t have felt wrong.
After the emotional tour de force that was Ray Wise’s performance as the briefly un-possessed Leland, the boys assemble outside the police station to reflect on what has just happened. The Major also turns up in this scene, presumably going for a walk after his appearance at the Roadhouse, and lends his views on the situation before carrying on his way. While Harry’s stance that he finds it hard to believe in Bob as a magical force is confusing, given how he’s said previously that there’s always been a dark presence in the woods, the conversation will form the wobbly foundations for future plots. As Harry says in the episode’s conclusion “but where’s Bob now?” a question that will lead to an exciting finale, though one which it takes too long to build up to.
Naturally this episode is light on the comedy but there is one very funny scene where Katherine appears at the jail as Mr. Tajamura, leading Ben on until finally revealing her identity via her feet. He eagerly signs the Ghostwood Mill and lands over to her but she screws him over and refuses to be his alibi. Of course, the point will be moot anyway as it’s discovered that he didn’t kill Laura but it’s a lot of fun to watch him squirm.
Episode 15 had its flaws, but 16 is a real gem. The writing and the performances are all spot on, though for anyone watching for the first time, unaware where season one finished and season two began, it might seems like this is the end of the first season. It would have been perfect if it had been at the end, and not in the middle of, season two.
It’s interesting to watch retrospectively because the impact it has had on future serialized shows is so clear. Revealing the identity of Laura’s murderer could be comparable to telling us that a man named Jacob who lives in a giant foot was responsible for bringing Oceanic 815 to the island halfway through season two of LOST, before Locke blew the hatch. Laura Palmer’s murderer was the Jacob of Twin Peaks, and later on the White Lodge will be the hatch that Cooper ventures in to. Thankfully, LOST was allowed to leave its biggest mysteries unanswered, but between the revelation of Twin Peaks‘ greatest secret and the build up of the White Lodge plot that could have rescued the show it struggled to find its feet.
9.5/10 Seriable Stars