Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews Twin Peaks Episode 20 — “Checkmate”
Getting off to a more promising start than the previous episode, after the titles are over the audience is greeted with a kind of dream sequence as the Major tries to recall what happened to him when he went missing in the woods.
Although he’s not dreaming, the visions he has inside his head could be categorised with the red room dream as one of the weirder parts of the show but is different stylistically than the Lynchian sequences. That being said, it still adds back something that has been lacking from the series and the sight of the Major sitting in some kind of stone throne in the middle of what appears to be a jungle is suitably odd and certainly raises more questions than it answers.
When the action returns to the Sheriff’s office where the Major is being questioned, we can see he is still distraught about his experiences, as Cooper and Harry question him and ask him what he knows about the White Lodge. Before being collected by a military official he tells them that his work is confidential and we are still left none the wiser about the mysterious place. He does reveal some tantalising details about what might be going on in Twin Peaks, telling his small audience that the monitoring of Twin Peaks’ woods is connected to a project called Blue Book which was set up by the air force to determine if aliens were real and if they posed a threat to national security. The project was terminated in 1969 but according to the Major it has been continuing in secret and with the exception of the area beneath Twin Peak’s woods their observations are focused on space. The vague suggestion that alien activity is connected with the weird happenings is just the kind of boost that the show’s mythology needed and certainly would have kept fans guessing if it had ever made it to a third season.
Thankfully, Little Nicky isn’t present in this episode but that doesn’t stop Dick and Andy from investigating his mysterious past. Tipping his hat to Humphrey Bogart with this Trench coat and Fedora, Dick arranges with Andy to break in to the office of the orphanage where Nicky’s files are kept. In one of the more amusing sequences to come out of the storyline, they succeed in entering the office and retrieving Nicky’s file. We don’t learn what’s in it, and at this point its hard to care, but like in many of the other comic scenes it’s just fun to see the unique personalities do their thing.
Another example of this is Ben‘s civil war re-enactment. Now deep in his recreation of the Battle of Gettysburg, it’s amusing to watch with Richard Beymer on great form as always, but it just feels a little pointless. Amongst the visitors he gets while he becomes more unhinged are Audrey, who shows yet more signs of maturity by trying to save her father and the Great Northern hotel, and Catherine Martell — who in an odd turn of events professes that she still has feelings for Ben.
Although there’s more silliness to come, this episode does a good job of keeping it on the down-low and even Nadine‘s subplot gets a little pay off. While one of the more minor elements of the second season, the relationship between Ed and Norma has been slowly simmering again and they arrange to meet at his house. Later on Hank Jennings appears there and lays into Ed. Nadine happens to turn up at an opportune moment and manages to amusingly subdue Hank with her super strength.
However, things are more weighted to the show’s serious side this time and towards the end things come to a head between the police force and Jean Renault at Dead Dog Farm. After the wire that has been concealed on Ernie goes up in smoke, which would seem to be because of his profuse nervous sweating, his cover is blown. Now a Sheriff’s deputy, Cooper is there and exchanges himself with Ernie leading to a long stand-off. As day turns to night things get more tense but thanks to a little assistance from Denise Bryson dressed up as a waitress, Cooper manages to shoot Jean Renault.
While it’s a shame to see Renault’s demise, he was essentially a loose end from Laura’s murder and will soon be replaced in the memorable villain stakes by Windom Earle. Before he goes though, Renault reaffirms the notion that Cooper brought the nightmare with him to Twin Peaks and suggests that it might end when he dies. The scene is both tense and exciting and adds to the sense that things are getting back on track. Unfortunately, it means that Denise will leaving as well but the more important fact is that there’s not much now standing between Cooper and his FBI badge.
Other plots which seemed to have ground to a halt start moving as well and back at Shelley‘s home Leo is up and about and ready to cause trouble. After spending the greater part of the second Season as a vegetable, which had its moments early on, Leo is back in the game and memorably appears before Shelley with a face covered in cake and wearing a party heart.
Even James’ out of town activities get incrementally more interesting as he rings and asks Ed to send him savings, and it appears he might be in more than he bargained when he sticks around after fixing Evelyn’s husbands car. While it’s still hard to see why we should care about what’s going on and how it relates to the other interlinked plots in the series, it’s clear that nothing good is going to come of James and Evelyn getting hot and heavy on the top of the freshly restored Jaguar.
The ending at the police station tops things off nicely and indicates that Windom Earle has finally made it into town. Returning to the Sheriff’s office to find the lights out thanks to an explosion at the power station, Cooper soon discovers a dead body pointing at a chess board, indicating Earle’s next move. Dark and exciting at the same time, it suggests that Earle is going to be every bit as worrisome as Cooper’s expression suggests he is. It’s also all the more creepy because of the resemblance between the body and Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan‘s younger brother, Craig.
While it’s certainly better than the last few instalments, Episode 20 isn’t a complete return to form but is a step in the right direction for the series. The slow trickle of hints about the White Lodge and the fact that we now know Windom Earle has reached Twin Peaks combine to give the show back some of its old mystique, and pave the way for more interesting episodes to come.
7.5/10 Seriable Stars