Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews Twin Peaks Episode 23 — “The Condemned Woman”
It’s sometimes perplexing watching the second Season of Twin Peaks, as just when it seems one problem has been swept under the rug another one appears in its place.
This is certainly evident in this episode, where we are introduced to the new and unimproved good Ben as well as Audrey’s new love interest (and Cooper’s as well if you count Norma’s phone call). That being said it does have some good points including the culmination of Josie’s storyline — resulting in her death and the controversial draw pull scene.
The episode starts with Cooper playing his message from Windom Earle to Harry. Both look worried as Cooper contemplates his next move and Harry has Josie on his mind. Harry’s concern over Josie getting arrested marks the start of a mood shift for the sheriff and, like Cooper since the beginning of the second season, it adds an underlying sadness to his character. The implications of his grief from the result of her death are dealt with in the coming episodes and for now gone is the genial even-tempered Harry, in his place a moody and conflicted lover. I’ve always liked Michael Ontkean as Harry but find his performance less believable when he had to show the extremes of emotion he does in this instalment, especially when he yells at Josie at the end to “put it down”.
Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office has other things to worry about and Pete is called in to assist with Cooper’s chess game so his move can be published in the paper before Earle’s deadline. Pete’s introduction as Twin Peaks’ resident chess genius in the last episode may have seemed a bit too convenient, though I don’t think it’s something to lose sleep over. He may have essentially been a peripheral character there for comic value rather than to drive the plot but it never felt like he got enough screen time, and not enough to do when he did, especially up to this point in the second season. Helping Cooper might prove futile in terms of Earle’s game but it marks a more active role for Pete in the series. It’s hard to think of another character in Twin Peaks who could have made a better expert at the game and Jack Nance’s performance as Pete is quirky enough to pull it off and make it more believable.
Earle’s game is put on the back burner in this Episode but he does make an appearance to put his plan into action, drawing Audrey, Shelley and Donna together at the Roadhouse. His disguise is more subtle this time round — and apart from driving the plot forward while things are wrapped up with Josie, it gives Donna something more interesting to do now James has thankfully left town to finally see the world, rather than the inside of Evelyn’s bedroom.
The main issue with Episode 23 is the new love interest that’s introduced for Audrey, and, although it’s really only hinted at, for Cooper as well. Billy Zane‘s entrance as John Justice Wheeler (also referred to as Jack) signals the final death knell for what could have been a major saving grace for the series in its later days. When Cooper was getting ready to leave town it was made pretty clear that there was no chance of a romance between him and Audrey. If things had turned out differently it could have been Cooper and Audrey getting together rather John and Audrey, something which would have been infinitely better and more interesting. There’s some debate about the reason why the storyline was dropped, the main one seeming to be Kyle MacLachlan’s insistence it was inappropriate for Special Agent Cooper to have relationship with the eighteen year-old Audrey (which seems to be a moot point anyway as John doesn’t appear to be much closer to her age but then he isn’t an FBI agent with such a strict moral code).
Whatever the reason there’s no doubt that it would have made the ending of the series more powerful and eliminated the need for Annie as well. Even if it was never explored as much as it might have been, there were hints in the early days that Cooper could have had some serious feelings for Audrey and it was certainly clear the she had feelings for him. It’s no good dwelling on what might have been and what we’re left with is another go nowhere story about Audrey wanting John to pop her cherry, a point that is driven home like a hitting a nail with a sledge hammer, especially in the scene where her, Ben and John are having dinner and she chokes at the mention of the word virgin.
Another sore point is the beginning of the “good Ben” thread which is not only bad because Mr Horne isn’t so much fun when he’s acting nice but because it will also lead to one more over the top silly scene with a particular woodland critter, however that’s the subject for another review. There’s not much to say here except this particular twist is about as bland as the celery stick that Ben chews on like Bugs Bunny, and is even less fun than his civil war re-enactment. It is at least connected to the overarching Ghostwood plot, which now shifts to Ben trying to stop it from being developed on for the good of Twin Peaks, which will prove to be quite significant come the end of the season.
Making up for all the cheesiness of the John Justice Wheeler stuff, and the flatness of the non-evil Ben, at least slightly, is Josie’s meeting with Thomas Eckhardt. The result of Katherine and Andrew Packard’s scheming the death of Eckhardt and then Josie ties up the Packard/Eckhardt storyline (and any loose ends snipped off with Hank Jennings’ impending return to prison) and sees the first appearance of Bob since evacuating Leland’s body, and the dancing little man outside of Cooper’s dreams. It also sees the mystery of who shot Cooper solved, which, although it seemed like a big deal at the time, was quickly forgotten in the light of bigger mysteries. Who shot him and their motivations should have been a bigger deal, after all it was the season one cliffhanger, but was never really drawn much attention to following the excitement of Cooper’s vision and his quest to find Laura’s murderer. Either way it’s another lingering question answered which will allow the show to move on.
The involvement of Bob in Josie’s death reminds us that he is still a presence to be reckoned with, something which it was easy to forget by this point in the series. We’re also treated to an interesting and memorable (if for all the wrong reasons) ending as Josie’s soul becomes trapped in the draw pull of the bedside cupboard in the hotel room.
As daft and confusing as the early 90’s computer generated effect (and a computer generated effect on TV at that) makes it look like the idea of the soul being trapped in wood is something which has been present since we first learnt of the death of the Log Lady‘s husband in Episode 5, suggesting the possibility that her husband’s spirit may be similarly be trapped in the log. It’s hard to imagine how the idea of a soul becoming trapped in a draw pull, or any wooden object, could have been done better but at least the idea is clearly communicated even if the audience is left wondering if everybody can see Josie’s face in the draw pull.
Episode 23 has its failings, which are mainly missed opportunities, but brings to a close a significant part of the show, the battle for Ghostwood and Packard’s revenge, and sees the death of a main character, Josie. Although Josie was an important piece of the puzzle and well played by the beautiful Joan Chen, it doesn’t feel like her departure was too soon or too late and was right for the series at the time. As far as tone goes, the series is more or less back on its feet now and striking a better balance between silliness and seriousness as well the more interesting mysteries and the boring soap opera stuff. However, it won’t be until the season’s climax that things get really, really good again.
7/10 Seriable Stars