Twin Peaks: Checkmate   Rewatch 
October 28, 2014 4:57 PM - Season 2, Episode 13 - Subscribe

A shaken Major Briggs recounts his otherworldly experiences. Cooper organizes a sting on Jean Renault, Ernie Niles sweats the minor details, Agent Bryson makes a couple of daring costume changes, and Windom Earle knocks another piece off the board. Meanwhile, James gets awfully careless with some probably really expensive champagne.

Scheduling: new episodes posted every Tuesday and Thursday. Both re-watchers and new viewers are welcome.

Watching: available for streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and for free on Hulu and CBS's site.

Previous Episode Threads:
Season One: Pilot, Traces to Nowhere, Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer, Rest in Pain, The One-armed Man, Cooper's Dreams, Realization Time, The Last Evening

Season Two: May the Giant Be With You, Coma, The Man Behind Glass, Laura's Secret Diary, The Orchid's Curse, Demons, Lonely Souls, Drive With a Dead Girl, Arbitrary Law, Dispute Between Brothers, Masked Ball, The Black Widow

BONUS STUFF: The AV Club on Twin Peaks and the horror of the Lynchian smile.
posted by Strange Interlude (4 comments total)
You know, Lynch was supposedly absent for much of the second season, but he has been present for this episode and the last one, coscripting both and directing this one. That being said, I don't find much about this episode especially memorable, but for Leo's waking from his coma and the body at the end.

I feel like Lynch was stepping in sometimes as a sort of corrective, to try to keep the show from going too far off the rails, and so he tosses in a bit of incest in the James storyline so that it has a little more psychosexual depth to it (and which is almost immediately refuted), he ups the ante with the Winham Earle storyline, making the man actively murderous, and he starts to hint that little Donny has a darker past that we have previously known.

These all sort of fizzle, and, of course, we have Ben Horne's Civil War psychotic break, which I think produces some fascinating visuals but is otherwise a dud. Without the Laura Palmser story, the show feels truly unmoored, and Lynch doesn't have the freedom (or, perhaps, even the inclination) to let it spin off and follow wherever it goes, as he did with later stories.
posted by maxsparber at 12:37 PM on October 29, 2014

Not to poke holes in your authorial intent theory, maxsparber, but IMDB and Wikipedia* list the writer and director for this episode as Harley Peyton and Todd Holland, respectively. The Wikia Twin Peaks Wiki lists Lynch as cowriter/director, but several episodes in the wiki have identical data so it looks like it might be a placeholder that nobody's bothered to update. I'm inclined to think that the soapiness of this season's plotting is more likely down to having more conventional TV folk handling the day-to-day creative duties at this point instead of Lynch.

[* Extra trivia: The previous ep, "The Black Widow", was directed by Caleb Deschanel -- husband of Mary Jo (Mrs. Hayward) and father of Zooey and Emily.]

In any case, I thought this episode was actually pretty interesting from a number of angles. I don't think the surreal space/jungle ruin setting of the Major's flashback ever comes back into play, but it was a great and disorienting way to open the episode. The Sheriff's station sprinklers (last triggered prior to Leland's confession in Arbitrary Law) dripping onto the polaroid of the Major's scar is a nice touch as well, suggesting influence from the same spirits that we had seen earlier.

The Dead Dog Farm sting sequence had some striking qualities as well. For one thing, the entire undercover op was handled with a certain narrative economy, focused primarily on the setup and standoff, with almost no time devoted to the middle part. We go straight from Ernie getting wired up and Dennis in his coke-dealer ponytail to everything falling apart, with the latter POV being taken entirely from Coop and Harry's stakeout vehicle. Once Cooper trades himself for the hostages, we follow him into the house, where Jean Renault goes into a trademark Michael Parks monologue about his beef with Coop. With the exception of a few brief establishing shots and cutaways, the camera stays locked on Kyle MacLachlan's face for nearly the entire speech. Through this strict enforcement of POV, Cooper is made central to the scene in a way that a bit above and beyond mere protagonism.

All of this serves to underline the content of Renault's speech. He paints for Cooper a weirdly idyllic vision of Twin Peaks as a haven of hidden vice, all shattered by the death of one girl and the arrival of the FBI in its wake. Renault calls Twin Peaks "a simple place" -- terms that Cooper himself might have used -- but in this case he means a ready market for narcotics and prostitution. He accuses Cooper of corrupting his beautiful corruption, of bringing a "nightmare" to the "quiet people" of the town. Renault is doing his best to dismantle Cooper's entire worldview and crush his soul here, but we can see that Coop is unmoved, waiting for his shot and taking it in Zen fashion.

I'd forgotten Dennis/Denise's frankly ridiculous resolution to the hostage situation. Something I've noticed about the way that they've handled D/D's character in the show is that several characters seem to be legitimately "fooled" by the cross-dressing, like Andy ecstatically dancing with Denise at the wedding reception. It's true, David Duchovny does make a fairly convincing woman, but my suspension of disbelief is severely tested by M. Renault (who I assume to be a sophisticated man of the world, one who knows a man in drag when he sees one) getting Elmer Fudded in such a thorough and ignominious manner. Or were we as a culture slightly more credulous when it came to drag performance in 1990?

The less said about the James/Evelyn plot in this episode the better. The Cinemax erotic thriller tendencies of the storyline have reasserted themselves, and no one is the better for it. Although it does throw the Nadine-in-high-school thread into a different light. Both of them are largely superfluous stories; But while James' has him off in his own bubble-universe getting bamboozled by lust, Nadine's is connected to the people and places of Twin Peaks, which happily results in her taking down one of the show's more untouchable villains (Hank). She's practically the Squirrel Girl of Twin Peaks.

One more thing: According to the closing credits, the corpse en tableau left by Windom Earle at the Sheriff's station was played by Kyle MacLachlan's brother Craig. Who knew?
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:43 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, it makes more sense if Lynch didn't direct this -- it just doesn't have his sensibilities.
posted by maxsparber at 8:31 PM on October 29, 2014

Strange Interlude: “ Renault is doing his best to dismantle Cooper's entire worldview and crush his soul here, but we can see that Coop is unmoved, waiting for his shot and taking it in Zen fashion.”

Hm. I'm not entirely sure – I actually think there's something to Renault's speech, and I think Cooper somehow senses this. It's a speech that makes sense because it actually describes the broad arc of this season and what it means to Cooper.

I mean: without getting into details, I think the arc of the last half of the second season, insofar as it actually makes sense, is Cooper's revisiting a painful lapse in his past and trying to sort through what it means, trying to see if he can move on from it. A few episodes ago we saw him tell Audrey a bit about this – and tell her that he swore he would never let his lapse happen again. Ultimately, we know that this oath doesn't end well in this season.
posted by koeselitz at 8:22 PM on December 5, 2014

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