Thoughts on Double Play:

A solid director seems to make all the difference on this show. Overall, Double Play is far more tolerable as an episode than Checkmate is, and much of that comes down to the way the actors are directed, the way the scenes are shot. Props to Uli Edel, who scrapes most of the egregious cheese from the proceedings despite having to work with some just-plain-awful written material; additional hatred toward Todd Holland, whose work in the last episode seems downright inexcusable when held up next to Edel’s efforts. Checkmate was an exercise in directorial banality – one part Skinemax seduction flick, one part mid-80’s primetime soap opera, almost all terrible – while Double Play rescues some of the much-needed visual atmosphere of the show and regains some ground overall. This is not to say that the episode is great, or that Edel’s skills are anymore near Lynch’s, but Double Play simply plays much, much better for me than Checkmate. It helps that this episode finally introduces us to the psychotic Chess master, Cooper’s former mentor and partner, Windom Earle. Some of you have warned me that Earle will essentially reveal himself to be “a Batman villain” – overly campy and disappointing in execution. I hope that’s not the case. The show has done a terrific job of building up Earle’s mystery and malevolence over the course of the season, and his initial appearance here is anything but campy. It’s creepy in the good way. As I’ve said before, I’m in the dark with the rest of you first-time watchers until the final episode, so I’ll be hoping that Earle makes for a compelling/fun adversary.

Truman: “You’ve seen this before.”

We rejoin the show and its characters back in Truman’s office, where Doc Hayward is examining the dead body of the man that Windom Earle has left for Agent Cooper. The dead man’s finger is oriented to point at the chess board in front of him, and a pawn piece has been stuffed into his mouth. Cooper informs the men that Earle has taken his first pawn, which makes me wonder whether Earle intends to kill 16 people – the same number as on one side of a chess board. Cooper’s description of Earle’s methods, his description of the man himself (“Everything he does has its own rationale, precision and intelligence”) paints Earle as the Moriarty to Cooper’s Holmes. I kind of love this.

I also kinda love the way that Leo Johnson’s been reintroduced to the narrative. He comes “back to life” during a power outage, with the imagery serving as a warped homage to Frankenstein. This episode continues that weird-yet-fun allusion, having him stumble around in a stupefied rage, muttering monosyllabically (yet also, somehow, capable of locking all the doors of the house from the inside while no one’s looking…Yeah, I don’t get it either). His menacing of Shelly is, as was the case previously, pretty legitimately scary stuff. Eric Da Re may have a goofy last name but he makes a decent heavy.

It makes no sense to me that Bobby would tell Shelly he’s never coming back, only to have him show up on her doorstep again one episode later. Still, I’m glad he dropped by if only for the nicely effective jump-scare that results from Leo’s arm suddenly shattering the glass of a window in an effort to grab Bobby and drag him inside.

Uli Edel gets it. It’s the arresting imagery, and the painterly, often-obtuse approach to capturing that imagery, that makes up a large portion of Twin Peaks’ appeal. A shot of an Olde Tyme-y camera’s flashbulb popping as the camera captures the image of Earle’s vagrant victim doesn’t make a lick of difference to the narrative here, but the image nonetheless enhances the scene it precedes, and it’s of a piece with Peaks’ overall obsession with the filming of somehow-ominous inanimate objects. This is a lesson that Todd Holland could stand to learn.

How many times does James threaten to leave Evelyn and her overwrought, Dynasty-lite life behind over the course of this episode? Maybe it’s just the ceaseless boredom, beating down on me like a vast ocean of meh, but it seems like he does this approximately one thousand times in a 40-something minute span. Luckily for all of us, it looks as though this episode marks the end of the James/Evelyn boreathon. I refuse to devote any more verbiage to something so painfully inconsequential.

In other “Nothing To See Here” News, Ben Horne is still crazy as a loon. Dr. Jacoby’s idea of therapy seems to be cheering Ben on as he chases empty victory. It’s great to see Jerry Horne back in the mix, and I always enjoy watching these three work, but there’s nothing of consequence going on here that I can tell. Goofy, over the top, and largely meaningless – that describes more than a few of Peaks’ subplots at the moment.

Cooper: “Harry, I’ve brought some baggage to town with me I haven’t told you about.”

After some serious foreplay, we finally get some in-show background on Cooper’s past, his relationship with Windom Earle, and the woman he loved and lost. If you’ve chosen to read Cooper’s “Autobiography” then all of what we learn here is stuff you already know. If you haven’t read it, I suggest that you try to skim through the sections on Earle, Cooper and Caroline. They give some much-appreciated color to the story that Cooper relates here. My impression after reading the account in Cooper’s book is that Windom Earle essentially set Caroline and Cooper up to fall in love so that he could then murder Caroline and destroy his partner. Cooper’s words regarding his former mentor do a great job of creating fear and tension around Earle’s still largely-unknown capabilities. Here’s hoping that the show doesn’t squander all of its hard work by having Earle be too campy (I’ll gladly accept some camp, since an “Evil” version of Cooper would reflect his quirks as much as his competence).

Another detail Uli Edel (and the writers) gets right: the offbeat scene opener in which the Major, Cooper and Truman sit around gulping water like men just in from the desert. No explanation, no context, and no hamminess. It’s just short and strange and then it’s gone.

Can someone please explain the point of the Lana Milford subplot to me? Is she supposed to have some magical man-bewitching powers that will somehow have some kind of possible degree of potential relevance to the show?

Speaking of subplots whose relevance I’m currently questioning: What’s going to happen now that Andrew Packard has been revealed as very much Not Dead? We’re getting a lot of tease here, but very little else. It is nice to see David Warner show up as the mysterious and apparently-dangerous Thomas Eckhardt. Andrew Packard resembles Jack Palance enough so that I expect him to summon a fat corrupt policeman by that name in order to betray Jack Nicholson.

(This Newspaper is really, really excited about Asian men being murdered)

Most boring, pointless moment of the episode? I’d have nominated any scene featuring James and Evelyn, but to my surprise the Top Honors (so to speak) should probably go to Doc Hayward’s lengthy (I mean, Jeebus) speech about how hard Little Nicky has had it, how tough his life is, etc etc et al ad nauseum on ad infinitum. Painfully dull. I’m assuming that Nicky will turn around to actually be Evil after all? Otherwise, this is one of the worst narrative dead ends I’ve seen in some time. Still liking the Andy/Dick interplay though.

I love that there are multiple police cars surrounding the Marsh residence, and yet no one sees James clumsily sneak off, or sees Donna meet up with him in what seems like plain view, or sees them both clumsily sneak off some more.

The episode concludes with the sight of Leo Johnson stumbling through the Ghostwood forest and happening upon a dilapidated old cabin that could be straight out of Lost. The inexplicable Frankenstein homage continues as Leo goes inside, lured by what seems to be music, and we see that a shadowed figure has laid out several flutes/whistles, in what’s basically a riff on Frankenstein’s encounter with a blind dude (here’s a truly weird recreation of that moment, featuring some kid in a parka and some girl in a cowboy hat with a guitar – come for the awkwardly read soliloquies, stay for the ramshackle “fight” scene!).

Only, this isn’t some friendly blind man essayed by a clumsy Gene Hackman – this is Windom Earle revealed at last. It’s a nice, effective introduction to him – creepy and quiet and atmospheric. At first meeting him he’s exactly what I’d pictured – a grimy, unkempt, wild-eyed mirror of Dale Cooper. Let the games begin, Mr. Earle. Try not to camp the place up too much, mmmkay?

That’s it for this week – what did you think? Let me know in the comments or in the Lost & Found thread on Chud’s message board. We’re closing in on the end of the show. Eight episodes left to go, then Fire Walk With Me, then the next round of voting where you’ll decide what I/we watch next. Taste the excitement!