In this week’s installment of Twin Peaks Revisited, we continue our journey through the show’s worst stretch of episodes, even though this not-so-good chapter does have some cool moments thrown in there. This episode was written entirely by Harley Peyton, and directed by Todd Holland, the second of two episodes of the show he’d direct. As always, I remind all new followers of these recaps that you can find all the previous Twin Peaks: Revisited columns right here and catch up. And this is, as always, a spoiler-free recap for anything that takes place after the particular episode we’re recapping.
Episode 21: “Checkmate” – Aired January 19, 1991
The episode opens in a more Sci-fi manner than the show ever has before, as we see a symbol rotate out of space. We see flames, then Major Briggs sitting on a stone throne in a jungle, as he recounts his experience after he vanished. He says he remembers stepping from the flames, a vague shape in the dark, then nothing else until he found himself at the campsite some two days later. We then see that the Major is seated in the sheriff’s conference room with Truman and Cooper, to whom he’s telling the story. Dr. Hayward photographs the back of the Major’s neck. The Major also recalls seeing the image of a giant owl. Dr. Hayward shows them the photograph – three triangular scars behind the major’s right ear, the same image we saw rotating through space moments before. The Major suddenly gets emotional, and you get the sense he’s repressing something huge.
Cooper then asks the Major that he’s going to have to be more forthcoming with information, regardless of whatever oaths he’s taken, or they can’t help him. Briggs then asks if they’re familiar with Project Blue Book, the Air Force investigation into UFOs that was formally ended in 1969. The Major says some continued the effort in an unofficial capacity, both to examine the heavens and, in the case of Twin Peaks, the earth below. He says they’re searching for a place called The White Lodge. Just then, they are interrupted by two Air Force officers, who, on orders from Col. Reilly, take the Major in for debriefing. As Cooper examines the photograph, a few drops of water drip on to it from the overhead sprinkler, and we hear similar noises to the night BOB vacated Leland Palmer’s body as the sprinklers set off.
After that cool and mysterious opening, we cut to a story we care less about. In the sheriff’s office, Denise pushes Ernie to make a phone call to set the drug buy. Cooper enters the room, just as Ernie calls Jean Renault and tells him he has the out-of-town buyer he was waiting for. Cooper gives Ernie the thumbs up. As Andy enters the station, he meets up with Dick, dressed like some 1940s gumshoe detective, who tells him about visiting the Happy Helping Hand Adoption Agency to find that Nicky’s records were sealed and returned to the orphanage. Andy and Dick plan a visit to the orphanage and figure out the truth for themselves. A disappointed Lucy tells Cooper she’s checked all the personal columns in national newspapers, but she hasn’t found anything that looked like a chess deal and no one named Windom Earle. At the Double R, Ed passes a note to Norma saying “We need to talk.”
We go to an exasperated and fed up Shelly, as she’s feeding her vegetative husband Leo, and we hear the introduction to Invitation to Love playing in the background (for the first time this season.) Shelly complains that it was Bobby’s turn to feed Leo, and Bobby claims he had baseball practice. Bobby gets particularly douchey here, and tells her “she’s looking at Ben Horne’s brand new boy.” He tells her that he has better things to do than give Leo Johnson a bubble bath. “What about me, Bobby? Do I not having anything better to do?” Bobby at his most dickish says “not that I can think of” and Shelly slaps him hard. He had that coming. I mean, the whole “lets keep Leo at home and collect the checks” thing was his idea, and now that he’s not the cash cow he though he would be, he seems ready to abandon Shelly.
In whatever nearby town James is in, he phones Ed and asks that the money from his savings account be sent to him at Willies, the local bar. Evelyn, working sunglasses to cover her bruised face, enters the garage and asks James about why he left Twin Peaks. James tells her about Laura,and his wanting to run away from Twin Peaks. “I thought I knew her, but I didn’t. I guess nobody did.” He explains why he ran away after Maddy was killed, and it seems as stupid then as it did when he left. Evelyn kisses James, and he asks her why she allows her husband to hit her. She hears her husband pull up, and then asks James if he’ll help her.
Nadine comes into the Double R and sits next to Mike Nelson at the counter. Mike tells her he doesn’t want to know her, and is willing to get a court order to get his point across. Nadine continues her harassment of Mike, and tells him she wants to go out with him as he’s the handsomest boy she’s ever known.” She kisses him, and pushes him off his stool. I guess sexual harassment is funny when it’s a middle aged woman hitting on a high school boy, and not the other way around. Norma puts on a coat and leaves to “run an errand” or at least that’s what she tells Hank, who doesn’t seem to be buying it.
Harry Truman visits Josie at the Martell home, and asks why she isn’t moving into his place, away from Catherine, and being forced to serve as her maid. Josie says she’s safe there. She says she’s no good for him, and Harry kisses her and holds her. “I’m safe here, and when I’m here, you’ll be safe too.”
Audrey watches Ben’s secretary run from his office crying. She goes into her dad’s office and sees her father reenacting the battle of Gettysburg. realizes her dad is seriously losing it, and calls his brother Jerry. Audrey tells her dad that she’s going to help him save the business, but Ben is too deep in coo-coo town to really seem to care.
Norma goes to Ed’s house, and she lays all her cards out on the table, and tells him that “he’s the last thing she thinks about at night, and the first thing she thinks about when she gets up in the morning” Despite feeling like the world is trying to keep them apart, she knows she wants to be with him, no matter what happens. The two kiss, Norma takes off her coat… I think we can figure out the rest.
Cooper and Truman are in Truman’s office where Hawk hooks up Ernie to a wire. Truman then deputizes Coop as a member of the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. Cooper makes Ernie review his plan to take Denise to Dead Dog Farm to meet with Jean Renault. Just then Denise enters, dressed as a man, and says “you can call me Dennis. It seemed more appropriate.”
Dick and Andy enter the office of Home for Boys. while everyone’s out on their lunch hour. Dick searches the files and finds the file on Nicholas Niedleman. He starts to read the file just as a couple looking to adopt enter, and introduce themselves as the Brunstons, who came to see “little Donny.” Dick tells them little Donny is dead. “Dead tired I mean.”
Donna goes over to Ed’s house and asks about the whereabouts of James. Ed tells her about James’ having called him asking for whatever is left of his money, and so he gives her the money to take to him at the bar James told her about. As soon as she leaves, Ed turns to Norma, who kisses him and takes off. As soon as Ed closes the door and turns around, we cut to Hank, who says “oh Ed. The things we do for love”and he start to wail on him (where was he hiding when Norma was there? I mean it’s like he beamed in.) Just then, Nadine, in full cheerleader outfit, comes in and uses her super strength to beat the crap out of Hank, and then goes and tells Ed that “Nadine will take care of everything.”
In his office, Ben starts going into detail about a Civil War battle while Bobby just looks confused. Audrey opens the door and and looks in, and sees Ben talk to Bobby as “General Meade”; Bobby says he has to “go talk to President Lincoln” and leaves. Outside, Bobby tells Audrey that her father has lost it big time. Audrey says her uncle Jerry will be home on the next plane and Dr. Jacoby will come over tomorrow. “We gotta help him” she says. Considering it was just days ago that she found out her father owned a brothel and was sleeping with one of her underage classmates, it’s amazing that Audrey is now so interested in helping “Daddy.”
As the two leave, we see Catherine enter and goes into Ben’s office. Ben tells her to go ahead and gloat, because he’s lost everything because of her. Catherine says she did come to gloat, and reminds Ben that he double crossed her and tried to kill her, and she wanted to bury him so deep that future generations would unearth him and label him as “Slimy Rat Bastard Americanus – do not feed.” Then she tells him she still wants him, and starts to kiss him, to which Ben says “you can’t be serious.” Yeah, that’s what the audience is saying too.
James takes a blindfolded Evelyn to the fixed car. The pop champagne and toast, and she says Jeffrey will be home at midnight. She asks him not to leave. She asks him what his plans are, and he says he doesn’t have any, because he’s apparently dropped out of high school. She begs him to stay, and the two have sex on the car while Malcolm the driver watches. Gross.
Truman and Cooper watch Ernie, Jean, Dennis, and the Canadian Sergeant through binoculars at Dead Dog Farm, while Hawk listens in on their conversation via Ernie’s wire. Ernie starts going on and on about his hyperhydrosis, and just then the Sergeant then tells Jean that Ernie’s shirt is smoking; Hawk tells Truman and Cooper that the wire’s dead, and Ernie’s been exposed. The Sergeant and Jean Renault come out of the house using Ernie and Agent Bryson as shields. Cooper offers an exchange-the two hostages for him, the man Renault really wants.Renault agrees.
We see Evelyn leaves James’ bedroom as James sleeps, and meets Malcolm outside his door, who asks about “their lucky, lucky boy.” She says “he’s sound asleep, dreaming of love” (ugh, this dialogue) Malcolm and Evelyn kiss, which I guess means these two aren’t really brother and sister. Or they are, and it all just got a lot ickier.
The police arrive at Dead Dog Farm and have the place surrounded. Inside, the corrupt Canadian Sergeant suggests they make a deal or run. Jean asks Cooper if they will accept a deal, and he tells him his they won’t cut a deal, the only option for Renault is to surrender. Jean debates whether to give up quietly or to kill Cooper. Renault says he holds Cooper responsible for his brother’s deaths. When asked why, Jean says Twin Peaks was nice quiet place where he and his brothers could deal drugs to the truckers and high school kids. Then,”a pretty girl die” and Cooper came to town, and his arrival made the dream into a nightmare. He tells Cooper that if he should die, “maybe the nightmare will die with you.”
Just then, Denise approaches in a Double R uniform with a tray of food. “Did you order food?” says the Sergeant. Um, the place is surrounded by cops, who obviously wouldn’t let anyone approach the house, how can this be anything but a ploy? “it’s just a girl” says Renault, as if there wren’t already women officers in 1990. Not recognizing Denise as Dennis, Renault decides to let the girl in. She lifts her skirt to reveal a gun, which Cooper grabs and uses to shoot Jean as Denise jumps the Sergeant. Truman and the troopers break for the house as Jean falls on the floor, dead.
As a record plays at Shelly’s place while she’s asleep at the house, The lights start to go on and off, and Shelly wakes up. She gets off the couch and starts looking for Bobby. She finds a creepy clown doll on the pillow of Leo’s empty bed. She calls for Bobby, but gets no answer. She checks Leo’s wheelchair, and he’s gone… she suddenly sees Leo standing, wearing the party hat from when she and Bobby humiliated him and his face fell in the cake. He says, “Shelly” and she screams.
The lights are off at the Sheriff’s station, and Lucy tells Coop there was a voice on the phone that said there was a bomb planted in the woods. There was a huge explosion and the lights went out. Lucy called the fire department, who said that There were two fires, one at the power station. Cooper enters the station and calls to Harry from Truman’s office. Harry enters and sees a body tied to a chair with one hand pointing to a chess board. Cooper says this is Windom Earle’s next move.
This episode marks a rare instance where Laura Palmer is mentioned once her murder is solved, first by James when telling Evelyn why he left Twin Peaks, and then by Jean Renault, although he merely refers to her as a “pretty girl” who died and brought Cooper to town.
Although we don’t see it, only hear the theme music, this is the first and only time in season two we hear any reference to Invitation to Love, the soap opera that played such a big part in season one.
We are still deep in the doldrums of the worst stretch of the show, but this episode is somewhat better than the last, if only because the opening sequence with Major Briggs recounting his experience in the White Lodge is rather cool. Since this story ties into the seemingly larger mythology of the show, we as the viewers are invested in it. Also well done is the show’s closing moments, where Leo wakes up from his season-long coma. The whole thing is staged like a horror film, and it’s effectively creepy, as is Windom Earle’s “first move” in the Sheriff’s station.
But then there’s everything in between, and it all sucks. The James/Evelyn plotline continues to be cliche and tedious, and the less said about the Dick n’ Andy Detective Show, the better. (At least the Lana Milford plot is dropped for this episode.) The whole Nadine-hits-on-Mike thing should be creepy as hell, but maybe it’s played so broad that I found it kind of amusing. Still, way too much time is spent on it. And after such ominous introductions to their characters, both Hank Jennings and Jean Renault are dispatched far too easily. The entire rescue of Cooper by Denise is beyond stupid. So basically, the cool opening and closing of the show can’t make up for the bulk of it.
Rating: 2 out of 5 burritos