Hobgoblins, Dale! Twin Peaks Episode 18 Is a Carnival of the Spirit

S2E11 “Masked Ball”

James Hurley looks at Evelyn Marsh as they sit at a bar

Twin Peaks Episode 18 begins with James bearing down the road on his motorcycle, perhaps mentally rocketing blind into the night, even though he’s in the broad light of day. A funky Badalamenti rhythm scores the scene, which will become something of a motif, as vignettes of James’ journey out of town form veritable intermezzos to the action that occurs in Twin Peaks itself. He stops at Wallies Hide-Out, where he meets Evelyn Marsh, and we cannot help but think now of another Wally with another motorcycle—may the road rise up to meet his wheels. James is trying to hide out, but he can’t hide from himself.

james hurley rests his head on a juke box

We’ve All Had Our Socks Tossed Around, From Time to Time

Episode 18 is full of inversions and subversions of expectations. If I call this a carnival, I mean primarily in the sense of a period of time where all is topsy-turvy, with social roles and mores suspended and identities hidden behind masks. But perhaps it is in such a time that the truth is revealed, though this would not be the truth in terms of the parameters of the normal game of life. We’ve begun to move beyond the board to the wind in the woods, what we are afraid of in the darkness, and what lies behind the dark.

And of course, there is also a party—Dougie Milford’s wedding to Lana—but even this is tinged with the absurd. How is it exactly that Dougie gets married so often? Most plausible answers would seem to imply tragedy or hardship, but the town as a whole seems to take it as a joke and a good time. Except for Dwayne Milford, that is—is the mayor just a doddering old fool, jealous of his brother, or is he right to be suspicious of Lana? Having read the Secret History and The Final Dossier, one might speculate about nefarious goings-on behind the scenes, but this isn’t a path I will follow at present.

Dougie and Lana side by side at their wedding reception

What I do want to note, however, is Lucy’s mysterious absence from the proceedings. First, we’re told that she isn’t at work at the Sheriff’s station as usual because she’s helping out with the wedding, but then we don’t see her there, either. Rather, Andy ends up dancing adorably with Denise. Lucy is a grounding force in Twin Peaks. She is so grounded that she will struggle to understand cellphones. Everyday reality is no less strange than the Lodge, or dreams, even if most people are not attuned to it. Lucy, however, is. It’s hard to imagine her in the midst of Episode 18. If she were there, she would probably be pointing out how oddly everyone is behaving.

The center is absent. Instead, there is a temp on the phone to relay a call for “Dale Crewper,” and this feeds into the way in which all of Episode 18 feels strangely out of orbit. One might blame this on the fact that Twin Peaks has just resolved the Laura Palmer case, but it all seems too intentional to chalk up to something like the writers struggling to find their way after Leland’s death.

Or at least Twin Peaks is self-conscious about this, given that the call in question is from Gordon Cole (David Lynch) and there is a large headline about Leland’s funeral on the front page of the newspaper that Roger reads while sitting at the Double R, in contrast to the way in which the town has largely seemed to move on. Sarah Palmer is not in this episode.

Neither is Major Briggs, who has just disappeared from the night-fishing outing that he and Dale went on. But a conversation with Betty leads to an increasing fascination on Cooper’s part with the woods, and we can easily tie this to the way he handles his disciplinary hearing with the FBI, as he tells Roger he knows the moves he is supposed to make but isn’t going to make them. His concerns have grown larger and more metaphysical.

This is the episode where Hawk talks about the Lodges and gives his famous line about the dweller on the threshold. If you face your shadow self with imperfect courage, it will totally annihilate your soul. But throughout the rest of Episode 18, we see various characters grappling with the duality that lies within them, or the ambiguity of their circumstances. Dale is “not currently” that FBI man, as he’s been suspended and is under investigation. Ben has lost power and is entering into the crisis that will culminate in him putting on the mask of another identity and a fantasy about the Civil War, but as of now, he’s just playing with some ideas that sound like feng shui and watching the reel of the Great Northern’s groundbreaking (golden shovel and all).

A young Ben Horne with a golden shovel

A Couple of Words of Advice: Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella

It’s all there in the James storyline. As he tells Evelyn, he’s only quiet on the outside. And she can hear that noisy racket within him from a mile (or a barstool) away. She’s not Laura, but an avatar of her for James, this woman who presents both darkness and the need for assistance. Of course, James wants to help because James is cool, but that very coolness—which involves looking past that which really should be a warning sign like he’s pressing the gas as hard as he can to speed through a red light—is what gets him into trouble. And thus he’ll enter another situation where he is the other man to a woman whose soul is in peril and who will turn on him when push comes to shove. What about this, James?

It’s no wonder that he’ll later recede within himself, replaying his fantasy (“Just You and I”), which he knows is a fantasy because his relationships always involve more than two. Sometimes the third is him. Sometimes it is a dead girl or her cousin. Sometimes it is a lover involved in a plot to frame him. This never undermines the fact that his affection is genuine. His love tends to be hopelessly naïve, as when he approaches Renee in the Roadhouse in The Return. He doesn’t seem to understand the real world, and we see this most vividly in his encounter with Evelyn. Renee cried at his song, and we can imagine what missed opportunity there was between them, or the moment when she chose to push that away. I love you, James, but what about this?

James tries to flip the script by leaving Twin Peaks and fleeing from his sweetness. But he’s so dumb. He repeats the same mistakes. It’s not so much a place as a feeling that he’s after, as he rockets blind into the darkness of another woman’s soul. Fundamentally, he cares too much. He looks past too much. He’s always been too cool.

James parks his motorcycle in the lot of Hide-Out Wallies

No one ever said being cool correlates with being smart.

Funny Boom Boom

No one has ever accused Andy of being cool, but neither is he dumb, outward appearances notwithstanding. He is very down to earth in a way that matches Lucy. Unable to view the death of a young girl with any level of detachment, we meet him crying over the corpse of Laura Palmer. Later he will basically be the one to solve the mystery of the Owl Cave painting, and in The Return he will be the one chosen to receive a very important message from the Fireman. Maybe that’s because he doesn’t eat meat, or maybe it’s just because he is open to the mystery wrapped in the banality of existence, which is—for Andy at least—precisely never banal.

Regardless, Episode 18 sees him on the outs with Lucy and thus a bit unmoored. Andy is learning that he is a decent guy not for the sake of others, but for himself. He faces and overcomes the impulses of his shadow, deciding not to compete with Dick Tremayne in any kind of malicious way but to befriend him. And when he sees that Dick is about to deny Little Nicky the malted he so desires simply because Lucy isn’t available (read: Dick is just trying to use this boy as a prop to earn merit in Lucy’s eyes), Andy quickly steps in to invite the pair to join him on his lunch break.

Of course, this will all lead to Andy falling off a swiveling stool and onto the floor of the Double R, but he takes this in stride—and he will continue to take Little Nicky in stride even as he and Dick start to wonder if the boy may be cursed.

Here is the series’ theme of duality in the form of a child: Is he an angel or a devil? The answer is both, or neither. Rather Little Nicky represents the conflict that lies within each of us, but he can’t hide it. He’s caught in the confrontation with the dweller on the threshold, between light and darkness, and prone to discover that kairos can cut in either direction…the propitious moment when Jupiter and Saturn align…fear and love open the doors…the Lodges are one and the same. All of the big themes of Twin Peaks are there in the story of Little Nicky.

Little Nicky reaches to swivel Andy's stool as he gets up

One has only to imagine him laughing into a cracked mirror and wondering, “How’s Andy?”

It’s Not Exactly Something You Plan On

Episode 18 sees the introduction of Denise Bryson to Twin Peaks, and while many words have been spilled over how the show handled a trans character in the early ‘90s, what I find myself thinking about is the story that she tells to Dale as they sit at the bar. Not the details about the drug dealer who would only sell to transvestites (or the use of that word, which we could, of course, talk about) but the broad stroke of that case giving rise to a certain kind of confrontation with aspects of oneself that lie in the shadows. It’s all too easy to think of the shadow self as evil, or something like that, but it is better conceived as pertaining to those desires that the conscious I (ego) is afraid to bring to light—thus the fear of the darkness, and what lies beyond the dark.

In this way, Denise represents a figure who has met the dweller on the threshold and emerged on the other side. It’s not a battle, after all, but a question of reconciliation. This is what Dale will fail at in Episode 29, with disastrous results. Further, the moment is something that happens more than it’s something one can will to be. Perhaps it is always possible. Perhaps the shadow self is always there, but it is again the propitious moment that is in question—the time of kairos.

We see this with the other characters in Episode 18 as well, in differing registers and to differing degrees. The uncertainty of Josie’s position leads her to submit fully to Catherine and agree to become her maid. We learn that Andrew Packard is not dead and that (according to him) everything is going according to plan. It’s hard to see what that plan could be given all that has happened between his putative death and now, but this just goes to show how Episode 18 is presenting everything in a time of upheaval. The old narrative is left behind, but the new one has not yet fully formed. We’re in the time of an interregnum, where anything is possible.

Nadine on a leg machine in the weight room next to Mike as the wrestling coach comes over

Nadine has super-strength and is crushing hard on Mike, who quickly turns from the unsympathetic character who barked along with Bobby into a boy who seems sweet and charming in his confusion. He is a high school kid, after all, and it’s easy enough to see how once he’s matured himself, he would see in Steven the kind of dumb youth he used to be.

Hank represents the converse, as he falls back into his old ways after a period of genuinely trying to be a considerate man. He turns the tables on Ben Horne, who here stands on the precipice of his own existential crisis, which will lead to one of my favorite arcs in Twin Peaks as he reenacts the Civil War. Of course, the real war is within his soul, and he feels it here as he smokes a cigar and watches footage of himself as a child. But it’s what this footage represents that gets him: the moment of breaking ground with the golden shovel symbolizes the possibility of beginning. And Ben will begin again, with carrots instead of cigars. For now, he’s pondering the possibility of an arrangement of objects in space that will create a perfect resonance.

What happens to Ben in the 25 years between this moment and when we see him in The Return? He’s back to cigars by then, but perhaps he’s reconciled with the dweller on the threshold from the other way around, moving from darkness to light to a balance. And when he hears a tone ringing in the Great Northern, does he perhaps think about the resonance of things?

Hobgoblins, Dale!

Windom Earle’s message to Cooper calls him out for his foolish consistency (Emerson reference noted), and of course at one level he is referring to their game of correspondence chess, while at another we might think about the way in which Earle is taunting Dale in terms of their real-life “game”—which involves some murder—but really Windom is calling Cooper out on his false consistency of self. It’s what leads him to separate what he wants from what he needs, and as we will see, this can all too easily be overtaken by that doppelganger self that he seeks to run away from. He’ll confront the dweller on the threshold with imperfect courage precisely because he lacks the courage to accept the darkness within him. He’s like a man trying to escape his own shadow.

And so back to James, who rides his motorcycle out of town to Hide-Out Wallies, only to get trapped in the same cycle he sought to escape. Is this not what ultimately happens to Dale Cooper, who despite all of his efforts across space and time (and indeed across realms beyond space and time), finds himself back in front of the Palmer house, disoriented and wondering what year it is? And back to Laura, leaning over to whisper in his ear 25 years after the events of Episode 18 and in the “dream” he had weeks prior in Episode 2. Is it future, or is it past? All of the action is in between, not in the present, but meanwhile…

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos

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