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TWIN PEAKS Revisited: Episode 19 – ‘Masked Ball’

In this week’s installment of Twin Peaks Revisited, we are officially in the “rough patch” of the show, where the series begins to suffer badly story-wise. This rough patch lasts about six episodes, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but when your show only has thirty episodes total, those bad parts seem like an eternity. It’s not all bad though, as this episode introduced the world to David Duchovny, in a skirt and heels too. This chapter was written by Barry Pullman, and directed by longtime Lynch editor Duwayne Dunham. 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 19: “Masked Ball” – Aired December 15, 1990

The episode opens with James on his motorcycle, who is apparently still riding away on the “I’m running away from home” tantrum he had two episodes and four days ago. Did he just drop out of high school I guess?  We cut to Mrs. Briggs in Truman’s office, as she starts explaining to Agent Cooper and Harry that Major Briggs has disappeared before, but usually those absences have been related to his top secret work for the military. She says the fact that they were in the woods when he vanished was very significant; “confidentially, he talks about the woods constantly.” Mrs. Briggs doesn’t divulge whether the Major was trying to contact any element that exists in the woods, and when prodded further, she clams up and simply says “that’s classified.”

Andy then walks in and tells Harry that he found a matching scarf and ascot set as a gift for Dougie Milford’s wedding. Gordon Cole then calls Cooper to offer his support to Coop while he’s being investigated, and tells him that the DEA is sending down a top dog to help him with his investigation, Dennis Bryson, who Coop worked with years before. Gordon then leaves him with a bit of sage advice “Let a smile be your umbrella.”

Cooper sits before a panel of agents, led by Roger Hardy. Cooper says he is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing, and confident that he made the right choices. “If they wish to charge me, then I’ll defend myself in a court of law.” Roger says that he expects a Bureau man to defend himself, unless he’s “packing feathers, where his spine used to be.” Cooper says he is looking for moves from beyond the edge of the game board, and says he’s been doing a lot of thinking lately, at a bigger game–the sound the wind makes through the pines, the sentience of animals. What we fear in the dark and what lies beyond that darkness.” After a flustered Agent Hardy asks him just what the hell all that mumbo jumbo means, Coop simply says “I’m talking about seeing beyond fear, Roger.” Roger warns him that he might be extradited for drug trafficking and murder. Roger says he may recommend a full psychological workup.

At Twin Peaks High School, Nadine approaches Donna at the lockers and asks her if she’s still dating Mike Nelson, and she tells her she’s not. Just then, Mike walks by, and Nadine says “he’s got the cutest buns.” Donna reminds her, as delicately as she can, that she’s still seeing Ed. “Yeah, but Ed acts like he’s old enough to be my father.”

James pulls in next to a sports car at a bar called Wallies. He sits next to a blonde woman, sipping a martini, who looks, acts, and talks like she’s out of a bad Skinemax movie, and says cliched stuff like “Is there someplace you’re going to, or running from?” Her dialogue only gets worse from here. She introduces herself as Evelyn Marsh, and she asks James to fix her husband’s Jaguar. Everything about this feels like Red Shoe Diaries. James goes and plays a song on the jukebox while Evelyn sips her martini and slinks around awkwardly by the bar.

Back at the Sheriff’s station, Andy leaves a bouquet for Lucy at her desk, who has the day off. When Dick visits with a little boy named Nicky, his charge from the Happy Helping Hand home for boys. Dick was hoping to go with Lucy for a milkshake, but seeing as Lucy isn’t there, he offers to go with them and treat them to a shake himself. In Truman’s office, Cooper asks Harry and Hawk about the White Lodge, which Major Briggs has started talking about before his sudden disappearance. Hawk seems shocked that he’s heard of it, and tells Coop that while he might be fearless in this world, there are other worlds, and that the White Lodge is where the spirits that rule man and nature reside. He says the Black Lodge is the shadow side of the White Lodge, where every spirit must pass through on their way to perfection and confront their shadow self, but if they face it with imperfect courage, it will utterly annihilate your soul.

Dennis Bryson arrives, now dressed as a woman, asking to be called Denise from now. Denise asks to catch up with Cooper on his case, and says he’ll get started immediately. Hawk seems shocked and doesn’t shake her hand. (I expect better from you Hawk.) Coop tells Denise that he thinks he’s being set up. Coop seems bemused by Dennis’ transformation into Denise, and just has a big smile on his face. I do love that Coop is so non-judgmental.

Mike Nelson is lifting weights at the school gym, when Nadine sits next to him and effortlessly lifts a 600lb weight. Mike seems freaked out and annoyed by her, but just then, the coach asks Nadine if she’s interested in joining the wrestling team after seeing her feats of strength. Mike is not amused.

Josie wakes up in Harry’s bed, and he tells her it’s time for her to finally tell him the truth. She says she used to work for a man named Thomas Eckhardt in Hong Kong. Eckhardt took her off the streets, and made her “his” at the age of 15. He mentored her, and “taught her about life.” When she met Andrew Packard, he was a business partner of Eckhardt’s, and she married him to escape the cruelty of Eckhardt. Now that Andrew is dead, there is no one to protect her from him, and he wants her back. Josie merely tells Harry that she escaped from the airport, and that she would rather die than return to Hong Kong and be under Eckhardt’s control ever again.

Agent Roger Hardy reads a paper at the diner, and gets a slice of cherry pie from Norma. Hank and Ernie return from their “hunting trip” and Norma tells Ernie that Vivian is back in Seattle, and that she should go and join her. Andy, Dick, and little Nicky eat desserts at the counter. Nicky plays stupid pranks on both Dick and Andy that are straight out of an episode of Full House.

James tells Evelyn that he thinks he can fix her husband’s car. She tells him that she doesn’t know where her husband is this week, that he travels regularly. She offers to let him stay in the room above the garage, that she needs the car fixed before her husband gets home. Everything about this section feels like a bad porno set-up.

Ben Horne is in his office, looking like he hasn’t shaved or changed clothes in days, and watches an old home movie from his childhood, from when his family was building the Great Northern Hotel. Hank finds him in the office, and Ben asks him where the hell he’s been this past week. Ben reminds Hank that his life has fallen apart; Catherine has “cheated” him out of the mill and the Ghostwood Estates project, and his being arrested for Laura Palmer’s murder was a black smear on his reputation, even if it turned out that he was cleared, because his own laywer and friend Leland Palmer ended up being a homicidal lunatic. Hank tells Ben that he no longer owns One-Eyed Jack’s, that there’s been a friendly takeover from Jean Renault, and that he no longer works for Ben; he now works for Renault. Ben warns him that Renault is a psychopath, but Hank doesn’t seem fazed by this. Ben just retreats into his nostalgic comfort zone again now that’s he’s lost everything except his hotel.

Cooper inspects a letter from his insane ex-partner Windom Earle, who recently escaped from the loony bin. It’s another chess move and a mini tape. Cooper listens to the tape, and Windom says that Coop’s responding move to the chess move he placed for him in the paper “showed his predilection for the predictable, and that he will attain his goal at any cost: the king must die.”

Dougie Milford and his teen bride Lana exchange vows, and his brother Dwayne interrupts the ceremony to say that the bride is a gold digger and just wants his money and “publishing empire.” Harry pulls him out of the ceremony, kind of like he pulled him away from the mic in the pilot episode, and the wedding proceeds. Cooper meets Denise at the wedding reception.

Agent Bryson tells Coop she has found cocaine in Cooper’s car, and agrees that it all looks like a frame, but they need some proof. Coop then asks Denise what happened with him, and when he decided to start living as a woman. Bryson says that she started cross-dressing as part of a job, going undercover to bust a drug dealer who would only sell to transvestites. While undercover, he realized that he felt more comfortable as woman, and Denise was born. Dwayne complains to Pete and Log Lady about his brother’s latest wedding, saying he was married to the same woman for fifty years “because I think with my head, and not my garden hose.” Cooper dances with Audrey, and Andy dances with Denise, clearly not realizing she is transgender.

Josie goes to Catherine for help, and tells her that Thomas Eckhardt was responsible for her brother Andrew’s death, to which Catherine responds “Tell me something I don’t already know.” Josie said she only helped Eckhardt kill Andrew because otherwise he would have killed her, and she has nowhere else to run to now, and begs Catherine for her help. Catherine says she’ll help her, despite everything she’s done to her and her family, but that she’ll have to live in the house and work for her as a maid, and move her things to the servant’s quarters. If she doesn’t, she’ll find Eckhardt, “and feed you to him by hand.” Josie has no choice but to agree, and as she leaves the room, Andrew Packard, alive and well, enters and reveals that he and Catherine are using Josie as bait for Eckhardt, who will come for her “like a rat to cheese.”


The scenes of James riding around on his bike on a gloomy day over the opening credits were shot by David Lynch in Washington state, back when the pilot was shot a year earlier, as B-roll, and finally used for this episode. When James goes to play a song in the jukebox at the bar, it’s the same song Bobby plays in the jukebox at the Double R in the pilot episode, called “I’m Hurt Bad” from series composer Angelo Badalamenti. Bobby and James had the same taste in women, maybe they both like the same jazzy, ’50s-sounding songs?

This episode is the first mention of the Black Lodge, something that will play a very important part in the latter half of the series, as well as the movie Fire Walk With Me.

Despite appearing as the voice of Gordon Cole, David Lynch has very little to nothing to do with this or the following few episodes.

The late character actor Royce D. Applegate makes his second appearance as the town minister in this episode for the Milford Wedding. The first time was at Laura Palmer’s funeral.

There’s a scene where Agent Hardy (Clarence Williams III) gets a slice of cherry pie from Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton). Having these two share screen time was a nod to the fact that these two were co-stars on the hit show The Mod Squad, some twenty years prior.

This episode also marked the first appearance of Dan O’Herlihy as Andrew Packard, making him the third important cast member from 1987’s Robocop to appear in Twin Peaks. The other two? Miguel Ferrer (Albert Rosenfield) and Ray Wise (Leland Palmer.)

Final Verdict

Last week I went easy on the first post-Laura Palmer episode, but no sentimentality I have can make me like this episode, which is the first truly awful episode of the show. Not one but three of the most hated characters and plotlines by Twin Peaks fandom are all introduced in this episode, namely Evelyn Marsh, “Little Nicky”, and Lana Milford, the teenage bride of Dougie Milford.

The Evenlyn Marsh subplot feels like a bad attempt at a take on 1940s film noir, but everything is played on-the-nose and almost like a parody. Twin Peaks skirts the line between homage and parody all the time, but here it’s just handled terribly. Everything with Andy, Dick, and “Little Nicky” reads like a bad sitcom, and between those two stories and some of the Nadine stuff, you can’t help but think “what the hell show has this turned into in just one episode??”

The few interesting story fragments from this episode, namely the disappearance of Major Briggs and the first hints towards the Black Lodge, are barely dealt with, as are anything to do Cooper’s nemesis, Windom Earle. Ben Horne’s scene watching old home movies is nice, but far too brief.

If there is one true saving grace to this episode, it’s the first appearance of a pre-X-Files David Duchovny as transgender DEA Agent Denise Bryson. In an era when transgender people were played just for laughs, or over the top, Duchovny plays Denise like a real human being, and a capable agent. Sure, there is some humor mined from when he first shows up that seems dated now, but mostly he’s treated by Coop and all the police as just a person, regardless of how he identifies. This was a big deal 25 years ago. Sadly, Duchovny is stuck with a good character in the worst part of the show’s run. Rumor has it he’ll return for Twin Peaks 2016; hopefully they’ll find something better for him to do. The appearance of Denise gives this ep one half a burrito more than it deserves.

Rating: 2 1/2  out of 5 burritos 

2.5 burritos


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