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TWIN PEAKS Revisited: Episode 20 – ‘The Black Widow’

In this week’s installment of Twin Peaks Revisited, we descend further down the rabbit hole of the show’s worst stretch of episodes, but I believe we can make it through this together, and come out the other side. This chapter was written by Harley Peyton and Robert Engels, and directed by Caleb Deschanel. 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, aside from some mild spoilers in the Trivia section.

Episode 20: “The Black Widow” – Aired January 15, 1991

The episode opens at the Great Northern, where Bobby finally gets allowed into Ben Horne’s office to find the furniture stacked up in a giant pile, with Ben himself is sitting in a corner. Clearly, Ben is losing it big time, although props to him for predicting the whole “Feng Shui” craze of the later ’90s. Bobby uses the leverage he has in the form of the tape that Leo made, which recorded him conspiring with Ben Horne to burn down the mill, to ask Ben for a job. Bobby tells Ben that he has a great admiration for him. “Admiration is for poets and dairy cows, Bobby.” Nevertheless, Ben sees an opportunity in Bobby, and tells him to follow and photograph Hank Jennings, who has recently quit on him and started working for Jean Renault. “Show me something I don’t already know.” As Bobby leaves the office, we see newlywed teen Lana Milford run screaming down the hallway.

At the station house, Cooper meets with a realtor named Irene about buying properties in town. After flipping a coin, it lands on a folder buried under several others, labeled “Dead Dog Farm.” Coop now wants to visit Dead Dog Farm among all the other properties. Dick then meets Lucy and Andy, and the trio meet with a case worker about Dick’s orphan he mentors, little Nicky. The case worker says that Nicky has been traumatized by a “persistent random misfortune” and bounced from home to home after the death of his parents, who apparently “died under mysterious circumstances.” At this point, the spooky version of “Laura’s Theme” comes in, so we feel this is supposed to be something important. It really isn’t. Harry interrupts this meeting and takes Andy to the Great Northern on an emergency call.

It turns out that Dougie Milford died of a heart attack on his wedding night. His bed is surrounded by kinky toys and sex manuals. I guess that a 19 year old wife was too much for him. His brother, the Mayor, enters the room and cries. He finds the sex manual and says that his wife “might as well have blown his brains out with a rifle.” After calling Lana a witch, Lana cries to Hawk about her bad luck with men, and he reassures her that she’s okay, but to remember that when bad things go down “he’s the man,” just as Andy opens the door he’s leaning on and he falls down and goes boom. I don’t know what bad sitcom this has become.

The sitcomy antics continue over at the high school, as the wrestling coach delivers a huge inspirational speech to his wrestling team about accepting players of all different kinds, and introduces Nadine to the team. She and Mike Nelson wrestle, as she basically harasses him sexually and keeps asking him to go out with her while she’s got him pinned. I would find this all much worse if Mike wasn’t already established as being a misogynist dude-bro who kind of has it coming. Later Mike complains to his ex, Donna, that Nadine’s crush on him is going to put him in traction, and asks if she’ll pretend to still be his girlfriend. Donna tells him she’s not that good of an actress and blows him off. This is the most I’ve liked Donna in several episodes, I’ll say that much.

At the mansion in the neighboring town where James is staying, Evelyn’s brother, Malcolm, introduces himself to James. He works for his sister and brother-in-law as his driver, and he even has a little uniform. He says that Evelyn’s husband Jeffrey beats Evelyn once every week or so, and that he is so rich and powerful no one can stop him. He says that after he beats her, for revenge, she then breaks one of his prized possessions, in this instance the Jaguar. Why is it that James is still there, and why do we care again?

Cooper and Irene, his real estate agent, visit Dead Dog Farm. She tells him the property is named after a local legend that says “Of all the people in the world, the best and the worst are drawn to a dead dog. Most turn away, only those with the purest of heart can feel its pain, and somewhere in between, the rest of us struggle.” Coop notices fresh tire tracks, but she says no one has looked at the property in the last year, however Cooper finds tracks from at least three vehicles. The door is open, and Cooper believes there’s been people there in the past few hours. He discovers a white powder in the sink, and then discovers cocaine on one of the chairs, and knows he’s got to tell Harry.

Dick is now sitting on the side of the road reading directions for changing a flat tire. Nicky plays with the controls, despite the fact that Dick keeps telling him to quit it. As Dick continues to try and fix the wheel, The car falls off the jack, and Nicky runs to hug Dick and asks him please not to die.

Back at the Sheriff’s station, Harry introduces Cooper to Colonel Reilly, who is heading the Air Force investigation into Major Briggs’ disappearance. When the Colonel asks if there was any wildlife in the area when the Major vanished, Cooper says that he heard an owl before Briggs disappeared. Cooper tells Reilly that he knows about the messages from space pertaining to him that Briggs brought for him, but then Reilly explains that the message that Briggs delivered, originated in nearby woods, not in deep space. He is not sure where the message was sent to. Reilly says that Briggs’ disappearance has implications that go so far beyond national security, “it’ll make the Cold War look like a case of the sniffles.”

James starts the Jaguar’s engine, and everything appears to be working just fine now. Evelyn gets in the car with him, and James asks if she is afraid of her husband, and he kisses her. “I know what it’s like to be alone.” Really, James? Because in the three weeks that have passed since the show began, you’ve been with Laura, Donna, and flirted with Maddy. When were you alone again? After they kiss, Evenly’s husband Jeffrey arrives home and she runs off to meet him.

At the hotel, Audrey teases Bobby about his new job working for her father. He flirts with her, and she suggests they do business together, but she evades his kiss, and then she enters her secret hallway and starts spying on Bobby’s meeting with her father. Ben is setting up a model of the battle of Gettysburg on his desk, and has started wearing a Civil War-era uniform. Bobby delivers the pics of Hank Jennings that Ben asked for, which show Hank at Dead Dog Farm with Jean Renault and others. Ben is happy, and tells him to come back so he can start his full time employment. Looks like Ben is grooming Bobby to be his new muscle once he gets Hank out of the way. Best to start ’em young I guess.

Pete and Catherine pop a bottle of champagne, and Pete quotes poetry to her. The two seem to be reconciling, if only barely. Catherine instructs Josie on her maid chores, and in ultimate shady tone, Catherine says to Josie “just because your station in this household has changed, I intend to show you all the respect and affection you deserve. And don’t forget to put on your little maid’s cap.” Pete defends Josie, but Catherine reminds him that Josie hand a hand in her brother’s death and tried to have her killed too, she’s lucky she’s not hanging from a tree. It’s kind of hard to argue with her logic, even if we do know her brother is really alive. Raising a glass, she says “here’s to me.”

Cooper speaks to Diane (for the first time in several episodes it feels like) and tells her that he had his chess response to Windom Earle printed in the personals column of the local paper. Earle responded a day before the paper even went out, already anticipating Cooper’s move.

Audrey then visits him in his room with Bobby’s envelope that she stole from her father’s desk, which has pictures of the drug deal at Dead Dog Farm, including Hank Jennings, Renault, Ernie Niles, Norma Jennings’ step father, and the Canadian officer that brought the charges against him. It’s nice to know that all of Audrey’s flirting with Bobby was more or less a ruse to help her Special Agent. Denise enters, and seems impressed with the fact that there are women agents. Audrey kisses Cooper on her way out. Cooper shows Denise the photographs of Jean, Hank, Ernie, and the Canadian cop. Cooper gives Denise a sample of the cocaine he found in Dead Dog Farm. Denise then asks about Audrey, and Coop said he assumed he’s no longer interested in girls. Denise says “I may be wearing a dress, but I still put my stockings on one leg a time, if you know what I mean.”

At the Double R, Big Ed talks to Norma about their shitty situation — she with an ex-con husband she can’t trust, and Ed with an insane wife who thinks she’s in high school. In the back of the diner, Hank sees them holding hands. Dick returns to the station house and tells Andy that he thinks little Nicky is “the devil”, and seems convinced he tried to kill him earlier that day. As he tells him this, we actually see a comic book like thought balloon show up above Andy’s head of Nicky dressed as the Devil. I don’t even know what show I’m watching anymore.

Harry is meeting with Mayor Milford. Dr. Hayward tells the Mayor that Dougie died of natural causes and there was absolutely no foul play. Dwayne says he wants to press charges, and that Lana “killed Dougie with sex.” Dwayne insists that she won’t get any of Dougie’s money. Hawk is trying to comfort Lana in another room, and the men gather around to admire her and recite a line from Romeo & Juliet and all look mesmerized at her beauty. Look, the actress who plays Lana is cute and all, but this is Twin Peaks– a place that has Audrey Horne, Shelly, Norma, and Donna before bad plastic surgery ruined her, and several other drop dead gorgeous women…and somehow this Lana makes all the guys turn into drooling idiots?? Really?

Ernie is eating at the diner, when Denise walks in and joins him and shows him the photos of him at the drug deal earlier that day, and her DEA badge. Ernie delivers a confession to Cooper and Denise, pleading his love for his wife. He agrees to help them as long as he doesn’t go back to jail.

As a storm rages outside, James lies awake listening to Jeffrey shouting and glass breaking, presumably as he’s beating Evelyn. Malcolm tells him they’ve been living like that for four years, and that one day he vows to kill Jeffrey for it.

Betty Briggs sits alone in her dark living room waiting for Bobby to come home. Bobby walks in, and tells her that he’s sure that his dad is fine, his appearance is more of that “top secret jazz.” He then tells his mother about the vision his father had of him (in the season two opener) and it is a nice reminder of when this show was really good. Just then, Major Briggs reappears in the living room, dressed as a World War I era pilot, asking how long he’d been gone. When he’s told two days, he says he felt it was longer. He asks Bobby to fix him a cocktail, and when Betty asks him if everything is all right, he says “No dear…..not exactly.”


A pre-SNL Molly Shannon plays little Nicky’s caseworker who meets with Andy, Dick, and Lucy.

Mayor Milford calls Lana a witch after his brother’s death, which is appropriate, since actress Robyn Lively played Teen Witch in the cheesy late-’80s teen movie of the same name.

Audrey’s helping of Agent Cooper by stealing her father’s pics is the last time these two have any significant interaction or have their plots tie in together in any real way, which is an incredible shame, as their chemistry was palpable and helped make the show a hit.

This was the first episode of the show after a month long hiatus, and when it returned, the show shed some 2 million viewers, causing the first rumblings of cancellation for the series to happen.

Final Verdict

There are so many things wrong with this episode, it’s hard to know where to start. As I mentioned in the previous re-cap, the lack of a main ‘A-story’ like “who killed Laura Palmer” harms the show in a huge way, as the writers don’t even seem interested in replacing it with another big hook to get viewers invested. The stories we do have are ludicrous for the most part: the teenage vixen who killed her husband with sex? The whole “Bad Seed” knock-off story with little Nicky? James’ adventure into a low budget wannabe noir movie? All are terrible and boring, and worse, introduce something like five new characters in a show that is already overflowing with great characters, many who aren’t even in this episode, like Shelly. David Duchovny’s Denise is the one memorable new addition, and she is barely in this episode.

Then there’s Nadine’s crazy antics, which are a fun aside when the storyline is heavy, as it was earlier, but now way too much time is focused on it. The two interesting storylines that are in this episode, the approaching threat of Windom Earle and Major Briggs’ disappearance, are both barely given any screen time. This episode aired in January, 1991, and already resembles the show which premiered the previous April only in a surface way. I will promise, dear reader, that the show will pull itself out of this mess before it’s all over, but right now this part of the show is just a chore to get through.

Rating: 2 out of 5 burritos 

2 burritos

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