Twin Peaks Episode 22: The White Light Behind the Death Mask

Cooper and Harry with a chessboard


Ah, Twin Peaks Episode 22, you’re a strange fruit. This episode was written by Harley Peyton and Bob Engels and directed by Diane Keaton. It is pretty polarising within the Twin Peaks fandom. I think it’s great, especially given that Keaton had to deal with some pretty poor storylines. I feel they did an incredible job of bringing back the dark weirdness to Twin Peaks in a Lynchian way while keeping the Frostian soap opera feel.

The great thing about Keaton’s episode is that she kills off the Evelyn-James storyline. Between this, Ben Horne becoming General Lee, and the Little Nicky subplots, things were pretty dire at this stage of Season 2. In reality, the James-Evelyn scenes probably total about 15 minutes of viewing time, but they feel a lot longer.

There are a few reasons why it’s so polarising. Firstly, new characters at this stage of proceedings were not really welcome. It may have been designed to keep the teen fans watching for James and Donna after Laura’s murder was solved, but rather than keep them interesting, it had the opposite effect. James had a tendency to get on his bike and go, taking him out of the familiar and warm setting of Twin Peaks and into the outskirts, where he’d find himself at Wallies Hide-Out (a place both wonderful and strange) and then staying in an extravagant house with its own private driveway, hired by a posh blonde he met at the bar, to work on her husband Jeffrey’s luxury Jaguar. This setting wasn’t the cosy small town we enjoyed visiting every week. I think many Twin Peaks fans still feel the same way about leaving the town. Season 3 barely featured Twin Peaks itself, stretching its story to South Dakota, Nevada, New York, Texas, New Mexico, and Philadelphia. And as much as I love Season 3, it lost a little of the OG magic; we just wanted to go home.

My Dharma is The Road

Episode 22 shows posh blonde Evelyn Marsh and her “brother” Malcolm Sloan plotting to frame James for Jeffrey’s death. Jeffrey has been killed in a car accident, which Evelyn and Malcolm—who are not siblings but lovers—have set up. Evelyn and Malcolm wanted Jeffrey dead so they could get their hands on his fortune. This storyline would have been more at home on Invitation to Love than on Twin Peaks. It just goes to show what a huge impact Twin Peaks had already had on TV when it was already battling to reach its own high standards, and now other TV shows felt shoddy in comparison.

Donna and James are reunited in this episode, and I think their relationship frustrates me more than the world’s most tedious love triangle between James, Evelyn, and Malcolm. While Donna is very annoying—that cannot be denied—we need to remember that she is an 18-year-old girl who has fallen in love with her best friend’s lover and said best friend was murdered just a few weeks ago. James rapidly turned his attention to her, and for the briefest moment, she was happy. Then Maddy caught James’ eye, and she looked exactly like Laura, which must have been a kick in the teeth. Later, when Maddy was murdered, James left town, leaving Donna all alone to deal with a series of major traumas. Despite all this, she doesn’t give up hope on James and even comes to his rescue after finding out he’s been sleeping with an older, married woman. You know, there appears to be some evidence here that James hasn’t actually always been cool.

Donna and James talk closely at Wallies Hideout

On paper, we are meant to feel sorry for Donna and understand that James does the things he does out of grief (and perhaps following in his mother’s footsteps), but in reality, it’s hard to like either of them because Donna is pretentious and James is so dull.

The direction of Episode 22 makes it far more watchable. In a Lynchian-style moment at Wallies, a row of possibly Air Force officers sit at the bar, looking in the same direction. As a sheriff’s deputy walks in, each of them turns their head to greet him in unison. If they are Air Force, what is the explanation for them being there? I guess they could be on their way to or from Listening Post Alpha, just outside Twin Peaks? But their uniforms seem to be from the 1950s era. That in itself raises my eyebrow; remember when Garland Briggs returned from his “abduction” wearing flight gear that was last seen in the 1940s? Their synchronised movements are almost as if they’re under drill command, even when it comes to taking a drink or a drag on a cigar at a bar, and it sticks out as a decidedly Lynchian touch, with Keaton doing a good job of matching the absurd tone of the series’ classic episodes.

Of course, I might have fallen down completely the wrong rabbit hole here. Their uniforms also make them look a lot like Maytag Repairmen. The pentagon-shaped hat perhaps makes this more likely to be their identity. If this is the case, then I guess the joke is that because Maytag Repairmen were “the loneliest guys in the world” (as they never have any work to do), even when they go to a bar to meet up, they still behave as if they’re alone.

3 men in uniform smoke cigars at the bar at wallies hideout

The Evelyn-James storyline wraps up with Malcolm threatening to kill Donna, James coming to her rescue, and Evelyn refusing Malcolm’s order to shoot James, instead shooting Malcolm dead. So she makes the right choice in the end, but we still hate her anyway.

Donna’s storyline does improve from here, as she turns her curious mind to find out who her birth father really is, while James’s onscreen story is mercifully ended as he continues to run away from his problems. By Season 3, James is back in Twin Peaks, having led a pretty dramatic life over the past 25 years. Mark Frost’s The Final Dossier tells us that after standing trial against Evelyn, he got on his bike (again) and fled to Mexico before the trial was over because Evelyn’s (likely high-cost) defence lawyers strongly challenged his testimony. While in Mexico, James got a job as a mechanic under an alias. Somehow he got himself involved with a Mexican drug cartel, got caught up in a gang shootout, got arrested by the Mexican Feds, and was kept in custody until Sheriff Harry Truman and Gordon Cole got word and eventually had him released and deported back to the U.S. where he stayed on probation in Portland.

Malcolm lies dead with evelyn on top of him

Not being the sharpest tool in the box, James decided to keep travelling around America for the next decade, and then in 2006 was involved in a motorbike accident, when a runaway coal truck knocked him off the road. He suffered a compound fracture and returned to Twin Peaks, first working for his Uncle Ed at the Gas Farm, then as security at The Great Northern, where we find him in Season 3. Donna is long gone by then. James did not keep his promise to Donna that he would return for her—another piece of evidence to suggest that James has not always or perhaps ever been cool. We also have to remember that it’s Shelly Johnson/Briggs, who makes this statement in Season 3, and her judgment of men should not be trusted.

The Secrets of The Heart are Revealed

Now, from the world’s most tedious love triangle to the world’s weirdest. In one of the few scenes we see of Ed and Norma together in bed post-coitally, they share their deep feelings for each other, their regrets over Christmases they should have spent together, and their yearning to be together for real, out in the open. Both of them being married makes it difficult, with Norma married to a criminal douche and Ed married to Nadine, who, at this point, thinks she is high school age and is dating Mike, who’s on the football team. It’s during this tender heart-to-heart between Ed and Norma that Nadine blasts in through the bedroom door, taking it off its hinges, and jumps into bed with them both, brandishing her second-place award in a wrestling tournament.

Nadine, Ed and Norma in bed

This scene is one of the few I remember from the first time I watched Twin Peaks (I was 11). I really thought seeing Ed and Norma in bed together would trigger Nadine back to her old self, but no—she’s happy for them. Nadine sets Ed free to be with Norma, at least in her mind. It’s classic Twin Peaks, an intensely emotional moment, steamrollered by slapstick comedy. It’s an old fashioned style of humour thinking about it, yet it will never go out of fashion. Just when you think this moment is huge, Ed is going to be with his true love; it’s pulled back down to Earth, much to our agony. This is a beautiful scene but also heartbreaking because Ed and Norma know that it doesn’t really change anything. Nadine is still married to Ed, and he can’t approach her for a divorce because she has no idea she’s married and wouldn’t comprehend it. It’s interesting to note that Norma hurries to grab her clothes when Nadine storms in, but Ed stops her. It’s like he has decided this is the moment to let all the truth come out. Which it does, but even, then nothing can really change.

For now, though, Ed can be with Norma, and things are looking up for Norma as Shelly returns to work at the diner, and matrimonially too. After Leo comes out of his vegetative state (sort of), attacks Shelly and Bobby, and scarpers off into the woods, Shelly and Bobby go to the Sheriff’s station, telling Cooper and Truman that they are in a relationship and that Hank shot Leo through the window that night. Upon learning this, Truman can keep Hank behind bars for several parole violations, so Norma is also free to be with Ed. There are many heartbreaking stories in the world of Twin Peaks, but somehow Ed and Norma’s love story always hits me the most; the cruelty of them being so right for each other, so destined to be together, but the stars just never allowing them to be—not until Season 3 when they were both in their 70s. It’s beautiful, of course, that they are both finally rewarded for their patience, and I shouldn’t dwell on what could have been for them. It’s just one of those situations where I pray that reincarnation is real so that these twin flames get to spend another life truly together.

The Civil War is Over

Episode 22 ends another plotline that was really beginning to irk. Ben Horne is still in his alternate identity as General Lee, planning his final battle with Ulysses S Grant. Jacoby, who was once delighted with Ben’s style of crazy, is even getting bored of this now, so he puts into action a cunning plan. The “Appomattox Scenario,” reverses the outcome of the Civil War, allowing Ben to be the victor and come to the end of his psychotic break. Jerry, Audrey, Bobby and even Johnny play a part in Ben’s breakthrough. Perhaps they should have noticed how Johnny can communicate through drama, dressing up and reenacting historical events. There’s more going on with Johnny than meets the eye, I am sure of it.

When Ben wakes up, he can’t remember what happened at all, though he remembers that they were all there; it’s just like the end of Wizard of Oz, which we know is Lynch’s favourite film. Fast forward to Part 17 of Season 3, and a similar scene plays out for the awoken Agent Cooper, who, with all his dreamlike friends; Gordon, Albert, Tammy, Frank, Hawk, Bobby, James, Freddy, The Mitchums, Lucy, Andy, Candie, Mandie and Sandie, stand in a line and Cooper tells them he hopes to see them all again as if he was waking up from a dream he was having about them. Had Cooper gone through a similar psychotic break as Ben? Did he find himself playing the part of Mr C, a dastardly version of himself?

Two things will drive you crazy; fear and love. Cooper and Annie both had a lot of those feelings the night that Windom Earle captured her and led her into the woods. Cooper pierced the veil between two worlds—ours and the spirit world—which seem to co-exist; we just can’t see it most of the time. It does sort of make sense that after going through a trauma like he and Annie did, that they’d both come out of the Lodge messed up. Annie, bless her soul, is still in another place. I suspect that might be where Johnny’s mind resides too.

Anyway, thank the Lodges that the Civil War is over. It’s good in some ways but bad in others as it means we now have to go through the “good Ben” storyline, which is perhaps even worse. Still, that does mean John Justice Wheeler is on his way, a welcome newcomer to the show even at this late stage, unlike Evelyn and Malcolm.

civil war ben

His Name is Earle

Ah, Windom Earle. We get to meet the great Man of Many Disguises properly in Episode 22. Some may criticise his penchant for dressing up, but I love Earle’s sense of pantomime. Leo finds himself at Earle’s cabin and is about to become his pet dog. Earle wears a dirty flesh-coloured onesie, which always makes me think that if he were a video game character, this would be his blank canvas from where you could add clothes and weapons or perhaps give him a moustache and a trilby. That’s so Earle.

Earle straddles Leo and plays his flute, which is more of a torture device, both from how he plays it and how he uses it to beat Leo into submission. It is pretty creepy that Windom places an electric shock dog collar on him. Dare I say it? I almost feel sympathy for Leo here. Yes, he was an awful man; a wifebeater, an adulterer, he dealt drugs to school children and set fire to The Mill with his wife inside…okay, I have talked myself out of feeling sorry for him now. Yet, in his half vegetative state, it’s hard not to feel something for this man, who at this point is more like Dougie Jones from Season 3 than the Leo we once knew and hated. Somewhere deep down inside Leo, in his infantile like state, a good man was trying to get out, as we later learn from him setting Garland Briggs free to save Shelly.

It is in Episode 22 that the feeling of darkness and dread returns to Twin Peaks. It has been missing since BOB was on the loose—even though he still is, he hasn’t been mentioned or made any moves for some time. We assume he was gone for good when Leland died. Windom Earle brought back that darkness, that air of unpredictability, though, at this point we had no idea just how involved with the Lodges he was. We thought he was just an escaped lunatic out to get Cooper. Here though, gloomy slow shots of the chessboard remind us that there is a very serious game at stake. They give us the sense that trouble is creeping ever closer; we just have no clue what his next move will be.

windom in a onesie with a flute

The much-missed Albert Rosenfield returns to Twin Peaks to deliver a message: It was likely Josie Packard that shot Coop at the Great Northern. Her reasoning? The fear of being found out for who she really was. If anyone was going to crack that code it would be Cooper, and Josie knew it. It’s going to break Harry’s heart and this is not something Coop or Albert take pleasure in. Albert arrives with less snark than usual, but when Albert shows he cares about someone or something, it’s extra special. He enthusiastically hugs Harry when he arrives and shows Cooper some concern too, even if he does do it through a brilliant impression of Gordon Cole, “I’M WORRIED ABOUT COOP”. He can’t keep up the niceness for too long and can’t resist commenting on Coop wearing “muted earth tones”, even if it was meant to be a compliment. God, I miss that guy.

The evidence he brings leads Cooper and Harry to question Josie, who is now being treated as a maid by Catherine. Poor Josie is in a state of constant fear now, and even more so when her former Master, Thomas Eckhardt, comes for dinner. I know that not many people have much sympathy for Josie for what she did to Harry and Pete in a roundabout way, but I think her story is just as tragic as Laura’s. She was a girl brought up in awful conditions, owned by rich white men, forced into sex work while still basically a child. Now grown up, she was a woman trying to survive in a man’s world, and for a while, she beat the rich white men at their game. As in so many cases, it’s often the female victim who is blamed for acting out against their oppressors, while the men get away with murder. And as much as I love Piper Laurie’s Catherine Martell, it is here that all my respect for Catherine goes out the window.

Still, in this otherwise dramatic and ominous scene, there is time for some classic Twin Peaks quirkiness when Cooper talks to Pete in his kitchen. The kitchen door never stops swinging for their entire conversation, and we watch from outside, not being able to see Pete at all; we just hear him and watch Coop standing facing him off-screen. I love how this is shot; it’s one of those real-life moments that are quite absurd but happen all the time. In fact, Coop and Pete don’t even notice it’s happening; it’s only silly from our point of view.

The Face of Death

At the end of his long day, Coop returns to the Great Northern with an air of sadness around him as he reminisces over the loss of Caroline. He’s looking at a picture of her in the lobby when Windom Earle, in disguise, steps out of the elevator. Coop completely misses him despite his costume being basically just a hat and moustache. So close yet so far. On the one hand, it’s funny because it’s so ridiculous, but on the other, it’s inconsistent with Cooper’s famous skills of intuition, especially since he claimed to have felt Earle’s presence nearby in the previous episode.

Nevertheless, the end of the episode takes a creepy turn, as when Coop gets to his room, Earle has already been there. In the bed lies a death mask of Caroline’s face, its eyes glowing white. A message from Earle plays on Coop’s own Diane the dictaphone when he picks it up, telling him it’s his move.

carolines death mask twin peaks ep22

Through a post-Season 3 lens, it’s hard not to think of the moment when Laura Palmer removes her face to reveal a bright white light when I see Caroline’s death mask. I tend to believe that at the end of Fire Walk With Me, Cooper is reading from The Tibetan Book of the Dead, as he did to Leland Palmer, leading her towards the light, which she embraces with tears of joy and laughter. Why does she remain in the Black Lodge in Season 3, then? I feel like the pure white light she revealed from inside means that her soul is in the White Lodge. The Laura we see is a shell of who Laura was, so with this in mind, Caroline’s death mask could hint that she too made it to The White Lodge. The Log Lady’s intro focused on this:

A death mask. Is there a reason for a death mask? It is barely a physical resemblance–in death, the muscles so relaxed, the face so without the animating spark. A death mask is almost an intrusion on a beautiful memory. And yet, who could throw away the casting of a loved one? Who would not want to study it longingly, as the distant freight train blows its mournful tone?

Margaret Lanterman

laura's light face

Earle intends to torture Cooper further with the painful memories of lost love while making it known that he has arrived in town and that he’s cunning enough to get into Cooper’s room unnoticed, the threat that clearly rattles Cooper. He will need some help with protecting the lives of as many people as possible on the chessboard, and Pete Martell is the man for the job, which I’ve got to say is pretty convenient. Earle, however, only has his eye on taking the Queen.