2.8: Drive with a Dead Girl
Post-reveal there are two episodes of absolute Ray Wise-ness, and they’re filled with some great and not so great material. Some of that is down to the continued need to introduce new (and negligibly worthwhile) plot threads and characters. Some of it is down to an inability not to overstate the case now we know whodunit. It’s called leading the audience by the nose, but it also smacks of uneasy network edicts in the face of material that has finally hit them the wrong side of alarming. At least, there’s little other way to rationalise what will transpire in 2.10.
But that’s a little way away yet. And the good in 2.8 is really very good. This is Caleb Deschanel’s second of three gigs on the show, and both he and next week’s Tim Hunter have a better-than-most capacity for indulging the weird. Mark Frost’s brother Scott recieves the writing credit, so it’s safe to say Mark was still about and very much paying attention at this point.
That said, Deschanel is either asked to or willing indulges the killer’s reveal with the incessant mirror tricks borrowed from the previous week’s dazzler. It feels a little too much like mistrust that the audience will realise that Leland is possessed by Bob. That’s certainly how it comes across, unless it’s purely down to embracing a gimmick. It’s also noticeable how Leland, presumably full of Bob super-strength, is able to lift Maddy in his golf bag as if it… contains only a couple golf clubs.
Harry: Everything okay?
Agent Cooper: I’m not sure.
Ray Wise is just fantastic, fully embracing his chance to tear into evil-and-loving-it Leland/Bob. He dances about the Great Northern (to Singin’ in the Rain) and manages to make the old “Is he crying or laughing?” deal profoundly disturbing. Yes, Deschanel isn’t going for subtlety here (Coop would have to be a pretty poor agent not to notice something was seriously amiss with Leland’s behaviour, and not just because Ben has been arrested; “The law will handle this”), but the sheer mania on display in every cut between show Leland and his true self is riveting.
Agent Cooper: It’s a good idea to leave your troubles at home when driving.
The most engaging Leland moment, where the episode gets positively Hitchcockian in drawing out the suspense, seems him slaloming along the road while he singing Surrey With The Fringe On Top (his version is much better than Meg Ryan’s; Coop seems to be whistling it too). We learn Coop enjoys golf’s precision, when Leland offers to “show you my new clubs”.
There’s a real sense of the unpredictable here. Leland/Bob wouldn’t really brain Coop in broad daylight, with Harry sitting a few yards way, would he? It’s a deliciously demented scene, and in some ways it’s surprising they didn’t milk psychotic Leland for all he was worth for a few more episodes. The opening, where he is firing off golf balls all over the living room and Donna just responds with a “dopey, loveable old Leland” look is quite chilling.
Agent Cooper: In another time, in another culture, he may have been a seer, a shaman, a priest. In our world he‘s a shoe salesman and lives among the shelves.
On the other side of the nominal good/evil divide, Gerard is enlisted to seek out Bob. To this end, there’s a particularly amusing scene in which he sniffs out the possible infestation of Ben Horne by the discarnate force.
There’s something altogether winning about this odd juxtaposition of the fundamentally materialist (Ben) and the non-corporeal (Mike). It’s something the show could have done more with, particularly given how they really drop the ball with Ben in a few episodes time. As it is, the strange behaviour of Gerard, played off the understandably baffled reactions of Ben and Jerry, is very funny (“Will you tell this guy to stop staring at me like I’m a dog biscuit?”; “Clearly this man’s stairs do not reach the attic”).
Ben indulges in some positively Albert-esque slights of Harry (“Two-bit lumberjack”), but it’s Harry’s turn to kick back at Coop when the latter expresses doubt over Ben’s guilty. He’s “had enough of mumbo jumbo, dreams, visions, dwarfs, giants, Tibet, the rest of the hocus-pocus”. He wants hard evidence if he’s going to follow Coop’s flights of fantasy. Which rather backtracks on the guy announcing his debt to the strangeness of the woods. Coop concurs of course, ever magnanimous (“You’re right this is you’re back yard”).
Jerry: Ben, as you attorney, your friend, and your brother, I strongly suggest that you get yourself a better lawyer.
Jerry has some prize moments too, admitting he’s hopeless incapable of defending his brother while Coop points out his deficiencies (his licence was revoked in three states, he only passed the bar on his fourth attempt).
The remainder of the Ben business is decidedly less compelling. His arrested development features in the first (but definitely not the last, alas) childhood flashback, complete with little Ben and Jerry stand-ins. I guess this, like the later follow-up sequences, is intended to skirt a fine line between nostalgia and ridicule of the same. Mostly, it’s just annoying. Catherine also demands that Ben sign the Mill and Ghostwood Estates back over to her, with Pete cackling at Ben’s behind-bars downfall (“She set me up!”)
Gwen: God, how you must hate us white people after all we’ve done to you.
Hawk: Some of my best friends are white people.
Most of the rest of the episode’s threads are so-so at best, so it’s an indication of how diverting the Leland material that it gets as high a mark as it does. Leland/Bob cast a long shadow, even when we have to deal with the advent of Lucy’s annoying sister Gwen (Kathleen Wilhoite; think Jennifer Tilly annoying). They even rehearse the same Native American awareness-yet-ignorance displayed by Dick a few episodes back.
Norma’s mum (Jane Greer as Vivien Smythe Niles) is visiting too, and her new husband (James Booth as Ernie Niles). That the food critic plot is still festering is disappointing enough, but now there’s another tiresome tranche as we learn Hank and Ernie know each other from the slammer (“Ernie ‘the Professor’ Niles”). Vivien and Ernie met at Republican fund raiser.
In the category of plotlines that never take off, Bobby is planning to blackmail Ben into giving him a job (Bobby was more interesting on the rare occasions he was given nuance, rather than running through the go-to rapscallion bit). Pete also confesses his love of Josie to Harry and they agree that they have a bad feeling over her fate, given they were fed different lies about her cousin/ assistant’s identity.
Harry: It’s Maddy Ferguson.
So why the high rating? Well, Drive with a Dead Girl (impressive literalism there) is pregnant with truths about to be discovered, mysteries about to be solved. It ends on a loop of the opening of the pilot, with Maddy discovered wrapped in plastic. Coop’s in the middle of some cherry pie at the time, just to show the food fascinations haven’t been forgotten. There’s one more bout of the show holding its end up after this, before a rather sorry fall from grace.