The return of Twin Peaks is a lot to process. After each episode, Uproxx‘s Alan Sepinwall and Keith Phipps attempt to hash out what we all just watched.
Alan: Well, Keith, not much to analyze with this one, is there? Just a totally straightforward hour that advanced many of this season’s plotlines in equal measure, explained a lot of what we had seen previously, and was among the more conventional and coherent hours David Lynch has ever directed, right?
Alan: What? You didn’t love the moment when Good Coop finally shook off the Dougie persona and delivered a seven-minute monologue explaining how the two Lodges work and how he and Bad Coop can co-exist in this plane of reality? Or the well-oiled Twin Peaks sheriffs department quickly building a case against Richard Horne for the hit-and-run, arresting and successfully prosecuting him all within the space of the same hour?
Alan: Okay, fine. So where would you like to begin discussing an episode so weird and abstract, it made The Return‘s already-legendarily abstract third hour seem like an episode of NCIS: New Orleans in comparison?
Keith: Maybe the best way to start is by discussing the relatively normal (“normal”) first 20 minutes. Bad Coop has escaped from prison with Ray who has information he wants. Then, sensing an advantage and maybe hoping Bad Coop will feel some gratitude, he asks for money over the course of their long, tense drive through some abandoned backroads on their way to “The Farm.” (At this point, can we safely say that headlights cutting through an ominous, twisty, wooded landscape is Lynch’s signature shot, a la The Spielberg Face?) This turns into a face-off that ends badly for Bad Coop. He’s pumped full of lead and falls over. What an unexpected development!
Then the truly unexpected kicks with the arrival of what others are calling the Charred Men, so we may as well too. We saw one of these guys earlier in the season, but here they are en masse doing something to Bad Coop’s, freaking Ray out in the process, and somehow producing an image of Bob, as played by the late Frank Silva. It’s all dark and disturbing, a classic film noir scene that takes an unexpected detour into horror. Then “The” Nine Inch Nails plays a song at the road house.
And, again, this is the relatively normal part of the episode. If this were part of any previous installment, even one with the long, abstract stretches of Episode 3, it would count as a freaky, effective bit of filmmaking that pushed Bad Coop’s story along and offered a chance to theorize about the workings of the Black Lodge and its agents. (Can Bad Coop die? If so, does that upset the balance with his doppelgänger? Could this be the beginning of the end our Dougie? What happened to his body and why does it look so much like Cooper in FBI agent dress at the end?) But this wasn’t part of any previous installment. It was part of Episode 8, which is its own thing entirely, and one of the most thrilling, puzzling hours I’ve seen from either incarnation of the show. Was that your reaction as well? Or did this wander too far from your understanding of what the show is for your taste?
Alan: Well, there are two separate questions to answer here: 1) Did I like this episode? 2) Did I understand what happened in it? The answer to the second is an unequivocal “Heck no!” The answer to the first is much closer to “Heck yes!”
A lot of this was slow, and baffling — even the relatively straightforward part you described above was visually hard for me to follow, and at times I could barely make out anything that was on screen (if Bob’s image appeared, I couldn’t see it) because neither my TV nor my iPad could properly filter that much blackness (I switched halfway through, hoping in vain it would help) — and during the long kaleidoscopic stretch after the first atom bomb detonation, I joked on Twitter that this was Lynch meets Kubrick meets “Worker and Parasite.” You and I are going to need some time this morning to try to puzzle out what happened and why, and how — if at all — it relates to what’s happening in the 2017 portion of the story.
But holy cow, David Lynch, boys and girls.
When I was complaining about Dougie Jones a few weeks back, it was with the caveat that I didn’t mind if the show was slow and/or incomprehensible if it was providing me those periodic collages of sight and sound that only Lynch could create. A lot of the recent episodes lacked those. This was pretty much all that — what Showtime boss David Nevins must have had in mind when he described the new episode as the “pure heroin” version of Lynch — from start to finish. Even the performance by “The” Nine Inch Nails was bizarre in the context of the hour — not just that Trent Reznor and friends would be playing a roadhouse in nowhereswville, Washington, but that it happened in the middle of the episode, and that we heard virtually all of “She’s Gone Away” as an overture for all the hallucinatory visions to follow.
So the short version is, I barely have any idea what I watched last night, and I doubt I would have the patience for something like that every week — for that reason, I’m even more grateful we got such a straightforward and expository hour last time out — but that was like nothing else I’d seen on TV before, and I’m willing to indulge Lynch now and again if he can give me an image like that slow push into the expanding mushroom cloud, or the creepy frog/bug thing that crawled into the poor girl’s mouth, or a sound as nightmare-inducing as the crunching of the skulls as the Woodsman killed the radio station receptionist and DJ.
Keith, you’re more of a Peaks/Lynch scholar than I am. Where should we begin in terms of trying to figure out what this meant and how it connects to the modern story?
Keith: I’ve said some version of this before, but I think it’s more fruitful to approach Twin Peaks as a piece of personal expression than a coherent system to be decoded. The latter might be possible, especially when it’s all through and we’ve seen every episode. One of our Twitter followers suggested that the building on the cliff populated by the Giant (or “? ? ? ? ?”, if we want to follow the credits) and the woman listening to jazz might be our first glimpse of the White Lodge, a polar opposite of the Black Lodge populated by benevolent supernatural forces. Hence, the creation of Laura Palmer could be a counter to the creation of Bob, and so on and so forth.
And that’s fine. It’s useful to think about it that way, so long as you don’t get too bogged down in the metaphysical mechanics of it all, which I’m not sure are consistent. More fruitful, I think, is too pull back and look at it as an attempt to grapple with some big questions, particularly the presence of evil in the midst of a world filled with beauty, as asked by someone born in a particular time and place, namely post-war America at the dawn of the atomic age. (David Lynch: born January 20, 1946.) So, as part of a career steeped in images of the ’50s America made possible by the atom bomb, we get a long sequence visiting that moment as part of some kind of creation myth.
Then we get another long sequence in which two sweet, inexperienced teens go on an awkward date so wholesome Norman Rockwell could have painted it, if he worked in black and white and produced images filled with troubling shadows. But that nice moment takes a turn when, in another shift to horror, the episode starts to resemble a ’50s monster movie as their small, Southwestern town gets overrun by evil beings led by the Woodsman, who I kept thinking looked like a sinister, hobo version of Abraham Lincoln. (Then, when you shared with me that the actor playing him, Robert Broski, has mostly made a career of playing Lincoln, I started to wonder if that resemblance wasn’t more intentional than I’d thought.) They threaten the residents but their real target is the airwaves. In an era of mass communication, evil has adapted to work in the media that reaches the masses. Fade out on The Platters. Fade in on some dark incantation about waters and wells. And there are bugs. We haven’t gotten to the bugs yet.
Is this helping at all? It was a wild hour. Maybe we should talk about the bugs. What did you think of those bugs, Alan?
Alan: I may not be able to eat anything for a month thanks to those bugs, Keith. Good Lord.
I assume the building where the Giant and the jazz fan (credited as “Senorita Dido,” and played by Joy Nash) is the same one Good Coop briefly visited at the start of the third episode, since both overlook the same purple-tinged ocean, and both are filled with those bizarre metal constructs that look like a cross between a church bell and a space capsule. I can totally see Lynch looking on that first atom bomb detonation as the birth of true evil in the world — or, at least, a moment so evil it could let an entity like Bob into the world. (Though, again, it was hard to make out that that was Bob’s image floating in the discharge from that humanoid entity floating in the void. Some of this is the show working around the death of Frank Silva, but I suspect some is Lynch editing and screening this all on equipment much higher-tech than what his audience has access to, especially when cable/streaming compression is factored in; this will probably be a very different show on Blu-ray.) Our pal Todd VanDerWerff compared the girl hearing the Woodsman’s broadcast, then being invaded by the bug, to a very dark retelling of the story of Mary learning she will give birth to Jesus. Might this be Leland Palmer’s mother? The timeline’s not quite right (Ray Wise was born about a decade earlier), but I fear she’s being used to bring something dark into the world, at the same moment that the Giant and Senorita Dido have teamed up to create something good in Laura herself.
It was also interesting to compare the images of people listening to the Woodsman’s broadcast to the similar sequence of Nadine and the others enjoying Dr. Jacoby’s rant a few weeks back. Lynch and Frost attempted to parlay the brief success of Twin Peaks into another ABC show, On the Air, a comedy about the often-disastrous production of a live variety show on a ’50s TV station. The immediacy, influence, and danger of mass media is an interest of both of theirs, and the idea that the Woodsman’s voice would be enough to knock out everyone hearing it so the local monsters could have their way with the townsfolk was unsettling, to say the least.
So why does David Lynch fear hoboes so much, Keith? And what on earth are we to make of the post-nuke segment set outside the gas station and convenience store?
Keith: To touch on an issue you raised briefly above, each week this show serves as a reminder that streaming and broadcast have some serious limitations. Neither can seemingly handle the deep blacks of the images. I wish it was shipped to me on Blu-ray each week. (This is part of why I keep one foot planted in the world of physical media even as streaming becomes the way we watch most everything.) But I don’t want to get too wonky when there’s other stuff to talk about.
At the risk of doing exactly what I said I wanted to avoid, you’ll recall that the convenience store, particularly, the room above the convenience store, was established as a location where Black Lodge spirits convene in Fire Walk With Me. I think we’re getting an outside shot of that, though what it means beyond that, I’d be hesitant to speculate, beyond noting that it’s an image that helps spur The Giant and Senorita Dido into action. As for why Lynch fears hoboes, I’d say it probably comes from viewing them less as victims of circumstance, bad luck, and addiction (how people actually end up in that situation) than people outside the law and at odds with everything neat and picket fence-y in an idealized version of god-fearing small-town America. If you pick at it too much, you’ll probably find a gross oversimplification that puts nice, middle-class, mostly white people on the side of good and the underclass and those outside of those demographics on the side of evil. (See also Bob and much of the rest of the town of Twin Peaks, the horrible thing behind Winkie’s in Mulholland Dr., Frank and his friends in Blue Velvet, etc. But it’s all complicated by the portrayal of the homeless in Inland Empire and what’s going on in Lost Highway and Wild At Heart doesn’t really fit the pattern. Anyway…) But I’ll let someone else do that picking. I’m too overwhelmed by this episode to do that now.
Any thoughts how this will fit into the big picture? Do you expect the show to pick up the narrative when it returns in two weeks? And what if it’s all this all the time for the remainder of this run?
Alan: Lynch might do well to follow the advice the studio engineer gives Glen Hansard and friends in Once when he tells them to listen to the song on the worst sound system they can find (a car’s tape deck) just to be sure the music sounds okay in that setting.
As to where this fits? That would first require me to fully understand what I saw last night. But I’m just as prepared for none of this beyond the Ray/Bad Coop scene to ever be referenced again as I am for the season to spend another hour or three back in the 1950s as we find out what happens to the girl post-ingestion of the frog/bug. (Still feeling sick just typing those words, dammit.) But despite most of the hour being only vaguely decipherable, this actually winds up running counter to Lynch’s “18-hour movie” pronouncements. This all works — ghost hoboes in both 2017 and 1956, atom bombs and floating Giants and lucky pennies and crushed skulls and sleeping girls being invaded by otherworldly creatures — precisely because Lynch and Frost threw it into the same hour together, rather than as a collection of 12-minute interludes scattered across a handful of episodes toggling back and forth between Vegas and Twin Peaks. Will I be satisfied when we finish the 18th and final hour? I have no idea, but I know I won’t soon forget this episode of it, and how I was simultaneously baffled and riveted by it.
Keith: Nor I. I’ll follow this show wherever it goes, and this was further confirmation that it’s not afraid to head into uncharted territory.