We are living in a dark, dark age.
[Note: This post contains spoilers.]
Twin Peaks: The Return // Part 6 // Original Air Date June 11, 2017 // Written by Mark Frost and David Lynch // Directed by David Lynch
Appreciating the works of David Lynch always demands a bit of patience. Because the filmmaker often works by intuition rather than logic—befitting a man who is a lifelong practitioner of transcendental meditation—attempts to decipher Lynch’s output according to rational investigative methods inevitably run headlong into something that doesn't make any goddamn sense. Sometimes it’s an actual logical contradiction within the story’s plot, but more often it’s a pointedly disconnected cutaway, a vivid but baffling design detail, or a moment (or whole sequence) that seems plucked from a surreal nightmare. Lynch frequently muddies the waters even further by daubing his filmic landscapes with conspicuous numbers, symbols, and allusions that sure seem like they must be significant.
As a result, the viewer can find themselves as frustrated as Dougie Jones’ boss Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray) in Part 6 of Twin Peaks: The Return. The insurance executive flips in growing annoyance through a stack of case files covered in Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachan) outwardly incoherent scribbles, complaining “How am I going to make any sense of this?” Like Bushnell, the viewer may eventually stumble onto the meaning behind a particular puzzle piece if it is studied long enough. However, not all answers can be riddled out through logical lines of reasoning. (Relatedly, not everything that is cryptic is necessarily a code.) The source of “Dougie’s” doodles underlines this admonition: While Bushnell eventually discerns the pattern that Cooper has highlighted, the brain-addled FBI agent did not deduce them through rational study, but in fact traced them according to the supernatural direction of flickering green lights.
While this “storytelling of the subconscious” has long been a feature of Lynch’s work, he rarely (if ever) has spelled out his artistic approach within the text of a film or show, preferring to allow the strangeness to speak for itself. One of the uncanny thrills about the new Twin Peaks—and about Part 6 in particular—is how the show explicitly and repeatedly explains to the viewer how to watch a David Lynch show. In Part 6, this is plainly evident not only in Bushnell’s reaction to Cooper’s pencil scratches, but in Deputy Chief Hawk’s (Michael Horse) retrieval of a clue that has improbably been hidden inside a toilet stall door.
There is a rational component to Hawk’s discovery, in that once he notices the door’s missing bolts and bent panel, the lawman doggedly sets about prying it open. However, the path that leads to that discovery is a meandering, instinctive one: Hawk accidentally drops a coin, which rolls under a toilet stall; he retrieves the coin and sees that it is an “Indian head” nickel, bringing to mind the Log Lady’s message from Part 1; he takes a moment to look around the toilet stall; he notices the stall’s manufacturer (Nez Perce) and Indian head logo; and finally he looks up and notices the door’s damaged corner. Similarly, a humble receptiveness to the “fuzzy logic” of intuition can enhance the viewer’s ability to discern meaning in the superficially inscrutable. Lynch’s distinctive approach to cinema reflects the unruly reality of the human mind, burbling as it is with a witch’s brew of perception, reason, emotions, memories, dreams, delusions, and enigmatic twitches. (The location of Hawk’s moment of clarity is drolly appropriate: For what is a restroom if not a sanctuary of meditation?)
There are several sequences in this episode that are purposely patience-testing: Dougie’s ham-fisted tracing, Bushnell’s peevish review of the files, and Hawk’s sleuthing all roll on in relative silence for far longer than another show would likely permit. The potentially significant events that flow from these moments of quiet study illustrate that the universe must be allowed the breathing room to reveal itself in due time. In this, Carl Rodd (Harry Dean Stanton) is partly a proxy for the viewer. He has gone into town for a cup of Double R coffee every morning for what is presumably many years, and nothing noteworthy has ever happened. However, on the particular morning featured in this episode, as Carl is sitting in his usual spot, a horrifying crime is committed. In its aftermath, the elderly man witnesses something astonishing, a sight that seems to reveal the periphery of another world. Sometimes, Lynch observes, we must wait and wait and wait for the revelation, and then wait some more.
Perhaps to counter-balance its more deliberative sequences—not to mention the ongoing protracted absurdity of Cooper’s fumblings—Part 6 features some of the most shocking and visceral moments of violence in the series thus far. The Return hasn’t exactly been shy about serving up scenes of brutality, from Mr. C’s cold-blooded murder of Darya to the merciless beating inflicted on a casino pit boss. However Part 6’s bloodiest moments possess a strain of vicious, intrusive horror that is only marginally mitigated by the episode’s more hopeful thematic gestures. It’s cruel stuff, but also consistent with the overall arc of this season’s first third, which has gradually pulled back the curtain on a world of vast, pitiless evil.
Some of that malevolence is all too banal, as epitomized by a coked-up little sociopath like Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) running over a child (Hunter Sanchez) with his truck merely because the traffic at a four-way stop isn’t moving fast enough for his taste. Other aspects of it are outlandish yet inexorable, like the grisly rampage of icepick-wielding assassin Ike “The Spike” (Christophe Zajac-Denek) through the office of Lorraine (Tammie Baird), whose doom was sealed when her minions bungled the contract killing on Dougie. It’s a tough call as to which death is harder to watch. The portentous editing leading up to the hit-and-run creates an unmistakable sensation that something awful is about to occur, but the bluntness of Richard’s truck smashing into the little boy without even slowing is still like a punch to the sternum. The mother’s (Lisa Coronado) bloodcurdling wailing only exacerbates the lingering blow. Still, there’s a slasher movie savagery in the left-field way that the Spike barges in and stabs his way through the office, and particularly in the animalistic howls he unleashes as he gratuitously grinds his weapon of choice into Lorraine’s torso.
Still other evils are (for now) relatively opaque, like the menacing drug lord Red (Balthazar Getty), who gets under Richard’s skin with explicit threats, but also with flurries of pantomimed punches, ominous non-sequiturs, and a trivial but baffling magic trick with a dime. Red is just one of several figures in The Return that hail from the twilit criminal underbelly of America. Lynch has long exhibited a fascination with the concept of an illicit, perverse world lurking just out of sight, going back to Blue Velvet with its opening scene of beetles writhing beneath a suburban lawn. The Return, however, is particularly attuned to the paranoid noir fantasies that propel Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. Namely, the notion that a sinister network is buzzing beneath society’s glossy surface; a de facto secret society of mobsters, hitmen, dealers, leg breakers, bagmen, pimps, prostitutes, pornographers, bookies, and myriad underlings.
Echoing MD, with its cryptic daisy-chain phone calls and Hollywood conspiracies, Part 6 provides vivid glimpses of this underworld and its system of mysterious envelopes and color-coded computer messages. This is consistent with the strange network of calls, texts, passwords, and vanishing black boxes that this season has already revealed. Ultimately, the specifics matter less than the overall impression of a cross-country network of evildoers with their own well-developed systems for conducting their disreputable business.
This sophistication highlights that the malign forces arrayed against the mentally hobbled Cooper are formidable. Every episode further heightens the mortal necessity that the FBI agent return to his full capacities as soon as possible, given the number of parties that appear to want him (or at least Dougie) dead. However, one gets the sense that Frost and Lynch are extending Cooper’s awakening partly out of mischievous obstinacy. Undoubtedly, the typical Twin Peaks viewer desperately wishes to see the return of the old Cooper, but that very need seems to have inspired the creators to withhold it for as long as possible, if only to defiantly flout audience expectations. (Frustrated viewers should recall that this sort of nasty cheek is perfectly consistent with a show that delivered the metaphorical middle finger that is “How’s Annie?”)
Regardless, Kyle MacLachlan continues to lend the diminished Cooper an air of melancholy amid all the dazed parroting and plodding. One of Part 6’s most unexpectedly sorrowful grace notes is the wistful way that Cooper reaches out to touch a police officer’s badge. There are stirrings of memory there, but such recollections are still surfacing with almost agonizing sluggishness. Nonetheless, the trajectory of the show’s narrative strands suggest that an upheaval of some kind is imminent, given that both the police and the Spike will be converging on Dougie just as the insurance scam subplot is on the verge of spilling out into the open. In his current state, Cooper is no position to defend himself, but his awestruck mimicry of the pose on Bushnell’s boxing poster foreshadows the clash that is looming.
Some miscellaneous observations:
- Cooper’s semi-catatonic state brings to mind the “King in the Mountain” motif that recurs in mythology. In such scenes, a legendary monarch or hero lies slumbering in a hidden underground chamber or hollow. In the English-speaking world, this device's most prominent appearance is in Arthurian legend. Stories assert that King Arthur is not dead but merely deep in an enchanted sleep beneath the Isle of Avalon, where his knights and Excalibur also rest. In some tellings this slumber is linked to the messianic aspects of late Arthuriana: When Britain’s need is greatest, Arthur will awaken to right all the wrongs that have befallen his kingdom in his absence. Notably, Dougie Jones’ neighborhood is rife with Arthurian names: his house is on Lancelot Court near Merlin’s Market, and in Part 6 Janey-E (Naomi Watts) meets the bookie’s bagmen in the park at Guinevere and Merlin.
- It’s easy to miss, but an establishing shot indicates that the meeting between Richard and Red occurs at the Packard Sawmill, or what remains of it. This is foreshadowed by the book that Sonny-Jim (Pierce Gagnon) is reading in bed: an early Hardy Boys Mystery titled The Secret of the Old Mill.
- Red’s trick with the flipped dime recalls the magic of Mrs. Tremond’s tuxedo-clad grandson, seen briefly in Season 2 and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (“Sometimes things can happen just like this,” the boy memorably observed with a snap of his fingers). The drug lord’s seemingly incongruous lines about The King and I and his liver problem constitute an oblique reference to Gertrude Lawrence, who played Anna in the original 1951 Broadway production of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical. Lawrence won a Best Actress Tony for the role, but suddenly died of liver cancer a year and a half into the hit show’s lengthy initial run. Strangely, Red specifically asks Richard if he has seen the film version of The King and I—presumably the famous 1956 adaptation of the musical, which obviously did not star Lawrence (who was dead) but Deborah Kerr.
- Las Vegas executive Duncan Todd (Patrick Fischler) retrieves the envelope with the black dot from a safe, but does not open it. In fact, he seems downright unsettled by the thing, going so far as to touch it only with a handkerchief. Apart from whatever Todd knows about the contents of the envelope, there is a literary basis for his anxiety: In Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, the black spot functions as a wordless signal of guilt and judgment when it is presented to a pirate. Meanwhile, the Spike’s defacing of Lorraine and Dougie’s photographs with his ice pick resembles the casting of a curse in a number of folk magic traditions.
- The Spike’s die-rolling exercise is nearly identical to behavior exhibited by Laura Means in "The Fourth Horseman," the Season 2 finale of Millennium. In what was the most radical sequence in that show’s three-year run, Means repeatedly rolls a pair of dice and records the result, her sanity gradually splintering as her apocalyptic hallucinations unfold to the tune of Patti Smith’s “Land” —which is presented in its 9 minute, 26 second entirety. Appropriately enough, it was the original Twin Peaks which not only paved the way for unconventional hour-long dramas like Millennium, but which specifically gave showrunners the courage to dabble in such experimental sequences.
- Carl Rodd—last seen as the manager of the Fat Trout Trailer Park in Deer Creek, Oregon in Fire Walk with Me—evidently moved to Twin Peaks at some point in the past 25 years and established an identically-named trailer park. The piece of cardboard scrawled with “NEW” and duct taped to the park’s entrance sign is the only obvious indication that anything has changed for Carl. (Presumably, he still doesn’t like to be awakened before 9 a.m.) His observation of an ephemeral form rising from the hit-and-run victim is the first instance in which he has exhibited an explicit sensitivity to the paranormal, but he was always a little bit “off”. His mutterings to FBI Agent Chester Desmond seem more meaningful in retrospect: "I've already gone places. I just want to stay where I am." Like Richard Horne, Carl also seems to perceive the amplified electric crackling in the town's overhead power lines and transformers.
- The hit-and-run is foreshadowed in several ways, but the subtlest and most darkly ironic is the preceding dialog at the Double RR Diner. Schoolteacher and cherry pie aficionado Miriam (newcomer Sarah Jean Long) gushes to waitresses Heidi (Andrea Hays) and Shelly (Mädchen Amick) about her new crop of students, who are "so cute" this year, and then gets an extra coffee to go for "one of the moms." Shortly after this exchange, Carl watches as the doomed child and his mother wordlessly joke around in some sort of private game of tag.
- Although we don’t deserve her, we should all be so lucky as to have a fearless, no-nonsense woman like Janey-E cleaning up our messes. The bagman’s description of her—“tough dame”—is accurate, if a touch anachronistic. (Who says ‘dame’ anymore?) Bonus: The odd tics in Janey-E’s otherwise vanilla-straight demeanor, such as her referring to 12:30 p.m. as “noon-thirty” and her ass-backwards stacking of the dirty dishes from her and Dougie’s late-night sandwiches.
- Lynch isn't exactly known for his fan service inclinations, but he and Frost do deliver a treat in this episode with the appearance of Diane Evans (Laura Dern), Cooper's long-unseen assistant and the presumed recipient of the FBI agent's seemingly endless audio journal tapes. Dern is delicious casting, but the true pleasure here is seeing how stylish and perfectly poised the famous Diane is in person: the pale and immaculate blunt bob haircut (or wig); the richly embroidered cocktail dress; the coordinated bracelets and multi-hued nail polish; and the martini, half-finished and olive-less. The bar where Albert (Micguel Ferrer) finds Diane is named Max Von's, which recalls prolific Swedish actor Max Von Sydow. Best known internationally for his collaborations with director and fellow Swede Ingmar Bergman, Von Sydow famously portrayed a knight who matches wits with the literal Grim Reaper in Bergman's The Seventh Seal, a fitting allusion in an episode that is thick with death.
- Every speck of evidence accumulated to date reinforces the impression that Deputy Chad Broxford (John Pirruccello) is a gigantic, raging asshole, but his mockery of a PTSD-afflicted veteran who committed suicide is downright Trumpian in its jaw-dropping heartlessness. Similarly, by the end of Part 6, it’s apparent that Richard Horne is not only a cowardly, unbalanced misogynist and murderer, but also a stone-cold idiot who doesn’t understand how forensics work.
- Sitings: Both Balthazar Getty and Laura Dern are, of course, veterans of Lynch World, the former in Lost Highway and the latter in Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, and Inland Empire. Jeremy Davies portrays Jimmy, one of the bagman who agrees to meet with Janey-E. (Specifically, the one with the spectacularly unruly comb-over mullet.) Davies’s breakout was in David O Russell’s feature debut Spanking the Monkey, and he’s since become a familiar face in films by marquee directors (including Steven Spielberg and Werner Herzog) and in recurring roles on shows such as Lost and Justified.