Starting position’s more comfortable.
[Note: This post contains spoilers.]
Twin Peaks: The Return // Part 13 // Original Air Date August 6, 2017 // Written by Mark Frost and David Lynch // Directed by David Lynch
For long-time Twin Peaks devotees, the arrival of a new season after a hiatus of over 25 years evoked understandable excitement, but also a gnawing anxiety. The years spent revisiting and scrutinizing the original series had naturally created a sense of fond attachment to Mark Frost and David Lynch’s creation, warts and all. However, anyone who has cultivated an admiration for Lynch’s work can acknowledge that much of its power lies in its ability to disrupt the viewer’s comfort zones. The Return therefore elicits two opposing reactions in the Twin Peaks enthusiast: a nostalgic longing for everything to be exactly as they remember it; and a rebellious glee at the prospect of Lynch figuratively burning his most recognizable creation to the ground. Like Audrey in Part 13, the viewer is ensnared by competing impulses: “I want to stay and I want to go.”
At the most reductive plot level, The Return concerns Dale Cooper’s journey back to old self and to the town of Twin Peaks, but the new series is also broadly about the emotional turmoil involved in revisiting anything that elicits strong emotions. It’s about running into an old friend or lover, visiting a childhood home, or witnessing the revival of a favorite television show. There is comfort in familiarity, but because everything changes with time, such reunions also carry a risk of alienation and disappointment. Part 13 acknowledges the joy that reconnecting with history can elicit, but it also serves as a warning about the perils of figuratively traveling back in time. Frost and Lynch suggest that dwelling excessively on the past—or worse, trying to recapture or recreate it—can lead to paralysis and purgatory. In this, the show aligns itself with the outlook of Fred Madison from Lynch’s Lost Highway, who explains that he prefers to leave the past as remembers it, rather than how it actually happened.
In the town of Twin Peaks, many characters are stuck repeating the same mistakes they’ve always made, or vainly striving to reclaim something they lost long ago. It’s a theme that the show has often highlighted in recent episodes, but it’s never felt as profoundly sad as it does in Part 13. When Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) drops by the Double R for dinner, rather transparently hoping to run into his ex-wife Shelly (Mädchen Amick), it’s a bittersweet moment, but it one that also carries the sour tang of irony. Bobby has become a better person in the past 25 years, but in shedding the juvenile, hot-headed aspects of his personality, he’s lost the bad boy erotic heat that caught Shelly’s eyes so long ago. He’s turned into his generation’s Ed Hurley (Everett McGill), who is still pining for high school sweetheart Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton). Ed and Norma remain friendly, but the romantic happiness they briefly grasped at the end of Season 2 is evidently long gone. As Ed explains to Bobby with unintentional frankness, “Nothing happening here.”
Norma, for her part, is still drawn to assertive men with big schemes, although she’s traded felonious sociopaths like her ex-husband Hank for the MBA polish of Walter Lawford (Grant Goodeve), a buzzword-spouting entrepreneur who’s helped her franchise the Double R name and its celebrated pies. Lynch frames Walter such that Ed is visible in the background, slightly out of focus but painfully attentive to the conversation between Norma and her new business and romantic partner. Underlining the point with aching melancholy, Part 13 concludes with a ponderous scene of Ed eating Double R takeout in his gas station, silently sipping soup and reflecting on regrets as cars pass in the night.
Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) continues to wallow (perhaps justifiably) in alcohol and depression, as a 15-second clip of a vintage boxing match plays on a loop on her enormous television. “Now it’s a boxing match!,” the announcer enthuses as the action in the ring escalates, but after the fifth or sixth repetition, the exclamation has become thoroughly lifeless and enervating, amplifying this deliberately sluggish sequence’s air of entrapment. Conversely, there’s a genuine sweetness in the scene where Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie) and Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) reconnect after seven years, even if both characters aren’t exactly well-balanced individuals. It’s one of Jacoby’s golden shovels that catches the doctor’s eye, prompting him to drop by Nadine's drape runner store. This is consistent with The Return’s assertion that emotions can be valid even when they are built on a foundation of illusion and falsehood.
That theme is also evident in the episode’s penultimate scene at the roadhouse, wherein Shelly’s young friend Renee (Jessica Szohr) is rendered misty-eyed by James Hurley’s (James Marshall) performance. There’s a definite meta-textual aspect to this sequence, in that James’ falsetto rendition of “Just You” in Episode 2 of Season 2—with Donna Hayward and Maggie Ferguson on backup—remains one of the original series’ most divisive moments. Whether the old-school Twin Peaks fan finds James’ original performance touching, cheesy, or utterly intolerable, Lynch’s recreation of it here constitutes yet another instance of the new series’ amiable “Fuck You” gestures. It also underlines the disorienting sensation that Twin Peaks has been preserved under glass for two and a half decades, but with enough telltale differences to render it all the more uncanny.
The most significant and easily overlooked aspect of this scene, however, is the presence of Renee. The actress who portrays her is, not incidentally, at least a decade too young to have experienced the original Twin Peaks phenomenon firsthand. That Lynch shows her character reacting with authentic and unabashed sentiment to James’ performance further emphasizes The Return’s insistence on the subjectivity of emotional experience. This isn’t like Shelly observing that, notwithstanding some fans’ disdain for the character, “James was always cool.” It’s a new character, played by an actress who was six years old when Twin Peaks premiered, being moved by a performance that does not carry the same nostalgic baggage as it does for the viewer. For every middle-aged Peaks aficionado who gasps or groans at those first bars of “Just You,” there is a newcomer who is experiencing it for the first time, and their response (whether touched, amused, or repulsed) is no less real.
Concluding a plot point from a few episodes past, the Detectives Fusco (David Koechner, Eric Edelstein, and Larry Clarke) learn that Dougie Jones’ fingerprints match an escape federal convict and a missing FBI agent, but chalk this up to a bureaucratic error. Accordingly, Dougie’s prints go into the trashcan, and the Las Vegas investigation—which briefly seemed so promising—loops back to square one. This facepalm-worthy moment of missed opportunity dovetails with the notion that while it might be comforting to revisit (or stubbornly remain) in the past, it’s not always fruitful, and can even be counter-productive. This theme is echoed in the Tarantino-esque exchange between Hutch (Time Roth) and Chantel (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who conflate the drug abstinence of contemporary Mormons with the polygamous practices of their church’s past.
Part 13’s thematic preoccupations find their most potent expression in the episode’s standout sequence, in which Mr C. (Kyle MacLachlan) eliminates the traitorous Ray (George Griffith) by arm-wrestling his way into the leadership of a criminal gang. There is an undeniably amusing element to this ridiculous showdown, evoking the campy 1987 Sylvester Stallone vehicle Over the Top. Mr. C even calls out the stupidity of the gang’s rites by mocking it as “nursery school” nonsense. The lead-up to Mr. C’s match with the group’s massive champion, Renzo (Derek Mears), has a sports flick / crime thriller vibe reminiscent of any number of direct-to-VHS features about underground martial arts tournaments. (This episode’s funniest line might be Frank Collison’s consciously stilted delivery of “Commence... arm wrestle!”) In this case, the tone is given a hint of added absurdity by the ludicrous floor-to-ceiling video monitor in the gang’s austere warehouse lair ("the Farm"), and by a tweedy accountant fellow (Christopher Durbin Noll) who seems out-of-place among outlaw biker types but still manages to be coldly menacing.
When the contest commences, this passage takes on the shading of a horror film, with the snapped forearm from David Cronenberg’s The Fly leaping to mind, to nauseating effect. Mr. C’s eerily composed demeanor is justified when it quickly becomes apparent that—by dint of the Lodge’s power—he can beat Renzo without breaking a sweat. Rather than end the match quickly, however, Mr. C toys with his opponent, repeatedly and effortlessly returning their arms to an upright stance while Renzo strains, purple-faced and trembling. “Starting position’s more comfortable,” Mr. C observes with just the barest hint of ridicule, as though giving voice to Frost and Lynch’s disparagement of Twin Peaks nostalgia. Indeed, Mr. C’s stony cruelty in this scene has a vividly metaphorical dimension, in that it echoes the way that the viewer has been tugged this way and that by the new series. David Lynch is in complete control, and his whims dictate whether the viewer will experience agony or respite. Although the show’s periodic check-ins with old friends in Twin Peaks have the soothing quality of the familiar, that comfort is undercut by the changes that time has wrought, and by the anticipation of the suffering yet to come.
Part 13 adds an additional twist to this ambivalent depiction of reunion and relapse by heightening the long-simmering suggestion that Twin Peaks is experiencing a temporal scrambling. In some instances, this is hinted at through design choices in scenes that have little to do with the town of Twin Peaks. Examples include the discordant, arrhythmic conga music that accompanies the Mitchum brothers’ (James Belushi and David Koechner) celebratory arrival at Lucky 7 Insurance, or the mindless way that Sonny-Jim Jones (Pierce Gagnon) repeatedly traces the same path through his gaudy new gym set.
However, the scenes in Twin Peaks itself are where The Return exhibits its most explicit indications of temporal weirdness. Numerous references to specific dates and incidents have previously suggested that these Twin Peaks passages are being presented out of order, and that they may be unfolding either well before or after the events in Las Vegas, South Dakota, and elsewhere. Part 13 is the point at which these apparent discrepancies seem to reach a critical mass. What previously might have been dismissed as honest continuity errors have begun to resemble deliberate monkeying with the show’s timeline. For example, Bobby’s conversation with Ed and Norma at the Double R appears to occur the evening following the discovery of Major Briggs’ secret message in Part 9, but before Becky Briggs’ (Amanda Seyfried) jealous rampage from Part 12.
Lynch is not a filmmaker who typically indulges in this sort of Westworld-style narrative trickery, but he does enjoy violating the rules of the medium, and there aren’t rules much more inviolate than the presumption that scenes edited to adjoin one another are happening roughly concurrently. Yet Part 13 also offers signs that this chronological puzzle is more than a strictly formal choice on the part of the director. The old boxing footage that Sarah Palmer listlessly watches emits a burst of audio static when it loops back on itself, evoking the electrical phenomena associated with BOB and the Black Lodge. Furthermore, an eagle-eyed viewer on Reddit noticed that the episode’s final scene contains a subtle tidbit of strangeness: As Ed stares out the window of his gas station, his reflection in the glass “glitches” as though experiencing a temporal hiccup. It’s an almost subliminal detail, but nonetheless unsettling. Ed, for his part, appears to notice this anomaly, and it’s as much this as thoughts of Norma that provokes his disconcerted brooding as the episode’s end credits roll. Something is dreadfully wrong in Twin Peaks, on a level that goes beyond the banal miseries and supernatural evils that have plagued it before. It’s as though reality itself is beginning to break down.
Some miscellaneous observations:
- Beyond Mr. C’s revenge and Anthony Sinclair’s (Tom Sizemore’s) tearful change of heart, Part 13 advances the series’ myriad subplots with typically tiny nudges. However, the episode does establish a potentially significant connection between two storylines that have remained relatively segregated until now. While Mr. C’s unseemly dealings don’t seem to have much to do with town of Twin Peaks, Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) is shown to be hiding out at the Farm. This startling revelation provides a link between Twin Peaks’ narcotics underworld and the far-flung criminal circles in which Mr. C prowls, although its implications regarding Richard’s suspected parentage are still ambiguous.
- Walter’s discussion with Norma about her flagship diner’s under-performance and potential changes to her pie recipes is drolly suggestive of the arguments one imagines Frost and Lynch might have had with ABC executives about the direction of Twin Peaks once upon a time. “Norma you're a real artist, but love doesn't always turn a profit… It’s just about tweaking the formula to insure consistency and profitability.”
- Sonny-Jim’s backyard play set is a damn peculiar work of design, from its illuminated circus midway arch to its prison yard spotlight. (The appearance of a spotlight, it should be remembered, typically coincided with BOB’s acts of violence on the original series.) The truly striking detail, however, is the relentless music box tinkling of the most famous motif from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The ballet’s plot has obvious parallels with Twin Peaks, featuring as it does supernatural doubles, wicked curses, and a warlock who assumes the form of an owl. Just as suggestive, however, is the work’s role in the political culture of the Soviet Union. Filmed productions of the ballet were often broadcast on television during periods of official mourning, and eventually during times of political turmoil as well. An endless loop of Swan Lake was memorably shown on state-controlled television while the failed 1991 anti-Gorbachev “Bathhouse Plot” unfolded—coincidentally, just two months after the final episode of the original Twin Peaks aired in the U.S.
- Audrey’s description of her uncanny, anxious sensation suggests the episodes of de-realization that can affect individuals with epilepsy, migraines, or mental illnesses. British author Simon Winchester wrote vividly and candidly about his struggles with such dissociative attacks of jamais vu (the complement of déjà vu) in his memoir The Man with the Electrified Brain. Charlie’s obliquely threatening response to Audrey’s near-hysterical state—“Do I have to end your story too?”—seems designed to exacerbate rather than soothe the unreal sensation his wife is experiencing. This and other peculiar aspects of their interaction lend it the tone of a psychiatric therapy session rather than a domestic quarrel, stoking suspicions that Audrey’s subplot is not all it appears to be.
Interestingly, Audrey apprehensively observes that “It’s like Ghostwood here.” Presumably, this is a reference to the national forest near Twin Peaks, not the scrapped country club development her father once envisioned for the area. Ghostwood, it should be remembered, includes key mythos locations such as Owl Cave and Glastonbury Grove, indicating that Audrey has some peripheral awareness of the reality-warping character of these Lodge-associated locales.
- Even when he’s playing sad sacks and burnouts, Tom Sizemore almost always brings an air of tightly-wound physical menace to his characters. Accordingly, it’s unexpected and a little amusing to witness his portrayal of Anthony in this episode, where he grovels and blubbers like a guilty school boy. His confession regarding his crooked insurance schemes and attempted murder of Dougie plays like a more comedic version of Matthew Lillard’s hysterics from a few episodes ago.
- Sightings: Hulking arm wrestling champion Renzo is portrayed by Derek Mears, a prolific actor and stuntman whose most conspicuous claim to fame is playing rebooted iconic movie monsters like the Predator (2010’s Predators) and Jason Voorhees (2009’s Friday the 13th). Frank Collison, who appears as Renzo’s lieutenant Muddy, is a long-time character actor most familiar as telegraph operator Horace on the long-running Western Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Veteran film and television performer John Savage portrays Anthony’s contact in the Las Vegas police, Detective Clark. Savage is probably best known for his roles in The Deer Hunter, The Godfather: Part III, and The Thin Red Line, as well as on Jessica Alba’s breakout series Dark Angel and the period supernatural drama Carnivàle. Norma’s partner-slash-boyfriend Walter is portrayed by Grant Goodeve, whose first major role was on the popular Dick Van Patten sitcom Eight Is Enough, and thereafter became a ubiquitous television presence from the 1980s into the 2000s. Jessica Szohr, who plays James-adoring roadhouse patron Renee, is most recognizable for her long-running role on the New York WASP soap Gossip Girl.