Is it about the bunny?
[Note: This post contains spoilers.]
Twin Peaks: The Return // Part 3 // Original Air Date May 28, 2017 // Written by Mark Frost and David Lynch // Directed by David Lynch
As a showcase for the titular town, the third episode of Twin Peaks: The Return is inarguably weak tea. Writers Mark Frost and David Lynch only provide one substantive peek at Twin Peaks, Washington, in a scene in which Hawk (Michael Horse), Andy (Harry Goaz), and Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) talk in circles about the challenge in discerning the evidence of absence, as well as the potential anti-gas properties of chocolate. This episode is almost entirely the Cooper Show, or at least the Kyle MacLachlan Show. The bulk of its running time concerns the FBI agent’s search for an escape from the Black Lodge, followed by his listless, ludicrous, and yet strangely lucky bumbling through the life of yet another doppelgänger, Dougie Jones. This isn’t to say that the dearth of Twin Peaks in Part 3 is a flaw. In fact, this focus on Coop allows the chapter to serve as a magnificent platform for two discrete modes of David Lynch weirdness: the surreal nightmare and the absurdist comedy.
In the first half of this episode, Cooper—having escaped the Red Room at the end of the previous chapter—plummets, climbs, and tunnels through various peculiar zones of the Black Lodge. These include: a beach swathed in dim, purple light (Homer’s inscrutable epithet “the wine-dark sea” comes to mind); a sitting room with a fireplace and odd, wall-hung electrical contraptions; and an “outer space” region of some sort, observable from atop a floating metal box which, TARDIS-like, seems to contain the other, larger spaces. While these areas feature Escher geometry and backwards-talking denizens, marking them as part of (or at least adjacent to) the Black Lodge, there is a sense that Cooper is temporarily beyond the scrutiny of that realm’s controlling forces, although perhaps not for long. A mute, eyeless woman (Nae Yuuki) in the sitting room gasps and gesticulates at Cooper, warning him away from one of the machines. An unrelenting booming then commences, seemingly originating just outside the chamber, prompting the woman to urgently lead Cooper up a ladder and through a hatch to the “space box.” While atop this platform, she pulls a lever, is electrocuted by a metal bell-shaped structure, and is then flung into the void. When Cooper peers down into this starry expanse, the phantasmal head of Major Garland Briggs (the late Don S. Davis) appears and utters two distorted words: “blue rose.”
Later, a woman (Phoebe Augustine) warns Cooper that “my mother” is coming, as underlined by the still-insistent booming. Notably, Augustine previously portrayed surviving BOB victim Ronette Pulaski in the original series, but Cooper does not seem to recognize her, and it’s ambiguous whether her character here is intended to be Ronette or if the resemblance is just a product of Lynch’s purposely confusing casting habits. (The credits, incidentally, identify this character as “American Girl,” which echoes Mr. C’s arrival to the unearthly howl of “American Woman” in Part 1.) Drawn again to one of the humming, crackling wall-hung contraptions, Cooper is eventually sucked bodily into its socket and then sort of… extruded back into the earthly reality he stepped away from some 25 years ago. His shoes are left behind in the Lodge, a droll detail that instantly deflates the anxiety and murkiness of this extended sequence.
Cooper’s journey through these peripheral areas of the Black Lodge constitutes one of the most pointedly odd and impenetrable passages in Lynch’s entire oeuvre, comparable to Eraserhead and his Web series Rabbits. Indeed, the booming noise—which sounds for all the world like a giant attempting to pummel down a metal door—calls back to a similarly alarming sound in Rabbits, as well as the cacophonous knocking at Diane’s door in Mulholland Drive. The whole thing is as oneiric and mysterious as anything Lynch has created, and only its relatively coherent linearity (this happens, then that, then this) permits the viewer to follow along with it at all. Its potential meanings are multifarious, but one impression is vital: The zones that Cooper explores feel distinctly like the proverbial crawl spaces, steam tunnels, and emergency exits of the Lodge, as contrasted with the more formal waiting area of the Red Room. (Cooper, it should be remembered, fell through the Red Room’s floor in Part 2, suggesting that these chambers are akin to subbasements.) These are forbidden areas: “Employees Only,” if you will, and prisoners like Cooper aren’t meant to be fiddling with the machines housed there.
The second half of Part 3 follows a physically and mentally enfeebled Cooper as he re-adjusts to an existence on Earth. He has effectively replaced middle-aged Las Vegas schlub Dougie Jones, who is in turn transported to the Red Room. There, Dougie is deflated like an inner tube and then obliterated in a cloud of black smoke, leaving a tiny golden sphere. (It’s even more bizarre than it sounds.) Jade (Nafessa Williams), the prostitute who serviced Dougie just prior to the body swap, is baffled at her client’s sudden wardrobe and hairstyle change. Thus begins one of the most unabashedly funny and downright delightful David Lynch sequences in memory, as “Dougie” improbably shuffles his way through the man’s life, up to and including winning multiple jackpots at the Silver Mustang Casino from the $5 bill that Jade presses into his hand.
The overarching joke to this passage is, of course, that none of the individuals who encounter Cooper seem to notice his diminished capacities, or, if they do, they aren’t sufficiently concerned to provide anything more than a pat on the head and a shove in the right direction. (Of all the people Cooper bumps into, only Jade wonders aloud if perhaps he’s suffered “a little stroke,” but she then dumps him at the casino rather than taking him to a hospital.) It’s satire that works on multiple levels: the general self-absorbed obliviousness of people to the plight of others; the unexceptional middle class white man who constantly receives the benefit of the doubt and a helping hand; the dumbing down of American discourse into a slurry of endlessly repeated buzzwords, newspeak, and memetic phrases (“Helloo-oo-oooo!”); and the glad-handing remorselessness of the gaming industry, particularly as seen in its willingness to take anyone’s money in any circumstances.
Lynch doesn’t insist on any particular reading, however. The proximal reasons the outlandish second half of this episode works so well are: 1) MacLachan’s side-splitting and wonderfully precise physical performance; and 2) Lynch’s willingness to let everything play out at an ridiculously glacial pace that is discordant with Cooper’s protracted extra-dimensional exile and the urgency of the show’s parallel storylines. Released after 25 years and presumably in jeopardy from Mr. C and others, this slow-witted version of Cooper obliviously fritters away an afternoon at the quarter slots. It’s completely cracked and yet every minute of it is deliriously entertaining.
The burning questions that emerge from Part 3 concern the dynamics of the Cooper / Mr. C / Dougie triangle, and what exactly occurred during this chapter’s brief glimpse of Mr. C, who crashes his car while driving through the Black Hills of South Dakota. Both he and Dougie vomit up a revolting mixture of creamed corn and blackish blood when Cooper exits the Lodge, which occurs at 2:53 p.m., a number previously mentioned by the Arm in Part 2. Within the Red Room, MIKE describes Dougie as having been “manufactured for a purpose” which is now fulfilled, and it certainly seems as though Dougie is gone for good, not merely trapped. The nature of Dougie’s “manufacture” and the significance of his ring (see below) are provocative mysteries. There are textual hints that Mr C. created Dougie to trap Cooper, and that MIKE perhaps sabotaged that trap so that it would backfire on Mr. C. The fact that Dougie disgorges the same foul substance as Mr. C—termed garmonbozia in Peaks lore, it's a kind of demonic manna or ectoplasm composed of “pain and sorrow”—strongly suggests that the unfortunate fellow actually originated in the Lodge, even if he no longer remembers that fact.
So much that remains hidden in this story that to draw firm conclusions about the relationships and metaphysics at play is probably a fool’s errand. Undoubtedly, Lynch will leave much unexplained even at the end of the series, given that that’s what he always does, but Parts 3 and 4 in particular both spend a startling amount of time monitoring the movements of Cooper and his doppelgängers. The original series tended to keep the Black Lodge and its inhabitants shrouded in mystery, only providing the audience with glimpses of their otherworldly weirdness at pivotal moments in select episodes. In contrast, The Return feels like a deep plunge into Lodge esoterica, thankfully by showing rather than telling. If this pattern is maintained through the rest of the new series’ run, one suspects that much more about the Lodge will be revealed.
Apart from the stark strangeness of electrical outlet portals and toxic corn vomit, there are several subtler connections and clues in this episode that are ripe for exegesis. The Silver Mustang Casino calls back to the white horse that both Sarah Palmer and Cooper have seen in their visions (Coop most recently during his Black Lodge escape). The numbers on the Lodge’s electric devices are 3 and 15, and Cooper’s room number at the Great Northern was 315, a detail confirmed when a confused Jade discovers the hotel key still in his pocket.
It’s awfully tempting to impart meaning to such signifiers, but the aforementioned scene with Hawk, Andy, and Lucy sifting through old evidence partly constitutes a caveat to enthusiastic Twin Peaks fans (and Lynch fans generally) who are eager to decipher every detail for signs and omens. Just as viewers have gone round and round for 25 years about Owl Cave and drawer knobs and blue roses and whatnot, Hawk hilariously dithers about the significance of the chocolate bunnies: “It’s not about the bunnies. Is it about the bunnies? No, it’s not about the bunnies.” (Horse’s deadpan performance here is a thing of beauty, featuring some flawless comic timing.) It bears remembering that Lynch Country is governed by laws of quantum-like uncertainty: Laura Palmer is dead but she lives. In such a place, paradoxes, dead ends, anomalies, and double meanings thrive. It’s best not to dwell too much on the bunnies.
Some miscellaneous observations:
- Cooper is drawn to the winning slot machines by a flickering symbol that appears to be patterned on the Red Room. (Amusingly, this vision always appears with a jazzy guitar riff.) It’s a device that feels unprecedented in the Twin Peaks universe—an otherworldly signpost that points to good fortune—but it stands to reason that one can’t spend two and a half decades in the Black Lodge without developing some unusual psychic abilities. The wavering, flame-like Red Room symbol brings to mind Acts chapter 2, verses 3-4, a crucial moment in the purported origin of the Christian holiday of Pentecost, when miraculous powers were bestowed on the assembled followers of Jesus:
They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
- In any other show, Lucy and Andy’s beaming announcement to Hawk that they have a 24-year-old adult son named Wally Brando would seem like forced “As You Know” exposition. Except… well, it’s Lucy and Andy. One can easily envision them proudly telling Hawk about Wally on countless occasions, each time as if they were revealing his name, age, and famous birthday for the first time. Lucy and Andy seem somewhat slower on the uptake all these years later, but they also blunder into a kind of profundity of the absurd, like Twin Peaks’ very own Vladimir and Estragon. To wit: If one susses out the dialog carefully, their seemingly dunderheaded objections to Hawk regarding what is missing from the Laura Palmer evidence boxes are really a pedantic criticism of the Deputy Chief’s imprecise use of language.
- In the house across the street from the site of Dougie and Jade's assignation, a boy peers out the window while a character the credits literally name as "Drugged-Out Mother" (Hailey Gates) repeatedly shouts "1-1-9! 1-1-9!" before downing her last pill with a glass of whiskey. It's such an inscrutable out-of-left-field cutaway—one never revisited in this episode—that it gives Cooper's Lodge wanderings a run for their money in the WTF department. Reversed, the woman's mantra of course becomes 9-1-1, which is the number one should call if, like the boy, one spotted a hitman placing a bomb on the underside on the neighbor's car. The verbal reversal recalls the backwards-talking Black Lodge inhabitants, and also Grace Zabriskie's addled neighbor in Inland Empire, who remarks that she can't tell the difference between "today, two days from now, or yesterday" or between 9:45 and midnight. The scene might also put viewers of a certain age in mind of Gladys Krabnitz, the nosy neighbor forever peering out her window at the suspicious goings-on at the Stephens' house in Bewitched. And what is Cooper's re-entry into the world if not magic?
- What the living fuck is Dr. Jacoby up to with those shovels?
- Sightings: There aren't many of those Lynchian new-yet-familiar faces in this episode, but a couple can be spotted at the Silver Mustang. Josh McDermitt, who pops up briefly to marvel at Cooper's first mega-jackpot, is best known as loquacious weirdo Gene on The Walking Dead. The casino's cashier, meanwhile, is played by prolific television and film actress Meg Foster, whose most enduring credit was arguably in John Carpenter's cult sci-fi horror satire They Live.
- When he vanishes into the Lodge, Dougie wears a jade or turquoise ring that is a crucial MacGuffin in the Twin Peaks mythos. This ring (or at least one identical to it) was once worn by Teresa Banks, a waitress and sex worker murdered by Leland-as-BOB roughly a year before he slew Laura Palmer. The item was previously treated as a vital “missing clue” in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. (Hawk, it should be remembered, is also looking for a piece of evidence that is missing.) Dougie’s limp “tingly” arm echoes a detail reported to the investigating FBI agents by one of Teresa’s co-workers: Three days prior to her disappearance and death, Teresa had complained that her arm had gone numb. The green ring has appeared in numerous places throughout the Twin Peaks universe, including the Black Lodge, which is where it ends up after Dougie is disintegrated / transformed. The symbol on the ring, which is intended to evoke an owl, appeared in a more stylized form in the previous episode, on a playing card that Mr. C showed poor Darya before murdering her.
- That huge diamond-shaped green keychain from the Great Northern Hotel is reminiscent of a red version used at The Shining’s Overlook Hotel, another malevolent otherworld that seems to exist outside time and space.
- FBI regional bureau chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch) has some odd taste in decoration. On one side of his office hangs an enormous photo of an atomic mushroom cloud. On the opposite side is a photographic portrait of German writer Franz Kafka, which is a damn strange figure for a high-level federal law enforcement officer to admire, but then Gordon has never been typical. Interestingly, the original title for Kafka's novel Amerika was The Man Who Disappeared, which is a pretty apt description of Dale Cooper. Meanwhile, Gordon’s query into his phone—“What do you mean ‘trouble’?”—is easily imagined as the no-nonsense FBI chief's theoretical response to Inland Empire’s evocative tagline: A Woman in Trouble.
- At the end of the episode, Albert Rosenfield (the late Miguel Ferrer) mutters a non-sequitur: “The absurd mysteries of the strange forces of existence.” Lynch has previously used this phrase in connection with his abandoned surrealistic sci-fi comedy project Ronnie Rocket. The words refer in part to electricity, which in Lynch’s conception courses through the body of the titular Ronnie as an alternating current, giving off a telltale 60 Hz hum. Electricity (and electric lighting) has always fascinated Lynch, and in the original Twin Peaks electrical phenomena often heralded the presence of BOB. However, Part 3 of The Return exhibits a preoccupation with electrical power and old-fashioned electrical apparatuses that hearkens back to Eraserhead and its strange industrial machinery. Mr. C's car cigarette lighter, which acts as a portal for supernatural energies that threaten to yank him back to the Black Lodge, is itself a sort of old-fashioned electrical apparatus, at least from the vantage of an era when smoking is scorned and USB ports are ubiquitous.