I don’t understand this situation at all.
[Note: This post contains spoilers.]
Twin Peaks: The Return // Part 4 // Original Air Date May 28, 2017 // Written by Mark Frost and David Lynch // Directed by David Lynch
Part 4 of Twin Peaks: The Return generally maintains the funny, absurdist tone of Part 3’s second half, offering up more scenes of a semi-incapacitated Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachan) coasting through the life of Dougie Jones with stiff but cheerful compliance. Having racked up 30 mega-jackpots at the Silver Mustang Casino, Cooper is sent home with a canvas bag full of cash and a desperate plea that he return very soon to try his luck again. He improbably finds his way to Dougie’s house (“red door”), where he is received by the real estate agent’s furious wife Janey-E (Naomi Watts). (That ridiculous “-E” is pure gold.) Dougie has apparently been missing for three days, but Cooper’s casino winnings manage to mollify Janey-E to some extent. The next morning, the viewer is treated to one of the series’ most openly joyful scenes thus far, as Cooper goofs around with Dougie’s young son Sonny-Jim (Pierce Gagnon), re-discovers the bliss of pancakes with maple syrup, and has his first taste of damn fine coffee in roughly 25 years. (Which he spits out, more out of surprise than disgust.)
Not all is suburban contentment, however, as MIKE (Al Strobel) appears to Cooper in a brief vision and explains that the FBI agent has been “tricked” and that “one of you must die.” This appears to confirm that Dougie Jones was some sort of walking supernatural trap—perhaps one of many—that Mr. C laid to disrupt any effort to draw him back into the Black Lodge. This trickery has apparently shattered the rules elucidated by the Arm, which previously asserted that Cooper could not leave the Lodge until BOB returned to it. Yet both Cooper and Mr. C are now roaming the Earth, and one has to be eliminated—in the Highlander sense.
The comical tenor is sustained as the episode checks in on the town of Twin Peaks for some critical scenes. They aren’t particularly significant from a plot standpoint, but they marvelously convey some of David Lynch’s subversive aims in revisiting his cult series. The director’s work has always exhibited an unabashedly earnest dimension, but he’s never been the type of artist who respects sacred cows. In the conventional wisdom of television criticism, there are few cows more sacred than the original Twin Peaks, at least among writers who give primacy to originality and artistic nerve. It makes perfect sense, then, that The Return should in part serve as a bracing slap to Twin Peaks enthusiasts, in the best possible way. That current is prominently on display in Part 4, as the episode works to subtly subvert and mock the original series, and in particular viewers’ cherished memories of it.
Case in point: It is revealed that although Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson) still serves as the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department’s front-door receptionist, the building is now a bustling, modern law enforcement office, complete with a dispatcher managing calls via a cutting-edge computer system and a troop of deputies with access to military-grade hardware. As if to underline that the viewer has entered some Bizarro version of Twin Peaks, a grey-haired Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) appears and reports on the remote sensors he’s placed along forest trails to observe border-crossing drug traffickers. Wait—Bobby Briggs?? Yes, Bobby Briggs—football jock, coke dealer, surly delinquent, and all-around 1990 dreamboat—is now a sheriff’s deputy. The badge pinned on Bobby's uniform drives home the notion that the old Twin Peaks is gone, and that in its place sits an uncanny clone. Exemplifying this is the fact that there’s still a Truman behind the sheriff’s star, but it’s now Frank Truman (Robert Forster), brother to the ailing, unseen Harry. Fittingly, as a relative newcomer (to the show, if not the town), Frank seems a touch more exasperated than the other natives with respect to Twin Peaks’ dogged weirdness.
At one point, Bobby wanders into the conference room where the old Laura Palmer evidence is arrayed, and the sight of his slain girlfriend’s iconic homecoming portrait hits him like a punch in the gut. For a moment, the unexpected emotion of the scene is genuinely touching, but the insistent crescendo of Angelo Badalamenti’s iconic Laura Palmer theme and Bobby’s weepy, on-the-nose exclamation (“Brings back some memories!”) derisively punctures the poignancy. Was it always this hokey? Do Twin Peaks devotees look back with rosy fondness on something that was essentially cheesy and manipulative? Lynch seems to be suggesting as much, which isn’t the same as insisting that the emotions elicited by nostalgia aren’t real.
One of the splendid things about Part 4 is the way it manages to have it both ways: It gently ridicules the viewer’s affection for Twin Peaks’ sincerity, tackiness, and quirkiness, while also snorting at the latecomers and naysayers who just don’t get it (and never will). When Deputy Chet Broxford (John Pirruccello) mocks the Log Lady in absentia—“I'll go have a word with my pinecone”—he’s not portrayed as a brave contrarian who is pointing out the emperor’s nakedness, but rather as a blinkered, disrespectful jerk.
The buffoonish, crowning glory of the Twin Peaks scenes in this episode is, of course, Andy and Lucy’s adult son Wally Brando (Michael Cera), who superbly illustrates that Lynch is more than willing to turn a caustic eye on his own creations and preoccupations. With his ill-fitting road warrior outfit in imitation of Johnny Strabler in The Wild One, exaggerated (and very bad) Marlon Brando vocal mimicry, and penchant for turning every utterance into a ridiculous, meandering beat poem, Wally is a walking satire of the mid-century pop cultural tropes that Lynch adores. James Hurley might still be cool, but Wally—who is aiming for the same soulful, bad boy nomad archetype that James himself embodied in the original series—is definitely not. As Wally self-importantly conveys his respects to Sheriff Truman and waxes forth on his ongoing American odyssey, the sheriff can’t seem to decide whether to smack the kid, laugh in his face, or just walk away.
As if in acknowledgment that Parts 3 and 4 have been heavy on comedy, Lynch concludes this episode with an exceedingly unsettling passage, as FBI agents Gordon Cole (David Lynch), Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer), and Tamara Preston (Chrysta Bell) arrive in South Dakota to question the imprisoned Mr. C. From behind protective glass, Cooper’s doppelgänger speaks in halting, guttural tones that sound like a normal human voice played back at 80% speed. His entire exchange with Gordon is strained and menacing, while being superficially congenial in a way that suggests an alien’s distorted conception of human warmth. It’s party the robotic delivery, which is reminiscent of the mesmerized soldiers in The Manchurian Candidate. (“Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”) However, it’s also partly the repetitions and the eccentric turns of phrase, particularly those double prepositions: the car went “over across” and “over off” the highway.
All three agents pick up on the abnormality of this resurfaced “Cooper,” and Gordon in particular seems undone about what it might imply. “I hate to admit it, Albert, but I don’t understand this situation at all.” Lynch’s willingness to commiserate by proxy with the viewer’s frustration over the show’s obscurantism is a welcome touch of explicit humanism from the director, but also a ominous signal that things aren’t likely to become clearer any time soon.
Some miscellaneous observations:
- The chirpy text on Cooper’s coffee mug—“I am Dougie’s Coffee”—doubtlessly reminds many viewers of Fight Club, an association reinforced by the tie draped over MacLachlan’s head, evoking the necktie headband worn by that film’s Narrator at one point. Fight Club, of course, concerns two identities who turn out to be inhabiting one mind, which can be seen as something of an inversion of The Return’s scenario, in which two minds are vying for one identity.
- There are moments in Parts 3 and 4 when Cooper seems on the verge of remembering something of his past, thanks to a fleeting trigger: the Sycamore street sign in the Rancho Rosa subdivision; the owl passing overhead as he and the limo driver (Jay Larson) tarry outside Dougie’s house; and the long scrutiny of his own countenance in Dougie’s bathroom mirror, echoing BOB’s moment of triumph all those years ago (“How’s Annie?”) Cooper still has a long way to go to get back to his old self, but things appear to be jostling loose ever so slightly.
- The return of former DEA agent Denise Bryson is a welcome sight, albeit a bit of a mixed bag in practice. On the one hand, David Duchovny gets to resurrect one of his most memorable characters; on the other, the world surely didn’t need another cisman actor portraying a transwoman character. (Although realistically, if Denise is going to be a part of this story, recasting her seems like blasphemy.) Denise’s gender is played a bit more for laughs this time around than seems tasteful, what with her remarking cattily about Tamara’ beauty and grousing about hormones. Still, there’s the neat reveal that she was actually a FBI mole inside the DEA back in 1990 - 1991, and that she has since passed Gordon and Albert on the career ladder to become the Bureau’s Chief of Staff. Plus, her scene includes Gordon’s instantly immortal line, “When you became Denise, I told all of your colleagues, those clown comics, to fix their hearts or die.”
- Sightings: There are only a few new-yet-familiar faces in this episode. Ethan Suplee, best known for the role of Randy Hickey in My Name Is Earl, shows up as Dougie’s gregarious (and hungry) pal Bill Shaker. Richard Chamberlain, who appears as Denise Bryson’s aide Bill Kennedy, starred in the popular 1960s medical drama Dr. Kildare and was a fixture in film and television for decades, including lead roles in event mini-series like The Thorn Birds and Shogun. (He was even Jason Bourne!) And of course, there’s the divine Naomi Watts, whose breakout American role was portraying Betty / Diane in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.
- Notwithstanding Cooper’s coffee spit-take and the fever dream that is Wally Brando, the funniest moment in Part 4, hands down, is Albert handing Gordon a picture of Mount Rushmore in lieu of actually visiting the monument. Bonus: Gordon accepting the photo without batting an eye and musing grandly, “There they are, Albert. Faces of stone.”
- Much has been made of Lucy’s borderline cretinism in this episode, what with her apparent habit of forgetting how cell phones work. More charitably, it's in keeping with Part 4's jabs at the obsession the original series engendered—Lucy being akin to a Twin Peaks enthusiast, in that part of her is forever trapped back in 1991. It’s broad as hell, sure, but also consistent with a sly pattern that’s emerged in all of Lucy’s scenes in the new season thus far. She is repeatedly depicted mired in logical dilemmas related to location, perception, and meaning: 1) politely quarreling with a salesman who won’t specify which Sheriff Truman he’s looking for (neither of whom are around anyway); 2) explaining to Hawk that she can’t look “here” for something that’s missing, since a missing thing would by definition not be “here”; 3) expressing anxiousness about what might be happening to the temperature in the station when no one is around to observe the thermostat; and 4) going into terrified mental vapor-lock when Sheriff Truman walks into the station while she is talking to him on phone. It’s not clear if this will add up to anything, but it’s an intriguing pattern nonetheless. Regardless, Dumb Lucy is still ten times less annoying than sitcom cul de sacs like the “Dick / Andy / Little Nicky” subplot in Season 2.
- Twin Peaks: The Return has provided occasion for the perennial analysis of gender and sex in David Lynch’s work, which has resulted in the usual assertions that the director has a “woman problem.” This phrase and its many iterations (race problem, religion problem, homophobia problem, etc.) often seem to be employed as a faint-hearted hedge by critics when the reality is nuanced and contradictory, as it usually is at the intersection of politics, art, and pop culture. This title of this commentary at The Wrap aside, the piece gets at some of Lynch’s legitimate weaknesses, particularly his very male gaze-y directorial approach. However, it’s baffling that anyone could watch films like Fire Walk with Me, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire and conclude that Lynch is peddling misogyny. He has created some of film’s great female characters, and through them he has presented some of American cinema’s most sympathetic and caustic critiques regarding the dehumanization of women. On the other hand, there are moments like the one at the conclusion of Part 4, wherein Lynch (as Gordon) gratuitously ogles Tamara’s backside as she marches away. As with Gordon’s infatuation with Shelly Johnson in the original series, it’s hard to shake the sensation of a dirty old man using his creator’s perch to his advantage. So, yeah... contradictory.