This may require a slight change of attitude on your part.
[Note: This post contains spoilers.]
Twin Peaks: The Return // Part 7 // Original Air Date June 18, 2017 // Written by Mark Frost and David Lynch // Directed by David Lynch
In some respects, Part 7 of Twin Peaks: The Return feels unmistakably like the episode that the series has been building up to for some time. It’s the point where a story that been meandering through absurd delays and digressions suddenly takes a lurch forward. It features two conspicuous passages that have a whiff of fate about them. The first of these is the more dramatic of the two, and a welcome development for long-time Peaks aficionados. When confronted by lethal danger in the form of diminutive assassin Ike “The Spike” (Christophe Zajac-Denek), Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) at long last snaps out of his Dougie stupor—if only momentarily—and exhibits the physical lethality and quick thinking of a veteran lawman.
During this skirmish with Ike, Cooper receives some direction from a tiny manifestation of the Arm, which rasps the oddly-phrased exhortation, “Squeeze his hand off!” However, Cooper’s brutal disarming of the assassin feels less like an example of the FBI agent’s newfound second sight than the reemergence of latent, trained muscle memory. In this, it’s a long-awaited sign that the old Coop is finally resurfacing. Moreover, the entire passage in and outside Dougie’s office building is a satisfying collision of several subplots that seemed to be unfolding in isolation until now: the apparent insurance fraud perpetrated by Tony Sinclair (Tom Sizemore); Janey-E’s (Naomi Watts) settling of Dougie’s gambling debts; the abandonment and destruction of Dougie’s car; and the mysterious assassins that have Cooper in their sights.
The other momentous passage in Part 7 is more subtle in its novelty, but just as significant in terms of the series’ narrative. For the benefit of Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster), Deputy Chief Hawk (Michael Horse) reviews the events surrounding the murder of Laura Palmer and the criminal investigation that followed. The impetus for this is Hawk’s discovery of three yellowed pages from Laura’s “secret diary,” which were hidden, of all places, within a men’s room stall door at the sheriff’s station. One entry in the diary seems to point to the vanished Dale Cooper, just as the Log Lady’s prophetic missive to Hawk indicated it would. Viewers who are familiar with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me will recognize these lines. That film depicted the dream that the missing pages describe, wherein a bloody Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham) materializes in Laura's bed and instructs her to report Dale Cooper's plight in her diary.
This scene and the subsequent Skype call that Sheriff Truman places to Dr. Will Hayward (Warren Frost) stand out in part because they represent the kind of “As You Know” expository summaries that Twin Peaks: The Return has generally avoided. More so than in the original series, Mark Frost and David Lynch have been wickedly defiant in their refusal to explain anything solely for the audience’s edification. Hawk’s concise but measured description of the diary’s significance and of Cooper’s emergence from the Black Lodge represents an unusually explicit acknowledgment of the original series’ events, as well as a kind of “Previously on Twin Peaks” nickel summary that feels pitched partly at the viewer. The fact that Frank Truman is the in-show recipient of this exposition somewhat mitigates any sense of artificiality, since the Sheriff likely does need to be brought up to speed on events that transpired before his time.
However, nothing that Hawk or Doc Hayward convey to the Sheriff would necessarily be of much value to a viewer who walked blindly into The Return without first experiencing the show’s original two seasons. To such an individual—or, indeed, to anyone who isn’t thoroughly steeped in Twin Peaks lore, including FWWM—Hawk’s explanations might even smack of bootstrapping, an effort to cram in ex post facto justifications for fresh narrative developments. Cunningly, Frost and Lynch avoid the appearance of overly tidy plotting by littering Hawk’s dialog with hedges and uncertainties. He unselfconsciously responds to many of the sheriff’s follow-up questions with a thoughtful, “I don’t know, but…” (This could practically be the show’s alternate tagline, conveying the simultaneous absence of certitude and pervasiveness of meaning.)
These scenes of glorified “case review” at the sheriff’s station do provide some salient new plot details, such as the fact that Mr. C may have paid a visit to a comatose Audrey Horne in the hospital shortly before he vanished from Twin Peaks some 25 years ago. (Unsettling suspicions about the odious Richard Horne’s parentage are looking more credible.) Still, the overall sensation is one of tumblers clicking into place, and of small plot beats from prior episodes finally paying off.
One minor but vital illustration of this is the long, convoluted journey of the Room 315 hotel key. Jade’s conscientious but seemingly incidental decision to drop the key recovered from Cooper’s pocket into the mail pays dividends when Beverly Paige (Ashley Judd) shows the returned key to Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) at the Great Northern Hotel. Whether this will have any long-lasting narrative ramifications remains to be seen, but it does provoke Ben to reminisce about Cooper and Laura Palmer. It also leads to a delicious moment when Beverly's quizzical “Who’s Laura Palmer?” receives the slightly smug, slightly wistful response, “That, my dear, is a long story.” Not only does this exchange thematically echo the earlier scenes at the sheriff’s station, but it turns Ben and Beverly into a surrogate Twin Peaks fanatic and newcomer, respectively. Meta-textual allusion to the differing perspectives and experiences regarding the original series is emerging as one of the key recurring features of The Return.
Intriguingly, Beverly might never have seen and remembered the key, had she and Ben not been roaming slowly around his office in search of an enigmatic hum or ringing sound. Their almost amused hunt for the noise’s source reflects the pursuit of clues within the text of Twin Peaks itself, but it is also consistent with the half-rational, half-intuitive means by which Hawk discovered Laura’s missing diary pages at the conclusion of the previous episode. This points to the fascinating possibility that the “purpose” of the humming is simply to get the long-lost hotel key into Ben’s hands, to set yet more wheels in motion that may ultimately impact Dale Cooper’s voyage back to Twin Peaks.
In its way, the reappearance of the Great Northern room key represents this episode in a nutshell, as much of Part 7 concerns long-gestating plot points coming to fruition, or at least finally emerging out into the open. Lieutenant Cynthia Knox (Adele René) arrives in Buckhorn, South Dakota to confer with Detective Macklay (Brent Briscoe) and coroner Constance Talbot (Jane Adams), who confirm the bizarre truth that the viewer already knows. Namely, the headless corpse in the Buckhorn morgue is that of Major Garland Briggs, who, impossibly enough, appears to be in his 40s and only freshly dead. (Both cannot be true, since Major Briggs was in his 40s when he last vanished in 1989.)
This sequence has a definite—and, for this season, uncharacteristic—“plot maintenance” feeling, in that it involves bringing the characters up to speed on facts that the viewer knows. Yet Lynch maintains a sense of mystery and menace by adding a discordant element to the scene. While Knox explains the situation to her superior Colonel Davis (Ernie Hudson) over the phone, a filthy, bedraggled man walks steadily towards her down a long hallway. This figure appears, significantly, as Knox utters the line, “His head is not here,” and he is accompanied by an ominous humming. Ultimately, Knox returns to the morgue and the man passes by uneventfully, but in the moment the tension is positively excruciating. The shallow focus and Knox’s obliviousness to the encroaching threat give this passage the fleeting atmosphere of a daylight horror film. (The filthy man, not incidentally, resembles a figure who is briefly glimpsed in a Buchkorn holding cell in Part 2 before he inexplicably dematerializes.)
In another scene that explicitly elaborates on forensic particulars, FBI agent Tamara Preston (Chrysta Bell) explains her earlier findings regarding Dale Cooper’s fingerprints to Gordon Cole (David Lynch) and Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer). Namely, she reveals that the print on Mr. C’s left ring finger (the “spiritual finger,” as the mystically-minded Cole names it) is the mirror image of Cooper’s corresponding print. Cole connects this to a vocal tic they witnessed when interviewing Mr. C, who mispronounced "very" as the reversed "yrev." The proximal meaning of this anomaly is less significant than what it seems to confirm on an instinctual level: That the man being held in a federal prison is not Dale Cooper, in some puzzling but unmistakable way.
Notwithstanding Tamara’s discovery and his own first-hand meeting with Mr. C, Gordon coerces Cooper’s former assistant Diane Evans (Laura Dern) to fly to South Dakota, in the hopes that she can verify their conclusions. Despite her evidently venomous hatred for Cooper, Gordon, and the FBI in general, Diane eventually acquiesces. Her fraught exchange with Mr. C, dripping with a hidden history of loathing, convinces her that something is indeed horribly wrong with this man who wears Cooper’s face. “It isn’t time passing, or how he’s changed, or the way he looks,” she explains to Gordon through shuddering tears. “It’s something here,” she declares, pointing at her own chest, before gulping down a mini-bottle of booze to recover her courage. (Her spiteful toast: “Cheers. To the FBI.”)
Diane’s confrontation with Mr. C—featuring an exacting yet dizzyingly raw performance by Dern—hints at a disturbing story of abuse and betrayal that Frost and Lynch leave ambiguous, at least for the moment. This caginess might contrast with this episode’s pattern of forthright explanation, but it’s consistent with Frost and Lynch’s general preference for oblique reference rather than straightforward exposition. For every pivotal scene like Hawk’s Cliff Notes on Seasons 1 and 2, or Knox finally laying eyes on Briggs' time-defying remains, Part 7 offers up three or four vague indications of yet more mysteries and misdeeds.
Despite the show’s often mischievous opacity, in this instance that reticence is frequently a concession to the authenticity of character and scene. Diane’s exchange with Mr. C achieves greater pathos by not elaborating on precisely why it unnerves her so profoundly. The lack of clarity hints at trauma so deep, Diane can barely dwell on it, let alone discuss it. (“You and I will have a talk sometime,” she promises Gordon with an exhausted sob.) Likewise, Mr. C doesn’t need to explain the significance of the name Joe McClusky or that of the severed dog legs to Warden Murphy (James Morrison)—or to the viewer, for that matter. The only immediately relevant fact is that Mr. C somehow knows a secret so devastating that the Warden is willing to let Mr. C and Ray Monroe (George Griffith) walk out the door—and provide them with a car and a loaded gun for their troubles—rather than allow that secret to come to light.
Even when Part 7 traffics in deliberately vague storytelling, the overarching meaning of the scene in question is evident. Bartender Jean Michel Renault (Walter Olkewicz) takes a phone call at the roadhouse regarding some dispute over the quantity and age of prostitutes, but since we only hear his side of the conversation, the details are unclear. However, his loathsome description of a pair of underage girls—“straight A students” who are also “straight A whores”—is an uncomfortably apt evocation of Laura Palmer. This points to the crucial takeaway: Notwithstanding the passage of 25 years and its new status as a hip venue for national music acts, the Bang Bang Bar is still partly a front for cross-border sex trafficking.
Similarly, it is not explained why the anxious Farmer (Edward Ted Dowling) refuses to speak with Deputy Andy (Henry Goaz) about his truck, which was last seen running over a boy while Richard Horne was behind the wheel. The Farmer seems fearful that someone will overhear their conversation, and promises to meet Andy later to answer his questions. (In spite of the presumed urgency surrounding the unsolved manslaughter of a child, the deputy is oddly amenable to allowing his primary suspect to get back to him later.) The reason for the Farmer's reluctance is less significant than the fact of it. What matters is the terror engendered by the sight of that dingy little farmhouse's screen door and what lies behind it, not the particulars of what that terror actually entails.
This preference for story over plot is one of the fundamental keys to watching Twin Peaks, and indeed to understanding David Lynch’s oeuvre as a whole: While he often resists explaining things to the viewer, he is always telling the viewer things. The most reliable and facile criticism of Lynch’s work is that he uses impenetrability to mask vacuity. The flimsiness of this critique aside, it’s never been particularly applicable to Twin Peaks, and The Return has only solidified its inaptness. The self-evident artistic and narrative density of the new season—particularly its fussy but never distancing devotion to the esoterica of the original seasons, feature film, and other media—seems wholly incompatible with “weird for the sake of weird” arbitrariness. There is a definite, complex schematic of cause and effect underlying this story, but it is too sprawling to convey in exhaustive detail, even in the span of 18 hours.
And why would Lynch want to do that, anyway? It would perhaps satisfy a certain streak of obsessive fan, but it would also be dreadfully dry and ordinary. Twin Peaks is both a celebration of and a riff on numerous television genres, but it has no interest in scrupulously embodying any of those genres. This is partly why fumbling descriptions of the original Twin Peaks as “a prime time soap, but weirder” or “a murder mystery, but weirder” always felt wildly inadequate. It’s partly what Todd VanDerWerff at Vox is getting at when he approvingly characterizes The Return as the defeat of recap culture. The world of Twin Peaks is vast, but Lynch cheekily provides only glimpses of the plot gears whirring beneath the story. Counterintuitively, understanding how that plot works isn’t as essential as, for example, witnessing the absurdity of an addled Cooper bumbling through Dougie Jones’ life. When and where it does become essential to know exactly What’s Happening, the show invariably sits the viewer down like Hawk might and explains it, slowly and judiciously. What is the Farmer afraid of? What happened between Cooper and Diane? Who the hell is Joe McClusky? That, my dear, is a long story.
Some miscellaneous observations:
- In Part 7’s opening scene, Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) is lost in the forest and stoned out of his mind. When he places a phone call for help to his brother Ben, Jerry’s disordered, paranoid ramblings foreshadow the episode’s later scenes with Cooper-as-Dougie. (“Someone stole my car!”)
- Andy agrees to meet the Farmer on a logging road above Sparkwood and 21 at 4:30 p.m. This is the intersection where Laura Palmer notoriously leapt from her boyfriend James Hurley’s motorcycle on the night she died, and 4-3-0 are the three numbers the Giant (Carel Struycken) told Dale Cooper to remember in the new season’s prologue. As one can often say of this season: perhaps significant, perhaps not.
- Frank Truman’s computer monitor, rising out of his wooden desk when a secret level is pulled like some gadget on Get Smart, is a marvelously ridiculous design detail, wondrously incongruent with the cozy North Woods theme of the Sheriff’s office.
- Gordon declares Diane a “tough cookie,” which puts her in good company with “tough dame” Janey-E Jones. The latter woman once again demonstrates her fed-up ferocity when she steamrolls her way right through the questioning from a trio of Las Vegas police detectives, and shortly thereafter holds her own alongside Cooper in the scuffle with Ike the Spike.
- Mr. C’s blunt, ominous recollection of the last time that he and Diane encountered each other—“at your house”—recalls the unnerving Mystery Man from Lost Highway. Approaching saxophonist Fred Madison at a party, the Man asserts that, “We met before. At your house. Don’t you remember?” This gradually mutates into one of the most profoundly and inexplicably terrifying scenes in all of Lynch’s filmography.
- The scene depicting Beverly and Ben’s search for the origin of the hum concludes, bizarrely, with a lingering, emphatic zoom on the wooden wall of Ben’s office. This is a provocative gesture, given that the last time Ben’s partner-in-crime Josie Packard was seen 25 years ago, her body had died but her soul had become trapped in the wooden knob of a nightstand drawer. Perhaps it’s not coincidental that Ben rather idiosyncratically refers to Room 315 not as “Agent Cooper’s room” but as “the room where Agent Cooper was shot,” given that the individual who shot Coop was Josie.
- Unquestionably the most subversive sequence in Part 7 features nothing more than a man sweeping up peanut shells at the roadhouse as “Green Onions” by Booker T. & the M.G.’s plays on and on… and on. Given the semi-regular use of musical performances at the Bang Bang Bar to close out episodes during this season, the sweeping scene creates a short-lived impression that Part 7 might be concluding with a particularly banal, meditative variation on this device. Then the phone rings, snapping the sense of expectation in a way that somehow generates both relief and tension. The whole thing is soothing and perverse in equal measure.
- Sightings: James Morrison, who portrays Warden Murphy, is a veteran television actor, but he is probably most familiar to contemporary viewers for his role as Los Angeles Counter Terrorist Unit chief Bill Buchanan in later seasons of 24. Beverly’s ailing, suspicious husband Tom is played by Hugh Dillon, who is known for his role in the Canadian police drama Flashpoint and from Jean-François Richet’s 2005 remake of Assault on Precinct 13.
The trio of Detective Fuscos—presumably brothers—that question Cooper are: 1) the delightfully brash David Koechner, best known for his roles in Anchorman and on the American version of The Office; 2) Eric Edelstein, who most recently appeared as bouncer Big Justin in Jeremy Saulnier’s survival horror thriller Green Room; and 3) Larry Clarke, who had a recurring role in later seasons of Law & Order and has credits in films by Steven Soderbergh (The Informant! and Contagion).