What happens in Season 2?
[Note: This post contains spoilers.]
Twin Peaks: The Return // Part 9 // Original Air Date July 9, 2017 // Written by Mark Frost and David Lynch // Directed by David Lynch
In the wake of the avant-garde thunderbolt that was Part 8 of Twin Peaks: The Return, it was perhaps inevitable that the episode that immediately followed it would feel comparatively mundane, particularly if it resumed the series’ more traditional narrative approach. (These things are, of course, relative; Parts 1 through 7 being far more bizarre and audacious than the vast majority of television.) While Part 9 is indeed a “normal” Twin Peaks in most respects, it fulfills a necessary function by returning the viewer with a jolt to the comparatively banal reality of the events in contemporary Twin Peaks, Las Vegas, and South Dakota. In doing so, it underscores the stakes of the show’s proximal storyline, in which Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) metaphorically inches his way back to the town of Twin Peaks. Given the nuclear holocaust, demonic poetry, and overall abstract lunacy that preoccupied the previous episode, this sort of throat-clearing restatement is understandable, and even welcome.
Part 9 is also a crucial intersection where numerous subplots that have thus far been trundling along in relative isolation finally begin colliding into one another. To an even greater degree than Part 7, this chapter features some payoff for the table-setting observed in the first third of the series’ 18 episodes. The characters begin to pull together the disparate elements of the show’s mysteries, and in doing so continue to gradually unravel the truth of Agent Cooper’s fate. The buffoonish yet shrewd Detectives Fusco (David Koechner, Eric Edelstein, and Larry Clark), for example, uncover suggestions of Dougie Jones’ “manufactured” nature (though they do not yet comprehend its meaning), and also manage to lift a fingerprint sample from Cooper, a piece of evidence that will likely lead them to FBI chief Gordon Cole’s (David Lynch) ongoing investigation into his former agent’s disappearance and apparent return. The trio of Las Vegas detectives also capture hitman Ike the Spike (Christophe Zajac-Denek), who is on the verge of clearing out of town in the wake of his botched attempt on Cooper’s life.
After receiving the distressing news of Mr. C’s escape, the FBI agents—Cole, Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer), and Tamara Price (Chrysta Bell), with ex-assistant Diane Evans (Laura Dern) along for the ride—double back to South Dakota to confer with the Buckhorn police about the remains of Major Garland Briggs. This uncanny meeting manages to put most of the series’ Good Guys outside of Twin Peaks in one room: Cole’s team, Detective Macklay (Brent Briscoe), coroner Constance Talbot (Jane Adams), and USAF Lieutenant Knox (Adele René). The FBI is filled in on the incongruities regarding the Major’s remains, and is also given the opportunity to interrogate accused murderer Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard), who has been AWOL from the show for several episodes but is still sitting in jail, where his mental condition has apparently deteriorated.
Arguably, much of the investigative business in this episode is repetitive, in that it restates facts that the viewer already knows (or at least suspects), primarily for the benefit of the characters. In a more banal police procedural show, this would constitute a fairly elementary storytelling blunder. In this instance, however, Mark Frost and David Lynch are taking a page from post-The Wire prestige television by adhering to a third person omniscient viewpoint where the viewer often knows more about the big picture than the characters. Part 9 illustrates that the slow, fumbling process of traditional detective work is finally begins to reap some modest dividends, and multiple investigative avenues by multiple parties are starting to cohere. Indeed, Part 9 feels like the sort of relatively eventful episode that typically cropped up about three-quarters of the way through a season of The Wire, when small clues at last accumulated into a low-key investigative breakthrough. (Only to peter out or be smashed to smithereens by the end of the season, in fine The Wire fashion.)
While Twin Peaks has always been a show about detective work, the original series rarely allowed mysteries to simmer for long. Questions would arise, Cooper would ferret out the answer, and then he would go dashing off in pursuit of the next mystery. Connections just led to more connections, revealing an ever-expanding maelstrom of disorder and degeneracy with Laura Palmer at its eye. Every villain’s demise seemed to trigger the appearance of yet more antagonists, who frequently proved increasingly kitschy and inconsequential. Mystical omens were often shown to be superficially prophetic but ultimately meaningless. (“The birds sing a pretty song and there’s always music in the air.”) This sense of running in place was partly attributable to maladroit screenwriting—at least in the back half of Season 2—but it also constituted an act of subversion, an illustration that methodical sleuthing could be a compulsive distraction from other matters.
The Return reinforces this theme by depicting the successful employment of intuition and other non-rational means of investigation. Simultaneously, however, the new series is also absorbed with the incremental, often frustrating nature of detective work in a way that the original seasons never were. In Season 2, seeing one of the Giant's messages (“THE OWLS ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM”) floating in an alphanumerical sea of electronic detritus elicits a little tingle of creepy delight in the viewer. However, that discovery ultimately amounts to nothing. The new series acknowledges the more granular and substantial satisfaction to be gleaned from developments that are cursorily small-bore, but momentous in the wider context of the series. For example, to see representatives of the FBI, Pentagon, and Buckhorn police converge after eight-plus hours is to witness the symbolic unification of numerous mysteries surrounding Cooper, Mr. C, Garland Briggs, and the Black Lodge. In this way, the show asserts that all question marks are essentially building blocks in one big question mark. Frost and Lynch even manage to reclaim and re-contextualize some of the original series' orphan threads, as in the way that the "COOPER/COOPER" found in Major Briggs' electronic flotsam suddenly seems resonant. (Hawk: "Two Coopers?")
The positioning of Dale Cooper’s fate as the central mystery of The Return is indicative of the new show’s marvelous astuteness and its emergent superiority to the original series. Most of the side avenues plumbed by Cooper and others in Seasons 1 and 2 failed to yield any meaningful revelations beyond “Twin Peaks is rotten to its core.” (Some of the series’ more hopelessly tangential soap opera subplots had even less to say.) Laura Palmer’s murder was so emphatically positioned as the defining mystery of the show that once her killer was revealed and the facts of her death established—to Frost and Lynch’s vehement objections, purportedly—the series slid decisively off the rails. While Twin Peaks’ enduring rot is still one of the show’s operating principals, Cooper is the point of dramatic investment. He isn’t just the protagonist and audience proxy this time, but the character who most insistently elicits that fundamental urge of episodic television, to Find Out What Happens.
While Part 9 is occupied foremost with the coalescence of subplots that were put into motion in prior episodes, this chapter also slathers on a requisite dose of fresh enigmas. In Twin Peaks, Sheriff Truman (Robert Forster), Deputy Chief Hawk (Michael Horse), and Deputy Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) are provided with a sealed capsule that the Major left with his wife Betty (Charlotte Stewart) shortly before his apparent death 25 years ago. Bobby, remarkably, comprehends how to open the strange little container, uncovering a message that indicates a date and a geographic location that only he knows how to find.
While these scenes feature law enforcement officers unearthing a crucial new clue, the contrast with the more traditional policing on display elsewhere in this episode is notable. Other characters gradually and logically assemble a clearer picture of the mysteries at hand, but Bobby relies on knowledge he already possesses to reveal a missive left by his father, one miraculously salient to the present moment. This isn’t precisely intuition, but Bobby’s handling of the vibrating, humming capsule (“Shh!”) is consistent with the series’ insistence on quiet receptiveness to the universe’s messages. Memories of the Major’s optimistic reassurances to his son two and a half decades ago—particularly his touching recollection of a blissful vision where he and Bobby embraced as old friends—adds a sweet dose of pathos to the scene’s atmosphere of esoteric revelation.
Other puzzles and general weirdness abound in this episode. A drug-addled Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly), still lost in the forest, contends with the paranoid delusion that his own right foot is some sqeaky-voiced alien Other. At the roadhouse, two previously unseen young women, Chloe (Karolina Qydra) and Ella (Sky Ferreira) gripe about the minimum wage grind and drop oblique references to a “zebra” and “penguin.” The new series provides its first glimpse of a troubled Johnny Horne (Erik Rondell), who deliberately runs headlong into a wall, knocking himself into bloody unconsciousness.
The most vividly strange gesture in this episode is told rather than shown: Bill Hastings, questioned by Tammy, breaks down into tearful ramblings about his and the late Ruth Davenport’s foray into a bizarre dimension they dubbed “The Zone.” He recounts encountering Garland Briggs there, as well as other less benign entities, and witnessing the Major’s evident decapitation by some otherworldly force. Lynch turns this familiar species of scene—the police interrogation room—into something downright skin-crawling, partly through his and Frost’s unnerving dialog, partly through discomforting sound design, and partly through Lillard’s blubbering, borderline unhinged performance.
That Lynch can conjure such discombobulating eeriness out of such unassuming raw materials is a testament to his cinematic skill. In the broader context of this episode, however, it also illustrates the impressive balancing act that the new series has maintained thus far. The Return is recognizably Twin Peaks, in that it concerns the same characters and mythos, and often evokes a similar gestalt tone of warmth, menace, and absurdity. However, Frost and Lynch have patently absorbed the hard lessons of the original series, as well as those from the current Golden Age of Television. If Part 8 starkly demonstrated that David Lynch’s vision for the new Twin Peaks will not be compromised by the conventions of narrative drama, Part 9 handily exemplifies the show’s achievements as narrative drama: blending steady concrete plot advancements, tantalizing new mysteries, and pure atmospheric weirdness in a way that the original series rarely managed.
Some miscellaneous observations:
- Tammy’s agonizingly awkward posing and fidgeting as Gordon and Diane share a cigarette is one of this episode’s more delightfully uncomfortable gestures. The sense that Tammy—an accomplished, attractive woman in a position of authority—feels as alien in her own skin as a gawky teenager is weirdly humanizing. As if to balance out the indignity of her squirming, Lynch immediately segues into Bill Hastings’ interrogation, where Tammy gets to demonstrate exactly why she’s a great agent and an asset to Gordon’s team.
- Still searching for the source of the mysterious ringing sound in Ben Horne’s office, he and Beverly share a brief, intimate moment, but Ben puts a stop to any further romance. “You’re a good man, Ben,” Beverly observes, and it’s a testament to Beymer’s performance here and in the original series that this doesn’t scan as an ironic line, but a reflection of Ben’s efforts to become a more decent person in the final stretch of Season 2.
- Bill and Ruth’s name for the Lodge(s), “the Zone,” evokes Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s science-fiction masterpiece Stalker. In the film, a forbidden area dubbed the Zone is known to possess strange, reality-warping characteristics. The titular stalkers act as illicit guides, leading individual seekers into the Zone in search of the Room, a place where one will allegedly find one’s deepest desires. Tarkovsky’s Zone has many parallels with Lynch’s Black Lodge, particularly in the way that they both shift and mutate to befuddle trespassers. They also both exhibit some apparent connection to psychic potential of the human mind. Not incidentally, Hawk's description of the Lodge doppelgänger as the "Dweller on the Threshold" evokes the Room's threshold, a locale that represents the destination and the climactic turning point in Tarkovsky's film.
- The fact that Chantel (Jennifer Jason Leigh) gives Mr. C a small bag of Cheetos as a parting gift is the kind of grubby, incongruous detail that makes the new Twin Peaks such a pleasure. The same applies to Deputy Chad’s (John Pirruccello) consumption of two side-by-side frozen “healthy” dinners.
- Sightings: The most familiar new face here is, of course, veteran British film and television actor Tim Roth, who dons a dubious rural American accent for the role of Mr. C’s ruthless ally Hutch. Roth is best known in this country for his frequent collaborations with filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, who cast him in the director’s debut feature Reservoir Dogs following the actor’s international breakout with the likes of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Notably, Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Andy (Harry Goaz), who in this episode are embroiled in a sort of faux argument about the color of a chair they are purchasing, are the closest thing Twin Peaks has to a Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, particularly as they are depicted in the new series.
Singer-songwriter Sky Ferreira portrays Ella, the strung-out ex-burger slinger and victim of a distressing armpit rash. Ferreira parlayed Myspace videos of herself into a music career, and from there into films including Eli Roth’s cannibal exploitation homage The Green Inferno and the recent Baby Driver. Karolina Wydra, playing Ella’s sympathetic (and altogether less ragged) friend Chloe, is known primarily for her roles in Crazy Stupid Love and the indie science-fiction flick Europa Report.