Now the circle is almost complete.
[Note: This post contains spoilers.]
Twin Peaks: The Return // Part 10 // Original Air Date July 16, 2017 // Written by Mark Frost and David Lynch // Directed by David Lynch
Absurdity has always been a key feature of David Lynch’s work. Perhaps more so than any other living American filmmaker, Lynch understands how to use the strange to alter the tone of a scene. He wields the ridiculous like a scalpel: amplifying, re-configuring, and even deliberately subverting the sensations conjured by the action’s broad strokes. Part 10 of Twin Peaks: The Return handily illustrates how the director converts standard TV MA drama into material that is deeper, funnier, and more unsettling by adding splashes of the bizarre and the befuddling.
Reduce many of this episode’s more pivotal scenes down to bare-bones plot descriptions, and one has the stuff of countless television shows about sex, violence, and criminal misdeeds. To her chagrin, a middle-aged woman rediscovers her attraction to her husband, thanks to his newly fit physique. A pair of gangland casino bosses learn that the suspiciously lucky customer who racked up 30-plus slot jackpots is also the do-gooder insurance agent who flagged their fraudulent claim. A young, violently unstable criminal terrorizes his own grandmother and mentally disabled uncle into handing over their cash and valuables. A corrupt sheriff’s deputy surreptitiously intercepts a letter that implicates his benefactor in a child’s murder.
There’s nothing particularly “Twin Peaks-y” about any of these sequences in essence, but Mark Frost and David Lynch give them all half a twist (or more) of absurdity, and in the process, mutate their more obvious emotional registers. The abrupt re-ignition of Janey-E Jones’ (Naomi Watts) lust for her husband Dougie—replaced, unbeknownst to her, by Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachan)—could have been a gesture of playful, suburban eroticism. However, Cooper’s current state, not to mention his blissful floppiness during their lovemaking, turns it into something silly, sad, and a little creepy. (Can the mentally enfeebled Dougie even give consent?)
Deputy Chad Broxford’s (John Pirruccello) efforts to seize the letter from witness Miriam Sullivan (Sarah Jean Long) before it lands on the Sheriff’s desk is crooked skulduggery at its worst. Said missive implicates Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) in the hit-and-run death of a child, after all, so Chad is essentially covering up murder. Yet the way the deuputy goes about this act of treachery is so clumsy and transparent that he resembles a schoolkid trying to furtively remove an embarrassing item from his permanent record. Even ditsy receptionist Lucy Brennan (Kimmy Robertson) is immediately suspicious of his flop-sweat antics.
The travails of the Brothers Mitchum (James Belushi and Robert Knepper) are pure crime drama fodder, presented with the kind of minute, faltering plot movements that are a staple of prestige television. Substantively, nothing much happens with respect to the brothers’ story. They learn (from local television news, no less) that the notorious “Mr. Jackpots” who bedeviled their casino was the intended target of hitman Ike the Spike, who was recently arrested by the Las Vegas police. Meanwhile, Mr. C’s officious lieutenant Duncan Todd (Patrick Fischler) attempts to use the brothers as a cat’s paw, coercing dirty insurance agent Tony Sinclair (Tom Sizemore) to pin their flagged insurance claim for a burned hotel on Dougie Jones’ investigative zeal. Tony does so with halting, hyperbolic portentousness, repeating for good measure, "You have any enemy in Douglas Jones." (The brothers' deadpan response to this revelation—"Yeah? Is that it?"—is one of this episode's priceless lines.)
If one distills these scenes with the Mitchums down, all that really occurs is that they confirm “Dougie’s” identity, and are then superfluously provided with a second reason to want the man dead. However, Lynch turns all of the brothers' scenes into gleefully agonizing exercises in distraction and exasperation. Candie (Amy Shiels), one of the mobsters' apparent trio of hovering molls clad in carnation-pink showgirl outfits, is so obsessed with swatting an irritating fly, she doesn’t even notice Rodney until she brains him with a television remote. Although the casino boss is surprised, he’s not particularly angry at the mishap, but it nonetheless provokes Candie into a clingy, uncontrollable fit of guilt. Later, at the casino, Candie is in such a soporific daze that the process of escorting Tony into the brothers’ presence becomes an excruciatingly protracted test of everyone’s patience. It’s rendered even more baffling by Candie’s lethargic claim that her lengthy, animated discussion with Tony on the casino floor was about, of all things, the weather.
The pinnacle of Part 10’s Lynchian absurdity, however, is Richard Horne’s brutal invasion of his grandmother Sylvia’s (Jan D’Arcy) home in search of money. The scene is properly, stomach-churningly awful, with Richard literally choking his grandmother with his bare hands while his self-injuring, mentally disabled uncle Johnny (Erik Rondell) looks on helplessly and whimpers. It’s horrifying, but Lynch elevates it into the sublimely grotesque by adding saccharine music and one insistent detail: a weird, jerry-rigged talking teddy bear that endlessly repeats the chipper greeting, “Hello, Johnny! How are you today?” It goes on and on for several minutes, effectively functioning as the soundtrack to Sylvia and Johnny’s terror. By the end, the desire to see the vile Richard receive some comeuppance for his flagrantly sociopathic behavior is eclipsed by an appeal for SOMEONE TO PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, TURN THAT GODDAMN THING OFF.
As with his use of avant-garde technique, Lynch frequently employs the humor of the absurd to highlight the world’s swollen irrationality. Part 10 of The Return is no exception, but this episode also illustrates Lynch’s complex, faintly disdainful treatment of stock scenarios and well-worn genre idioms. Everything is rendered slightly askew: passionate sex scenes seem fatuous, dirty cops are hopelessly inept, underworld plotting become fatiguing, and frightening yet banal violence mutates into something downright surreal. There’s an abiding sense that both Frost and Lynch are on some level contemptuous of formula, even as they rely on its familiarity and revel in its generally unexploited esoteric possibilities.
Twin Peaks is very much a show about borders and intrusion, not just in terms of its Good vs. Evil story, but also at a metaphysical and epistemological level. This has always been an element of Lynch’s work, but it’s in his collaboration with Frost that this theme is realized with terrific clarity and elegance. The recurring Schrödinger-like paradoxes in Twin Peaks—Laura Palmer is dead yet not dead—echo the rebellious yet fluid way that the series moves between its exaggerated fictional universe and the feisty deconstruction of genre and medium. Absurdity is frequently the mechanism by which the show makes these gear changes. Twin Peaks is perpetually stalling, diverting, and embellishing its stories to poke at the viewer’s expectations. The experience is like that of the Mitchum brothers, watching in fidgety, flabbergasted annoyance as Candie regales Tony with a lecture on temperature inversion and air conditioning.
Not everything in Part 10 is presented with such perversity, of course. Richard’s attempted murder of Miriam is a straightforward scene of disturbing violence, although Lynch elides the bloody details somewhat by keeping the camera outside Miriam’s trailer during the actual assault. As Carl Rodd, Harry Dean Stanton gets to show off his guitar picking and marvelously warm singing voice (at 91 years old, no less) on the cowboy standard “Red River Valley” in a brief scene at the Fat Trout Trailer Park. His performance is interrupted by Steven’s (Caleb Landry Jones) spittle-flecked berating and threatening of Becky (Amanda Seyfried), in a scene uncomfortably reminiscent of Leo Johnson’s past abuse of Becky’s mother, Shelly. Meanwhile, the Log Lady’s (Catherine E. Coulson) latest poetic omen to Hawk (Michael Horse) is, as before, conveyed with potent spiritual earnestness, one echoed in Rebekah del Rio’s wistful outro song, “No Stars.”
Notwithstanding the show’s abundant dissident absurdity, there remains an untouchable, authentic dimension to The Return’s story, one referenced in the aforementioned Log Lady message and in Gordon’s Cole’s (David Lynch) fleeting vision: Laura is the one. Despite being dead for 25 years, Laura Palmer is still the Pole Star of Twin Peaks, but the new series is gradually establishing that she is/was something more than a Madonna/whore victim figure. In this, Lynch is continuing a process that began with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which resurrected Laura’s personhood and emphasized the acute tragedy of her life and death. It's still ambiguous whether this retroactive corrective will ultimately be a worthy response to the original series’ concluding gesture of searing nihilism, but it’s a clear indicator of the humane, cosmic optimism that somehow co-exists with Lynch’s penetrating, defiant pessimism. The Return is resolving into the story of Dale Cooper’s homecoming and his final confrontation with his shadow, but it certainly seems as if the key to that return will—and always has been—Laura Palmer.
Some miscellaneous observations:
- Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) speaks for ecstatic and frustrated Twin Peaks viewers alike: "You can't fool me! I've been here before!" Likewise Brad Mitchum's furious, disbelieving, "What the fuck?!"
- From a plot perspective, the most crucial revelations in Part 10 are relatively understated. Albert’s (Miguel Ferrer) digital snooping uncovers Diane’s response to Mr. C’s text message from Part 9, in which she alerts him to the developments in the Bill Hastings case. Likewise, Tammy (Chrysta Bell) confirms what many viewers may have suspected: Mr. C was somehow involved in the glass box experiment seen in Part 1.
- Dwelling on the physical and spiritual laws underlying Twin Peaks' cosmology probably isn't particularly fruitful, but one does wonder how Dale Cooper was able to maintain his trim early thirty-something physique while wandering lethargically around the Black Lodge for two and a half decades. Although Cooper did age, the Lodge evidently acts as a kind of anatomical Tupperware, preserving his G-man physical condition and "bumblebee metabolism."
- Candie's over-the-top remorse at accidentally injuring Rodney strikes an exaggerated contrast with Richard and Steven's utterly unrepentant, loathsome behavior towards their supposed loved ones. Here Lynch points to the double standard that renders misogynistic violence all the more abhorrent, wherein women are obliged to perform elaborate rituals of contrition for the slightest offense, while men are afforded second chance after second chance, despite their unforgivable actions.
- Wendy Robie gets an actual line in this episode, when Nadine Hurley murmurs glowingly to herself about Dr. Jackoby (Russ Tamblyn), who is seen once again ranting about unspecified government “fucks” on his Internet show. There’s something improbably fanfic-ish about the notion that Nadine now owns a silent drape runner store, as this episode reveals. It’s one of the few clumsy notes in the show’s resurrection of the original series’ characters. The spotlit golden shovel from Jackoby in her display window is a wry touch, however, as is the detail that Nadine is sipping what appears to be a large, calorie-laden coffee drink while the doctor rails against the evils of Big Sugar.
- It's not enough that the Mitchum brothers seem like the humorless refugees from a post-classic gangster film in the style of Martin Scorsese or Brian De Palma. Rodney also explicitly and rather vainly compares himself to Marlon Brando—a maladroit reference to the character of Vito Corleone in The Godfather by way of the actor who played him.
- The incongruous, transparent head of Johnny’s talking teddy bear resembles the main character of Lynch’s animated DumbLand shorts, which present a grotesque, violent parody of typical suburban sitcom tribulations.
- Richard’s rampage through his grandmother’s house evokes the disturbing “Singin' in the Rain” scene from A Clockwork Orange, particularly in Johnny’s miserable helplessness as he watches the violent abuse inflicted on his mother. To quote Albert, “Fuck Gene Kelly, you motherfucker.”
- Absent the knowledge that the entirety of The Return was in the proverbial can before it began airing, one could be forgiven for assuming that Constance Talbot (Jane Adams) and Albert enjoying a flirty dinner together is a gesture of pure fan service.
- Sightings: Singer/songwriter Rebekah del Rio is a returning Lynch player of sorts, having portrayed a version of herself in Mulholland Drive, where she performed a Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” She also briefly appeared in Richard Kelly’s notorious post-apocalyptic mind-fuck, Southland Tales, which plays like a glaringly miscalculated gestalt of Lynch, Robert Altman, Michael Bay, and Mike Judge.