Someone’s on the way.
[Note: This post contains spoilers.]
Twin Peaks: The Return // Part 11 // Original Air Date July 23, 2017 // Written by Mark Frost and David Lynch // Directed by David Lynch
The search for answers and meaning has been at the forefront of Twin Peaks: The Return’s entire run up to this point. Indeed, one might say it is the new show’s primary preoccupation, particularly as it relates to the rapport between the pop culture artist and the observer. (“Consumer,” if one is going to be blunt about it.) The series is almost two-thirds complete, and in that span Mark Frost and David Lynch have returned repeatedly to the concept of mystery and the detective’s relationship to it. Although, where Twin Peaks is concerned, “detective” can refer variously to literal investigators within the show's universe like Dale Cooper, the obsessive viewers who parse the series’ every detail for esoteric clues, and all people generally who are groping through life and searching for meaning.
It’s in Part 11, however, that this cluster of ideas receives substantial attention, albeit in vastly different ways. A little over a third of this episode is concerned with the tawdry melodrama of life in the town of Twin Peaks, where the tragedies of the past continue to repeat themselves. These passages contain some notable revelations concerning both contemporary events and the past 25 years. Miriam (Sarah Jean Long) is still (barely) alive after suffering a brutal beating and attempted murder at the hands of Richard Horne. It is confirmed that Becky (Amanda Seyfried) is indeed Bobby Briggs’ (Dana Ashbrook) daughter, and that he and Shelly (Mädchen Amick) were married at one point. (She’s kept his surname, despite the split.) However, Shelly is currently sweet on Red (Balthazar Getty), Richard’s dime-flipping drug supplier, although she is presumably ignorant of Red’s career as a narcotics trafficker.
The Becky-Bobby-Shelly plot largely serves to highlight that Twin Peaks’ uglier side is just as sordid and dreadful as ever. For a while, this section seems to swap the show’s more customary small-town gothic tone for something closer to Cops-style trailer park scuzziness: Shelly clinging to and them tumbling from the hood of her car; Becky shooting with frustrated fury into the vacant apartment of Stephen’s mistress; Becky tearfully insisting that she both despises and love her shitheel husband. It’s miserable to see Becky repeating some of Shelly’s worst mistakes, but the truly bleak flourish comes with the revelation that Shelly herself is still making terrible choices in men, as exemplified by her girlish, besotted manner with Red. (Bobby’s awkward, wounded expression is almost as heartbreaking.)
However, as he often does in this iteration of Twin Peaks, director David Lynch abruptly shifts the tone into something more bizarre and nightmarish. The Briggs’ unhappy gathering at the Double R is interrupted by gunfire and shattering glass. Becky’s traumatic misfortunes and Red’s appearance naturally incline the viewer to assume that this explosion of violence is somehow related. (Perhaps the shots were fired by a vengeful, unstable Stephen.) However, it turns out to be a freak, unconnected occurrence. In a minivan stopped just outside the diner, a child picked up a gun left in the vehicle by his father, and the weapon went off in the boy’s hands.
Much like Bobby, it takes the viewer a moment to process that this incident is merely a weird coincidence. Bobby is also taken aback by the sight of the trigger-happy child, who is camouflage-clad and slouching silently in a manner that almost exactly mimics his father. (It’s a disarming touch that neatly calls back to the inter-generational echoes that had been playing out at the Briggs’ booth in the Double R.) The confusion of the scene is exacerbated by the incessant honking of the car idling just behind the minivan, and it’s when Bobby approaches the irate driver (Laura Kenny) that things switch from just uncanny to downright demented. The woman wails in disjointed anguish that she is late and desperate to get home, and that “she’s sick.” At this point a young girl (Priya Niehaus) rises, zombie-like, out of the passenger seat, croaking and retching some vile fluid as she reaches towards Bobby. The driver, meanwhile, repeatedly exclaims “Aghh!” in a way that is simultaneously ludicrous and utterly terrifying. It’s pure horror movie insanity, dropped inexplicably into Bobby’s already strange evening like a sack of slimy, squirming eels.
Part of what makes this scene so disorienting is its contravention of the basic rules of televisual storytelling. The proximity of the three sub-scenes—Becky’s conversation with her parents, the aftermath of the gun accident, and the vomiting child in the car—naturally leads one to suppose that there is some narrative relationship between them. There isn’t, at least in the plot sense: It’s just a sadly typical angst-laden family conversation, interrupted by a random incident of accidental violence, interrupted in turn by an unexplained, disturbing jolt of surrealism. Bobby even seems to betray some extra-textual awareness of how nuts it all is. As the obligatory detective in this scene, he’s trained to think in terms of cause and effect, but the collision of events he witnesses is pure happenstance. His wordless reaction matches the one presumably provoked in the viewer, while also effectively paraphrasing Sarah Palmer’s rhetorical wail from Season 1: What is going on in this town?
There are, of course, thematic threads running through this passage of the episode: the cycles of ruin and violence reverberating down through the generations; the intrusion of annihilating chaos into familial normalcy; and the unseen disease that’s been metastasizing in Twin Peaks for decades, a cancer that seems to inflict its most severe damage on the young. However, Bobby doesn’t have the privilege of the viewer’s vantage point. He can’t see the big picture, and from his perspective the events in this episode surely feel like dissolute madness, a malignant counterpoint to the cosmic order and purpose that he might have discerned in his father’s oracular message from Part 9.
Bobby could use some sort of signpost to help make sense of all the chaos, and it’s no accident that the following scene involves Hawk (Michael Horse) and Sheriff Truman (Robert Forster) pondering the deputy’s map, which is “very old, but always current.” In the relative calm of the sheriff department's conference room, they have the time and quiet to ruminate on the map’s mysterious symbology. It’s not a traditional map, but there’s little precedent for the journey they’re contemplating. (The Sheriff portentously describes the location indicated in Major Briggs’ message, “There’s no road there. Road’s gone.”) Their conversation is mostly speculative, but the glyphs painted on the leather and Hawk’s interpretations reverberate with the series’ existing motifs: trees, fire, electricity, corn, disease. When the Sheriff ask about the familiar owl-like symbol at the top of the map, Hawk’s response (“You don’t ever want to know about that. Really.”) calls back to Agent Desmond’s rebuke regarding the blue rose on Cousin Lil’s dress in Fire Walk with Me.
Meanwhile, the FBI and Buckhorn police investigate the location where Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard) claims he entered “the Zone” with Ruth Davenport and encountered Major Briggs. Gordon (David Lynch) and Albert (Miguel Ferrer) seem to have some notion of what they will find there, but they also don’t seem to have any particular plan. Gordon tentatively approaches a spot in the scrubby backyard of a run-down house, whereupon he witnesses a vortex opening in the sky. Everyone seems to have a different perspective on these events: only Gordon can see and hear the dark, ethereal maelstrom; Albert doesn’t seem to perceive it, but he does witness Gordon’s form wavering and blurring; everyone else (at attested by a splendid wide shot) merely sees Gordon wave his arms slowly over his head, staring intently at something that they cannot discern. Only Diane (Laura Dern) notices a Woodsman, who is fading in and out like a weak radio signal, sneaking up to the car in which Detective Macklay (Brent Briscoe) and Bill Hastings sit. She doesn’t do anything to alert them, and seems dully amused when Bill’s head subsequently implodes. (Credit to Biscoe for his shocked, utterly genuine reaction to this horror.)
Later, when the group confers on these events over coffee and donuts, their manner is matter-of-fact, despite the fantastical nature of what has occurred. (Although Gordon confesses that his hands are still shaking.) The sinister forces they are pursuing are enigmatic, seemingly operating outside the realms of reason and even physical laws. In the face of such inscrutable malevolence, this gaggle of detectives is left dazed and uncertain, retreating to the comfort of “the policeman’s dream” of caffeine and sugar, as Gordon puts it. Only Diane smokes a cigarette, perched higher than the rest on a narrow stool; she’s distinguished from the rest visually, mirroring her ambiguous loyalties. When Albert shows Gordon a photo of the coordinates written on the arm of Ruth Davenport’s body, she leans in to furtively memorize the numbers. (He notices, and she notices that he notices.)
Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) lethargic misadventures in Dougie Jones’ life reach a turning point when he comes face-to-face with the nefarious Mitchum brothers (Robert Knepper and Jim Belushi). In an extended sequence that plays like a riff on the climactic scene of Seven, Cooper is driven out to the desert for his planned execution. His fate takes a 180-degree turn, however, thanks to bit of preparatory guidance from MIKE (Al Strobel) and Bradley Mitchum’s prophetic dream of a cherry pie. Knepper and Belushi approach this passage with profanity-studded broadness, while MacLachlan heroically maintains “Dougie’s” signature bovine impassivity. It’s an unabashedly entertaining sequence, capped with a champagne toast that commemorates the Mitchums’ unlikely transformation from Cooper’s would-be-murderers to his close personal friends.
What’s remarkable about Cooper’s pastry-borne salvation, however, is how neatly it fits with the rest of Part 11, despite its tonal dissonance with everything else that transpires in the episode. (Indeed, this is arguably the most tonally fractured episode of new series to date, and that schizoid personality is part of what makes it so marvelous.) Elsewhere in Part 11, characters contend with the elusiveness of answers and the challenge in unraveling complex events from a limited viewpoint. The Mitchums think they understand their situation and what needs to be done, but the hidden world of dreams and visions throws a monkey wrench into their bloody-minded plans. The inscrutable intensity of Bradley’s dream vexes him as much as his anxiousness to kill Dougie Jones. When the absurd events of that dream actually comes to pass, his grievances with Dougie are entirely forgotten. In an instant, the cherry pie triggers a Jubilee of sorts: debts are forgiven, mercy rains down, and former enemies break bread. (As if to underline this streak of good luck, the bedraggled woman (Linda Porter) from the Silver Mustang in Part 3 appears, newly glamorous and profusely thanking “Mr. Jackpots” for his benevolence.)
This reversal of Dougie’s fortune has little basis in logic. Indeed, the Mitchum brothers had every reason to kill Dougie, even if their reasons were tangled up with falsehoods and misconceptions. It’s not detective work that saves Cooper, but a receptiveness to whispers from the subconscious (or from other dimensions, in Cooper’s case.) Even a testy, world-weary criminal like Bradley recognizes the importance of doing what feels 110% right in his gut, even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense. The marvel of the Mitchum brothers farce is that Cooper and his Lodge allies aren’t hoodwinking the gangsters, but setting them back on track. Killing Dougie would have been the reasonable thing to do, but it also would have been a terrible mistake. It’s not reason but paranormal omens that paradoxically allow the Mitchums to discern the facts: namely, that Dougie Jones is not their enemy.
Some miscellaneous observations:
- The house where Gordon encounters the vortex to the Black Lodge is located at 2240 Sycamore, solidifying a motif that seems to occur in association with Earth-to-Lodge gateways. The housing development where Cooper emerged from the Lodge via an electrical outlet had a street named Sycamore as well. And Glastonbury Grove near Twin Peaks, where Cooper first entered the Lodge so long ago, is surrounded by sycamore saplings.
- Lynch is one of those filmmakers who can find ways to make both inky shadow and full sun equally menacing. The latter is exemplified by the vortex sequence, which unfolds on a clear day in the prosaic setting of a run-down, overgrown suburban backyard. There’s something particularly unnerving about the stillness of the scene’s wide shots, where one can just make out Gordon in the distance with his arms in the air.
- As in all Twin Peaks episodes, there are abundant little touches that give even the most straightforward scenes an element of the weird. The fact that wealthy, hardened gangsters like the Mitchum brothers awaken at 2:00 in the afternoon to eat a breakfast of cold cereal is particularly amusing. However, in terms of sheer whimsical randomness it’s hard to beat Carl’s (Harry Dean Stanton) van-hailing flute, which recalls, of all things, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
- When Red trots away from the Double R, the jingly clicking of loose change in his pockets can be faintly heard. A nice sound design touch, that.
- One of the recurring features of The Return’s dialog is that Frost and Lynch often seem to be giving voice to the frustrations they imagine long-time Twin Peaks fans are feeling about the show’s apparent disinterest in bringing back the old Cooper any time soon. The unhinged shrieking of the sick girl’s driver is a vivid example: “We’re late! We've got miles to go! We have to go! Please, we have to get home!” As the AV Club observes, it’s becoming evident that the return of the show's title refers to Dale Cooper’s slow reawakening to his old self as much as it refers to any geographic return to the town of Twin Peaks. The Dougie Jones plot isn’t a speed bump on the way to the real story. It is the story. Viewers might soothe their impatience by taking the efficient, reassuring message of the sheriff’s dispatcher to heart: Someone’s on the way.
- Sightings: The credits reveal that the woman glimpsed hiding from Becky in the stairwell with Stephen is Gersten Hayward, Donna’s youngest sister. She was last seen in a fairy princess costume, performing one the piano for her family and the Palmers way back in Episode 8 of the original series. (She’s even played by the same actress, Alicia Witt.) It’s another acute reminder that Twin Peaks finds a way to corrupt everything innocent and lovely.