Sure is a mystery, huh?
[Note: This post contains spoilers.]
Twin Peaks: The Return // Part 14 // Original Air Date August 13, 2017 // Written by Mark Frost and David Lynch // Directed by David Lynch
An “eventful” episode of Twin Peaks: The Return is admittedly a relative thing, but by this series’ skewed standard, Part 14 feels like a particularly dense chapter. In part, this impression may exist because the previous three episodes made such a show of withholding dramatic satisfaction and challenging the viewer’s patience. However, it’s also indisputable that there’s a lot to chew on in Part 14—and not just the necks of sleazy truckers, either. Not all this narrative red meat is “action” in the conventional sense. Indeed, some of Part 14’s most stimulating passages involve characters telling stories to other characters, whether literally or through images. However, virtually every scene in this episode features some notable incident: confirmation of (or elaboration on) pre-existing suspicions; genuine left-field revelations that re-contextualize events up to this point; and even some honest-to-god forward motion with respect to the plot. There are also relatively opaque conversations between new characters, because this is Twin Peaks: The Return, after all.
Mr. C and “Dougie Jones” do not make appearances in Part 14, which allows the episode to spend more time in Twin Peaks itself. In the wake of the natural pivot point in Part 8, the show seems to have turned its attention increasingly towards the titular town, and Part 14 in particular seems to bestow Twin Peaks’ citizens with a goodly chunk of screen time. This further enhances the steadily mounting impression that the show’s events are converging on the town, and that the inevitable confrontation between Dale Cooper and his malevolent double will unfold there.
Certainly, Part 14 depicts instances where the supernatural entities of the White and Black Lodge intrude into the physical reality of the town in the most vivid manner imaginable. Granted, Twin Peaks has been the setting for some unsettling, even downright inexplicable moments, from a vomiting zombie-girl to Carl Rodd’s vision of a departing soul. Yet nothing shocking and otherworldly has yet occurred in Twin Peaks on the level of the murderous glass box wraith, or Mr. C’s Woodsmen-mediated resurrection, or Bill Hastings’ imploding skull. That changes in Part 14, which not only serves up the surprise of a demonic Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) ripping open a man’s jugular with her teeth, but also the sheriff department’s long-awaited appointment with the White Lodge portal, an encounter that leaves blind and mute Lodge denizen Naido (Nae Yuuki) in their care.
Sarah’s gruesome attack on the trucker (John Paulsen) is obviously the more shocking of these two scenes, albeit one that has been subtly foreshadowed over the past two episodes. The revelation that Sarah is host to a malicious Black Lodge entity is admittedly alarming, and the jump scare when she lunges at the harassing creep’s throat is gratifying in a slasher movie way. However, it’s Zabriskie’s performance that makes this sequence truly creepy, from the quietly desperate way she appends a “please” to each deflection of the trucker’s advances, to the languid challenge in her acidic remark to the bartender (Eric Ray Anderson): “Sure is a mystery, huh?” Moreover, there’s something indefinably unnerving about this attack occurring in a public place where bystanders are lingering only a few feet away. Did no one notice Sarah removing her face? Or is this just another example of the subjectivity that seems to be at work in any brush with the Black Lodge?
Still, notwithstanding the shock of Sarah Palmer’s bloody feast, the sheriff and deputies’ encounter with the White Lodge gateway is arguably the more significant development where the series’ plot is concerned. Of all the people to be transported bodily to the Lodge and presented with a kind of visual Cliff Notes on the show’s mythos, Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) was not high on the list of potential candidates. (Not the least because the new series has tended to portray Andy and wife Lucy as even more absurd space cadets than the original series ever did.) Certainly, among the four men who trek through the forest to Jack Rabbit’s Palace—the other three being Sheriff Truman (Robert Forster), Deputy Hawk (Michale Horse), and Deputy Briggs (Dana Ashbrook)—Andy seemed the least likely to be the designated envoy to the Lodge.
In Twin Peaks, however, the supernatural world is nothing if not inscrutable. The Giant (Carl Struycken), who at long last properly identifies himself as “the Fireman,” shows Andy a conspicuously cinematic montage of scenes from the past and future. When he emerges from the White Lodge, Andy is uncharacteristically focused and decisive, carrying the weakened Naido back to the sheriff’s truck and indicating they must keep her presence at the station a secret. How he gleaned this information from the Fireman’s cryptic highlight reel is unclear, but this again points to the idiosyncratic nature of the paranormal in the world of Twin Peaks. Gordon’s encounter with the Black Lodge vortex in Part 11 illustrated that different individuals can all perceive the same phenomenon differently. This emphasizes the slippery nature of the Lodges and their associated phenomena, but it also notably reflects the myriad reactions to Twin Peaks itself, which different viewers might regard as a work of genius, inscrutable garbage, or anything in between.
Later in the station’s holding cells, Andy and Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) give Naido clothes and attempt to reassure her, although the woman persists in her fearful, unintelligible chattering. The sheer uncanniness of the situation—an unearthly Lodge entity sitting in the Twin Peaks sheriff’s station, swaddled in a fuzzy pink bathrobe—is only heightened by what follows. Deputy Chad (John Pirruccello), newly arrested for his corrupt dealings, screams in annoyance at a bloody-faced drunk (Jay Aaseng) who sluggishly mimics both Chad's words and Naido’s primate-like whimpering. This scene carries a disorienting and distressing air, evoking a similar sequence from the original series, wherein a jailed Bobby and Mike Nelson inexplicably barked and brayed at James Hurley like ravening dogs.
The notion that visitors do not necessarily experience the Lodge exactly as the show portrays it seems to be confirmed in a later scene featuring James (James Marshall), who is revealed to now work as a security guard at the Great Northern Hotel. By way of explaining the green rubber glove her always wears on his right hand, fellow guard Freddie (Jake Wardle) recounts his own mysterious encounter with the Fireman. As Freddie tells it, the otherworldly giant provided him with absurd yet very explicit instructions to follow, resulting in the permanent attachment of the glove to his hand and the gift of superhuman strength. (James’ sober, respectful attentiveness during this story, never once interjecting with skepticism or prodding questions, is one of the nicer touches in this episode’s script.) Besides setting up the possibility of an arm-wrestling match with Mr. C—one can dream!—Freddie’s story underlines the subjective nature of the Lodge, and the extent to which the spiritual receptiveness of the individual visitor seems to play a role in their experience.
Elsewhere, Part 14 provides validation of some long-standing Twin Peaks theories. It is revealed that FBI agents Gordon Cole (David Lynch) and Phillip Jeffries (the late David Bowie, seen in footage from Fire Walk with Me) were once partners, and it was the pair of them that originated the X-File-like Blue Rose classification for certain exceptional cases. As Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) explains to newly anointed task force member Tamara Ferguson (Chrysta Bell), the first Blue Rose involved a woman who appeared to murder her own doppelgänger, which has obvious relevance to the Dale Cooper / Buckhorn investigation. Tammy astutely describes the double as a tulpa, a term that originated with Tibetan Buddhism—Tibet again!—and is often conceptualized as a mystical emanation or being created from psychic energy. This intriguingly recalls the gold cloud of motes that emerged from the Fireman's head and coalesced into the Laura Palmer orb in Part 8.
Gordon later recounts a puzzling dream to his agents, one in which the Italian actress Monica Bellucci (playing herself) delivers a message and reminds him of the day an incoherent Jeffries briefly appeared at the Philadelphia FBI office. The accusing exclamation Jeffies directed at Dale Cooper (“Who do you think that is there?!”) now seems much more relevant, although like Annie Blackburn’s message to Laura just before her murder, is suggests a muddling of timelines. The real bombshell drops after Diane Evans (Laura Dern) joins the group and learns of the wedding ring recovered from Garland Briggs’ stomach. Diane reveals that she has a half-sister named Janey-E who is married to a Dougie, which matches the ring's inscription and at long last connects the FBI investigation with the show’s events in Las Vegas. At first, this out-of-nowhere revelation seems somewhat contrived—even a little precious, at least for Lynch—but once the implications are permitted to simmer for a bit with Diane’s skulduggery for Mr. C, the Diane / Janey-E link ultimately provides more questions than answers.
Late in the episode, yet another pair of heretofore unseen roadhouse patrons, Megan (Shane Lynch) and Sophie (Emily Stofle), discuss the former woman’s distressing encounter with “Billy,” who seems to be the same man that Audrey Horne previously identified as her missing lover. Megan’s description of Billy’s appearance—blood gushing “like a waterfall” from his nose and mouth—echoes Audrey’s dream, while also suggesting the battered drunk previously glimpsed in the sheriff’s holding cell. (The excessively gravid, mannered way that Sophie asks, “What’s your mom’s name?,” feels purely like an instance of Frost and Lynch needling their viewers.) While this scene seems to tamp down fan speculation that Audrey’s storyline from Parts 12 and 13 is a dream or delusion, it doesn’t really clarify the essential question: What happened to Billy?
This is consistent with Part 14’s overall preoccupation with vivid stories that reveal information but don’t actually provide clear answers: Albert’s summary of the first Blue Rose case; Gordon’s description of his dream and Jeffries' appearance; the “Black Lodge’s Greatest Hits” film that the Fireman shows Andy; and Freddie’s eager account of his magic glove’s origin. (Bobby’s reference to the “tall tales” that he and his father once shared at Jack Rabbit’s Palace also alludes to this theme.) These stories expand The Return’s universe, flesh out existing mysteries, and establish connections between the show’s numerous subplots, but they don’t explain anything.
Freddie’s tale is emblematic of the storytelling approach that Frost and Lynch favor in this episode—and throughout the new series, for that matter. While the green glove anecdote carries additional meaning for the viewer, it’s just an amazing story to James. Its value is not primarily derived from the answers it reveals, but from the emotions it evokes; partly due to the extraordinary nature of the events Freddie describes and partly due to the colloquial, enthusiastic way that Freddie describes them. The uncharacteristic clarity of the Fireman’s instructions, at least as Freddie understood them, is no accident. It’s a case study in the limitations of lucid storytelling. While Freddie’s path was laid out with precision, his destination and what it all means remain obscure. Echoing the way that Gordon unabashedly drank up his “friend’s” ostentatiously sensual exit from his room in Part 11, this episode urges the viewer to follow James' example, to savor the experience of a good story rather than demanding immediate, straightforward answers (which may not be forthcoming anyway).
Some miscellaneous observations:
- Supernatural surrealism notwithstanding, this episode’s most random moment of Lynchian oddness is surely Special Agent Headley (Jay R. Ferguson) inexplicably losing his shit and pounding his fist on his desk: “Wilson, how many times have I told you? This is what we do in the FBI!” Speaking of which, wouldn’t the FBI’s search for Dougie Jones have been almost immediately resolved if Gordon had just given the Las Vegas office Janey-E’s name as well?
- Monica Bellucci’s dream message to Gordon Cole—“We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives inside the dream”—is a line that Lynch purportedly quoted when introducing screenings of Inland Empire. The phrase is a stylized version of the Mundaka Upanishad 1:1:7, as rather freely translated by Thomas Egenes and Kumuda Reddy in Eternal Stories from the Upanishads. The original, as translated in Max Müller’s seminal 1897 first volume of Sacred Books of the East:
As the spider sends forth and draws in its thread, as plants grow on the earth, as from every man hairs spring forth on the head and the body, thus does everything arise here from the Indestructible.
- Consistent with the Arthurian allusions that have previously cropped up in The Return, Andy has some parallels to the legendary hero Percival, a Knight of the Round Table who first appears in Chreiten de Troyes’ 12th century French romance Conte du Graal. The character also shows up in Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and Wolframm von Eschenbach’s Pazival, the latter of which was adapted into Richard Wagner’s celebrated 19th century opera. The perception of Andy as naïve and dim-witted yet virtuous mirror’s Percival’s persona as it is typically portrayed. Shielded from the evils of the world by his mother, a young Percival one day sees three of Arthur’s knights and immediately resolves to join their ranks. His mother dresses him as a fool so that he will be rebuffed at Camelot, but to the amazement of the court, Percival slays a malevolent red knight and earns his place at the Round Table. (This echoes Andy’s shooting of Jacques Renault in the original series.)
Late in von Eschenbach’s version, Percival meets holy man in the wilderness and learns from him the meaning of the Grail mystery, which has obvious similarities with Andy’s visit to the White Lodge in Part 14. The most widely-known story involving the knight, however, is that of the Fisher King, a magically wounded monarch whose realm lies in ruin. Percival is initially unable to lift the king’s curse because he does not understand the riddles hidden in a series of objects, which points to Twin Peaks’ long-running interest in codes, clues, and obscure meanings. The Fisher King tale foreshadows Andy’s potential role in returning Dale Cooper to his old self. Notably, similar Arthurian motifs are central to Terry Gilliam’s 1991 feature The Fisher King, which also centers on a man whose mind needs healing. Gilliam’s film is deliberately ambiguous as to which of its two lead characters is the metaphorical king and which is the knight, although it is Robin Williams’ homeless, traumatized Parry (Parcival?) who suffers visions of a marauding Red Knight.
- Sightings: Monica Bellucci is best known for portraying Bond girl Lucia in the 007 picture Spectre, Persephone in the Wachowski sisters’ Matrix series, and Alex in Gaspar Noé’s arthouse provocation Irreversible. Shane Lynch, who plays roadhouse patron Megan (daughter of Tina) is best known for her guest appearances on the 90210 revival and for Jason Reitman’s notoriously insufferable film Men, Women & Children. Megan’s friend, Sophie, is portrayed by David Lynch’s wife Emily Stofle, who also appeared in Inland Empire and alongside Marion Cotillard in the director’s short film Lady Blue Shanghai.