I want you to think real hard about what you’re saying, because you’re not making any sense.
[Note: This post contains spoilers. Updated 8/30/17.]
Twin Peaks: The Return // Part 15 // Original Air Date August 20, 2017 // Written by Mark Frost and David Lynch // Directed by David Lynch
Part 15 of Twin Peaks: The Return feels unmistakably like a turning point for both versions of Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). The real Cooper, still mentally hobbled and still ensnared in the suddenly charmed life of Dougie Jones, attains what appears to be a long-awaited moment of clarity. Despite all the signifiers of his old life that have previously nudged Coop’s subconscious—coffee, pie, an American flag, a policeman's badge—he’s never made the leap to a true awakening. The cue that finally unleashes a thunderbolt of recognition and urgency for Cooper is not one of these tangible talismans, but the name “Gordon Cole.” Those words are uttered by director Cecil B. DeMille, playing himself in Billy Wilder’s scabrous Hollywood satire Sunset Boulevard, but they naturally catch Cooper’s attention on account of his former superior at the FBI. (This constitutes a Möbius strip of a meta-reference, given that Lynch originally named the FBI director after the little-seen Paramount executive in Wilder’s film.)
For a moment, it appears that Cooper might be dislodged from his Dougie fugue by the mere mention of this name, but Coop's reverie is shortly derailed by the electrical crackling that he perceives to be emanating from a wall outlet. Drawn by perhaps both the unnatural sound and memories of his exit from the Black Lodge, Cooper approaches the outlet and probes at it with a fork, with predictable results. It remains to be seen whether this literal shock will either jolt Cooper back to his old self or forestall the awakening that seemed imminent moments earlier, but it’s notable that electricity (the otherworldly fire of Twin Peaks’ mythology) is once again presented as the medium for a potentially profound transformation.
The nefarious Mr. C, meanwhile, has an overdue meeting with the mysterious Phillip Jeffries, who has evidently undergone a striking transformation of his own. Arriving at the hellish convenience store that serves as a lair and/or rendezvous point for the entities of the Black Lodge, Mr. C demands to see the former FBI agent, and is dutifully escorted through decrepit hallways, ethereal forests, and a fleabag motel by a sooty Woodsman. He then comes face-to-face with an entity that claims to be Jeffries, although the federal lawman now inhabits the form of an electric, bell-like contraption. Broadly reminiscent of devices previously seen in the White Lodge, this machine emits buzzes and clanks, spews silvery vapors from a spout, and speaks like David Bowie with a hambone accent. (The role of Jeffries is credited to the late Bowie based on Fire Walk With Me footage, but the “teakettle's" lines are voiced by Nathan Frizzell.)
Mr. C and Jeffries have a rather murky exchange about a woman named “Judy,” previously mentioned by the teleporting, time-traveling Jeffries when he briefly appeared at the Philadelphia FBI office in Fire Walk with Me. Not only does this inanimate Jeffries seem unaware of the assassination plot against Mr. C, but he also somewhat bewilderingly reminds Cooper’s evil double that “you’ve already met Judy.” The primary takeaways from this conversation are that Mr. C may have misconstrued some of the events that have occurred in recent days, and that Jeffries may be mistaking Mr. C for the real Dale Cooper. ("You are Cooper," the teakettle intones with relieved finality.) Jeffries “writes” some geographic coordinates via puffs of steam, and these numbers appear to match up with those previously seen scrawled on the arm of Ruth Davenport’s corpse.
As Mr. C departs, another curve ball is delivered: Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) appears and aims a gun at the doppelganger, evidently having followed him from the Farm in Montana. Richard has just enough time to confirm what viewers have long suspected—Audrey Horne is his mother—before Mr. C disarms him, gives him a swift ass-kicking, and forces the younger man into his truck. “We’ll talk on the way,” is the only explanation Mr. C is willing to give to his putative spawn for the moment.
The anti-climactic nature of this belated face-to-face encounter between the show’s father-and-son villains is emblematic of The Return’s methods. The new series is built around a sense of escalating momentum towards a destination—it’s right there in the title, after all—but Mark Frost and David Lynch have made a habit of mutinously delaying and subverting almost every anticipated incident. For Richard, his confrontation with the man he has seen only in photographs is a sobering and potentially revelatory moment, concluding a week when he’s otherwise careened from one violent outburst to the next. To Mr. C, however, Richard is merely a mild annoyance who is quickly dispatched and then dragged along on the off chance he might be useful. Similarly, Mr. C finally squares off with the enigmatic Jeffries, who has harried the doppelganger's steps from afar, only to discover that the former FBI agent is no longer a man, but a riddle-spouting contraption squatting within the Black Lodge.
Dale Cooper’s maybe-awakening is likewise consistent with the series' treatment of crucial events that have been long-awaited (or at least long-telegraphed). Cooper has spent 13 episodes of the new series in a shuffling daze, shaking the cobwebs loose from his old self with agonizing slowness. While this episode suggests that Gordon Cole’s name has at least roused Dale Cooper’s consciousness into wakefulness, the outcome of Cooper’s subsequent electrocution is left blatantly ambiguous. Is the old, earnest FBI agent of the original series finally back, or has have those 120 volts smacked him down into yet more gormless Dougie Jones lethargy? Is Cooper even alive after such a potentially fatal shock?
Viewers have been waiting for this moment, but consistent with the approach in evidence throughout the season, the show’s creators couch such scenes in uncertainty, uncanniness, and the unforeseen. This phenomenon is signaled in small, subtle ways throughout Part 15. The haziness of Cooper’s fate is mirrored in that of a barely coherent, drug-addled Stephen (Caleb Landry Jones), who appears to kill himself off screen in a fit of existential panic. Exacerbating the mystery, Stephen’s distraught girlfriend Gersten (Alicia Witt) is too disoriented by the narcotic spectacle of her woodland surroundings to check on him, notwithstanding her cloying concern for him.
James’ (James Marshall) attempt to greet his married crush Renee (Jessica Szohr) as politely and innocuously as possible almost instantly escalates into an all-out barroom brawl—albeit one that the iron-fisted Freddie (Jake Wardle) ends just as swiftly by unintentionally one-shotting their assailants into critical condition at the ICU. Later in Part 15, road house patron Ruby (Charlyne Yi), slouching harmlessly in a booth as she waits for her companions, is aggressively relocated by a pair of bikers, leaving her confounded to the point of terror. (As with the hysterical driver in Part 11, Ruby's pitiful crawling and horrifying shrieks give expression to the viewer’s dread that the old Cooper might never return.)
Crucially, Part 15 also offers a balm that mitigates these passages of dismay and confusion, although it counter-intuitively presents it at the episode’s beginning. After being denied a happy ending for decades, high school sweethearts Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) and Ed Hurley (Everett McGill) are at last given a chance to be together. Inexplicably awakened to a newfound self-awareness and positivity by Dr. Jacoby’s paranoiac ravings, Ed’s wife Nadine (Wendy Robie) apologizes for her lifetime of erratic, unpleasant behavior and releases him from any obligations to her, sending him into Norma’s arms with her blessing.
Ed arrives at the Double R to share the good news with Norma, but is crushed when she abruptly puts him off to confer with her partner Walter (Grant Goodeve). Ed is momentarily despondent—His order to Shelly (Mädchen Amick): “Coffee… and a cyanide pill”—but Norma is merely meeting with Walter to permanently divest herself of the Double R franchise locations. Ed closes his eyes in an almost meditative attitude as Norma disposes of Walter and the potential distractions of a tri-state pie empire. While Ottis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” croons from the diner’s jukebox, Norma’s hand appears on Ed’s shoulder and he opens his eyes. At long last, all is right with the world for Twin Peaks’ most star-crossed of lovers. It's a hint that not everything will end in tears as The Return nears its conclusion.
Some miscellaneous observations:
- The award for best deadpan line reading of the episode goes to Clark Middleton, who responds to Audrey’s (Sherilyn Fenn) provoking jab, “I like Billy better,” with a dry sigh: “Sensational.”
- Over the course of recent episodes, Audrey’s seeming inability to walk out her front door to look for her missing lover has increasingly recalled the plight of the aristocratic party guests in Luis Buñuel’s surrealist masterpiece The Exterminating Angel. Abruptly and inexplicably incapable of leaving their host’s home, the party-goers descend into hysterics and treachery as their captivity stretches into untold days and weeks. Buñuel famously refused to explain his allegorical intentions, but the film functions so effectively due to the sheer, unexpected intensity of its absurdly nightmarish scenario, any potential metaphorical reading is almost beside the point.
- Janey-E’s (Naomi Watts) shrieks of alarm when “Dougie” shocks himself and shorts out the house is eerily reminiscent of Watts’ screams in the final, bloodcurdling minutes of Mulholland Drive, complete with similar strobe light effects. Watts’ chilling outburst is likewise echoed in Ruby’s strange fit of terror on the Bang Bang Bar's dance floor.
- Stephen's nearly incoherent ramblings prior to his apparent suicide attempt suggest a dadaist riff on the renowned "To Be or Not to Be" soliloquy from Act III, Scene I of Hamlet. Notwithstanding its bizarre imagery of a rhinoceros, bottled lightning, and the color turquoise, Stephen's ravings indicate a hesitation as he weighs the release of oblivion against the possibility of an ambiguous afterlife (or other lingering quasi-existence).
- Hutch’s (Tim Roth) self-serving characterization of the United States as “a nation of killers” hearkens back to Buella’s observations from Part 1: “It’s a world of truck drivers.”
- The lines spoken by Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard have a distinct resonance now that series’ characters and factions are finally converging—geographically and psychologically—on the town of Twin Peaks: “I’m not worried. Everything will be fine. The old team together again. Nothing can stop us.”
- The encounters that Mr. C has above the convenience store plainly occur outside the normal bounds of time and space. This is only confirmed by the fact that said store flickers and vanishes from the wooded clearing after he and Richard depart the area. However, not only does Mr. C reach this supernatural locale via truck, but Richard manages to surreptitiously follow him there in his own car. The notion that Lodge-associated locales can be both spiritual and physical places (at least for a time) is not new, but there’s something confoundingly odd about characters literally driving to a demonic, trans-dimensional hideout.