"If I think about the future of cinema as art, I shiver" (Y. Ozu, 1959)

IS IT FUTURE OR IS IT PAST? 2 - Twin Peaks: The Return (David Lynch & Mark Frost)

Sunday, 26 November 2017 12:38

Yorgos Tsourgiannis

Twin Peaks - The Return by David Lynch & Mark Frost 


Parts 17-18

(loads of spoilers)



In the two hour finale of Twin Peaks: The Return, the disciples of the bizarre and truly unrepeated cinematic universe created by Lynch and Frost, a cult that endured and grew since the pilot of the original TV series first aired in 1990 did get some answers. That first episode opened with the unsettling for the local community discovery of the dead body of the young high school student Laura Palmer. An investigation was launched, led by FBI special Agent Dale Cooper and the audience spent the remaining two entire seasons watching this investigation unfolding and with it all the ripples of pain and violence ensuing from that original violent act for all those affected. One feature film and approximately sixteen hours later, sixteen hours of agonisingly slow planting of information and built up and with the more often than not sidetracking of say watching a broom sweeping for three minutes or watching Andy and Lucy picking chair colours or eavesdropping to anonymous storylines at the Roadhouse, or listening to entire live music acts or watching people driving cars, the audience, after some twenty five years all in all, finally gets to have some closure. Some type of closure at least.


fotoAgent Dale Cooper, who spent said twenty five years in a bad place and whom we had to wait for said 16 hours to awaken from his Dougie state, gets to eliminate his unholy doppelganger, to rid the world, at least to begin with, of Bob, the demonic entity that was responsible for the death of sweet and troubled Laura Palmer and to restore some kind of peace and order for those long afflicted by this event.


Evil Cooper dies (a second time in this season) unceremonially, but oh-how good does it feel that he goes down by the hand of no other than dearest Lucy just at the moment of her mobile phone wonder epiphany. His demise for starters will later, in the beginning of part 18, create the necessary circumstances so that the recently introduced Janey E and young Sonny Jim, (who could possibly represent the creator’s teasing notion of a domesticated alternate life version of Dale Cooper) get to have their own personal closure. Their Dougie comes home. Is it really Dougie? Not that it matters, the original Dougie was a tulpa to begin with. Why are these two granted their closure while others are not? And a tiny golden globe, a wisp of Cooper fur and electricity? really? but let’s not go there.


About Bob. Bob has been main villain of the entire Twin Peaks universe. Well again up until part 17 of the Return at least that is, since right at the beginning of this episode we are notified via lengthy exposition and in between jokes about tumescence from the mouth of the man himself, that the real baddie is a demonic entity called Judie. Anybody who messes with this Jowday, ends up gone. And Bob, the guy who we thought puts the E to the Evil and who has been setting things in a motion up to now, is but just the sidekick. Ok.


Anyway, about Bob.

Bob the blob is being defeated by Freddie, a guy with a London east end accent wearing a special green glove. Freddie gets a few mean bruises and some vicious scars but eventually and with coach Dale in his corner, punches Bob to tiny black demonic pieces. We are not sure that he is gone for sure but that certainly it feels like it. And it all does feel like a wee preposterous. Things might have gone down differently, had Frank Silva, the actor who played the original Bob been available to do the scene but hey, necessity is the mother of invention and Lynch delightfully allows it. Freddie was also a freshly introduced character and his entire “arc” incidentally and in retrospect his function into The Return storyline is analogous to the manner of Bob going down.


This mockery of a closure offering in episode 17, together with Lynch and Frost’s perceived disregard for most medium related narrative expectations (eg. from the way duration and filmic time is handled to exposition to the endless narrative drifting and digressions) could perhaps be a way for them to challenge the inevitable expectation for some sort of resolution. You know, that natural kind of expectation which would simply exist by merely knowing that you are arriving at the end of the season of a TV show, and not just any TV show, but one whose legacy is deeply instilled, if not hyper-hyped, in the pop culture’s collective unconscious, the sequel of a show which was untimely cancelled and a show which is called The Return of all things. And one which would probably be the last despite the pleasantly suspicious planting of a certain Judy in the penultimate episode, all the conclusive inconclusiveness and some of the rumour mill speculations of a potential fourth season.


And a step further from challenging the medium or the format, could they perhaps be challenging the Twin Peaks mythology itself and its assorted expectations? The employment of some archetypical mythological tropes (think Ulysses or Orpheus) or the instances of direct altering of the original footage of Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me could be relevant nods. And further to that same train of thought perhaps a self-conscious it would seem, undermining of the very American Myth itself. The idea of the lone hero of the American west, who will against all odds, at all costs and even outside the law save the damsel in distress, as an identity signifier, as a meaning provider.


Why would one have closure expectations with Lynch in the directing helm, that is another question altogether but in any case let us be fair and admit that in parts 17 and 18, Lynch and Frost have delivered. We got some answers, bad guys went down, we had the sweetest and warmest reunion of old and new friends and lovers and even if inside a dream, we got a few things more. At the same time, with the loudness and the audacity of the events unfolding the way they do Lynch seems to also be questioning or at least drawing the attention to the idea of closure itself. The innate human desire for some definitive provision of meaning, an answer to ontological questions of all sorts, a relief, however temporary to that agonising earthling condition of not being able to know. In Inland Empire, Mullholand Drive, Lost Highway there are people who seek desperately some sort of closure with all that this could possibly entail. Lynch is not so interested in his heroes getting closure since he himself seems to believe that this is a ridiculous notion. He is nevertheless persistently fascinated by the fixation of human nature on things being finite.


Having said all that now, the coffee loving knight in the shining armour, Special Agent Dale Cooper will not stop at revenge. This is not enough closure for him. His mission he believes, is far from accomplished. He is trying to keep a promise. He is now trying to bring Laura Palmer back. He attempts to travel back in time and stop events from even unravelling. Cooper (and by extension Lynch), affectingly cares about the original cause of all the ensued violence. He goes back to the root of it, the original violence and tries to undo it. He wants to prevent Laura from dying in the first place. Unless of course Laura Palmer is an angelic entity, transported by the White Lodge in this world in an orb to counter the evildoing of Bob. But let’s not go there.


foto twin peaksMomentarily he seems to be succeeding and like another Orpheus he is pulling Euridice out of the underworld. The past has indeed been rewritten it seems. In fact so much so that we get to see the original footage of that the first episode of Twin Peaks, changed as well. Josie gazing at the mirror, Catherine and Pete exchange morning nods before the latter announces that he is going for fishing. However that plastic wrapped, hallow eyed beauty imagery is gone. The body of Laura Palmer is missing. The body is not there in the first place. Success?


But Orpheus turns to see at some point. Enter familiarly disturbing scratching sound and Laura is again gone. Her familiarly harrowing screaming echoes in his ears and ours. Cooper by his meddling with time may have caused a time space rift, an alternate timeline or Judy may have caught wind of things and snatched Laura out of the realm we came to accept as the Twin Peaks reality, to another reality, or. Or. It doesn’t matter so much. Nothing will stop agent Cooper.


Is it really you?


Part 18 is an entirely different beast. An unsettling and rather painful experience of different sorts. This is perhaps time for Cooper to learn one things or two about closure. Lynch’s use of time is unnerving here even for the hard-core enthusiasts. His lingering in shots for starters. A big chunk of part 18 consists of Lynch’s signature highway travelling.


Cooper aided by Mike and Jeffries gets wind of Laura’s whereabouts. A lot of miles later (430 to be precise) Cooper and his long lost gf Diane are about to enter a new realm, unsure of what rules would be applying there. There is also a long wet kiss, an acknowledgement that things might never be the same and a lot of power lines.


They stop at a motel. Diane sees her tulpa. Or is it the other way around? They enter the motel room. Diane may also be seeking some closure (especially as she has spent years trapped in the body of eyeless Naido) as she struggles during the not so particularly enjoyable intercourse to scratch off Dale’s face? to actually retrieve it? The Platters are singing. “My prayer and the answer you give, may they still be the same for as long as we live that you'll always be there at the end of my prayer.” The agonizing expression on the face of Diane is alarming. The fact that this is the exact same song that was playing at the radio station in part 8, just when the Woodsmen attacked it, summarily disposed of the dj and started transmitting “This is the water and this is the well, drink full and descend” can not possibly mean something hopeful.


Next morning, Cooper wakes up (in a different motel). Diane is gone. She’s left a note. It is addressed to a “Richard”, it is signed by a “Linda”. Things will never be the same. That sort of thing. Richard? Dale wonders. Silently maybe he remembers the Fireman’s tips at part 1, and therefore he might not wonder. By now he must not be one to be surprised easily anyway.


By the time it takes Cooper to drive down the streets of Odessa, Texas, to drink a mug of unfulfilling coffee at a Judy’s diner, to dispose of some harassing scum and deep fry their guns, he manages to find Laura again. She is alive. Only she is not Laura anymore, she is Carrie. And to be fair, he does not look very much himself either. Oh and there is a three day corpse shot in the head in Carrie’s sofa. No matter what version she finds herself in Laura Palmer is one unlucky woman.



Then there is the long drive into to the Northwest. Richard/Dale is driving Carrie/Laura back to Twin Peaks, back to her home. It is dark now. They take a casual turn in front of Norma’s double R diner. So much has happened in that diner and somehow now, seen shut, by night, it does seem alien. It feels awkwardly real. Then there is more driving. More glances and then they finally arrive. Dale Cooper brought Laura Palmer back home, so she can get her closure. And maybe Sarah Palmer, her mother who has been living there all along can get some peace too. Only home is not home anymore. In fact in this realm, it never was. It is a heartbreaking visual, witnessing Carrie’s eyes gazing inwards through the foggy veils of memory. Aided by the feint calling of Sarah Palmer, slowly she gets to discover her true identity. As narrative closures come, this is a pretty chilling and disquieting one. And violently eloquent in its semantics. You cannot go home anymore, you can never go home.


In the very last shot of the Return, Dale Cooper is back in the Red Room. Laura is whispering in his ear. We have been here before it seems. Together with these two, we seem to be caught in a loop. Only it does not feel so gloomy this time. Both of them seem assured somehow and more confident. Yes, he has failed. All this has happened again. And it will happen again. And maybe that is alright. A glimpse of hope.


Because Cooper will never stop. We perhaps need to have the Coopers in this world. We need to believe that they are there, that they exist. Even as make believe, a vital delusion. Even if it all was a sweet fantasy, a dream. And Lynch speaks dream well.



Fix your hearts or die.


It really does not matter so much with which unifying logic and theory one will attempt to tie all the loose ends and connect the dots to make sense of what has been happening in the Return. The Return decidedly evades neat interpretations, at the same time excluding the validity of none.


And to come back to that idea of closure, that dreamlike, hazy, non closure that we get at the end of the Return, maybe that is the only kind we can have, the only one there is. Clear answers and a neat resolution would seem to suggest that if the bad guys get what’s coming to them and if somehow Laura Palmer never suffers her tragic fate, so if all the evil is undone -as if it could be ever undone-, order will be restored. We could go on living our lives feeling comfortable that there is some kind of cosmic balance sheet, that someone is keeping tabs in the ancient battle between good and evil, delivering justice where justice is due. One type of evil goes, another one, bigger, more ancient will appear.


What if Laura Palmer was saved? Is this really about the girl who lived down the lane? What of the million other Palmers and Carries out there?


To think that you could undo the past, to rewrite history, what a futile exercise. To seek the logic in a dream, to seek a nice neat closure in the Lynchian universe? All of them preposterous propositions. Lynch and Frost maybe going hard core meta on us, but perhaps this is their way of telling us, the audience, that not only they do not care about narrative closure but that we should not either.


The past cannot be undone because the violence cannot be undone. Bob is born out of violence, human violence as the mind-blowing part 8 origin story suggests. And then violence unravels and flows like a stream and brings about more violence. You cannot undo violence, as you cannot stop time (although time gets jammed at part 17) or death from coming. Does it really matter what year is this? Does it matter if it is the future or the past? The mere act of posing such a question, would also be its fitting reply. You can probably change a few things; some things will come to a conclusion. “Some will just dangle out there, that’s how life is” according to Lynch.


Persisting love and making peace with our finite nature and our limitations maybe our fighting chance in a world where Bobs and Judies may not exist but abuse, suffering and pain, violence and trauma exist in abundance. Much more menacing, ancient and inescapable. Like the dust particles dancing in space, or like the sun going up and down every day, and like the river flowing out at the sea. The world will keep spinning. Nobody says it better than Julee Cruise.


Garmonbozia, coffee and cherry pie.


The original Twin Peaks small community of 51,201 inhabitants served as the ideal canvas to set the whodunit crime mystery plot line against. Observing the impact of Laura’s murder to the lives of the inhabitants of this small fictional community and all the ensuing repercussions was also a twisted projection of what was going on in America at the time. In The Return the scope of Lynch’s observation of the entire American underbelly something at which he excels at, extends to a more generalised terrain. The storylines now take us to Las Vegas, South Dakota, to Nevada, to New York city.


A lot of the 16 hours of the screen time preceding the two-part finale of the Return is devoted to unflinching observations on the contemporary American life. Lynch and Frost prove their care to portray a great deal of the scope and palpability the human condition by presenting us with a mosaic of stranded and alienated American lives. Misguided, lonely and troubled souls caught in nets of grief, agony and suffering. Predators and preys taking turns, changing parts. The Return often seems to be asking how hard it can become to make a living, in a way darker and definitively more violent landscape from the much cuter, albeit undeniably deranged one, of the original Twin Peaks.


There are the storylines of all those dispassionate assassins, the violent corporatised thugs, the gangs, the drug dealers, the semi obese clerks who are squandering their salaries in gambling and prostitutes, the insurance cheats. The bend institutions and their various agents. All the harassing and abusing scum strolling about loose. And then all the victimised women and men, broken women and men. Broken families. In the end Even Dale Cooper seems broken.


We get to know or infer how the lives of some of the characters of the original Twin Peaks have unfolded. Shelly’s, Bobby’s, Richard Horne’s. Some storylines came to some happy conclusion, say Norma and Big Ed’s or Dr Amps’, whose delightful rants and his solid gold advice to shovel ourselves out of the shit led Nadine to him and them finding some happiness too. Whereas other storylines remained painfully inconclusive. Sarah Palmer’s for starters, Black Lodge void under her skin (or in her mouth) aside, or sweet Audrey’s. Tulpa or not.


Then there are the storylines about the offsprings of the youth of the original Twin Peaks, evidently idiotic, self-absorbed or malevolent young people who are coming up, unstable and ungrateful. All the Wally Brandos, the Beckys and Stevens and the Richard Hornes of America. And then the storylines of those who will soon depart. There is something disarmingly tender, warm and contagious on how Lynch wants to linger with the people who are about to die, his farewell homage to the Catherine Coulson’s Log Lady who notifies a grey haired Hawk about things to come for instance, or Harry Dean Stanton’s Carl Rodd who watches other people’s lives and gives a helping hand when a helping hand is needed or Miguel Ferrer’s delightful Albert Rosenfield. A great way was found to bid a last farewell to Marvin Jack Nance’s Pete. Even a semblance of David Bowie in the form of a teapot is preserved.


And last but not least there is all that screen time devoted on those random strangers in the Roadhouse and outside, these storylines that are briefly introduced but do not connect with the main narrative. Let us listen in, Lynch and Frost seem to be saying. We happen to be following one storyline, but hey other storylines matter. Some go somewhere good, some go somewhere bad, some lead nowhere and for some we will never know what happens. And why should we?


These seeming detours are some of the most thoroughly enjoyable moments of the Return and the confidence with which they are presented and the emotional load they carry are enough to counter any perceived scorn Lynch may have exhibited to some of the even most basic narrative conventions of the medium.


Equally impressive is the tonal range of the entire series. From the first still, almost doc style shot opening part 17 followed by a near comedic expositive explosion which sparks the showdown to follow, to the eerie, uneasy, genuinely disturbing and outright painful experience of the entire part 18, but especially its closing shots, there is a considerable tonal distance and disparity. What an utter control this transition implies and what confidence? Something which David Lynch pulls off with characteristic ease in a number of occasions throughout the series as he is shifting between moods and styles.


The Return feels at times as a curated retrospective of the entire Lynchian oeuvre, Lynch himself being the curator. A condensed yet evolved version of the likes and preoccupations of the artist, together with his most visited themes and tropes. Say the sketchy and cheap looking fx which he finds unexpected ways to always make them look and sound cool, the handmade feel, the humour both slapstick and deadpan the dreaminess, the non-sequiturs, his love for painting and the arts, his love of music. And of course, the wide scope of the human behaviour with all the sex, the violence, the love and the grief, the benevolence and malevolence and its struggle for survival for identity and meaning, and closure.


Anyone else who would try to lay 400 pages of script in the procrustean bed to fit the 18 hours air time could have failed gloriously. But David Lynch, jovial as ever, Mark Frost his balancing force and their incredible ensemble cast can do as they please. They are good for it. And even without the wacky and unprecedented for the medium part 8 for which oceans of figurative ink can and have been spilled, Twin Peaks: The Return, is certainly unlike anything else seen on TV. Actually it can be hardly described as television although it comes prepackaged in serialised format.


It feels as fresh and ground breaking as the original did when it first aired, which is rather strange given the hyper-sophistication of TV these days. Perhaps the place where Twin Peaks is coming from, that liminal, timeless state between dream and logic has nothing to do with context.



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