And now a formless, shapeless ramble about the last three episodes of Twin Peaks.
That is, perhaps, not an introductory sentence that’ll prompt intense curiosity as to what we’re going to say next, we admit. But it’s truthful. And in many ways, we’d argue it’s appropriate. Twin Peaks is itself a kind of ramble, although it isn’t without form or shape; it’s just that we don’t know what the final shape of it will be, if that makes any sense. Given the choices and style of David Lynch and his co-writer Mark Frost, it’s likely we won’t really know the final parameters of this tale until it’s close to being done. Until then, it unfolds outward and then seems to draw back in on itself. For every astonishing visual or maddeningly obtuse narrative direction, there are simple scenes of people strumming guitars, drinking coffee, sweeping floors or scratching an itch. As a story, Twin Peaks doesn’t progress, it undulates.
We warned you we’d be rambling.
But here: let’s give this a little more form and shape. Episodes 9, 10 & 11 have us shifting our focus away from the literally explosive surrealism and almost-literally mind-blowing imagery that immediately preceded them, in order to settle in quietly on themes of darkness, time, mortality and that ol’ Lynch fave, violence. Of these, it’s the focus on time and mortality that tends to have the most poignancy and feels like the major drivers of the creators’ creative choices. Lynch and Frost have tempered their more outrageous and seemingly tangential storytelling choices with slow, quiet scenes of elderly people patiently and meticulously making a point; usually a darkly mysterious one. In fact, choosing that shot of Amanda Seyfried as the primary image of this essay is a bit of a lie. That is not the face of the modern Twin Peaks.
A 90-year-old man, watching the darkness grow around him, trying to make sense of it with a song and quiet empathy. Or maybe the primary image of Twin Peaks is the former Dr. Jacoby, living in the darkness of the woods, ranting his dementia into a microphone. Or maybe it’s Margaret, clearly at the end of her life, clinging tightly to her log in the darkness and repeating into the phone “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” Or maybe it’s white-haired Hawk, quietly and ominously intoning tales and myths to Sheriff Truman, his face etched with lines and concern. Or maybe it’s Sylvia Horne, forced violently to the floor of her own home by her own monster of a grandson, the darkness having grown within her own family line. Or for a lighter take, maybe it’s Betty Briggs, relieved to be unburdened of her own long-held secret and desperate to serve coffee to her guests. Maybe, in the end, the image of Twin Peaks is David Lynch himself, his hair wild and white, his face a landscape of age, gesticulating wildly at the sky, oblivious to everything around him, as the darkness nearly swallows him.
Twin Peaks has always been about a lot of different things – and continues to be so – but it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that Twin Peaks: The Return is primarily concerned with age, deterioration, and the passage of time. How could it not? Twenty-five years is, in fact, a long time for most people. To return to this world after so long away practically requires an examination of age and death. We think there’s a reason – outside Lynch’s normal predilections – for the practically non-existent pacing and repetitive, stilted dialogue. This is a world of the elderly. The pace is slow and communication requires diligence and patience. But because this story is being told by mature people and about mature people, these folks have important things to say and do. You’re just going to have to get used to how long it’s going to take them to say and do things.
There are young people in the story, of course. But in virtually every instance, they stand as a result of the choices of the generation before them because they’re viewed through the eyes of the elderly, who can’t help but see life as a continuum of repeating patterns. Becky sits with her concerned parents in the diner, after having blown up her life in a spectacular way because of her involvement with a terrible guy. The same diner her parents sat in a quarter-century before as they plotted to bilk her mother’s incapacitated first husband for money and also tried not to speak of that cop her father killed. Lynch knows we know this and he stages these scenes for maximum irony. Wally Brando is the only kind of child Lucy and Andy ever could have raised: self-absorbed, weird, pretentious and off-putting. He is as much a result of his parents’ choices as Becky is of hers. Richard Horne, whatever his parentage or the status of his upbringing, comes from a line of dark, venal, criminal people. Little boys pick up the guns their fathers leave lying around and commit the violence their careless disregard breeds.There’s a sadness inherent in these scenes; a deep and profound knowledge of the passage of time; the inevitability of cycles repeating and the powerlessness of the mature to do anything but stand by and watch it happen all over again. Children are the direct result of their parents’ choices, good and bad. Lynch, never the sunniest of personalities or auteurs, tends to focus on the bad, but the story also gives us Bobby Briggs, who stands as a better – almost saintly man, thanks in large part to the faith his staunch and good-hearted father had in him.
And just to drive home the point that these things take place on a continuum; that patterns repeat (“It is happening again.“) and that there is a certain inevitability to life when you take the long view, we see that the older generation is repeating their mistakes, even as they watch the result of them play out in their family lines. Ben Horne decides to go ahead and date his secretary after his grandson beats and robs his ex-wife. Shelley literally runs out on her family to make out with a psycho drug dealer. Lucy and Andy, having raised an utter oddball, devote enormous amounts of energy to trivialities like chair colors. Even Bobby, for all his clear good-heartedness, is dealing with a growing sense of darkness that threatens to engulf him. Whatever it was he saw inside that car; whatever that scene of vomiting zombie children and hysterical old women meant or didn’t mean, it clearly left Bobby shaken and repulsed, as if he’d glimpsed something he’d rather not have.
There’s a growing darkness – like an armpit rash, you might say – as the episodes pile up. And while the story makes it clear that there’s plenty of it to be had anywhere you care to look, from Las Vegas to Buckhorn, South Dakota; the focal point of it seems to be settling on Twin Peaks. The beefed-up sheriff’s department is on the verge of being overloaded by a wave of crime and violence that seems to be sucking everyone in. Richard Horne is pure evil, but even Becky Briggs and random innocent little boys are taking opportunities to let the bullets fly all over town. In Twin Peaks, the drug dealers are magical, guns are made for firing, grandmas are for beating, the Sheriff’s Department is dirty, and the sight of a bloodied, traumatized woman appearing out of the shadows and into the light of day is as regular as an eclipse. It isn’t just happening again. It’s happening in a much darker world this time. And as the circle closes, both on DougieCooper and DoppelCooper; as Gordon and Albert start coming to similar conclusions to Truman and Hawk, there is an increasing sense that everything points to Twin Peaks itself.
But there is also a somewhat depressing sense that the world itself is dry, sucked-of-life and damaged beyond repair. Every unlit road at night hides waiting death. Every landscape outside the town of Twin Peaks is like a blasted post-atomic bomb desert; dry, lifeless and crumbling from neglect. Buildings are lit by flourescent lights, chairs are uncomfortable, things smell weird and violence threatens to erupt at any moment, so commonplace it’s introduced by a computer-generated pair of rolling dice on the local news. In the modern world, suburban developments are full of junkie squatters, sunlit farms are hideouts for murderers, every random person is hiding a secret or engaging in criminal behavior, and murder investigations require miles of leg work just to piece the body parts together. Also: Heads tend to explode a lot.
This is not the lush, green, soap opera world of the original Twin Peaks. This is the modern world seen through the eyes of an aged (but no less potent or viable) artist. If we wanted to be facile about it, we’d say that Twin Peaks: The Return could be, in the end, an 18-hour “You kids get off my lawn, you’ve ruined the neighborhood” rant from a man who sees a world degraded from the one of his youth. But that would be dumb; first, because there’s plenty of time left to go in this story and anyone would be a damn fool if they smugly tried to predict the point of it all now. But mainly because Lynch is a far more sensitive and nuanced artist to make such a basic and overdone statement. It’s clear this is a world of growing darkness and there’s a sense of a life-sucking evil much greater now than in the original series. But that, like the use of the elderly as the primary drivers of the story, is almost certainly by design. Lynch and Frost – to their great credit – have not shied away from the repercussions of the quarter-century hiatus from this story, which ended at a darkly dramatic point, with Cooper stuck in the Lodge and his evil doppelganger, possessed by Bob, out in the real world, passing as him. Twin Peaks: The Return is built on two inescapable story points: That everyone is much, much older, and that a very long time has passed since they basically ended the story with the devil winning. TP:TR, whatever else it may turn out to be, is an admirably direct extension of those basic points, with everything in the story arising from them; everything in the story a result of the idea that the ultimate evil won a quarter century ago and everyone in the time since got old and made the same mistakes over and over again.
But there is also a sense that people in the story – Cole, Truman, Hawk and Albert mostly – are working diligently to right a wrong. There is a sense that DougieCooper, whether he ever regains his faculties and memories or not, is heading towards some sort of culmination of his long time in hell. It would seem cruel to the audience to never give them some version of a recovered Dale Cooper by the end, although as the story progresses and that carrot dangles as far away as it ever has, we have to begrudgingly admit that a mature or elderly artist would be much more likely to show the results of decline rather than invent ways to reverse it. But again, that very same elderly artist put his camera in tight on the face of an old woman who voiced the most hopeful words of the series; an old woman who was introduced to us as a burned out gambling addict but who now cups the vacant, pie-chewing face of Dale Cooper in her manicured hands and said with grateful tears streaming down her made-up face, “I have my life back again.” The world is dark, old, full of violence, and as ravaged as the mind of this tale’s hero, but even the most hopeless of people can find their way back to the light.
We still have hope for Dale Cooper.