Monday, May 18, 2015

Welcome (Back) to Twin Peaks: some thoughts on David Lynch's departure...and return


Every month, I will be offering one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

I always thought he'd be back - I swear!

Late Friday night, David Lynch and Mark Frost simultaneously tweeted: "Dear Twitter Friends, the rumors are not what they seem ..... It is !!! Happening again. #TwinPeaks returns on @SHO_Network." Fans quickly noted that Lynch, who loves numerology, had chosen May 15 to announce his return, the one-year anniversary of the Missing Pieces announcement. One fan (kmkmiller) even pointed out that he'd tweeted at 5:02pm and 5 + 2 = 7 (Lynch's oft-cited favorite number). Synchronicity strikes again? Or everything going according to plan?


The fact that we have to ask that question betrays a certain disgruntlement with the roller-coaster ride of the past six weeks. When Lynch announced he was leaving the show on (irony of ironies) Easter Sunday, there was an instant cavalcade of drama, anxiety, and even excitement. Within a day or two, many prominent cast members had united to record an impromptu tribute to their beloved director, launching the catch-phrase "No Lynch, No Twin Peaks." #SaveTwinPeaks became ubiquitous on Twitter (at least on my timeline anyway). Showtime quickly scrambled to issue a statement that they were as shocked by Lynch's departure as anyone and had thought that they were wrapping up negotiations. It seemed we were on the cusp of some major twist in the Twin Peaks story, either devastating collapse or miraculous triumph in time for the 25th anniversary of the pilot episode. And then...nothing. Radio silence. Let the madness begin...

Many of us - myself very much included - attempted to analyze the situation, expressed doubt, optimism, and indignation, hung on the words of trolling tweeters, and continually vowed (and failed) to shut up and wait patiently until there was no more news. As we unknowingly approached the end of this mini-dark age I began to feel more frustrated and confused than ever. Why was David Lynch, who had never cared so deeply about budget before, suddenly ready to walk on a project because of funding? What was the "big fish" he wanted to catch with this project, the crystal-clear idea that mattered above all else?

Here are some recent comment I left on the Twin Peaks forum World of Blue (on dugpa). Some are from just before Lynch's return, others from just after but I think they are all still relevant going forward. I can't wait to read the behind-the-scenes story of what the hell happened here (though some elements of it will probably always remain a Lynchian mystery) but more importantly, I can't wait to see what Lynch has in store for 2016. The following musings have been slightly edited for clarity.

• • 

• May 12 (one day before the return)

[5 Possible Reasons Why Lynch Stepped Back From Twin Peaks]

1) NO CENTRAL IDEA. He doesn't actually have a true central idea right now - little fish perhaps, no big fish yet - but believes that can he discover the central idea on set. Is this likely? On the one hand, Lynch's work is also a process of discovery. On the other, he usually enters his work with a strong sense of purpose. What was he working on for 3 years if it didn't yet contain a central idea? Also, why would he be so stubborn about ideal conditions if he doesn't even know yet what the central idea is? How would he even know he needs x amount of time to improvise/experiment his way to a solution? I'm on the fence about this. On the one hand, it feels too halfhearted for Lynch, on the other it does make sense of his desire for a more relaxed schedule.

2) TEPID CENTRAL IDEA. He does have a central idea, and it is achievable on a lower budget, but - compared to Eraserhead or FWWM - it's something he is relatively lukewarm about, to the point where he is willing to let less-than-ideal conditions sink the possibility of its execution. This may be the most logical explanation but it is also perplexing because Lynch seems to be extremely passionate about all of his previous ideas, to the point where he was willing to compromise on other issues as long as he could execute them. Again, why would he devote years to writing these scripts, why would he finally commit to Twin Peaks after decades of refusing to continue the story, if his central ideas was only halfhearted?

3) CENTRAL IDEA THAT REQUIRES TIME/LOCATIONS. He does have a central idea but it is unusually reliant on an extended schedule and/or specific locations. Thus he isn't so much holding out for ideal conditions but rather the very essence needed to execute the central idea. I can sort of believe this, but have trouble envisioning what this central idea could be. His "big fish" have never been particularly complex and/or vague. They usually have a certain simplicity or clarity that renders them achievable even on tight schedules and budgets.

4) CENTRAL IDEA HE LOST ENTHUSIASM FOR. He does have a central idea that is achievable on a lower budget, but he is not as passionate about it as he was several years ago and thus is more willing to sacrifice it to ideal conditions than he would've been, say, a year ago. This would be the "cold feet" David Nevins spoke of. This is an intriguing possibility others have broached but it doesn't seem very typical of Lynch. He HAS spoken of losing enthusiasm before (Goddess, Ronnie Rocket - and we all know what happened with Twin Peaks for most of season two). But this has always been based on outside conditions interfering and/or postponing his work. Twin Peaks 2016 has unfolded on his own timetable and some bad negotiations for a few months aren't on the same level as a change in story (Goddess, Twin Peaks) or years of delay in funding (Ronnie Rocket). So while this option is a definite possibility it really seems like a stretch and has little basis in Lynch's past.

5) CENTRAL IDEA LESS IMPORTANT THAN IDEAL CONDITIONS. He does have a central idea, and it is achievable on a lower budget, and it's something he is just as passionate about as in the past BUT, differently from any other point in his career, he is willing to sacrifice the execution of this central idea to achieve ideal conditions. Meaning that even if he had the idea for Eraserhead or FWWM in 2015, he wouldn't make them unless everything could be perfect because that's just where his head is at right now. I don't buy this one personally; it just seems to me that Lynch is the type of person who, cradle to grave, will always privilege execution of a strong central idea over receiving ideal conditions, even if the latter has become more important to him than it used to be.


May 14 (one day before the return)

I think honestly part of the frustration, which has so many factors, is that fans' love for Lynch is essentially unrequited. It isn't that he dislikes or is purposefully mean to or disrespectful of his audience. He's just "not that into us" for better or worse. David Foster Wallace puts this quite well in his famous essay on Lynch: "The extent (large) to which Lynch seems to identify with his movies' main characters is one more thing that makes the films so disturbingly "personal." The fact that he doesn't seem to identify much with his audience is what makes the movies "cold," though the detachment has some advantages as well." I think the coldness of the early films was already changing when Wallace wrote this piece (in '95) but as a general desription of Lynch's sensibility this is quite apt.

Personally, coming to Twin Peaks from classic film, in which the filmmakers are often bastards and/or too long deceased to have any interaction with fans (and - this is key - the works themselves are already complete), Lynch's polite indifference never bothered me much. But it's sort of a different story in fan culture - TV, comics, music, anything where new works are being created and a community exists focused on specific works. Just look at what George Lucas underwent for "ruining" fans' experience (of something he himself created). TP fans have always been a bit different but there is still, I think, the tacit assumption that there is something of a two-way street at work. Mark Frost and the cast and others involved with the show certainly encourage this belief. Even Lynch's folksy language ("Twitter friends", etc) sometimes masks the fact that he doesn't remotely operate this way.

I will say that the current situation has given me far more empathy for people who felt burned by Lynch in the early 90s. I still think their assumptions were wrongheaded and (obviously) that their patience and open-mindedness would have been rewarded. And I think there were many petty and frivolous causes for the backlash. But I'm no longer quite so inclined to harshly judge their inability to trust Lynch, which seems very human in a way. He makes movies for himself which is commendable (given that he has good taste) but the public presentation of them does often come off as coy and/or indifferent. For example: there was just no reason to announce this new project last fall, if he wasn't truly committed. In the end I trust Lynch's work far more than his words and sadly I think his words sometimes contribute to the (unfair) distrust of his work.


• May 15 (AFTER the return)

Personally, I don't think I will truly feel euphoric until it's getting ready to air, everything is scheduled, and the sense that I am really, truly about to re-enter that universe hits and is no longer a remote prospect. Right now my feeling is more like Admiral Ackbar in Return of the Jedi just slumping back in his chair, relieved but exhausted by the ordeal.

N. Needleman wrote:
I do hold out a singular suspicion that somehow, Sheryl Lee will end up playing a character - Laura or otherwise - who is very much alive. Though over the last 6+ months my hunch has turned to Laura herself, not another lookalike.

Jonah wrote:
I too think Lynch will bring back Laura herself. Somehow. He's always been in love with her, as evinced by the "What does she see?" video on his website a few years back, and the most recent Blu-Ray featurette. I'm not sure how he will bring her back but there's a lot of possibilities ... alternative timeline, where she lived; as a spirit, who ages; as a spirit released from the spirit world as an older version of herself. He may also go the red wig route too as was the original plan for S3. But, really, I think it will be the return of Laura Palmer.

Me too. From Lynch's treatment of Maddy in the season 2 premiere I think he was always more interested in having Sheryl Lee play/approximate Laura rather than a truly separate character.

bosguy1981 wrote:
I wouldn't be surprised if David and Mark (especially David) wants to just start shooting and see where it goes, see what he wants it edited into, without having to be locked in to a certain number of episodes before filming even begins.

Agreed.

N. Needleman wrote:
I'd also like to see some actual GLBT characters (other than Laura herself) - I can totally Audrey spawning a gay son.

It's interesting that this aspect was very prominent in the Diary but mostly submerged in the film. I wonder if Laura does reappear somehow, if Lynch will be more forthright with it now especially after Mulholland Drive.

I am curious if Showtime is still planning to air the whole series and at what pace. I'd rather they do one a day rather than one a week. I've been listening to several rewatch podcasts lately and the second half of the series seems to really suck a lot of energy/enthusiasm out of viewers. At one-a-day that would be less of an issue. I also really hope they include FWWM in the lineup but have heard nothing to indicate this will be the case.


• May 16 (after the return)

With the caveat that nobody actually knows except Lynch and Frost...there's NO WAY that Cooper's situation is resolved before or early in the series. There will probably be a surface mystery too but I think the heart of the series, maybe hidden at first, will be Cooper's fall.

Frost & Peyton may have originally intended this is an eye-catching cliffhanger to be resolved early in season 3 (although honestly I don't think they were even looking ahead to it resolution at the time). But the passage of 25 years and - more importantly, Lynch's portentous treatment of the final image, have made this development WAY more important to the Twin Peaks saga.

Twin Peaks was always about the relationship between light and dark. The Laura mystery was the perfect pretext for this theme and when that ended, the story really floundered. Coop's possession and/or split finally restores this idea to center stage. Frost says as much in the Secrets documentary so even of he DID plan on resolving Coop's situation quickly in a '91 season 3 (for the much more enticing plotline of Coop being a pharmacist?!) I doubt he feels that way anymore. And even though Lynch was supposedly uncomfortable with the development at the time, the idea of dual identities and split personalities lies at the heart of every single feature Lynch has written since 1991.

EVERYTHING point to Coop's struggle for his soul being the linchpin of the new series. I'm trying not to make too many predictions but I'd bet a left arm that Coop's situation will not be "resolved" until the final episode of the new Showtime series.


• May 16 (after the return)

My suspicion is that if we want some vague idea of what will be in the new series, look at the finale almost like it doubles as the pilot for a continuation. Look what Lynch brought to the table, changing the script:

- Return of many forgotten characters and motifs. Lynch always like to keep things rooted in a central core of imagery, no matter how far afield he goes in terms of tone & style. And he find a reason to bring people or ideas back so it isn't just nostalgia. Even Sylvia Horne seemed a purpose, reminding us of Ben's failures as a family man, now spreading to two families instead of one. In the original script for FWWM, Lynch stumbled by trying to include everyone in a story that wasn't about them. Most of the non-Laura scenes are fun non sequiturs (only Ed & Norma's date feels thematically-linked). I suspect 2016 we will be more like the finale's restorations: not so much cute cameo fanservice but appearances, however brief, that relate to and enhance the whole.

- Shelly & Bobby in the diner. They always had a fun chemistry when Lynch directed. I agree with the poster who said they'll still be together. But also think of how that scene is portrayed, repeating the dialogue from the pilot. This points to a larger significance to their appearance: Lynch is generally more about constancy than change, at least long-term change. Even the way he handles timelines in his films: we get the sense in Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire that events are unfolding simultaneously and we often end up back where we began, but enhanced somehow. I get the sense that Frost is very much about the nitty-gritty of going from here to there, geographically and chronologically. He likes narrative sprawl. We talked about this in another thread, but Lynch is a more focused artist, a painter rather than a novelist (appropriately enough). He does not seem to be invested in detailed back stories or a sense of the offscreen world: what we see is what we get. So this project will be returning to something many years later. The passage of time has never been a big them for him so it will be interesting to see how he handles this component. My guess will be that Frost's book will do the heavy lifting vis a vis the passage of years and Lynch will be more interested in what these characters are doing in the present moment, almost like no time has passed. I'm not expecting too much of a "reunion" feel in that sense.

- The Red Room: by bringing back the mysterious iconography of the first series and ret-conning the Black Lodge to coincide with Cooper's dream space, Lynch took the more detailed (and simultaneously more general) lore of the show's second half and rooted it in inner-life sensation once again. I believe the Red Room/Lodge sequences in the new series will be left purposefully vague and suggestive rather than explained with recourse to Jupiter/Saturn and portals in the woods. I don't think well see Truman driving backwards into Glastonbury Grove or planets of corn (and yes, I know Lynch was the one who supposedly suggested that!). I also think the Lodge terminology will be used sparingly, if at all - though then again Frost was really into it and he did co-create this continuation. While I'm sure there will be lots of otherworldly activity in the new series, I think - and hope - it will remain undefined and uncanny rather than overexplained. It's primary purpose will probably be to visualize the realms of consciousness beyond the everyday.

- Laura and the Palmers. The finale brought them back and linked them to Cooper's spiritual struggle. Between Two Worlds makes this even more clear, but this family and especially Laura are always the heart of Twin Peaks for Lynch. As noted above, I think Sheryl Lee will be Laura in the new series. If she's a character in the outside world it will be essentially a front for Laura in some way, even more so than being a lookalike cousin. This is also probably why Lynch never cast Lee in anything again: she was always Laura to him.

- Cooper's split. This is Lynch's addition even though the fall from grace was in the script (and, some claim, not liked by him). The image of Cooper chasing himself through the Lodge reminds us that Coop's primary struggle (indeed every Lynch character's primary struggle) is with himself. The power of this imagery also sets this up as something more than a mere cliffhanger but rather a central point in the narrative. Remember that Lynch wants to make the new series "as a film" and that his concept of the original narrative was essentially filmic - a serialized rather than episodic story with an overarching backdrop that never went away. Coop's struggle with Bob (and with his own dark side) won't be an episode that passes before we move onto different wacky adventures in the town. It will be the new cinematic hook to replace the Laura mystery. That's my 2 cents anyway.

The one problem with the split, at least as Lynch presents it in the finale to a certain extent and the film even more (& the Missing Pieces especially) is that it is too drastic. Good Dale is entirely in the Lodge and bad Dale is a cackling facsimile of the Special Agent who wouldn't convince anyone for 25 minutes let alone 25 years. Others have noticed this and suggested that maybe Bob and/or Bad Coop have gotten used to their role in the subsequent quarter-decade and that the first episode will make no mention of Cooper's fate and simply show the familiar cheerful agent, leaving us to wonder what's going on until we are given hints or maybe a confirmation that the darkness is still there. I am inclined to agree with this. But I also think it can't just be an act: there has to be some vestige of/continuity with good Dale in the Cooper we see. This is more dramatically interesting and consistent with Lynch's usual ethos at least in his later works. But how to square it with what we saw/heard in the early 90s (or what Lynch chose to show us just last summer, when he included bad Coop in the Missing Pieces)? I have no idea, and it's one of the things I'm most curious about!

• • 

On that note, I will refrain from speculation (at least on this blog) until the new series is about to air. Even then I'll tread lightly, because I look forward to being surprised. I will continue to share thoughts on Twin Peaks at least once a month, but these upcoming posts will center on the Twin Peaks we've got, the show and especially the film...until there is something new to report on.

No comments: