Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Twin Peaks: The Return Part 7 - "There's a body all right."

Monday, June 19, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return Part 7 - "There's a body all right."


This Twin Peaks is a slippery beast. If you think you have a handle on its pacing, it speeds up or slows down accordingly. If you think it's going to stretch out story beats, it hurls a half-dozen major plot points - and suggestive dramatic tidbits - in scene after scene (and yet, even still, you're left hungering for more). And halfway through the episode, when you think it has established itself as primarily as an expositional hour, with Frost's narrative twists and turns leading the way, Lynch suddenly makes room for not one, not two, but three ambient setpieces in which we linger on locations and soak in the mood. Of course, Twin Peaks was always defined by abrupt shifts in tone, and it had its fair share of slower and faster episodes, maybe even parts of episodes (though I don't think the pace ever fluctuated so sharply before). But perhaps over the years and through multiple rewatches - and other shows echoing Twin Peaks' unpredictability - we grew used to these dazzling surprises. Part 6 in particular is a thrilling reminder that despite prestige TV's vaunted imagination, there's still nothing else like Twin Peaks. I mean, sure, we saw a talking dream fish on The Sopranos but we didn't see a talking braintree popping up through the concrete like a weed to matter-of-factly hiss, "Squeeze his hand off!" to a near-comatose insurance salesman wrestling with a small bald assassin while his wife bashes the little man over the head from behind.

That, by the way, along with its TV interview follow-up, is one of the most gloriously funny scenes in Twin Peaks, in the abrasively absurdist (rather than wacky or arch) fashion that I've always found most invigorating on this show, past and present. This certainly cements the Evolution of the Arm as my personal favorite character in The Return (why we see him rather than the one-armed man in this crucial moment I'm not yet sure - does the Arm handle violent incidents, while the rest of Mike takes care of mellow moments? - but it's a fantastic aesthetic choice). However, it also underscores the greatness of all the characters involved. The ferocious Ike the Spike (yes, that's really his name in the credits) is definitely a take-it-or-leave-it example of Lynch treating unusual bodies as elements of surrealism in themselves - though he'd never put it in those terms. But Christopher Zajac-Denek is so relentless that he owns the part (given his escape, we've yet to see the last of him, which is both exciting and unnerving; I hope Sonny Jim and his babysitter make it out ok.) Janey-E is also superb; she's quickly becoming one of my favorites on the show thanks to Naomi Watt's absolutely delightful performance. In a series infamous for hidden lives, characters who are not what they seem, Janey-E bears it all on the surface. Common sense and everyday pluck have never seemed so charmingly wacky.

And then of course there's "Dougie." How many viewers cheered when he went into full action-hero mode? Ah yes, finally, our Cooper back in his element! Now everything will be back to normal! Cue the dazed-again Dougie, limply touching a badge as his wife pulls his hand away (without breaking her verbal stride for the TV camera). Forgive me if I snicker. Hope springs eternal for desperate Coop-watchers, but I for one hope this keeps going on and on. It just feels right. In a series that sends us spiraling in unforeseen directions every week, Dougie-Coop is the one constant. He'll keep surprising us and drawing upon totems of his past, but I think in a certain sense, this is who he is now. Of course we've been over this before. Eventually (I'm guessing not for at least another two, three, maybe four or more episodes) something about this life/world will probably have to intersect with Twin Peaks, not to mention with the doppelganger. Especially the doppelganger, whom we see a lot of during this hour: somberly but far from mournfully facing Diane, and then organizing a jailbreak - a walkout really - by playing on the warden's fears of an unknown "Mr. Strawberry." If Dougie is Cooper in some fundamental sense, even if he carries none of his social marks or conscious memories, is the reverse true of the doppelganger? Diane seems to think so.

As suggested last week, Diane is going to be one of our most important guides into the mystery of the double. I'm not sure how I feel about where her story is heading. The doppelganger visited Diane in her home twenty-five years ago and she has clearly been traumatized ever since, practically spitting her former boss' name and initially refusing to meet with him until Gordon Cole gently coaxes her aboard the mission. She can barely look at the long-haired, ominous figure through the glass, even as he is calmly defiant in his proud recollection. What happened that night? Diane promises to tell Gordon when they're alone, but given the doppelganger's proclivities, Diane's visceral reaction and bitter anger, and Twin Peaks' tendency to return to the theme of sexual violence, we can probably draw a conclusion. I hope I'm wrong. I am definitely not of the opinion that Twin Peaks' emphasis on rape/abuse is exploitative or that the show would better off leaving the subject behind. I think without this troubling theme, the show would feel dishonest and evasive - as it did after concluding the Laura Palmer mystery, racing off to find more manic, lightweight storylines. That said, this just doesn't feel right to me. And not simply because it's icky to think that the hidden figure Cooper cheerfully dictated his experiences to, his professional comrade and comforting touchstone, became one of his first victims. After all, the revelation that Leland abused Laura felt much the same. But this doesn't feel icky in a constructive way.

Another troubling note is sounded during a warm interview with Doc Hayward. This was Warren Frost's final appearance and, as with Catherine Coulson (Lynch's longtime friend and perhaps his longest collaborator), there's a sense here that Mark Frost found a way to bring his ailing father into the project. Sheriff Truman speaks with Doc over a charmingly rustic Skype screen, a wooden contraption that pops up out of his desk (if Twin Peaks is going to enter the twenty-first century, this is the way to do it). Knowing that Frost died from Alzheimers earlier this year, I expected to see some gentle maneuvering around his line delivery and performance. Instead he looks fully invested, however frail, delivering important exposition as well as a classic Twin Peaks anecdote, and a corny joke for good measure: "I caught two brown trout in my pajamas...how they got in my pajamas, I'll never know!" It's a sweet send-off. Back to that troubling note, however...Doc mentions that back in 1989, he saw Cooper, fully dressed, leave his room at the hospital. He suspects Coop visited Audrey Horne, who was in a coma following the bank explosion. Truman and Doc share an unsettling moment, as if they suspect what resulted from that visit. We certainly do: though we still haven't confirmed that Richard Horne is Audrey's son, it seems increasingly likely that the doppelganger fathered him while Audrey was unconscious. (Which means, genetically speaking, he is Cooper's son, right? I'm not thrilled with the idea that the orientation of the doppelganger is passed on to its progeny...but then there's a lot I'm not yet clear on when it comes to doppelgangers.)

Although I've focused on a few key elements, this is a very busy hour of television. Recapping everything has never been a priority in these write-ups, but here's a quick list to remind us of what I haven't already mentioned. In South Dakota...still no Hastings (though we do see that ominous black shape from a nearby jail cell shuffling through the morgue unnoticed). However, an Air Force officer arrives to confirm that the headless corpse is Major Briggs, albeit a Briggs whose recently-killed body hasn't aged a day since his first supposed death. In Vegas, Janey-E brusquely handles the local cops in her Janey-E way when they ask too many questions about Dougie's exploded car. Andy visits the home where Richard's truck is parked and the nervous resident arranges a meeting two hours hence; the man never shows and Andy's wait is intercut with ominous shots approaching the man's empty doorway. A freaked-out Jerry calls Ben from the woods to tell him that he's lost his car, doesn't know where he is, and thinks he might be high. Ben Horne's assistant Beverly Paige returns home to a very sick spouse (I wonder how many prime-time dramas have featured this many ill and/or dying characters?), whom she defensively yells at when he asks her why she was late. Sheriff Truman calls the other Sheriff Truman to discuss the reawakened Laura case but drops the subject when he learns something unsettling about Harry's condition (unfortunately, the show seems to be heading toward a big funeral sequence for the unseen brother). Speaking of family...Jean-Michel Renault, Jacques' lookalike relative, has kept up all the occupations of his family as clarified by a phone call about two underage prostitutes (the bartender also drops some town lore on us, revealing that the Renaults have owned the Roadhouse for generations).

Jean-Michel's lines are delivered only after several minutes spent watching a man sweep the floor of the closed-for-the-night club while "Green Onions" plays, encouraging quiet meditation (well, not so quiet, but definitely plot-free) more evocative of video art than propulsive TV drama. The closest mirror is the closing image (set to "Sleep Walk," another twangy instrumental hit from the same period as "Green Onions"). This is only the third time in seven parts we haven't ended on a Roadhouse band: after an alarmed passerby rushes in and out looking for a friend, we settle on the warm chatter of the evening crowd at the RR Diner. The warm tones recall Hopper but these Nighthawks are far from lonely; here is a bustle to match the whole episode, even as this shot subverts such narrative drive with an unrushed, observational quality. My favorite meditative scene does feature dialogue (Beverly and Ben, with a tender flirtation many miles from Ben's prowling ways on the old series), as well as a potentially huge plot point (Cooper's old room key has arrived). The star of this scene is the soundtrack - not a song in this case, but a faint whistle/hum the two characters playfully chase around Ben's office, trying to determine which wooden corner is haunted by such whispers (this may be the closest we come to hearing from Josie). The magical sound suffuses the whole structure; this is one of the most Peaks-ian scenes so far, not one I can readily compare to any that came before, even as it dives into the natural soul of this world, allowing us to sit inside for a few minutes.

"There's a body all right." surprised me by following up immediately on Hawk's cliffhanger from last week - while The Return has been patient with other clues, this is obviously something Lynch and Frost were compelled to address right away. Sure enough, those pages found in the restroom are from Laura's secret diary. They mention Laura's dream about Annie, and Hawk very casually describes Annie as "the girl that went into that place" - her admittedly brief but crucial relationship to Cooper goes unmentioned (just as Doc never even observes that Annie was in the same hospital as Cooper and Audrey). But hey, at least we know she hasn't been retconned out of existence. Frank Truman takes all the Lodge talk in stride; there isn't the slightest hint of uncertainty let alone condescension - apparently he too knows the ways of the woods (though even Harry marveled at the revelation in Glastonbury Grove). In fact, this is probably one of the most deadpan, straight-ahead deliveries of exposition in the whole series: we even get Hawk plainly deducing the entire premise of The Return ("the one who came out with Annie that night was not the good Cooper"). After so many obscure cul-de-sacs, shocking detours, and new avenues, this straightforward Twin Peaks path is what feels the most off-kilter, as if we've suddenly tuned into another series altogether, finally glimpsing the Twin Peaks many viewers expected to see all along.

There are two more notable details about Laura's pages. First, there's still one missing; expect to track down Chekhov's fourth page later on, and suspect it will contain something even Fire Walk With Me hasn't hinted at yet. Second, Frank and Hawk linger over Laura's last page, which reads: "It's 1:30 AM. I'm crying so hard I can hardly breath. NOW I KNOW IT ISN'T BOB. I KNOW WHO IT IS." Those looking for a twist might suspect Lynch and Frost are upending the whole recognized narrative of Twin Peaks, re-opening the question of "Who killed Laura Palmer?" Hawk and Frank have a more down-to-earth reaction, which I am inclined to share - Laura has just realized that her father is her abuser. It's a strong, sad moment, all the more so for not being highlighted by any musical cues or lingering shots, a dull ache rather than a piercing blow. Hawk also concludes that Leland must be the one who left the diary pages in the bathroom stall door, perhaps when he was arrested for Jacques Renault's death and feared he might be searched. Maybe this is a red herring (many predicted Phillip Gerard as the diary-hider; he's one of the few characters we ever saw in that stall). If not, some major questions remain, ranging from the practical (why didn't Leland flush the pages instead of tucking them inside a door?) to the logistical (if Leland ripped pages from Laura's diary a day before she brought it to Harold's, and two days before her Annie dream, how could this entry - let alone her final one - be among them?).

Thematically, of course, this feels right. As Cooper lingers in his amnesiac limbo, Laura is coming to the fore again. There is reason to believe his story can not be truly resolved - to the extent anything is "resolved" in the Lynchverse - until it intersects with hers once again.


Next: "Gotta light?"

Previous: "Don't die."

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