Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Twin Peaks: The Return Part 10 - "Laura is the one."

Monday, July 17, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return Part 10 - "Laura is the one."


This week Twin Peaks both fulfilled my expectations and surprised me, in a fashion I've come to understand as the way this bird flies. The overall shape of the narrative remains legible, consistently defying attempt to render it more complex. By now theories that the different storylines of The Return take place in different timelines, different levels of reality, or even different universes seem quite out of step with the methodical connect-the-dots nature of the episodes. When alternate dimensions or time travel do pop up, they are presented in a clear, distinct fashion, not hidden in sly, deceptive ways. The biggest "twist," at least since the central premise was established in part 3, hasn't had any effect on the plot so far (part 8's atomic/fifties aside, which will presumably become relevant further down the line). While the purpose of the story remains oblique, it is possible to frequently see where certain points might be going - Mark Frost knows how to hit his beats, and how to tease and satisfy just enough while keeping us mostly in the dark. Nonetheless, The Return is as likely as any other David Lynch work to indulge moments of whimsical humor or visionary transcendence and part 10 does not fail to follow this trend. As the title was all I knew before watching this episode, both my predictions and surprises this week have to do with Laura Palmer.

It's become a fun, if meaningless, game to predict who says each week's titular line. After part 8, in which I would have never guessed "a dirty woodsmen splitting the heads of a fifties New Mexico town," part 10 seemed a bit more obvious. After all, Log Lady has told us "Laura is the one" before, in the very first "Log Lady introduction" to the series which Lynch wrote and directed for the Bravo re-runs in 1993. I've always loved that line, with which the Log Lady concludes her direct-address intro just before the pilot's credits roll. This emphasizes that despite the series' broad scope (broadened considerably with these new entries), the mysterious, tragic, heroic Laura remains at its core. Having chosen the line as the title for Part 4 of my Journey Through Twin Peaks video series, it was especially gratifying for me to see this line become officially "canon" in the show proper. And of course it's always good to see Catherine Coulson again. If this is her final farewell, it's an appropriate one, sharing several insights with Hawk, some almost humorously on-the-nose (the Truman brothers are "true men"), others more obscure, some - referencing a mortality all too apparent on her own face - more poignant.

However, I also suspected that Laura's inclusion in "Laura is the one." would not be limited to another character's dialogue. I was correct, but here's where the surprise comes in: I thought Sheryl Lee would be appearing as a character existing in the physical world, probably with Dougie. I still think that may happen, though I'm less certain now (perhaps Cooper will find her in another dimension, rather than his own reality). But what actually occurs is, in a way, more exciting, startling, and moving. If I expected the Log Lady to pronounce her name, I certainly didn't realize that Laura's own creator - in the form of his onscreen character Gordon Cole - would be the one to see her face. The scene already gets off to a slightly uncanny, meta start as we watch Gordon doodle. The FBI chief, like the man who invented and plays him, is apparently an artist (his drawing represents an "offscreen" hand reaching ominously toward a deer). With this revelation paving the way, a bigger one greets us at Gordon's door. Before his sight clears (or fogs over?) to see Albert, Gordon sees a weeping Laura framed by his doorway. I'm not sure why exactly this is, but right away we know that we aren't cutting in to a close-up of the face behind the door; rather the face itself is giant, filling the entire door and Gordon's field of vision (the reverse shot certainly helps, with a ghostly trace of the close-up superimposed over Gordon, but I think I felt this sensation immediately).

Twin Peaks, and Lynch works in general, invest doors with a special meaning. See the apartment door Henry peeks through, the closet door Jeffrey hides behind, the many doors ominously passed through in Mulholland Drive, the door opened to free the Lost Girl at the end of Inland Empire, the door opened by the rabbits in that film, the door Laura herself looks around (from both directions) in Fire Walk With Me, the train car door whose opening frees Ronette and seals Laura's own fate (by giving her the ring), the curtained "door" to the Lodge, the door Audrey is chained to, the door Cooper opens before he's shot (a fate I half-expected for Gordon based on his startled reaction), and so far in The Return the red door to Dougie's house and - most notably - the door which "Mother" bangs on when Cooper is in the room with Ronette (itself reminiscent of the banging on the door at the end of Mulholland Drive). It's impossible not to think of the Mother during Gordon's uncanny encounter. It's also, of course, impossible not to think of the actual image being used: a close-up as Donna opens the door for her in Fire Walk With Me. She's crying because she's just seen her own father exit the door of their home, and she realizes who he really is. Laura's trauma is larger than life and still dominates Twin Peaks.

Of course, there's already plenty of trauma to go around in this episode. It opens with the brutal murder of cheerful, chirpy Miriam the schoolteacher (mercifully offscreen, though we aren't spared the resultant corpse). Richard Horne, possibly the most viscerally vile character in the Twin Peaks rogue's gallery of despicable villains, goes on to verbally abuse (in horrific terms), strangle, and rob his grandmother - the strongest scene Jan D'Arcy, usually limited to the briefest of glimpses, has ever gotten to play. Meanwhile his uncle, bound to a chair and facing a teddy bear with a glass head who repeats his name over and over again, falls to the floor and writhes in agony. We know Sylvia Horne is Richard's grandmother because he says so, and I presume Johnny is his uncle because I don't think Johnny fathered a child twenty-five years ago and I don't think anything about Richard's demented visit suggests he is Johnny's son. Perhaps more importantly, there isn't much drama there - nor would there be if some hypothetical Horne ex machina showed up to claim maternity (yes, even if that Horne was Donna, which doesn't really make sense for a number of reasons). At this point, one has to be in deep, deep denial to avoid the obvious fact that Richard is Audrey's son though it's interesting that Lynch and Frost are so dedicated to presenting this shocking detail in roundabout ways, rather than directly.

The robbery is hellish, but I don't think I'd call it gratuitous. I'm less certain about Muriel's death, however well it's handled. There are a few aspects that just feel too convenient - she lives alone in an isolated area, she hasn't told anyone else, nobody else glimpsed the driver of the car that hit the little boy. It's all so neatly ordered that it feels almost cruel, though it does establish Richard's dedication to evil to a degree unsurpassed by even his assault on Sylvia. Where does Richard go from here? He claims he's leaving town, but I'm positive we haven't seen the last of him. Unfortunately, he hasn't yet fulfilled his sinister promise to the girl in the bar. At this point, I don't really need more convincing of Richard's depravity, so I hope if the story goes this route we only witness the aftereffects of Charlotte's violation and possibly death. More fortunately, Richard may be compelled to say goodbye to his mother - probably not fortunate for either character, of course, but for us it means we finally get to glimpse Audrey. And a glimpse may be it. I have to go back and listen closely to Doc Hayward's dialogue in part 7 - does he refer to her coma entirely in the past tense? - but I'm beginning to suspect the reason we haven't seen Audrey, or even heard her mentioned aside from the Skype chat, is that her condition hasn't changed in twenty-five years.

Rather than another family visit replete with screaming, swearing, and physical violence (which at this point would feel gratuitous), what if Richard stopped by a hospital or nursing home to say goodbye, maybe even a tender farewell to the mother he never knew (though it's far too late for such complexity to produce sympathy)? We know there were vague difficulties about getting Sherilyn Fenn on board, though it's not clear whether that was due to size or nature of the role, or both, or something else. It is hard to think of something that would seem less thrilling - especially after having such an active, iconic role in the first season - than not being able to speak or move through an entire performance. I would say I'm less than half-certain that's where this is going but it does seem possible. Richard could also visit his mother in a cemetery, but we know Fenn is in this somehow and it's hard to imagine how the character would show up after being dead: not every character can pull a Laura. If Audrey isn't in a coma, and she isn't dead, her interaction with Richard (it's hard to imagine her showing up any other way) is sure to produce fireworks, though I hope it's a situation where he is the one cowed and wounded, for the sake of dramatic variation if nothing else. As for Richard's father, I'm now more than half-certain that Cooper's doppelganger raped Audrey when she slept, which has to be one of the darkest reveals creators have ever pulled on their characters' shippers. But since Frost has been planting clues that pay off exactly as suspected, I don't think the series' only mention of Audrey so far was a red herring.

Elsewhere in Twin Peaks, Chad covers for Richard (this is likely his and Lucy's best scene - it's refreshing to see her not play dumb for once), Nadine's silent drape-runner shop is revealed (a detail admittedly spoiled for me ahead of time though it's still a kick) and we learn that Becky's husband is also an abusive asshole ("I know what you did!" he screams while nearly punching her on the couch, the first hint of a storyline within their corner of the narrative). Domestic violence, whether perpetrated by neighbor, grandson, or husband, remains a constant in Twin Peaks. This is one of the darkest episodes of The Return - though it has plenty of rivals - indeed, the comic relief is a character getting whacked in the face with a remote control! With this episode, Las Vegas proves itself to be the center of Twin Peaks' lighter side, despite a plot involving murderous machinations, plus a hilarious sexual encounter that may be more problematic than it initially appears depending how literally one takes Cooper/Dougie's condition (at least it beats Big, where no one bats an eye at an older woman bedding a thirteen-year-old). The Jones' visit to the doctor - surprise! - doesn't actually result in anyone realizing something is deeply wrong with "Dougie." Coffee, work, a vision of the one-armed man, an attack by an assassin, the American flag, red shoes, and now a supposed medical expert have all failed to rouse Cooper. What will Lynch and Frost tease desperate viewers with next week?

At least one last plot point seems worth mentioning. Is Diane a traitor? When that vision of Laura finally clears from Gordon's view, Albert greets him with some bad news. At first I thought Diane herself had shared the text message but it quickly becomes clear that Albert and Gordon are doing their own detective work. I can't quite figure out this bit, and I'm forced to fall back on the most unimaginative interpretation: Diane doesn't know what the message means, and her failure to notify her bosses does not mean she's trying to betray them (maybe she doesn't trust them either). In other words, it's a red herring, a fish the good old version of Coop didn't much care for. However, Gordon does tell Albert that he knew something was wrong when Diane hugged him, suggesting substance to their suspicion beyond this one text. I don't think I'm thrilled with the idea of Diane being a bad guy, and I am probably not alone. "Duplicitous femme fatale" doesn't seem to suit the person Laura Dern has memorably created so far but even beyond that hesitation, it's hard for me to make sense of this twist. I can't read her exchange with the doppelganger as a ploy between co-conspirators, and I'm not sure how to reconcile her past trauma with her present involvement.

If I'm skittish about this direction, I do like the sense of mystery it evokes. As satisfying as it can be to get expected answers, it's always more fun not to know where we're going. "Laura is the one." cultivates that general sense of a mysterious voyage into the unknown, despite the illumination of certain hazy spots on the horizon. I may have been hoping for a major turning point in part 10 but instead I received a reminder: appreciate the journey and allow the destination to take its time. In some ways, I may relish these middle episodes more on return visits, allowing myself to luxuriate in the atmosphere and texture of a moment rather than anticipating where it will lead and wondering nervously what to expect. However, you only get to watch something for the first time once. That first experience - the doubts, the thrills, the wonder, the moment of contact - is what this viewing diary is all about. Enjoy it while it lasts.


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