Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Twin Peaks: The Return Part 12 - "Let's rock."

Monday, July 31, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return Part 12 - "Let's rock."


Tonight's episode opens with possibly the most straightforwardly lore-y scene of the series so far. Not only does Albert speak the letters "UFO," he makes plain one of the lingering mysteries of Fire Walk With Me. The blue rose has long been a symbol of pure mystification ("I can't tell you about that," Chet Desmond once informed Sam Stanley...speaking of Chet, my condolences to John Thorne and his dream theory). The blue rose was a symbol of nothing that could be articulated except perhaps just that (the inability to articulate). Sure, for years fans speculated about a connection to the supernatural nature of certain FBI investigations, but within the text of the film itself (i.e. the most purely Lynchian slice of Twin Peaks), the blue rose remained enigmatic. The cover of The Entire Mystery blu-ray used it as a motif as if to say, "Here it all is, but see what you can make of it."

Frost, on the other hand, started pinning this phrase down as early as The Secret History of Twin Peaks last fall, using the book to suggest that "blue rose cases" do indeed denote a supernatural aura. Early episodes of The Return also hinted at a more specific meaning without zeroing in too close, but "Let's rock." tells us flat out: the Blue Rose squad continues the work of the Air Force's Project Blue Book, exploring some of their unresolved cases, and takes its name from the dying words of a woman in one of these cases. Granted, there's still an air of mystery here - the ultimate origin of the phrase remains ambiguous (why did that lady utters those two words?). Nonetheless, the expository nature of the scene and its determination to ground the story in both an in-world and historical backstory indicate this episode will be more interested in answering questions, drawing threads together, and turning corners than leaving us in darkness. This turns out to not quite be true.

At times, part 12 purposefully stalls us, spinning its wheels. The exposition becomes repetitious: Truman tells Ben everything we already know about Richard (and then Ben in turn tells Beverly this same information), Albert offers more evidence to Gordon that Diane is a traitor, Jerry continues to scramble around the woods (though at least he's reached a meadow), and even the coordinates that Diane enters into a map on her phone unsurprisingly point to the town of Twin Peaks. The Chromatics play again under the closing credits, and the Jacoby scene - repeats a sthick (sometimes verbatim, perhaps even with the same footage) that was initially inventive but has become slightly tedious. Indeed, as that scene unfolded, I thought "There's gotta be a really specific reason this scene is placed here, beyond just being filler." I was right - the mind-numbing familiarity serves as the perfect counterpoint to what comes next: the revelation, finally, of a character viewers have been waiting months to see, in a manner as perplexing for us as for the character herself ("YOU'RE NOT GONNA TELL ME WHAT SHE SAID??!").

Thanks in large part to this scene as well as several other elements, the episode that begins in demystification winds up as perhaps the most mystifying episode of The Return so far.

Writing about part 12, exploring the ways it avoids, frustrates, and drags its metaphorical feet, I'm surprised I liked it as much as I did. The strong aspects carry the potentially weak. First of all, that opening expository scene is quite charming. While people who hated the mid-season two mythology and/or Frost's book will roll their eyes, to me it felt like just the right dose of those elements, leaving enough room for the uncanny and unnameable to hover in the dark distance while Albert and Gordon pave a path towards them. I did, slightly, mourn the loss of the blue rose ambiguity (as I did when the Owl Cave ring showed up on Dougie's finger, potentially downgrading its complex usage in Fire Walk With Me), but the elevation of Tammy to Blue Rose status is surprisingly touching (and delightfully daffy, given her character's cartoonish nature). The whole episode has a nice energy like that, buzzing along on interpersonal drama even when the information isn't new, allowing us to linger with characters whose presence leavens what could seem redundant or aggravating on the page.

Also exciting: the return to familiar places (and of familiar faces) in new contexts. Ben gives Frank the old key while mentioning Cooper (as well as Harry - this is probably the most he's been discussed all series). Sarah Palmer and her house, both glimpsed only briefly and in darkness during the opening hours, are now dwelled upon (Sarah's breakdown in the grocery store, her cart full of liquor and cigarettes, is an affecting portrait of her place in this town - and is that clerk the runaway girl from The Straight Story?). Perhaps my most visceral jolt came from a shot of the old hospital corridor that almost looks as if it was lifted straight from the old Twin Peaks; when we pan up a body in bed, I half-expected it to be Audrey. It wasn't, of course. And when Ben, Frank, and Beverly talk about Richard they mention his lack of a father, and his strained relationship with his grandfather, but somehow his mother never comes up. If I had any doubts about this episode purposefully teasing us, they fled with the one-two punch of the "here we go again" Jacoby rant followed by one of the show's most startling cuts: Audrey - Audrey Horne! - standing in profile, talking to someone offscreen.

Ok, so Audrey. What the fuck was that scene?? Audrey is a character we've been waiting to see, all the while wondering what her larger story has become; here we are presented with a scene whose context remains stubbornly impenetrable, the character herself ultimately prying for information she can't receive. It's maddening, hilarious, and more than a little brilliant. Here's what we do know: Audrey is married to Charlie, a little man behind a big desk (who amusingly resembles one-time Twin Peaks writer/producer Harley Peyton). She is leaving him for someone named Billy. Billy's missing and Audrey wants Charlie's help to find him, perhaps with the help of Tina, who seems to be married to Chuck. Before disappearing, Billy visited... Ok, I'm gonna stop there, partly because I can't remember it all, partly because I'm not sure any of this matters - in fact, I think that's the point. (Besides, if it does matter, Twin Peaks has already indicated it will repeat all the information until we're sure we understand it.) Here's what we don't know: anything about Audrey's relationship to Richard or the rest of her family, what she's been doing for the past twenty-five years, or how she, her husband, and her lover ended up in any of the situations discussed - not to mention where this situation has led, or could lead, any of them.

The scene is extraordinarily reminiscent of other context-less Lynch scenes, including the audition extract in Mulholland Drive and Lynch's very first film with dialogue, The Amputee, in which a legless woman played by Catherine Coulson composes a letter about people and incidents whose backgrounds we're not privy to. This technique is also reminiscent of Jacques Rivette, a filmmaker I've often mentioned in connection with Lynch, and the team of Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet. In this particular scenario, various interpretations raced through my mind. Is Billy a beloved runaway pet whom Audrey cherished more than her husband? (That possibility vanishes - one hopes - when she talks about fucking Billy.) Is this actually a play being performed by Audrey and the other man in front of a local audience? (The initial camera angle suggests as much, but constant references to Audrey's real name convinced me otherwise.) Do Billy, Chuck, and the missing car have anything to do with the farmer killed by Richard? (Jury's still kinda out, but the various vehicular transactions don't seem to overlap with the hit-and-run situation.) All that's clear is how perfectly this scene fits the Lynch ethos: language that is precise and specific yet tells us nothing, characters whose bizarre relationship is both crystal-clear in shape yet totally foggy in detail (or is it vice versa?), mysteries (layers of mysteries!) that both the storyteller and characters in the scene are withholding from us and one another.

The scene (and its juxtaposition with the previous scene) also hammers home two points that may have been in doubt: the creators aren't just treating Audrey like any other character (the delay, buildup, reveal, and strangeness of the scene make her role stand out far too much for that), and they aren't simply slotting scenes in randomly (that Jacoby-to-Audrey transition is way too purposeful. Yet this also seems like a juxtaposition that could only arise after production). Well, not entirely randomly. According to the enigmatically-dubbed "Existing user?" on the Twin Peaks Rewatch forum, "Joanna Robinson on the Peaks TV podcast said that every part is a differently balanced cocktail. Like, they shot all these various scenes, and then assembled them into these uniquely constituted one hour blocks. Each part is a different combination of the ingredients they shot, mingling and merging and balancing the neighboring scenes with a mixologist's logic." I love this analogy, because it begins to explain why each episode feels like a part of a whole yet retains its own distinct flavor. This also makes me extremely curious about the editing process. How extensively were scenes moved around from where the original teleplay slotted them to go?

Take Jerry for example. We get that one very non sequitur sequence between him and Ben that is almost the first thing we see in Twin Peaks (I think it may literally be the first scene we see in Twin Peaks the town, depending where Jacoby's trailer is located). After that we check in on him every few episodes to see what he's up to in the woods. Most of those scenes could, theoretically, go anywhere - absolutely anywhere. Likewise, when Cooper/Dougie "plays" catch with his son...was that really intended to play after his dinner with the Mitchums? Was it originally written to appear a day or two after Cooper's arrival in Vegas? Or did Lynch come up with it as a gag while shooting and squeeze it in between other shots, with absolutely no idea where it would go? I have to think the only reason it shows up specifically in part 12 is because without it there wouldn't be a single scene featuring Kyle MacLachlan. Observations like these pull the rug out from under the assertion that The Return is simply one long movie cut into different chunks each week (although they also remind us of Lynch's contrary suggestion that the episodes could be watched in any order).

Clearly part of the reason we're viewing what we're viewing when we're viewing it is because the story had to be cut up into eighteen hour-long pieces. People have talked about stitching the episodes together as one big movie after the fact, but really one could recut it in almost infinite ways, rearranging the puzzle pieces to create a subtly different but equally valid portrait. Yet this is the fashion in which Lynch and Frost, or at least Lynch in the editing booth, chose to tell their story. At times, as with the Audrey reveal, it feels brilliant (I almost don't want to know more - yet of course I do! - so provocative and delightful is this state of perplexity). Sometimes it seems more careless, especially given the series' determination to suggest a day-by-day chronology to mirror the original. It's been way more than two or three days (five days, by my count) since the sheriff's station received Major Briggs' invitation to Jack Rabbit's Palace despite the dates on that slip of paper being two to three days hence.

We feel this frustration and confusion on a more intuitive level when characters and storylines disappear for episodes at a time. Sometimes these interruptions pay off in rich anticipation but sometimes it feels like the overpacked narrative is choking on itself. I can't help but suspect that, if not bound by the hour-to-hour format, The Return would be more free to either alternate the material in a more even manner or cluster certain areas of the narrative together. Even taking an episodic approach into consideration, would the show have benefited from keeping Dougie/Cooper as a throughline while centering the rest of each episode more closely around a single character or story (not exclusively, but predominantly)? Like one week, we mostly follow Becky, another week Richard, and so forth? Would this have flowed more naturally? I know I'm second-guessing (not to mention looking a gift horse in the mouth), but this shambling structure is proving one of my least favorite things about The Return. Yet as Robinson observes, The Return's mixology does yield interesting - if not always congruous - textures.

And of course, the narrative's cohesion will depend on where it ends up. This is the difficult part of covering Twin Peaks week to week, much as I love tracking the evolution of my thoughts and feelings about the series (especially since I didn't do that for the first two seasons - this is gonna be a fascinating record for me to revisit someday). The upshot, as mentioned before, is the not-knowing. I wonder, when the series wraps up, how much we'll still be left not knowing? Will the story's conclusion be more like the blue rose scene, bringing characters together in a way that makes sense to explain what we've seen? Or will it be like the Audrey scene, thrusting us into an abrasive yet engrossing scenario we only half-understand, leaving us with puzzles that may never be resolved?

The final scene of "Let's rock." - two women chatting about people and relationships that, as with Audrey, we lack any context for, interrupted by a shaken friend fresh from house arrest and a car accident who's "lucky to be alive" - reinforces a suspicion I harbored after the Sky Ferreira scene a few episodes earlier. I think (nay, I'm now close to positive) that these Road House visits with strangers are all we'll get with these particular characters, little glimpses into lives whose larger shapes will always remain mysterious. Mark Frost loves to find things out, digging deeper to retrieve buried treasures, while David Lynch prefers to hover on the periphery, wanting to find out but never quite getting there, imagining what we will never see or hear. Twin Peaks exists in the tensions between those two modes.


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