Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Twin Peaks: The Return Part 9 - "This is the chair."

Monday, July 10, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return Part 9 - "This is the chair."


For all its unpredictability, a definite pattern is emerging week after week on Twin Peaks: The Return, a pattern that other commentators had already begun to note. Aside from the two-part premiere, each plot-heavy, relatively straightforward episode has been followed by a more challenging, avant-garde episode, establishing a rhythm that corresponds to the differing interests and approaches of Mark Frost and David Lynch, as well as the demands of a televised narrative and Twin Peaks' yearning desire to break the mold and indulge in experimentation. Given the series' ostensible design as one big film, cut up arbitrarily at each hour mark, perhaps this alternation is a coincidence? Well, I would've been likelier to believe that before the one-two punch of "Gotta light." and "This is the chair." Their juxtaposition is too jarring, the delineation between them far too neat, to believe in an accident. Whether we characterize the modes of this series as Frost and Lynch, narrative and experimentation, breaking it down and breaking through, Cooper is not the only part of Twin Peaks that's split in two.

Of course, the give-and-take between these elements isn't simply present between episodes - it's present within each episode, as this week demonstrates. Certainly in terms of which creator did what, I'm not sure I've seen an easier-to-parse hour of The Return. The revelation that Bill Hastings (finally, he's back!) and Ruth Davenport traveled to an alternate dimension to deliver coordinates to Major Briggs is described rather than shown and pitched in the context of an amateur conspiracy blog. That has Frost's fingerprints all over it. As do many of the episode's revelations and twists - mostly involving Briggs. Meanwhile, not only am I convinced that it was Lynch's idea to film a point of view shot of Jerry Horne's leg while his foot (er, not-his-foot?) declares to him in a squeaky, subtitled voice, "I am not your foot," I wouldn't at all be surprised if this wasn't in the teleplay. Did Lynch improvised it on a whimsical impulse while shooting on location with David Patrick Kelly in the woods (his previous scene felt like a spontaneous goof as well)? Not only does it suit his sensibility, it plays like a subversive non sequitur in an exposition-heavy hour.

And yet...even as I type the above paragraph, and look at the picture below this post, I realize this hilariously offbeat moment may not be such a detour after all. Jerry, baked and bewildered in the Washington woods, is staring at his shoe and as John Bernardy has already speculated, shoes (specifically, Cooper's) may be a crucial key in the narrative. We get another reminder of this earlier, when Dougie/Cooper gazes at a corner of the police station (the slow zoom in to his face, especially following a second cup of coffee, teases ever-hopeful viewers with the possibility that perhaps the lost soul has seen something which will finally shake him out of his slumber...only to reveal an American flag with "America the Beautiful" playing softly in the background). A woman in red pumps crosses Cooper's field of vision and as his viewpoint follows her Wizard of Oz-shaded high heels, he settles upon an electrical outlet in the wall. It's a nice, subtle visual callback which reinforces the idea that Cooper's shoes - lost when he traveled through the giant outlet - are necessary to restore his identity.

This works - and has been prepared for - in many ways. Cooper was fascinated by the statue's shoes, the one-armed man so eager to help him from the Lodge is a shoe salesman in another life, and hell, even if we indulge in corny puns (which Lynch/Frost are far from above) we could note that Cooper lost his "sole(s)" when he crossed over. (I think someone else came up with that groaner before me, so please blame the anonymous punster.) Yes, there will be more to it. I expect Laura, for example, will need to play a role in whatever restoration Cooper undergoes. However, I won't at all be surprised if the missing shoes end up being an important signifier for the confused agent. This style of build-up certainly fits with the groundwork Frost eagerly lays throughout this episode, planting puzzle pieces to be assembled soon: Betty unveils a hidden message from her dead husband (while Bobby helps expose and explain its contents), Hastings reveals how his own life intersected with the Major's (and mentions the coordinates that evil Cooper has been seeking), and evil Cooper - with or without Bob, still fully committed to the dark side - sets loose a couple henchmen on the warden and, implicitly, on good Cooper.

That raises an important point - or rather, several. We can, pretty officially, lay to rest the idea that the Vegas, South Dakota, and/or Twin Peaks storylines take place in different realities. By now, they've all intersected. It's also fairly clear that bad Cooper is the one trying to kill "Dougie" - not Phillip Jeffries or insurance co-conspirators or debt collectors or the unseen billionaire (unless he's also the doppelganger, which I doubt). Ironically, this consolidation occurs in an episode which actually does utter the phrase "alternate reality," but the way this concept is used itself feels more genre-adherent and straightforward than the Lynchian paradoxes of, say, Inland Empire. In fact, this sort of context is a bit startling in a Lynch work, continuing a trend that has been well-observed throughout the new series as far back as the surprisingly expositional Black Lodge sequences in part 2 (and particularly in the avant-garde-short-meets-mythological-origin-story approach of part 8). For the most part, we seem to be witnessing Lynch illustrating and developing essentially Frostian narrative concepts, rather than fusing both visions or alternating between them.

This has made for enjoyable, gripping storytelling and a fascinating texture which cultivates the yin-yang of these two complementary yet very different artists, in a way even the original series never quite did. However, such an approach leaves me with some questions - and concerns. My favorite Lynch works tend to be the ones that emphasize psychodramatic dream logic over sci-fi/fantasy logistics. They always locate the strangeness in trauma with real-world resonance. I'm not quite seeing that yet in The Return, whose interplay of good and evil forces, and interpenetration between two worlds thus far, exists primarily on the surface level without a sense that we are witnessing an allegorical representation (or, conversely, the archetypal underpinning) of some hidden event. This doesn't mean that the story can't have broader thematic ramifications, but so far they remain cerebral and abstract rather than visceral in the fashion of Diane's jealousy, Laura's sorrow, or Nikki's disorientation. While I enjoy watching the scattered threads wind together, and am delighted by the creative ways the writers have brought back old characters and situations to feed into a very new drama, I am hoping that eventually these elements will wrap not just around a solid story structure but an as-yet-elusive emotional core.

I'll also admit I'm slightly disappointed that The Return continued on its one-foot-in/one-foot-out dance for another week. I was so captivated by the end of the previous hour that I was kind of hoping it would continue for several reasons. For one, despite the strength of "Gotta light?"'s ending (it did feel like the conclusion of an aside) there were still so many questions. Who was the girl, and what was her significance (ditto the frogbug)? What happens to the townspeople when they wake up the next morning, strewn across their floors, to discover that several of their fellow citizens were bloodily murdered? Will there be something "off" in the air after this, a dark mood settled over the desert community which no one can quite put their fingers on? Despite enjoying the dispersion of The Return's general narrative, I really appreciated the previous episode's sustained focus. I wanted to stay in that world a little longer, which I suppose reveals my true colors. Even this Twin Peaks - a movie sliced into eighteen chapters - is still a television series in many important ways: the sprawling ensemble, the variation of tones and storylines, the delay of major events as we're drip-fed significant but smaller developments. Part of me also wants The Return - stretches of it anyway - to operate more like an intense, driven, concentrated movie.

However, another part of me wishes The Return could be even more of an ensemble series. What if there were two distinct shows: one keeping to the strong central narrative of the two Coopers and the FBI's hunt for truth, while another spends all of its weekly hours inside Twin Peaks, regularly catching up with the vast cast, particularly the new characters. We know so little about their intriguing lives; I'm beginning to realize we may not get much more than occasional glimpses. I talked about this last week on Twin Peaks Unwrapped and co-host Bryon Kozaczka speculated that maybe all we're ever going to get are snippets of Becky, Richard, Red, and the others, that - aside from the clearly very crucial sheriff's station - the denizens of Twin Peaks would be reduced to cameos that will linger as anecdotes rather than full-fledged story arcs. Perhaps their brief parts are already finished; we all seem to accept that Lucy's kid is a one-off, but what if Shelly's kid is too? After disagreeing with this premise, I am beginning to wonder if he's right.

Oddly, I can live with this when applied to familiar favorites (since we already spent so much time with them in the old series, and it's nice just to be able to check in now). But it saddens me to think that we'll only ever get peeks into the new characters, existing in a world we can never fully see. This makes me want to crane my neck around the corner in curiosity. Even as I write this, I realize it's not a bad thing. Indeed, I remember feeling similarly about Laura's story on the old series: a past destined to remain in shadow until unveiled by Fire Walk With Me (to our surprise). This intense curiosity was in fact the lifeblood of original Twin Peaks and by limiting our time with the new characters Lynch and Frost have found an interesting, even paradoxical way to cultivate this mood once again. Even if the Cooper story ends up being too literal, Twin Peaks' secret lives will preserve the flavor of mystery so crucial to the show. And like Ben and Beverly, I'll be left wanting more while knowing I'm probably even better off without, pausing to savor the moments I'm given.

Despite using this week's entry as an excuse to air some reservations (an approach I was considering even before tonight, since it's officially the show's halfway point), I did quite like and enjoy this episode (as I have them all). Even aside from its placement after a literal atomic explosion, and despite its many major plot advances, this feels like an almost gentle interlude. "This is the chair." features many long pauses in conversation and action; bright, sunlit sequences with the warm, comforting sheriff's crew; delightful, quiet character moments (like Diane sharing a cig with Gordon while Tammy, God bless her, uncomfortably vamps); and hell, even our one Ike the Spike scene doesn't end with a death (not even his own, which I was expecting). If the pattern holds, next week's episode will be a doozy, with this week a mid-series breather between two larger-than-life bookends. Showtime's title for the upcoming hour already hints at something big, an entry which will probably begin to answer some of my questions about the show's emotional core as well as its commitment to previous psychological underpinnings. For the first time, the selected line of dialogue directly names a character: "Laura is the one."


Previous: "Gotta light?"

No comments: