Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Twin Peaks: The Return Part 14 - "We are like the dreamer."

Monday, August 14, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return Part 14 - "We are like the dreamer."


What's the biggest news this week? That the gang finally made it to Jack Rabbit's Palace? That the FBI has now linked up with both Twin Peaks and Las Vegas? That Chad was busted by his compatriots? Nah, of course not. We saw all of those things coming, even if we couldn't figure out when (especially after Part 13 tipped its hand about screwy chronology). Far more shocking and memorable were any of the following: Monica Bellucci finally appears as...Monica Bellucci! (In David Lynch's, er, Gordon Cole's dream!!) Sarah Palmer literally killed an obnoxious bar patron by removing her face and then biting off his neck!!! Andy is the one to make contact with the other side (specifically the Giant ??????? The Fireman)!!!! James' gloved British buddy was sent to Twin Peaks personally by the...Fireman!!!!! DIANE AND JANEY-E ARE SISTERS!!!!!! And yet in some ways the scene that affected me most was the final one, maybe simply because it was the cherry on top of everything else, the moment that tipped my overall impression toward something I've been wanting to feel but hadn't quite yet: the intoxicating desire to enter into mysteries that I suspect will never be solved.

As two more random townspeople converse at that Road House booth, their conversation touches on several of the figures Audrey mentioned in her conversations with Charlie, specifically Tina and Billy. Tina's daughter (and what an ominous cue we get before she reveals her mother's identity) is actually quite detailed in her account of Billy's bloody house call, yet the incident tantalizes because it remains just out of reach. Is it because we're hearing it secondhand, or because the actions it describes seem so strange and implausible, or because we still don't have any context despite such specificity. I'm not sure I can pin down the reasons why, but following all the bewildering, delightful, ominous, shocking scenes of Part 14, this conversation connected with the uncanny vibration released by Gordon's dream. Often The Return has provided a not-particularly reassuring sense that it will answer all our questions (including some we didn't really ask), a sense reinforced by the narrative's many dips into purely expository dialogue, its more plot-motivated excursions into Lodge lore, and the way it employs and explains mysterious motifs from Fire Walk With Me. But tonight we were told in subtle and explicit ways that this experience will go far deeper than rational analysis can capture.

Of course there is still a fair amount of straightforward plot momentum and revelatory conversations, especially early on. I've noticed that quite a few episodes make this same movement from clarity to obscurity, opening with characters (usually law enforcement, especially the FBI) telling one another important plot-relevant information and closing with characters (usually strangers, especially at the Road House) sharing anecdotes that intrigue and perplex far more than they explain. In between we gradually shift toward abstract scenes from initially plotty ones. This time Truman tells Gordon about Laura's diary pages, Albert delves further into Blue Rose lore with Tammy (the first case involved a woman murdering her doppelganger), the eccentric (who knew?) Vegas feds are incorporated into the search for the Dougie/Janey-E, we discover Diane's and Janey-E's connection (it makes total sense in retrospect, but took me totally by surprise), and Gordon reminds us all what happened in the Phillip Jeffries sequence - albeit via a hilariously wacky dream conceit (I was grinning ear to ear from the moment he said Bellucci's name).

Hilarious...but also slightly unnerving. The sequence, by design, is nowhere near as immersive as other Twin Peaks dreams - primarily because Gordon loudly narrates the whole thing, with frequent cuts back to him in the office. Yet it is still quite effective: when we cut from 70-year-old Lynch looking over his shoulder to 45-year-old Lynch looking back at him, I audibly gasped. While undoubtedly a whimsical self-indulgence (and likely also an opportunity to earn a French tax credit), this dream articulates a passage from the Upanishads which Lynch has often highlighted - most notably while promoting Inland Empire:
"We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe."
Likely a loosely-translated version of the Mundaka Upanishad, "the ancient phrase" is now presented as "We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives inside the dream." And then Lynch adds a chilling, thrilling coda: "But...who is the dreamer?" The scene itself answers this cleverly, by cutting to Lynch, but of course there's much more to the question than that. Confining ourselves to the world of these characters, if that's even possible... Is Gordon the dreamer? Is, specifically, young Gordon the dreamer? Is Cooper the dreamer, since the flashback shows him telling Gordon about a dream he had? Is Phillip Jeffries the dreamer? I'd contend that if there is a dreamer of Twin Peaks, it is and always must have been the one who is hardly ever seen yet always present: Laura Palmer. But of course, we can't ask who the dreamer is without asking what it even means to be in a dream in the first place.

Lynch is interested in dreams not as a phenomenon contained by everyday reality, but as an expression of the illusory (yet sometimes revealing) nature of everyday reality itself. A Transcendental Meditator for forty years (and a passionate proselytizer for at least a dozen) and "a Hindu, I guess," according to an old New York Times interview, Lynch does believe in an underlying, all-encompassing, monistic reality whether one calls it the unified field (as does TM) or Brahman (as do the scriptures and traditions of nondualist Hinduism, Advaita Vedanta, from which the Maharishi drew his tacit theology). I'm far from an expert on this subject, but fascinated by its subtle links to Twin Peaks - especially the way it opens up an often narrowly Manichean interpretation of the struggle between dark and light - I did explore Hindu texts several years ago. You can see some of the connections I drew between the Upanishads and Fire Walk With Me in these three videos or via images from them, a couple of which are sampled below).


I suspect we'll have more opportunity to travel down this path in the future, but so far, this is certainly the most overtly mystical chapter in Twin Peaks. And it's perhaps only the second time Lynch has made direct reference his own spiritual beliefs in his work (Martha Nochimson credits the Maharishi as the source of Lynch's "Palace" and "Marketplace" analogies in Inland Empire, though this feels even more explicit). Elsewhere in "We are like the dreamer.", characters describe strange experiences to one another (the aforementioned Road House dialogue, James' conversation with the gloved co-worker) but there are purely visceral experiences as well: Andy's passage through the vortex, Sarah's removal of her face, even Gordon's reaction to the window cleaner. Only the Monica dream crosses these two streams (if we want to be as dualistic as Twin Peaks both encourages and warns against, we could call these streams Frostian explication and Lynchian immersion - but then that may be exactly why the Upanishads needle-drop is the sole exception, its mysticism pointing to a greater unity beyond the apparent division).

Amidst the visual/narrative/thematic fireworks, Part 14 offers a lot of indirect character development tonight. We learn what James does for a living, get some family info about Diane, James' gloved co-worker Freddie reveals his surprising history, and we are reminded (if Bing's diner cameo wasn't enough) that Billy, Tina, et al aren't simply figments of Audrey's imagination - making it less likely the scenes with Charlie are some form of roleplaying therapy (or hallucination). Gordon reinforces his role as the show's rather ironic audience stand-in, the creator of all this mayhem playing a character who's bewildered by what he sees but determined to figure it out (though some may still believe he's sneakily orchestrating much of said mayhem, I don't buy it). Gordon as a comforting investigator armed with plotty exposition has been an ironic presence in Twin Peaks since the FBI director's earliest appearances. (Remember how Gordon always brought news of Windom Earle, a plot element Lynch himself disliked?) Of course, Gordon's "guide" role has become more central to The Return in poignant, humorous, and charming fashion.

More surprisingly resonant is Andy's (self-?)selection as the visitor to the Fireman's realm. The Diane... podcast is going to have an absolute field day with this one, and rightfully so. They've long pointed out that in addition to being straight comic relief, Andy has a kind of capital-F Fool's wisdom. The deputy who couldn't have been more distanced from the supernatural (aside from Little Nicky) is now adopted directly into the show's core mythology. This plays beautifully, perhaps redeeming one of Lynch's more trying qualities: a devotion to emphasizing the character's dopey density ever since the season two premiere. I like to think that maybe Frost was the one who prompted this development, and Lynch handles it beautifully. There's also an element of Grail mythology (very much Frost's wheelhouse) in the pure-of-heart Andy being the one to enter the (Jack Rabbit's) Palace. Like much of The Return, this sequence evokes fairy tales too: a mutilated beauty rescued by a chivalrous knight amidst magic in the woods. The re-emergence of Naido, the blind woman from Part 3, is shocking. But perhaps even more disorienting is her incorporation into a jail scene with the lowly Chad. Avant-garde fantasy figure, meet genre-convention corrupt cop (with a repetitive drunk as intermediary). What a juxtaposition!

Less aggressively clashing, but more deeply unsettling, is Sarah Palmer's cosmic slasher attack inside a mundane hole-in-the-wall tavern. Over the course of Twin Peaks, Lynch and Frost (and earlier collaborators) slowly allowed the heightened but relatively naturalistic world of Twin Peaks and the mystical realm of Another Place to bleed into one another. Think how in the first season, dreams and psychic clues flit through the surface reality without actively upsetting it. Then in season two we are given uncanny moments with the Tremonds or Bob, usually inside and/or at night, and presented with the ever-slighter possibilities that they can be explained away as personal visions until the finale locates an honest-to-God Black Lodge gateway in physical reality (witnessed by no less a sturdy fellow than Sheriff Truman). Fire Walk With Me goes further by dragging the spirits into daylight (albeit primarily filtered through one character's consciousness), and The Return has been blurring these lines further still. Of many examples, Sarah's gruesome magic trick may feel the most like a violation of "rules" we thought we knew up to this point.

Why? It certainly isn't out of sympathy for her victim, whose over-the-top odiousness seems all too realistic (what a grimly appropriate weekend to air an episode in which a scumbag uses "it's a free country" as an excuse to harass and threaten). But what does this mean for Sarah? Has she always been like this, is it a new development, does she only attack in self-defense? Is she a vampire, hence the devotion to Bloody Marys and boxing matches/violent nature shows? What happened to the grocer boy who delivered her booze? Because even before this revelation, some podcasters were predicting "nothing good." Sarah's situation has always been defined by passivity (whether described as desperate helplessness or weak avoidance). She was a witness as mute as Naido is blind. Lately, however, and especially tonight, we see a woman who rejects characters' - and the audience's - pity as readily as she rejects their judgment. But to what end? There may be no character I'm more curious about at this moment than Sarah Palmer, but I also won't be surprised if we never receive a clear explanation. The space behind her face (so similar to her daughter's maneuver - is the child's spirit possessing the parent?) may express a depth and intensity that by their very natures can't be articulated or fully comprehended.

And that goes for so much else too. I feel comfortable predicting we will get a resolution, or "resolution," of the Cooper situation (incidentally, this episode has even less Cooper screentime than Part 12 - limited, it seems, to representations rather than the characters being present themselves). Outside of that, I think it's reasonable to expect a kind of conclusion, albeit very likely a circular one, for Becky and some of the other new characters (Richard's conclusion, I think, will have to be pretty final). I doubt Harry's illness will be left dangling. And a lot of the Frostian momentum will result in various strands coming together, as we're already seeing them do. BUT...I sometimes suspect the most enigmatic, uncanny corners of the story (Sarah's secret, the New Mexico frog-bug mystery, the weird time glitches, the hints about dreams and dreamers, even Audrey's limbo although I do think we'll get a bit more context there) will remain shrouded in mystery. The series will end but its world will carry on forever, as we try to figure out where the creators' dreams intersect with our own.



The following visual tribute to Andy's vision contains NSFW images



















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