Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Twin Peaks: The Return Part 15 - "There's some fear in letting go."

Monday, August 21, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return Part 15 - "There's some fear in letting go."


There are three possibilities. First possibility: Cooper is dead (although, as the giant Jeffries kettle reminds us, Mr. C is still Cooper in some fundamental sense as well). Wouldn't that be a pisser? David Lynch and Mark Frost string us along for fifteen episodes, allowing Dougie to elude numerous assassins, and then dispatch him by having the guy stick a fork into a wall outlet. The event is even triggered by him hearing the name of David Lynch's character (is Sunset Boulevard the first movie we ever see played in Twin Peaks?), as if to remind us exactly who is doing this to our beloved hero. The ultimate troll? Beyond pure sadism, this development could serve some dramatic purpose - forcing Mr. C to be the conduit (no pun intended) of Cooper's redemption or sending the good Cooper back to the Lodge/elsewhere (as the Log Lady says, death is not an ending, just a transformation) so he can find another way out or achieve something even more important, which we can't foresee. Yet I suspect the series isn't going to go there. For whatever reason, even though I was audibly shouting at my TV "Don't do it!", I'm not particularly worried about the character right now.

Second possibility: This is it! Finally, Cooper has been zapped back into consciousness. I have little doubt this will be one of the most common interpretations, and no doubt it will be the most desired. This is certainly the most physical jolt Cooper has received since arriving in Dougie's place. There was a sense that he didn't quite come out right the last time, that perhaps something was left behind: could this shocking turn (ok, I'll stop with the puns) simply be the FBI agent collecting what remains so he can be whole again? We have only one hour left before the two-part finale, and while that may be a compelling reason to expect the titular return, it's also a reason not to. After all, if the story has waited this long, why not just go all the way and delay "bringing Cooper back" (whatever that means) until the very final stretch? But if this is the turning point, I'm predicting right now that we won't find out until Part 17/18...meaning that this cliffhanger would keep on hanging through the next hour, in which we wouldn't see Cooper once. Or, perhaps, we would check on a comatose Cooper in the hospital as the FBI gathers by his bedside (and Chantal and Hutch would be thwarted in an attempt to take him out there).

Third possibility: Cooper survives, damaged, and the shock serves some dramatic purpose (having to do with Chantal and Hutch or the local FBI looking for him or both; maybe this lands him in the hospital right when he was about to be killed)...but he's still the spacey, barely-functioning "Dougie" we've come to know and (maybe) love. If Gordon and Albert arrive in Vegas, this is who they encounter, and the Chantal/Hutch assassination is averted as all the others have been, with some goofy twist of fate or Lodge-guided intervention. This feels the most likely to me. As diabolically clever a twist as a physical death would be (with the caveat that this doesn't preclude seeing the good Cooper find some other way to deal with Mr. C), it feels premature mostly because it would leave the Chantal/Hutch storyline unresolved and I don't think Lynch and particularly Frost would dangle their arc that way. And I just don't believe that even a near-death experience has the power to change Cooper's situation, or that the scene would be placed with three hours still to go (though the more I think about it, the coma scenario works...it would still allow an attempted assassination and would also avoid the sight of his former colleagues ringing a bell). The climax of this 18-hour story must either involve Cooper emerging from Dougie's shell or a subversion of that storyline for something radically new (ala Mulholland Drive).

Anyway, a lot of other stuff happened in this episode too - much revolving around mortality. Only one death occurs in front of our eyes. Duncan Todd is taken out, with the most obviously glitchy head injury yet. (His assistant, however, is iced just off camera). Stephen fires a gun in the woods although (as with Cooper) we don't see the end result, only hearing the sound and witnessing Gersten Hayward's alarmed reaction, following an intense, abstracted Sparkle trip. Also as with Cooper, Stephen's "death" is triggered by one of the show's creators - in this case, Mark Frost as a walker in the woods (whom the credits reveal as Cyril Pons, the reporter Frost played in a season two cameo). At the Road House Freddie bashes two bargoers whom Hawk later reveals are in critical condition - will they survive? Finally, there is one character whose death is confirmed even though we don't see it directly. Margaret Lanterman, the Log Lady (whom The Return, especially in this episode, has taken pains to address by her actual name) tells Hawk she is dying and when she says goodnight to him, he says (for all of us) "Goodbye, Margaret." The scene directly follows Cooper's over-the-top brush with death, depending how you read that scene either countering the larger than life Cooper moment with something far more down to earth, or underscoring the gravity of Cooper's situation with the Log Lady's words of wisdom.

Of course, this is a farewell not just to Margaret (to whom the episode is dedicated) but to Catherine Coulson, who passed away mere weeks before this was filmed. The word "brave" gets thrown around a lot, but it certainly applies to Coulson's willingness to reflect on her own mortality so openly, in the condition she was in. Even more so than the Cooper scene, her passage feels like the core event of "There's some fear in letting go." with - for what must be the final time - her words providing the episode's title. Although, actually, these aren't her exact words (she repeats "some fear") but rather a distillation; the only time, I think, the episode titles have taken this liberty.
"Hawk, I'm dying. You know about death, that it's just a change, not an end. Hawk, it's time. There's some fear, some fear in letting go. Remember what I told you. I can't say more over the phone but you know what I mean from our talks when we were able to speak face-to-face. Watch for that one, the one I told you about, the one under the moon on Blue Pine Mountain. Hawk, my log is turning gold. The wind is moaning. I'm dying. Goodnight, Hawk.
There follows a scene in which Hawk gathers Andy, Lucy, Bobby, and Frank Truman to tell them the sad news in a dark room, scored by Angelo Badalamenti (I think it's the music played after the boy is run over). We are then shown the Log Lady's cabin as the lights dim, which is also reminiscent of the spirit ascending and dissipating from that accident victim. This is quite a gesture for a show that has often brushed past death in a far more cavalier manner than the first two seasons. It's not only an obvious tribute to Lynch's near-lifelong friendship with Coulson but also a reflection of Frost's focus on mortality, notable in his Twin Peaks book and in interviews leading up to The Return, clearly inspired by his father's slow decline as the series was produced (Warren Frost passed away from Alzheimers early this year). The show is called Twin Peaks: The Return but it could easily be titled Twin Peaks: The Long Goodbye.

Of course, Part 15 opens with quite the opposite effect: abruptly offering something fans have been waiting decades to witness...although not, of course, without teasing us a bit in the process. No sooner is it clarified that Nadine is still married to Ed than she cheerfully breaks the marriage off. Having been through this once before, Ed tries to talk her down: you'll regret this tomorrow, he says, but something about her demeanor convinces him she won't. This isn't a coma-induced delusion that she's still in high school, it's a conscious dedication to Dr. Amp's advice: shovel yourself out of the shit (she even carries the golden tool over her shoulder all the way to Big Ed's Gas Farm). But things are never that easy in Twin Peaks, so when Ed arrives at the diner to tell Norma the good news, she seems to turn him down. Her insipid investor/lover has arrived for a meeting and Ed looks forlorn (but with a supply of resignation built up over a lifetime) as they settle into their booth. Fortunately for her, for him, and for all of us, Norma is letting go of her franchises (while retaining the RR - I had a moment of horror before I realized this) so she can devote herself to the family that this guy - why bother to look up his name? - never knew she had. Neither, until now, did she.

Of course I grinned as Ed and Norma agreed to marry, and I like the way these events were constructed. I wish I could say the scenes worked better for me overall, but they struck me as surprisingly perfunctory, even rushed. I can't quite put my finger on why, except to sense a failure of direction, not writing or performance - though there are some issues with the acting, they feel far more let down by the director than vice versa. The rhythm of the cutting, the pacing of the dialogue, the style of delivery (particularly Nadine's, whose performance I've grown to really cherish in the original series)...all indicated Lynch was just going through the motions. The ingredients were there but the moment didn't rise to the occasion. Or was this intentional? Of all the scenes so far in The Return, this most reminded me of the aforementioned hit-and-run in its affect and intonation, even though the content is so radically different. The shots of mountains and puffy white clouds emphasize the aura of pumped-up melodrama and a feeling of artificiality is further underscored by the contrasting cut to Mr. C's nighttime drive. Again I'm reminded of that mood Lynch brings to all of the non-Frank scenes in Blue Velvet or some of the Betty stuff in Mulholland Drive (like the cab driver's flat voice as he asks her, "Where to?" while she gapes at shiny Los Angeles).

We know that Lynch isn't just putting us on with hip sarcasm; particularly in this situation he cares about these characters. And yet I couldn't shake the feeling that he was either condescending to the material or (more likely) cultivating a sense of false security. If anything in "There's some fear in letting go." makes me think we're watching some kind of fantasy/dream, it's this. Which is too bad, because once again this is such a big moment. I kind of hope I feel differently when revisiting. It's also worth noting that this development abruptly dumps long-awaited information on us, like many other scenes in the show: Richard finally acknowledges his mom is Audrey Horne (can anyone still doubt that Mr. C is his dad?), the convenience store is shown to be a real location at least until it vanishes (with the "room above" a metaphysical space invisible from the ground), Phillip Jeffries finally reveals himself (sort of), and we return to the subject of Judy - ok we don't answer that one yet, but what were you expecting? At least we're talking about her. One final observation about Norma/Ed/Nadine: this may be the first time in The Return that we can actually say a storyline has fully, firmly concluded. The end is near. This is exciting and a little sad. It's clear at this point that we're only going to get a few scenes with most characters, and their outcomes will probably be in a minor key rather than playing into some grand, all-threads-tied-together conclusion.

Maybe that is why some of this (not just the romantic reunion, but also the payoff for the green glove) feels kind of perfunctory/anticlimactic? It's one thing to linger in the not knowing, another to wrap things up (happy as I am for Ed, that concluding shot of him in Part 13 was heartbreakingly beautiful). If one extreme of Twin Peaks' resolutionary impulse is episode 14 of the original series - with its overpowering recontextualization and summation of everything we've seen - the other is episode 16, in which everything is tied up with a neat bow and the end result leaves some of us feeling a bit deflated. The Return is constantly walking that tightrope. In a couple cases, it continues to err on the side of maddeningly, intoxicatingly obscure. Audrey continues to bicker with Charlie in what is quickly becoming the most Bunuelian work Lynch has ever done. And of course, this wouldn't be an episode of The Return without wrapping on a glimpse of unknown characters doing or saying strange things at the Road House. This one is the strangest: a demure young woman lifted by her elbows by two gruff patrons, and placed on the floor so they can take her seat. As usual, no one notices or reacts to this bizarre affront, nor to what follows as she crawls along the floor, whimpering, and then begins to scream. It's a hell of an effective moment and I don't think it could ever be properly "explained."

Perhaps the most notable passage in the episode - aside from the Log Lady's death and (depending where it goes) Dougie/Cooper's - is Mr. C's journey above the convenience store. This is a return to the imagery of Fire Walk With Me (although is it just me or has the room been redecorated with new wallpaper?) as well as other Lynch motifs like a scuzzy motel courtyard (Lost Highway, Wild at Heart) and an ominously ringing phone (Mulholland Drive, - and incidentally, my own phone started ringing at the same exact time, which was eerie). Why is Jeffries a kettle? Although not as amusing as the evolution of the arm, the whimsical transformation is striking in a particularly Lynchian way (I wonder if a similar painting will turn up, as it has for some of the show's other surreal set pieces). Yet something about the methodical advancement of the visit, and the load of verbal information it conveys, feels Frostian. Much like the Lodge scenes in early episodes, Lynch is using his imagination to illustrate exposition and plot momentum that is more in Frost's wheelhouse. This more than anything makes me doubt the last two episodes will pull the rug out to the degree I sometimes suspect/hope for.

Predictions for the penultimate week (God, I can't believe we're that close!): the FBI arrives in Vegas and Diane interacts with Janey-E; Becky finds out Stephen has died, in a scene involving Gersten; maybe a funeral for the Log Lady (which probably means we won't get a funeral for Harry Truman - so I have no idea where all that stuff is going); Audrey still doesn't leave her house; Renee tells James they shouldn't see or talk to each other; we learn that Diane is in communication with Jeffries, not Mr. C (who sent the text message she received six episodes ago tonight!). I hope I'm wrong about all of these! Only two more weeks to be surprised.


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