Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Twin Peaks: The Return Part 16 - "No knock, no doorbell."

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return Part 16 - "No knock, no doorbell."


So...that just happened. As I reach for comparisons, the first to come to mind is episode 16 of the original Twin Peaks: the one in which Cooper magically solves the show's central mystery, captures Leland Palmer, and (temporarily) expunges Bob from the material world. "No knock, no doorbell." has the same breakneck sense of pacing, a jaunty, breathless, butterflies-in-stomach eagerness to hit its marks and give us what we've anticipated for...well, sixteen episodes come to think of it (ok, that's cheating - the original episode 16 doesn't include the pilot in its count). Narratively the match isn't exact because Cooper's awakening precipitates but does not deliver a climax, and tonally the heroic return of our protagonist is a far more joyous occasion than the death of a killer. Stylistically though, and on a more fundamental level of spirit, this feels remarkably similar. As followers of my work may know, I am not the biggest fan of episode 16 - but I liked Part 16 quite a bit. True, David Lynch's open embrace of cheeky absurdity is a welcome addition to the original mix, since he didn't direct that earlier episode (Leland's capture has been compared to a Law & Order episode given its more straightforward approach); but some of the things I enjoy about this semi-resolution are the same as what I do like about that older one. What differs is the context.

The other comparison that just occurred to me, which feels more apt, is to the Neon Genesis Evangelion finale. Not to the sections featuring avant-garde animation or lengthy, psychoanalytical internal monologues but to a specific moment just before the end when the lead character, Shinji, himself awakens. (Skip two paragraphs if you care about a jarring, if brief, surprise twist in that episode.) The boy pops out of bed, greeted by his stereotypically ordinary parents (doing the dishes and reading the newspaper), and races out the door with his best pal Asuka. Schoolyard drama ensues and the whole thing has an air of wacky, antic energy, bubbling over with a sense of fun even as its setting is aggressively everyday. In this, I'm told, the spirit of the sequence corresponds with many other anime shows...without at all corresponding to the rest of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Shinji's parents aren't truly kitchen-dwelling normies; his dad is a sociopathic warlord and his mother is dead (well, kind of, it's a long story). His gal pal/girlfriend is in real life catatonic following her own violent trauma, and the city he cheerfuly jogs through has - outside of this dream state - actually been devastated by a massive battle (in which he, no ordinary schoolboy, took part). Shinji, in the midst of a psychedelic reckoning both physical and metaphysical, actually exists in a post-apocalyptic society, his life a mixture of numb depression and intense trauma (far from being everyday in its milieu, the series features giant mechas battling otherworldly monsters over the fate of the world).

Shinji's classroom interlude is a fantasy and/or alternate reality demonstrating how his mind can create other realities. The sequence also offers what many frustrated viewers yearn for, the ability to relax alongside beloved characters without any anxiety (which the show otherwise cultivates). This is, in a word, fanservice - but delivered with a cheerful wink and sleight of hand. We enjoy the moment because it's enjoyable, and we appreciate it because it exists within a more profound if troubling frame.

Does Twin Peaks?

I could be wrong in my affirmative assumption, at least as far as The Return is concerned. It's possible that Lynch and Frost have just decided to keep it lighter this time. The original Twin Peaks presented episode 16 unironically and then brushed past it - showing a remarkable lack of self-awareness as it leaned heavily into wacky comedy and soapy tropes. It saved face with its finale and prequel film, both pouring out of Lynch in a near-spontaneous burst of pent-up frustration and longing. But that was then, under specific pressures, and this is now. Lynch and Frost wrote this story without any interference and perhaps they feel the narrative should wrap itself up in a straight-ahead, roll-up-your-sleeves kind of way. Cooper wakes up, gets instructions from the one-armed man, and rushes off to Twin Peaks for a showdown with his evil doppelganger - after a heartfelt goodbye to his sorta family, of course. Big stirring music (even the Twin Peaks theme itself!) fills our ears, Cooper intones "I AM the FBI!" and everything moves so fast that we're eventually stunned to find out the episode is nearly over. And then Audrey finally makes it to the Road House! And...dances. To "Audrey's Dance"?! Explicitly announced by the MC??!! And then...Audrey races toward her husband and pleads, "Get me out of here!" only to find herself staring into a mirror in a white room...

We don't have to read the tea leaves to discern that Twin Peaks is pulling our leg at least a little bit, and if we're avoiding that conclusion until the final moments (striving desperately to believe that the series was teasing us before but now it's ready to give us the goods in an uncomplicated way), that last cut should shatter any illusions. Two weeks ago, Monica Bellucci asked us, "But who is the dreamer?" and tonight we receive one possible answer. (And yes, Mulholland Drive, which eventually emerged as a film about an actress dreaming her own alternate reality, began its life as an Audrey-goes-to-Hollywood spin-off concept). As many speculated, Audrey's strange little tale does appear to be an illusion, with Charlie a kind of guide - a spirit, a doctor's voice, or a figment of her own psyche. But how does this illusion work? In the moment before she snaps out of it, someone is attacking someone else for going after their wife; it looks like Red jumping Bobby, and how would Audrey know about their rivalry? Is everything we've seen up to now - Twin Peaks, Buckhorn, Las Vegas, the road trip of Mr. C - part of her dream? If so, how does she know about Cooper's doppelganger, a development that presumably occurred in the real world? Is The Return going to guide us into an understanding that such delineations between dream and waking life aren't nearly so sharp as we may want to believe? Is everything a dream, are there dreams within dreams, do they overlap like Venn diagrams? Are there multiple dreamers? Perhaps of most immediate concern, if Audrey has just woken up from whatever we're watching, do we still get to find out what happens when Cooper, the FBI, and the doppelganger all converge on the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Station? Do we pick up right with her at the start of Part 17 or do we return, as if nothing went awry, to the rest of the story?

Of course none of us can answer any of these questions right now, so let's focus on what we can affirm. First of all, this chapter should be definitive proof that The Return *is* an episodic series. This hour has such a different feel than, say, part 8 or part 6 or even the fast-paced part 11. Maybe I'll feel differently when I watch the episodes in closer succession, knowing the bigger picture (something I intend to start doing this week, hopefully leading right into the finale), but I suspect there will still be a distinction between the units. Whatever "one big movie" means, it doesn't mean that the individual installments clip together to form one undifferentiated mass. I've been saying that for a while, but this seals it. Everything that happens in this episode is momentous, including several events I haven't even touched on yet: Richard's death and Diane's disappearance. Both of these developments fulfill yet defy expectations. Yes, Richard is Mr. C's son after all, but who would have thought his dad would kill him like this, sending him to test one of two coordinates and watching him electrocute himself? "Goodbye, son" (nearby, Richard's Great Uncle Jerry witnesses the young man explode through the wrong end of a binocular). This is a pretty brutally cavalier denouement for a brutal character, calling into question why he needed to exist in the first place. Did Mr. C father him because someone of the same genetic material would be needed twenty-five years later? Or could Richard have been anyone? Why did we need to follow this particular story to this particular point, only to watch it go up in a literal puff of smoke? I'm not sure yet.

Meanwhile both reads of Diane come true. She is indeed a collaborator of Mr. C (on the Sparkwood & 21 podcast, Paul's hopeful island just sank into the sea) but was also his victim. Both of my reservations after part 7 have been confirmed, in that Mr. C definitely raped both Diane and Audrey. If Audrey is dreaming this, is Cooper's unseen secretary manifesting as Audrey's own tulpa, a way of expressing her own unconscious trauma? And what of the sisterly link between Diane and Janey-E, which now looks like it will never be fulfilled except on some subtextual level? Incidentally, a few people did wonder if Diane was a doppelganger, but I'm not sure that description fits: when she is shot by Albert and Tammy and then zapped back into the Lodge, it's not Mr. C but Dougie (the real, er, "real" Dougie) she resembles, seated in front of the one-armed man as he tells her "You were manufactured for a purpose," before she breaks apart and disintegrates into another floating golden ball. Unlike Dougie however, Diane both pushes back ("Fuck you," she memorably tells the spirit, one of the best lines in the whole series) and recognizes her condition ("I know," she responds to the "manufactured" comment). There's something quite profound in this scenario: if this version of Diane is not quite "real," we're led to believe she's nonetheless self-aware. If she's designed to be a tool of the doppelganger, she appears to struggle against this destiny. Moreover, the experience she reports - Cooper's visit to her home several years after he disappeared, in which a tearful reunion turned into a horrific violation - seems quite real, both in the sense that it occurred before Mr. C created the Diane double (and thus this memory belongs to the original Diane) and in the sense that it has a weight few of the other big dramatic moments do.

There's a deeply unsettling push and pull going on in this scene, between a woman as victim and villain, between her colleagues as sympathetic listeners and annihilating assassins, between a character whose trauma is real yet whose very existence is an illusion (which conveys quite a bit about the use of fiction to explore such matters). As such, this sequence ranks among the most compelling work Lynch has ever done, an interrogation of the entire Twin Peaks project (particularly the original series' - not so much the film's - complicated relationship to Laura Palmer), its own surface fluctuating so radically that it's impossible to discern the metaphor from what is being conveying. This is all the more disorienting when placed within an episode otherwise aggressively pitched to that cheerful ol' Lumbertown tremolo. Cooper's awakening is perhaps the most Reaganesque vision of heroic Americana Lynch has delivered since Blue Velvet, and apparently without even that film's textually overt irony. The Vegas scenes are all about men of action, with a clear purpose and the will to get their way (well, unless they belong to the hapless local FBI office), while Diane's monologue reveals a femme fatale presented as dangerous yet ultimately herself endangered, forced to question even her own identity. These are twin poles - er, peaks - of the Lynchverse, juxtaposed in quite a different fashion than Frank Booth vs. Dorothy Valens. It's worth noting too that Cooper's emergence shatters the notion that he's only a weak half of the real Cooper, who must reunite with his dark half to become whole again. No, this seems to be the old Cooper, sharp and rearing to go in a fashion everyone wisely predicted would be impossible ("You don't just return to the old Cooper after twenty-five years!") which certainly adds to the fantastical tenor of Part 16. But if this is "made up" in some way, shape, or form, where does that leave our genuine cocnern for Cooper and his well-being? And if it's all on the level, what does that do for the dramatic and emotional integrity of this story? How can these two needs be reconciled - should they be?

And so here we are. Perhaps Lynch and Frost are poking gentle fun at themselves and their audience, or perhaps the subtlety and complexity they display in other areas will prove incidental to their largely straightforward narrative purpose. (In which case, I guess, Audrey's awakening simply applies to her own storyline without broader implications for everything else we have watched.) As I've studied elsewhere, Lynch's work reflects a drift from surreal but nonetheless conventional morality plays, in which troubled but ultimately good-hearted heroes rescue victims from gruesome bad guys, toward increasingly complex tales in which the victims discover their attackers are in fact embedded in the savior figures (and eventually, in Lynch's later works, buried within themselves). What if The Return demonstrates the director snapping back to this older mode with a vengeance, the artist who operates directly from his subconscious finding himself in a place where he embraces the simpler model because it feels right to him again? Well, this episode is a delightful, cartoonish blast: Hutch's and Chantal's death by Polish road rage driveway rage is a whimsically bloody send-off - thank God Chekhov's torture never paid off - and Candie one of the most glorious gifts in the Lynch-Frost oeuvre. So I'd still enjoy the trip no matter what...but I'd admittedly be pretty disappointed in the destination. As a collection of David Lynch-directed moments, The Return has already achieved its mission. As a conclusion to Twin Peaks, I have no idea where this will lead us. So much rides on those final two hours: part 16 could either indicate a conventional closer or (more likely in my opinion) get everything out of the way for a Mulholland Drive-esque final act reversal. Or we could go another route altogether - for now I'm just soaking it all in.

So, yeah, that just happened!

...Or did it?

Check out my video essay comparing Neon Genesis Evangelion and Twin Peaks.


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