Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): TWIN PEAKS First Time Viewer Companion: S2E22 "Beyond Life and Death"

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

TWIN PEAKS First Time Viewer Companion: S2E22 "Beyond Life and Death"


These short Twin Peaks episode responses are spoiler-free for upcoming episodes, presented here for first-time viewers who want to read a veteran viewer's perspective on each entry while remaining in the dark about what's to come. They were first published as comments on a Reddit rewatch in 2016.

This is where it comes full circle. First of all in the sense that, just as the mid-season felt strange for shifting so hard from the violent murder of Maddy to shenanigans with the mayor and his brother, now this episode feels strange for shifting from the broad sitcom quirk of Miss Twin Peaks to Lynch's most surreal cinema since Eraserhead. Of course it's also full-circle in the obvious sense that it brings back so many characters, motifs, even lines of dialogue. This makes it simultaneously a deeply-rooted episode and an abrupt break from the rest of late season two, which has been heading in a different, new direction. It's part of what makes the episode so delicious and disorienting.

The Black Lodge sequence is some of Lynch's finest, most arresting work. But even if this episode didn't contain that classic extended setpiece, it would still contain one of my absolute favorite scenes in all of Twin Peaks: I speak, of course, of Dell Mibbler's befuddled shuffle through the bank lobby. There are some scenes in Twin Peaks that scared me once but no longer terrify; dramatic, moving moments that don't quite touch me as they once did; but this scene never fails to make me laugh out loud. After so many season two attempts, some affectionate, some cringeworthy, to wring laughs out of arch eccentricity, this moment just demolishes those lame antecedents. It's perverse, kinda cruel, and drop-dead hilarious.

Beyond the Lodge, there's just so much good stuff in this episode. Especially on an extended rewatch, I can't get over how wonderfully Lynch is able to draw upon the legend of the pilot and early episodes. It's only been 30 episodes (just over a year of airtime, though the production admittedly took two years) - even fewer episodes in the case of some icons - and already that stuff feels ancient, but in a good way: like some fundamental foundation being returned to.

Ronette?! The scorched engine oil? Coop murmuring "The little man and the giant" and "Fire walk with me"? Heidi the waitress, Bobby in his letterman jacket, Sarah Palmer in action once again (accompanied by Jacoby in something close to the outfit we saw back in Laura's funeral episode)? All a welcome return to first principles. Even Audrey, while building on the development she's had since One-Eyed Jack's, seems fresher, more playful than she has in eons, quickly removing the businesslike jacket to reveal one of those good old sweaters.

At the same time, the episode moves forward into brand new territory which extends from the familiar. The best example might be the music. That dark, eerie synth theme that begins before the credits end, as we see Cooper's face for the first time, is called "Dark Woods Theme" (I think). It is quintessetial TP music, only appearing for the first time now but completely dominating the episode (other than the Red Room scenes). Supposedly when Lynch first heard Badalamenti perform this he got really excited and said something like "That sums up everything I feel about the show!"

When Lynch gets his hands on stuff that wasn't really his creation or even feels out of step with his sensibility, he drags it into line. Windom is the perfect example: truly deranged and menacing as he terrorizes Annie. She seems to be in a trance for most of the finale, but those early moments are among her best in the series, as she asks Windom what he's doing, frightened but not broken (in that somewhat flat manner you either find annoying or charming, which Lynch heightens and makes a little more strange) and then begins to recite a psalm.

The Black Lodge is the best example of Lynch performing emergency surgery, fusing his earlier, uniquely bizarre material from the alternate end of the pilot and early season two with the more consciously esoterica-influenced mythology that had developed without much input from him (it's hard to remember, but the first mention of the Lodges isn't until the campfire scene with Coop and Major Briggs, after the Laura mystery has ended). I'm positive others will post the script here - if they don't I'll come back with a link - and if you look at it you'll see how much of that "back to roots" was missing on the page. No giant. No waiter. No Maddy or Leland. Believe it or not, no Little Man! Most shockingly of all, the Lodge wasn't the Red Room but a hodgepodge of locations including a black-and-white version of the Great Northern and a dentist's office!

For all the good work Frost, Peyton, and Engels had done on the show they ultimately let it get away from itself. Lynch is often accused of not being grounded enough, of being willing to fly too far afield but in this case at least the reverse is true. He is the one to remind us where we've been before sending us where we ultimately need to go.

Did he want Cooper to see Bob in the mirror? There's some controversy over this, with suggestions that he and Frost planned this development far ahead while other accounts suggest the decision (like most decisions at this point) was made without him, and even that he preferred to see Coop as an idealized, above-it-all icon (the episodes he directed certainly bear out this interpretation, especially when compared to Frost's scripts, which Lynch sometimes changed to make the detective seem less flawed/limited).

Regardless, it's left to Lynch to paint Cooper's fall and it's a powerful moment, both his confrontation with the doppelgänger in the Lodge and that shocking mirror-smash in the end. The final image exists as a repudiation of Lynch's relieving, often absurdly so, happy endings in his early works - the lady in the radiator hugging Henry, Merrick's mother saying "nothing dies", rain on Arakkis, the mechanical robin, Sailor singing on the car with his broken nose. It foreshadows some of Lynch's much darker film endings to come while also clearing the path for positive endings that will feel (in some cases) more earned and (in all cases, except the melancholy Elephant Man) tinged by a poignant awareness of what has been lost or suffered to even reach a sweet conclusion.

Was this SUPPOSED to be an ending? That's surprisingly hard to assess. On the one hand, all the writers have said they really didn't expect to be picked up and knew the show was gonna end. On the other, they wrote a script packed with cliffhangers, attempting just as they did with season 1 to force ABC into renewing them out of curiosity.

On the one hand, by the time Lynch stepped up to direct the episode I believe the series was still in its February/March hiatus and therefore it was possible THIS episode wouldn't even air, let alone another season. Some of the actors even felt Lynch added them to the episode so they'd have a chance to say goodbye, and producers suspected that when they aired this strange, abrasive episode for execs it squashed any last chance the show would get renewed. On the other hand, only a few weeks after shooting this Lynch proposed the idea of a feature film, so clearly he didn't feel "done" with Twin Peaks yet, or prepared to accept this as an ending. He says in his book of interviews with Chris Rodley that this was never supposed to be an ending and even proposes what might have happened if the series had continued - we'll see.

For me personally, this has always been really effective as an ending, the perfect kind of open-ended/tragic conclusion that leaves you astonished but recognizing a dark circle has been completed (the show begins and ends with characters gazing in a mirror but now that unity of subject and reflection has been disrupted).

What remains - even before the upcoming series picks up Coop's dark odyssey - is to complete some unfinished business. Or, in the terms of Inland Empire, to collect an unpaid bill. Most of you probably know what the film about. Some of you are probably wondering "Why? We already know that story." But this isn't how Lynch works. We don't "know" something because we've recited facts about it and gathered a forensic report. We know something when we experience it directly, in all its emotional intensity.

See you on the other side of Fire Walk With Me.




Want more? Here's my other coverage of the episode (SPOILER-FREE for season 3):

+ My "Journey Through Twin Peaks" chapter on this episode, from 2014:


My original episode guide for this episode, from 2008


These pieces contain varying degrees of SPOILERS for Fire Walk With Me (but are SPOILER-FREE for season 3):

+ My "Journey Through Twin Peaks" chapter specifically on the Black Lodge (closes with a brief clip from Fire Walk With Me after a general outline of the film's premise, mentioning several characters from the series who aren't in the film, as well as which series storylines will remain unresolved):


+ My "meta"/speculative theory about Cooper, Windom and Bob, from 2015 (revolves around the ending of Fire Walk With Me, including my theory about what it means)


The comments section below may contain spoilers.

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