Lost in the Movies: Twin Peaks: The Return Part 11 - "There's fire where you are going."

Twin Peaks: The Return Part 11 - "There's fire where you are going."

Wow, I'm still tingling after this one. The first half-hour of Part 11 can stand with the first half-hour of Part 3 and the last half-hour of Part 8 as among the most sustained sequences of The Return. Unlike those stretches, however, "There's a fire where you are going." jumps between many different characters and storylines. We are barely recovering from one traumatizing incident before we're thrust immediately into the next: from children discovering a bloodied Miriam crawling out of the brush (astute viewers noted that there must be a reason she was still breathing last week) to Becky screeching into her phone and rushing from the house, knocking her mother from the hood of the car before racing into an apartment building and firing several shots into the door where she believes her husband is having a tryst. Scored to a stabbing soundtrack, the camera careens through corridors and down stairs in a jagged, sped-up variation on Kubrick's signature Shining shot (which Lynch has already made his own through numerous variations in Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire - though never this fast and choppy), before settling on Stephen and his lover. I didn't identify her right away but am now pretty sure she's Donna's sister (the credits list Alicia Witt as Gersten Hayward and can't think who else she could be). As they pant and hold each other, the shot is too quick to be called a breather; it's more like a quick gulp before diving into even deeper waters.

In South Dakota, Twin Peaks takes perhaps its most direct cue from a recent prestige TV hit, evoking the sky swirls of True Detective (witnessed this time by Cole rather than Cohle). Twin Peaks' vision lingers longer and takes us further than the the cosmic cyclone glimpsed in the bowels of Carcosa but before Gordon is swept into a bleary tear in space/time, Albert pries him loose. Within minutes of this jittery threshold experience, they've discovered the headless corpse of Ruth Davenport and Hastings' own head explodes, thanks to a woodsman who casually flickers in and out of view. Neither Davenport's body nor Hastings' head are sickeningly real so much as hypnotically Baconesque - they look like Lynch sculptures, and probably were. After this queasy crime scene we receive a relative respite in the diner, less violent but still emotionally on-edge (Bobby-Shelly shippers, momentarily elated to discover Becky is indeed their mutual daughter, are instantly let down when Red arrives to make out with Shelly; clearly the teen lovers of seasons one and two are no longer together).

Before our jangled nerves have had any chance to calm, Lynch offers up the most memorable traffic jam since Godard's Weekend, or perhaps Lynch's own Fire Walk With Me - comic, agitating, and terrifying in equal measure (it's spurred by a pint-size hunter firing his father's gun). Dana Ashbrook does some of his best acting so far by simply reacting to this contained chaos with ever-evolving, finely attuned expressions that mirror our own. This mini-episode of hellish anxiety climaxes as a middle-aged driver screams in short bursts while her child passenger rises from her seat like a zombie, ooze dribbling down the sides of her mouth shuddering in the dim light as the traffic horns sound a symphony of appalling, yet somehow absolutely hilarious, horror.

Whew. This thirty minutes is paired with a much calmer latter half (featuring a few scenes in Twin Peaks and South Dakota, but mostly set in Vegas). Yet its extended burst of energy carries all the way through to the final seconds of the episode: I even found myself jumping from my seat in shock when the familiar Lynch/Frost logo buzzed. The variation between first and second half is brilliant both as a characteristically Peaksian juxtaposition of divergent mood/pace and as a way to charge the laid-back Dougie storyline with an extra dimension of nervous excitement. The Dougie/Coop narrative also stands in stark contrast to that of Twin Peaks, where characters are perpetually on edge, unexpected violence bursts forth from mundane situations, and there is a sense that nobody is safe at any given moment.

Cooper, on the other hand, travels within a bubble of protection. Events, people, and supernatural signifiers conspire to buffer his opposition. Even his potential killers' dreams are infiltrated and by episode's end, the Mitchums are his best buddies, wining, dining, toasting, and serenading him because his boss decided to restore their $30,000,000 (or more accurately, because of his gift; that check may have been buried in the desert without it). Cooper's placid, dreamy expression is the perfect center for this gentle whirling dervish of a story. I know a lot of people hate the Dougie shtick, but so far it's the most focused, clever, self-sustaining material of the series: a stick-to-its-guns standalone narrative contained within The Return's sprawling, not yet fully coherent big picture. Whether or not you like it, I think it has to be respected for that alone. Incidentally, I'm also really hoping we get to see Candie and Dougie interact. What a delightful and delightfully infuriating cocktail of mutual obliviousness they could provide.

The last two episodes were frustrating for me in retrospect, especially after the high of part 8, but they did provide some necessary place-setting for this one. Likewise, a few of the calmer scenes in part 11 still point forward to the narrative horizon. I don't think the visit to Jack Rabbit's Palace can be delayed any further than part 12. Hawk's map is probably my favorite bit of exposition yet, dipping into lore old (fire, corn, the twin peaks) and new (the black Experiment - Mother? - symbol, of which Hawk ominously tells Frank, "You don't even want to know about that") in an iconic, highly visual manner. For the most part, though, we get deliverance rather than preparation this week: Becky's meltdown, Gordon's vision, the traffic jam, the showdown between Cooper and the Mitchums. The visceral sweep of their presentation is exciting, from the jump cuts in the hallway shots to the warm grandeur of Cooper's drive through the Strip, scored to a goofily obvious yet evocative needle-drop.

Most exciting, however, may be the ability to watch various characters come together. Indeed, the portrait of the dysfunctional, severed Briggs clan provides our most compelling, heartfelt continuation of original Twin Peaks material so far. Norma still doesn't have a lot to do, but her observation of Shelly's family drama is poignant (especially since Shelly has always been a surrogate daughter as well as a close friend) - and with Big Ed finally getting a mention, maybe they'll be reunited soon too. Somehow I don't think they're together either; Norma has been in three episodes so far, and every time we see her she is completely absorbed in bills. Not that she can't have a business and a marriage at the same time, but I increasingly get the sense this narrative shorthand is meant to imply she's devoted herself to one in lieu of the other. (Perhaps notably, the shot of Ed in the preview shows him looking similarly grim but dedicated in his own work environment.)

Meanwhile, the sight of Gerstein with Stephen is kind of thrilling, given how little of the Haywards we've glimpsed this season, Carl's assistance to Shelly is a wonderful bit of cross-characterization, and the Mitchums' patronage of Dougie/Coop (one of the few plot points I've been suspecting since they first appeared) already has me grinning ear to ear. And I'm amused by the one deputy whose earnest cluelessness, of an entirely different tenor than Andy, keeps awkwardly interrupting the other cops' activities. Neither Bobby nor Becky is pleased to see Red, while, on the other hand, Albert and Diane are shockingly nonchalant about the woodsmen (is that the Palmer staircase they appear on, by the way?). Some of my favorite old Twin Peaks involves characters crossing paths for the first time (it's the aspect of season one I probably missed most in season two) and I suspect we're just beginning to experience this pleasing sensation once again. That said, one surprise encounter I expected didn't happen. When Cooper wanders into the store in his office building, I thought he would meet Laura Palmer, perhaps under another name/identity. Instead he emerges with another Twin Peaks touchstone: cherry pie.

For a chaotic, alarming episode (it chased several other viewers out of the room as I watched) - oh, who am I kidding, partly because of that bracing jolt - I found part 11 really reassuring. I've been harboring doubts about the overall shape of the series the past few weeks and while they haven't subsided, "There's fire where you are going." strikes a pleasing balance between brilliant setpieces and the deft tying-together of threads. Most importantly, it manages to do both at the same time; some of my disappointment with parts 9 and 10 involved their awkward leaping from purely expositional scenes to purely atmospheric ones, as if Lynch and Frost weren't quite in sync with each other's impulses. Part 11 conveys a more harmonious partnership, and restores confidence in Frost's storytelling, displaying inventive development in lieu of the more mechanistic impulses of recent episodes. I'm sure there will still be ups and downs on our path. But, aside from the standalone brilliance of part 8, this is my favorite episode since part 7 or maybe even part 5 - perhaps my second-favorite of the whole series.

Does it make sense to even talk about it that way? It's one big movie, sure, but that's not how we're watching it...yet. I can't wait to find out what happens next week, not so much to have it be known as to luxuriate in the experience of first contact.

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