OVER THE LATEST HOURS of Twin Peaks: The Return, two time lines emerge, one stronger, one fainter, like lines on a pregnancy test. (If my husband is reading this: I’m not pregnant.) Old Dougie Jones (Kyle MacLachlan) comes off a bender with the Mitchum Brothers (James Belushi and Robert Knepper) and the bunny-type girls (Amy Shiels, Giselle DaMier, and Andrea Leal) and swerves into the Lucky 777 Insurance office, horrisonous music, a marching song for manic-depressive clowns, playing behind him. Anthony Sinclair (Tom Sizemore), a double agent at the company, calls his criminal boss, Mr. Todd, to say that the latest attempt on Dougie’s life has failed. Mr. Todd (Patrick Fischler) says Sinclair has one day to finish the job. The clock ticks.
After work, around 6 PM, by the light on the stucco, the cops at the Las Vegas Police Department continue to bungle the case involving Dougie Jones, and Sinclair buys cyanide from a crooked detective (John Savage). Night falls on Sonny Jim carousing around his new gym set, courtesy of the Mitchum Brothers. In the driveway there is a brand-new convertible, ditto. The theme from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake plays: I’ve wondered whether this bright, jangly story was lagging a little behind the dark one, whether Dougie really coexists with Agent Dale Cooper, so that eventually we find that his time line ended when Mr. C’s began and we are left, willingly or not, with that bad Coop. The car, a BMW M3 convertible in alpine white, dates to 2014, and the scene was filmed in 2016––presumably it was just the most recent car available, but if this were happening two years before the rest of the show, or if time were zigzagging, it would not be a shocker. (Lynch’s will, at its most self-serving, makes a world where a mere vicissitude of production can seem like a gotcha, any hole in the plot suggestive of a void.)
Two years was how long a certain agent with the Bureau had to be off in Argentina before being hailed, in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), as “the long-lost Phillip Jeffries.” Jeffries (David Bowie) appears in Agent Gordon Cole’s (David Lynch) dream in episode fourteen of The Return, in an alternate, black-and-white version of that scene, asking Albert (Miguel Ferrer), “Who do you think that is there?” instead of “Who do you think this is there?” referring to Cooper, a change making the sentence more grammatical but also vicissitudinous, signaling that Cooper is further away than he seems (as that is habitually further away than this). Jeffries seems unsure whether it really has been two years. His accent belongs to a Confederate soldier who defected and joined up with Australian pirates. “We live inside a dream,” he tells Albert, who in the present, getting the replay from Gordon, says he’s beginning to remember (as if the original scene were not really a memory, but a dream he’d shared). Also in Gordon’s dream, making it a wet one, is Monica Bellucci (Monica Bellucci), who shows him his old self and repeats “ancient phrases,” among them: “We are like the dreamer.”
The next morning, Janey-E (Naomi Watts) drives Dougie to work in the new car and says, kissing him, “It’s like all our dreams are coming true.” (Emphasis: like.) Dougie, over coffee and pie with his would-be poisoner, foils the plot by giving him a silent, firm massage, a gesture that would be alien to Dougie and, if witting, is clever and evidences the remaining nature of Coop. After dinner at home, he eats cake and sees Sunset Boulevard on cable and, hearing the name of that minor character for whom Gordon Cole is named, has a thought—a whole one—and crawls across the staticky carpet to stick his fork in a socket. The lights go white. Time’s up. No one’s heard from Sinclair. Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in Louboutins assassinates Mr. Todd, who was himself operating under long-distance control, presumably by Jeffries, and tells Hutch (Tim Roth) on the phone to order French fries. When we see them driving out of town it’s 10 PM.
So far, easy. The scenes are not all linearly shown, but the times line up in Vegas and in South Dakota, and in Twin Peaks. While Sinclair confesses his sins to Dougie and to his legitimate boss, Deputies Hawk (Michael Horse), Andy (Harry Goaz), and Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) go to the place Bobby knows from his dad’s coded message, and at 2:53 in the afternoon, the vortexing hour, each are transported to another place while Naido (Nae), the blinded visage from that other place, lies on the ground. They take her to jail to be safe––a joke if I’ve ever heard one. The next morning, Gordon calls Sheriff Frank Truman to gather up more missing pieces in the Blue Rose case, and Nadine (Wendy Robie) walks miles from home to tell her pure, good husband, Ed (Everett McGill), that he’s free to be with his true love, Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton). “How beautiful is this?” she says. Kierkegaardian, really, to find beauty nowhere but in ethics, to resolve a triangle in the symmetry of goodness returned. When Ed goes to the Double R, Norma’s busy with her franchise-happy boyfriend. “Cup of coffee,” he tells Shelly (Mädchen Amick). “And a cyanide pill,” he says to himself, while at the same time—although we saw it an hour ago—the foiled poisoner is flushing coffee for Dougie down the toilet. Ed’s line is a punch line and a pin in time.
Why are the pieces cohering? For the same reason a magician takes care to explain, step by step, what he is going to do. When you think you know the steps, the sleight of hand becomes a greater surprise. Lynch is always reminding us that we’re supposed to be watching television, calling sudden attention to screens, glass—the gel-blue windshield of a car, the man squeakily cleaning the window outside Gordon Cole’s office, and in the very first episode, the glass box containing the dread apparition. When, in part nine, the coroner at the morgue in South Dakota, played with cool acidity by the comedian Jane Adams, relays the events of the previous two days, or four episodes, Albert asks dryly, “What happens in season two?” When Andy meets the Giant, the Giant unreels before his eyes a montage that might as well begin with Lynch saying, “Previously on Twin Peaks: The Return,” and the Brechtian word for the montage would be Fabel, defined in John J. White’s book on Brecht as “a matter of a play’s parabolic potential, and of plot understood as an aggregate of significant details,” which we could sub for “perfect images” if a Godardian sense is desired.
Lynch and Frost, also reflexively, write arcs that call to the superfan’s conspiratorial instinct. Many guessed, well before the May 21 premiere, that Laura Dern would be Diane Evans, Agent Cooper’s former secretary. Even I guessed that Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) would be Audrey Horne’s (Sherilyn Fenn) son, as Richard tells Mr. C when the two meet at odds. And the bad Cooper, with his black, metallic voice, his all-black leather, makes us think of Darth Vader, so we know Mr. C is the dad. Despite being excited to get what we wanted, even if all we wanted was to be right, it’s easy to be unprepared for the greater excitation, not the whodunit, not even the whydunit, but how it’s done. For example, the delay, the sickening reverb, in that inevitable union of Ed and Norma, set to a live rendition of Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine” that you’d never have guessed could get more awesome. Or the tension in an arm-wrestling match that we know Mr. C, with his supernatural right arm, and his opponent unaware of it, can’t lose, yet we watch intently as if we’re paying per view. The Log Lady has been dying the whole time, and Catherine E. Coulson, her embodiment, died soon after filming her scenes, but when she phones Hawk and says her log is turning gold, goodbye, it feels unacceptable. These forced cessations of breath and urges to disbelieve––not the chintzy special effects that make Twin Peaks at times look like a student film, or worse, an art student’s film––are cinema magic. Embarrassingly, for me, these sleights inculcate “magical thinking.” Maybe, I think, I should accept the failure to return of the actual, known Cooper, and get used to the idea that there will only be Dougie, then Mr. C, that this world doesn’t deserve such a special agent, and then—voila, he’ll come, the way my period does when I wear white jeans.
At night, time starts bending like a spoon. Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), drinking at home after her break with reality in the grocery store, watches a boxing match on loop. A boxer comes from behind, lands a punch, and “now it’s a boxing match again,” we hear, like, ten times. Maybe she can’t sleep and changes out of her robe and goes after midnight to the bar, as we see her do in part fourteen, or maybe it’s the next night she goes to the bar, at a more normal, evening hour. I suppose it could also be the night after next; she could be sleepwalking. At the roadhouse, in parts fourteen and fifteen, we see a master of ceremonies (J. R. Starr, the only black man in the house) announcing the acts, where before there was no emcee, suggesting it’s all the same night, but if time in Twin Peaks is the same as in Vegas, it should be two nights; plus, the crowd on the floor changes almost entirely, and so do the people in the booths, or they’re playing musical chairs. James (James Marshall) and his randomly English coworker, Freddie (Jake Wardle, a London kid who was heretofore known exclusively for doing different English accounts on YouTube, and here he appears to be doing them all), talk about going in part fourteen and show up in part fifteen, making it seem like actually it is the same night. James says hi to his crush, Renee (Jessica Szohr), and, long and absurd story short, ends up in jail along with Naido, Deputy Chad Broxford (John Pirruccello), and a drunk who echoes Naido’s chitters and Chad’s expletives, eliciting more chitters, expletives––another loop that may as well be taped.
And Audrey is still arguing with her husband, Charlie (Clark Middleton), about whether to go to the Roadhouse. Having played out over four episodes now, in nearly contiguous scenes up to ten minutes long, the argument is occurring at about one-hundredths of the average speed of life elsewhere. Here’s where we get the wow and flutter of the show, words for its effect on your skin, words originally for the distortion produced by the wobbly of vinyl on a turntable or the dragging of tape in a cassette shell.
Audrey, beginning to be afraid: “I feel like I’m somewhere else, and somebody else . . . I’m not sure who I am but I’m not me.”
Charlie: “This is Existentialism 101.” [That’s true.]
Audrey: “Oh, fuck you. I’m serious.” [That’s funny.] “Who am I supposed to trust but myself? And I don’t even know who I am! So what the fuck am I supposed to do?”
Charlie: “You’re supposed to go to the Roadhouse and see if Billy is there.”
Audrey: “Is it far?”
Charlie: “Come on, Audrey, you know where it is. Are you going to stop playing games or do I have to end your story too?” [Trigger warning for anyone who unfortunately watched HBO’s Westworld.]
Audrey, terrified: “What story is that, Charlie? Is that the story of the little girl who lived down the lane? Is it?”
The 1976 adaptation of The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane stars a thirteen-year-old Jodie Foster as Rynn and features, in a nude scene, her older sister as body double—something I bet thrilled Lynch. She has a magician boyfriend, Mario (Scott Jacoby). To her stalking neighbor, soon to become her newest poisonee, she says that her (dead) dad’s name is Gordon (the name of her hamster). Coincidences? At the end, you’re left with the same question you had at the start: Jesus, how old is this girl?
Decades ago, a murder suspect under investigation by Gordon and Albert died from being shot in a hotel room, and her body, before becoming the body, vanished. Her last words were “I’m like the blue rose.” Her shooter, in turn, hanged herself and did leave a body. The two murderesses were identical and not twins. What can this signify? asks Albert of Agent Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell), who replies that a blue rose isn’t natural and neither was the dying woman—because murder isn’t natural, or because suicide isn’t? No, because the first dying, vanishing woman was, intuits Tammy, “conjured. What’s the word. A tulpa.” A tulpa being, in different Buddhist mythologies, a body made not from bodies but from a mind, or from a hive of minds, a collective projection. And in Christian mythology, we’re all descended from one tulpa, the word made flesh, for what is a word if not a “thoughtform.”
Foucault, in The Order of Things, writes about the unity of thoughts that cannot be represented in sentences. To his mind’s eye, “the brightness is within the rose.” But a sentence with any logic is a set of “linear propositions” and in a line he “cannot avoid [the brightness] coming either before or after [the rose].” Language, at last, is “to thought and to signs what algebra is to geometry: it replaces the simultaneous comparison of parts (or magnitudes) with an order whose degrees must be traversed one after the other.” And we know how Audrey Horne used to feel about algebra. Lynch does not, however, accept these limits and is more logocentric—that is, speech takes precedence over writing, and, with the major exception of Laura’s diary, text is left to signage and the pictorial. A reader sees the whole line at once, which is why her mind automatically fills in missing words and switches transposed ones; a listener doesn’t parse the sentence until she hears the end, unless the sentence is so cliché, idiomatic, or like her own thoughts that she can finish it, and so “blue” is anything until she hears “rose,” making the before or after irrelevant as far as meaning goes. The less predictable, nondemotic, and unnatural the speech, the more it begs repetition, the more unified its expression can be.
I’ve been rereading the stories of Laura (Riding) Jackson. One that makes me think even more about Lynch is “The Story-Pig,” wherein a totem in the shape of a porker tells stories to the guests of a hotel. A maid named Rose spends her days polishing the Story-Pig, who is silver or gold depending on the angle, and tries to make him brighter and brighter, but there is a limit to his brightness, and she sighs. At dusk she is transformed, with the help of her equally classed lover, Hans, and a pair of red slippers, into a queen. Her subjects are “snobs by day, sentimentalists by night.”
Although the clock ticked round always to the same hour, things themselves were never the same again. [The citizens] only escaped because they were quite old, quite dead. They belonged to the Queen and had no illusions about tomorrow, when they were almost the same but never quite—except the Queen, and she only because she went not from a beginning to an end but from a beginning to a beginning.
They were dead, but they were also alive—exactly because they were dead, having beheld the true rose that is not a flower at all, and because who behold this “shall never die.”
Who is the dreamer? You and I, as the collective, singular viewer—we’re the dreamer, we’re the simplest answer. “We live inside a dream,” says Jeffries. All characters do live in boxes in a larger box. Lynch meditates transcendentally, goes deeper than meaning to find, I suppose, desires we’re left hoping are not his own. “We’re a nation of killers,” says Chantal to Hutch in the van, by way of shrugging off the day’s work. “We [white Americans] killed all the Indians, didn’t we?” said Rynn to Mario, in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane: “You Americans are a violent people.” Last week, the actor who plays Mickey, a trailer-park resident, on The Return was arrested in Spokane, Washington, for beating his girlfriend nearly to death with a baseball bat. She’d declined to go to the store to get him a Kool-Aid before going to work at 420 Lingerie. I remembered David Foster Wallace on Charlie Rose, reprising his definition of Lynchian:
“A regular domestic murder is not Lynchian. But if the man—if the police come to the scene and see the man standing over the body and the woman—let’s see, the woman’s ’50s bouffant is undisturbed and the man and the cops have this conversation about the fact that the man killed the woman because she persistently refused to buy, say, for instance, JIF peanut butter rather than Skippy, and how very, very important that is, and if the cops found themselves somehow agreeing that there were major differences between the brands and that a wife who didn’t recognize those differences was deficient in her wifely duties, that would be Lynchian—this weird—this weird confluence of very dark, surreal, violent stuff and absolute, almost Norman Rockwell, banal, American stuff.”
Americans are born into a history of violent, systemic crime, and the cover-up is usually banal, and these truths are also, by now, banal. Lynch and Frost wrote the show’s four-hundred-page script in a couple months and started production before it seemed plausible that Trump would win. Lynch as a prophet of the homeland is not a turn I predicted. Then again, any successful near-future prophecy is merely an accurate observation of the present, a palm reader reading the nerves, not the lines.
Sarah Nicole Prickett’s previous recaps of Twin Peaks: The Return:
Sarah Nicole Prickett’s individual recaps of Twin Peaks: The Return:
Twin Peaks: The Return plays Sundays at 9 PM on Showtime.