Electric Sheep

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 10.

“ELECTRICITY IS HUMMING,” says the Log Lady to Hawk in the tenth hour of Twin Peaks: The Return. She says “electricity” like she’s a kid with a crush on Ben Franklin. She says it flows like a river and is heard in the river, too, and in the mountains, and is seen to glow around the moon. It’s a long conjure, electricity: a literal expression of magic that also connotes the satisfying pop of eureka, the blue purl of genius finding its vessel, a longed-for apotheosis, like when wires burst and flood the walls with lightning as Henry unites with the Lady in the Radiator in Eraserhead (1977). Drama like that can’t happen with technology unplugged, devices wireless, noiseless, eliciting idioms like “losing connection,” as if “connected” is our natural state and nothing is immanent. “In these days, the glow is dying,” the Log Lady says. “What will be in the darkness that remains?”

Any comment on “these days” from a woman who’s been using a log as a pager since the 1980s is bound to be iffy, but then she may mean “decades” by “days.” Lynch uses new, dated, and totally out-of-date technology to juggle the times. He takes a bemused view of the latest devices, less like an old man yelling at clouds and more like an old man saying, How do you know the clouds aren’t talking to us? Why do you need a phone to access the cloud? Here in Twin Peaks, devices such as Dale Cooper’s tape recorder, Gordon Cole’s hearing aid, and Dr. Jacoby’s coconut have been used to dramatize the minor struggle of saying what you mean and to turn up the funny polyphony, more than to help along the plot.

“Anything can become anything else in a dream, and Lynch likes to get back at our devices, which try to expropriate our conscious and unconscious functions alike, by using them as props.”

A pratfall performed solo and in tempo rubato by Candie (Amy Shiels), one of three bunny-type chicks in pink silk at the Silver Mustang Casino, ends with her using a remote control to whack a housefly, and with it (accidentally or Freudianly) her boss. In a dance of paired electrons, or a scene from a domestic comedy by an absurdist theater troupe, Andy and Lucy Brennan (Harry Goaz, Kimmy Robertson) look at the same chair on the same furniture-selling website at their separate desks, three steps apart. She gets up to tell him she really likes the beige one. He gets up to tell her he really likes the red. Then he says she can get the beige, and pleased, practically humming, she gets the red. Lynch will be damned if he lets technology make anything faster. Ages before Lucy fainted for the first time, and not for the last time, at the sight of Sheriff Frank Truman walking into the office while also talking with her on the phone, the director believed that a body could be in two places at once. He seems to appreciate the high-speed networked world, with its lapsed temporality and objects set loose in space, as a pastiche of his obviously superior dream one.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 10. Candie (Amy Shiels).

Anything can become anything else in a dream, and Lynch likes to get back at our devices, which try to expropriate our conscious and unconscious functions alike, by using them as props. Or abusing them, like when a resurrected Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) uses a hot-pink flip phone to tap out a single text, T9-style, before gratuitously shooting it to bits with a single-barrel rifle. “Around the dinner table,” says the text, “the conversation is lively.” In South Dakota, Diane (Laura Dern) smokes in the waiting room of a morgue (“It’s a fucking morgue,” she says when told she can’t smoke), while Gordon and Albert view the corpse of Major Briggs. She gets the text. Her hands don’t shake. Either Diane is as good an actress as Dern herself or she doesn’t know who she’s talking to. “They have Hastings,” she replies, off-screen, referring to the high-school principal (Matthew Lillard) charged with killing Ruth, the school librarian, and pairing her head with the Major’s body. “He’s going to take them to the site.” The FBI finds and reads the text, presenting a serious twist. And a smirk: Diane’s textually legible and “heavily encrypted” message, delivered via technologically superior means, is worse at conveying a secret than Mr. C’s unencrypted cryptic one.

Messages, either way, seem not to lose compression but to pick up resonance as they move through the air, giving humans on the other side of the screen a gravitas that normally belongs to spirits. Jacoby, formerly the town shrink, is now a charlatan with an hour-long weekly Web series wherein he advances addled theories on why the world is so filled with shit, and then asks you to buy a gold (gold-painted) shovel, only $29.99, for the purpose of shit-digging. Whether this represents a real career change is unclear: Lynch is loud about distrusting analysis, psychiatric or otherwise; but he also shies from intelligence generally and does not seem to consider “conspiracy theorist” a slur. He once, twelve years ago, appeared on the Alex Jones Show with some questions about the events of 9/11, and there described intuition as “a flowing of knowingness,” also as “an ocean of solutions.” Plus, Jacoby’s monologue is gold. Pure anticapitalist gold: “We’re sheep to these monsters, and they don’t give a shit! We grow our wool, and just when we’re getting warm, they come along with their electric clippers, and shear our wool off, and we’re just naked, screaming little fucks!”

At the Great Northern Hotel in Twin Peaks, something is definitely ahum. The noise comes from the walls, giving owner Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and his hot, boring assistant, Beverley (Ashley Judd), an opportunity to stand very close in the corner of an empty room, whispering. They could sleep together, except that Ben has a conscience, or enough trouble. His disabled adult son, Johnny (Eric Rondell), lives in constant danger of injuring himself in a big beige house owned by his ex-wife, Sylvia (Jan D’Arcy), and paid by alimony. His brother, Jerry (David Patrick Kelly), has been in the woods for days hunting a cell signal, playing the role of the too-stoned viewer at home: “I’ve been here before!” he screams. “I am not your foot!” screams his foot. We have to agree, ceci n’est pas un foot. Then there’s Audrey, the one beautiful member of his family who so far remains unseen. Maybe she’s screaming, “I am not your daughter.” Maybe she’s stuck in the walls? And all the while, the boy we assume is Audrey’s son, Richard (Eamon Farren), is sucking the light from the world, a vampire for glow.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 10. Richard Horne (Eamon Farren).

Richard, on the run after hitting and killing a child in his giant truck, goes to “talk” to the witness who recognized him: Miriam (Sarah Jean Long), who lives in the Fat Trout Trailer Park, in a mobile bachelorette pad the color of chewed mint gum. From behind a screen door, Miriam says she’s just mailed a letter to Sheriff Truman about how Richard’s a murderer, and so if anything is done to her, they’ll know who did it. Does she not have power in her apartment? Where is the phone? Why didn’t she e-mail? Her pride in doing the right thing is as tragic as any hamartia. Richard bashes in her head, opens the gas stove, and lights a candle, and leaving the scene he phones a dirty cop at the sheriff’s department about stopping the letter. Next stop: Grandma’s, to get cash. Using his words as well as his hands, he brutalizes a crying Sylvia and a pathologically speechless Johnny, while Johnny’s only friend, a robotic teddy bear with a white-lit plastic globe for a head with a Sharpie’d cartoon face, says, “Hello Johnny. How are you?” on repeat. Like something dredged up from an abandoned student film in Lynch’s basement, this stupid and annoying bear, who is also not cute, affronts in two ways—one as a bad response to monstrosity, the other as a gesture or grace note of surreality where surrealism has long since evolved.

The Surrealists prefigured with a curious, justified horror the future extreme cleavings of man and machine. Salvador and Gala Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, and Max Ernst took turns guessing at the nature, the effect, of these transmogrifications, going so far as to summon the “thinking machines” that Alan Turing would later make plausible. Otto Neurath, a philosopher born the same year as Germaine Dulac, wrote that a “thinking machine,” like the “logic piano,” conceived by the nineteenth-century logician William Stanley Jevons to instrumentalize syllogistic methods, would allow for “syntax to be formulated and logical errors automatically avoided” so that “the machine would not even be able to write the sentence: Two times red is hard.” Hours after reading this, I had to look up the passages again, as the only thing I could remember was that two times red is hard. My iPhone has helped make remembering irrelevant over time. Nothing replaces the unpredictable. But predictive text and text-bots still can get it “wrong,” producing striking accidents of wording and making us second-guess, as if we’ve misspoken at the shrink’s office, what we meant to say.

Two times red. What would it mean? A pair of red shoes, as worn at one time or another by almost every leading lady in a Lynch piece. Laura Dern as Lula Fortune in Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990) wears low-heeled red pumps in a rape scene, clicking her heels to disassociate. As Diane, she wears red flats and reconnects with her men. In another waiting room, at a police station in Vegas, Janey-E (Naomi Watts) wears red flats and wishes that the man she calls Dougie (MacLachlan) would come back to himself, or at least to her bed, while the audience wishes the man we know as Cooper would return to being . . . the man we know as Cooper. A sip of fresh coffee inches him nearer to awareness, so we follow his widened eyes to an American flag, whereupon an instrumental “America the Beautiful” plays faintly from the back of his mind; to a woman’s white calves in red high-heeled pumps, recalling the shoes Audrey wore to seduce him twenty-seven years ago; and to an empty power socket in the wall. Symbolism, not that it matters. He can’t connect these saturated images to the source, the power fails. Maybe the socket, which looks like an expressionless face up close, isn’t working, is unwired the way eventually all sockets will be, the new empty telephone booths. Lynch’s nostalgia is essentially for the heyday of advertising, when everyone seemed to know that red was for sex, also known as danger, whereas now red can mean seven different things, almost nothing.

At the same time, he’s grasped exactly how real the internet is, real not as reality but as dreams, realest at the moment you disconnect, awake, and wonder where you’ve been and for how long. Although now we’re all tossing and turning, unsure whether we are on- or offline at any given time, and unwilling to get out of the (metaphorical, sorry) bed. Online the reality level hovers somewhere between that of one’s own dreams (high or low, depending on what and how you dream, and where) and that of other people’s dreams (very low). Like a dream wherein everyone we know looks entirely different from life and yet is somehow recognizable, the experience of being with others online deranges the contents of our heads, making new content, but we are not required to find it meaningful or act upon whatever meanings we find there. “Internet Art” or “Post-Internet Art” has seemed, since its dubious inception, to be essentially surrealistic, picking up on the millennial habit of “being random” and taking it to new levels of senseless and ugly juxtaposition, with objects flying everywhere, text doing little to identify. Artforum’s Surrealism issue of 1966 invented the Post-Internet aesthetic before there was internet, with its cover designed by Ed Ruscha: Surrealism appears in block letters of filtered sunset orange with a massive drop shadow on a background of yellowy-green and cyan soap bubbles, fulgid like iridescent crocodile skin on a handbag.

Annette Michelson in her essay on Breton et al., published in that issue, defines what Surrealists were doing, and (to me) what Lynch is doing on Twin Peaks: The Return, a show meant to be watched with your phone turned off, if ever there was one. She writes: “The linking of dream and waking state, of the ‘communicating vessels’ [an apparatus for keeping a homogenous liquid at the same level across different and differently shaped containers, for instance the head and the body, the unconscious and the conscious, in Breton’s metaphorization of the term] pre-supposed their prior discreteness, and an opposition (among many) which can be bridged, modified, but never really abolished, whether in art or in action. A notion of the ‘noumenal’ persists. Surrealist thinking is haunted by demons and old ghosts such as a ‘transcendence,’ subjected periodically to rituals of exorcism, but never quite dispelled.”

We cannot say that Cooper will ever be fully present. We can guess, if we’re looking to be satisfied, that Miriam’s letter will eventually arrive in the right hands, the way those missing pages of Laura Palmer’s diary appeared at last. And we know that her account, partly because it is delivered after her death, and the dead don’t lie, will be believed as Laura’s dreams are believed. Ditto a message from Major Briggs, sealed for years in a gadget only his son Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) knows how to open, and written in a private language only Bobby knows how to read. I never thought I’d type the words “Bobby knows how to read,” but it’s a beautiful thing. Hastings breaks down and reveals his most deeply held secret: He has a blog, The Search for the Zone, whereon he and Ruth took “multidimensional time travel” and “dark matter” with utmost seriousness; and apparently, before she died, she met the Major. More than the wireless-enabled romances between old characters, or the inside jokes, the credence Lynch gives to this preposterous blog is a gift to all the out-there fans who turned the original Twin Peaks into a message-board sensation. Fans today on Reddit and Twitter are the people who think out loud and puzzle so Cooper doesn’t have to, the people who constitute one big and lively thinking machine.

Sarah Nicole Prickett’s individual recaps of Twin Peaks: The Return:

Episodes 1 & 2
Episodes 3 & 4
Episode 5
Episodes 6 & 7
Episode 8
Episodes 11 & 12
Episodes 13, 14, & 15
Episode 16
Episodes 17 & 18 (January 2018)

Twin Peaks: The Return plays Sundays at 9 PM on Showtime.