PARTS 1 & 2
EUCALYPTUS TREES, WEAKENED BY DROUGHT, are on their last legs all over Los Angeles. One fell and knocked out the power lines next to my friend’s house, where I am staying, in Eagle Rock, and we stood on the deck drinking Vinho Verde––delicious, like if wine were beer––watching the action. A fire truck loitered for an hour, produced no helpers, and left. Disruption made the street its own neighborhood. Homeowners came out wondering, hands synchronized on hips. One man retrieved his digital camera and tripod and took commemorative photos. Another ambled the length of his driveway twice an hour to see what was up. For a few hours, nothing. Power trucks eventually came, two then three. My friend walked down to the street, tan and hot in a crop-top, to talk to the workers, but even she couldn’t inspire them to finish faster. I thought this was fine. The only problem, really, was that without working television, or internet, we were missing the West Coast premiere of Twin Peaks: The Return.
The light dimmed outside, and my friend and I read books by flashlight and candle. Flies that would normally stay by the window were drawn to the page, and I killed the first by whacking it against a coffee table with The History of Sexuality in paperback and the second by crushing it inside The New York Stories of Elizabeth Hardwick. Its viridian dead body blotted out four or five letters of text in the story “Back Issues,” so that I may never know whether the New York Public Library is at Forty-Second or Forty-Seventh and Fifth. Finishing the Vinho Verde, my friend remembered that by siphoning her cellular connection, we could stream The Return, available via Showtime on Hulu and Amazon, without electricity. This inappropriate usage of data would cost something totally nuts per minute, but “whatever,” said my friend, and I had to agree.
To begin with, there was almost no sound. What there was for a score was, with one exception, diegetic, selected vagaries of the soundscape plucked and turned up to make a loose, spare derangement. Fans of the original Twin Peaks (1990–91), not to mention nonfans who also watched it, will remember that Angelo Badalamenti’s influence went way past the theme song, that adult lullaby, to disquiet the breezy scenes, make fun of sad ones, and build a fugue state throughout. Twenty-six years later, the theme remains, but nothing else plays. There are no sideways forays into jazz, no melodramatic crying jags, and few stabs at banter. The hell-bent silence makes the passage of time unbearable, like a subway ride without headphones, or a book, or a friend. Would I say that the first hour is slow? It is so slow that Stanley Kubrick watching it would start thinking about dinner.
David Lynch and Mark Frost, cocreators of Twin Peaks then and now, have said that the only scene flagged by the network in the very first episode, which aired on the American Broadcasting Company, was the one where Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), examining the body of a dead Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), took tweezers and dug deep under the empurpled nail of her ring finger to retrieve a miniature clue. A close-up on this procedure lasted fourteen seconds, which censors said was too long. It was perfect, yet in a technical sense the censors were correct: It was still TV. The basic differentiating formula for the best TV, or prestige TV, since the two aren’t synonymous, is film minus time. Films, when they’re great, improve on and proliferate life, which is why you don’t leave the cinema anxious about wasted hours, the way you do (I always do) after watching television no matter how good the show, and why it’s possible to watch episode after episode on Netflix or HBO Go without getting around to feeling uncomfortable or stopping to think. Some critics hold that television now is better than film, but though the average show on network television is cleverer, more inventive, more interesting than the average studio movie, suggesting that the best TV rivals the best new cinema, the medium which still represents the apotheosis of time taken and given, is rude and unacceptable unless you live in a town, like Twin Peaks, come to think of it, without a movie theater. All is to say: Lynch knows what he’s doing, and he’s doing the right thing when he calls The Return an eighteen-part film. Not a miniseries––nothing mini about it––and not episodic. To watch more than two episodes in a night would be like eating three cherry pies.
Lynch used to hate his show being interrupted by commercials, saying, Imagine if you were at the symphony and every fifteen minutes the music stopped and was interchanged with jingles, and a benefit of streaming is the optional elision of ads. Another cool feature is closed captioning, which on Hulu is customizable, ergo mine is neon lime with a glowed edge to match the titles and credits, and which on The Return gives us incredible, specific descriptors of sound and score. A line dialed by the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) isn’t ringing but “trilling.” Footsteps on tile in the Black Lodge are “odd reverberations.” Skin “crinkles.” In the anonymous woods are “whooshing sustains,” followed by, naturally, an “ominous tone.” But where technology gives godlike it takes away, and new problems show up in place of old ones, like the compression thinning the image-stream on a laptop so that the black ink and shadow flooding the screen turns silty instead of looking as meant: “Dark as pitch, as noir, as hate,” to quote Manohla Dargis in her review of Lynch’s last film, Inland Empire (2006).
There is almost no blue. Lynch banned blue-colored props from the set of Twin Peaks in the first season, maybe also the second. This contributed to a long sense of skylessness, redoubled here in The Return. We see only a pressed and dried cornflower blue, subdued further by dank cinematography. The blue stays in the background of Laura Palmer’s iconic school portrait, now displayed in a glass case with assorted trophies. The blue is matched on the bedroom walls of our new, female victimwell, her head is female, severed and floating atop the lumpen, tumescent body of a “male John Doe” (a funny redundancy, its specificity a comment on how the typical anonymous corpse belongs to a hot girl or a woman). There are stomach-dropping aerial shots of New York City and Las Vegas, two added locations that jar the expectation, the memory of Twin Peaks as existing on a map without a territory, but these are exclusive to night. The blue is matched again in the motel room where another woman dies.
There are almost no not-white people. This will become more noticeable and weird as further scenes, with further and extra characters, unfold in those cities, but basically it is as it should be. Lynch specializes in a whiteness that slips from the norm, from seats of power, from centers that are traditionally but never essentially, exclusively white, to become whiteness per se. He doesn’t participate in the creeping normalization that tries to include everyone in a whiteness reconstituted as chill and that to some degree is always white-centric, and he doesn’t show us worlds where anyone, save teenagers bent on going to hell, would seek representation. Rare among major white artists, and almost impossibly, he appropriates whiteness in a manner all at once glib, unstudied, and tender, superficial and earnest, well-intentioned. This appropriative tendency is a huge and underrated part of what we mean when we say “Lynchian.” (In this Lynchianness no one excels more, more obviously, than Lana Del Rey.) Ditto his light grip on irony. Atypically for such a white American, he knows that irony is not sarcasm, is not really funny, and is never on purpose.
That Lynch is our guru and genius of white identity is one reason why I see so many fans and critics, and fans who are critics, all of them white, ask or demand that his works be held above and beyond interpretation. Yeah, I think. Nice try. The one near-definitive book on Lynch is by the critic and curator Dennis Lim, who doesn’t subject his taste to questions of either identity or identification, and who nonetheless has taken more care than most of his white peers to understand Lynch. This is an effect of Lim’s talent, and talent is always more or less selcouth, but it’s also no accident: One of the many things white people have refused to see about race is how we’re bound by our own, a refusal that makes us inadequate critics of our best representatives. Those fans and critics who, on the other hand, insist that things be explicable or that they alone have some answers are obviously wrongheaded. Less obvious is the problem: not that some viewers need everything to make sense, rather that they need things to be justified. Some things are simply not forgivable. The solution is not to mystify ignorance.
Besides, what we have here is an auteur who plays not with but to critics. Lynch teases, he tickles, he withholds relief and escape. He also holds out comfort in symbols and puns. He’s a lot like the other David (Cronenberg) in his twisted devotion to genre, his habit of making actors talk like they’re saying lines from other, lesser movies, and his hokey, dated special effects, stopping shy of “movie magic” and leaving spells broken, lying around. A serious dreamer, he welcomes without begging analysis, and takes analysts, even critics, seriously. The evidence of his generosity is that he doesn’t give his own interpretations. There are so many artists who think they can do my job. I let them. I like writing about art that leaves space. Take Lynch at his purest here, his lens hovering on Darya (Nicole LaLiberte), the newest of his uncanny valley dolls, in some anywhere motel during the last minute or two of her life as she goes from being hit in the face to getting shot in the head. Her heavy false eyelashes come unglued, lifting visibly from her natural lash line, in an exposure so slighting, cruel, and brief that you feel special, then guilty, for noticing it, though probably your noticing it is the point. Trompe l’œil, painted with a shaky, minatory hand, is the effect. Take Lynch at his most obvious in the scenes where a pretty young man is being paid to sit in a TriBeCa loft and watch an empty glass box, told only to wait for something, some image to materialize there. His crush comes over with lattes from the coffee shop where, in the guise of a junior ad executive, she works nights as a barista, and he tells her the loft belongs to “some anonymous billionaire.” “Oooh,” she goes. “Mysterious.” (Unnecessary emphasis hers.)
One image appearing briefly in the glass box––a harbinger greeted, as it happens and has to happen, by no one––belongs to the man last seen as Cooper, trapped soul and body in the Black Lodge (long story) for the past twenty-five years. Cooper hasn’t been seen this side of limbo since, possessed by his prime suspect’s demon, he bashed his head into a mirror and asked how Annie was, though he did find time to change into a tux before leaving the dimension. Wandering earth is his doppelgänger, a heartless, successful criminal wearing Lenny Kravitz’s pants, a Samson-haired and literally strong-armed man (what is his arm made of, steel?), a killer who goes only by “C.” Lynch at his most moral: There are no antiheroes, only heroes who stand to be ruined rather than fall. There are no complications, no excuses, and as he prefers not to diagnose from the director’s chair, there are no pleas of insanity. (A doctor on the original Twin Peaks, opining that Leland Palmer has been driven to kill by madness, triggered by grief, is stopped right there by Special Agent Cooper: “Do you approve of murder, Doctor Hayward?”) This binary starring role for MacLachlan, taken into consideration with his quite prominent billing, over the alphabetical rest of the cast in the end credits, may or may not indicate that the fifty-eight-year-old actor is angling for what we might have to call a “MacLachlanaissance” (cf. Matthew McConaughey’s “McConnaissance,” which peaked with his bravura performance as the philosophical, reluctantly loved, eventually schizo Rusty on season one of HBO’s True Detective). The last we see of Monsieur C, he’s driving what appears to be a 1989 Lincoln Continental (cf. Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln ads), hearse-black inside and outside, back to where he belongs.
The first we see of Twin Peaks in The Return is a lonesome clearing in the woods, and a red truck backing into a gravel driveway as smoothly as if it were shot in forward motion and reversed in post. Doctor Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) emerges at the door of a derelict trailer home and takes off a pair of shades to reveal another pair, one red lens, one blue, a joke about whatshadiness, layers, the third dimension? A joke about being Lynchian. The driver lifts boxes from the truck, and from the boxes brings objects seen only as shapes, wrapped in plastic. He asks the doc how he’s doing. “Good as ever,” says the doc. Not a joke, a fact about being here.
Five minutes before the end of the second hour, my friend’s laptop died, and mine, too, proved dead. The last thing we saw was Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick) looking at James Hurley (James Marshall) as the Chromatics, live at the Bang Bang Bar, play a song about darkness. “James is still cool,” Shelly says. “James has always been cool.” I could honestly have cried. Outside the house, the men in orange hats worked overtime under temporary lights.
PARTS 3 & 4
LAWS IN THE WORLD OF DAVID LYNCH are unnatural but do not lead to order, and things disordered lapse into “thingness.” This should be one of Lynch’s favorite words, lent to him in that book by Dennis Lim: “In his own speechand in the speech patterns of his films, with their gnomic pronouncements and recurring mantrasthe impression is of language used less for meaning than for sound. To savor the thingness of words is to move away from their imprisoning nature.” Write down the “academic definition” of “Lynchian,” suggested and sent-up by David Foster Wallace in his notes from the set of Lost Highway, and then I’ll never say “Lynchian” again: “[It] refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.” Now say the word macabre over and over, silently or aloud to yourself, until the word has lost all definition to become a void, a nothing, a prenatal lump of sound. Now try it with human.
The man who taught us binomial nomenclature, as in Homo + sapiens, divided humanity into four squares, or “races,” extrapolated in a fucked-up way from the “four humors” of more ancient thought. He was a Swedish doctor and botanist who lived in the seventeenth century under the name Linnaeus, and he decided that Americans were Americanus (red, choleric, upright), Europeans were Europeaus (white, sanguine, muscular), Asians were Asiaticus (pale yellow, melancholic, stiff), and Africans were Afer (black, phlegmatic, relaxed). Four, the number of limbs, seasons, and elements, has remained the magic number of inter-human difference, as with the four major archetypes discovered by Carl Jung, and the four dichotomies, combining to make possible sixteen types, in the Myers-Briggs personality test. (Lynch would be, I think, a medium-rare type of person: Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving, known for “revealing [his] beauty and [his] secrets through metaphors and fictional characters,” according to the third website that appeared to me when I googled “INFP.”) But Linné, as he was called after his ennoblement, in a codicil that basically deconstructed his legacy, added two absurd bonus types: ferus for the feral or “wild boys,” and monstorus for the deformed and the freaks found in folk tales. When I learned this, I felt the way Foucault says he felt when he read a Borges fable, a spoof on taxonomy, written as if excerpted from “a certain Chinese encyclopaedia” wherein animals are those “belonging to the Emperor,” or those who are “fabulous,” those who are “stray dogs,” those who “have just broken the water pitcher,” and so on. “In the wonderment of this [fictional] taxonomy,” writes Foucault, so beginning The Order of Things (1966), “the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own.” We don’t have to read Foucault, or even Borges, though, to feel our limits, since they begin with our dreams.
Among the menagerie of pet theories I’ve kept from my childhood, a sentimental favorite is that dreams are just pieces of the day, unprocessed or left on the cutting-room floor, swept up and viewed in a kaleidoscope. Maybe the order is deranged, fragmentary, and synesthetic, but there can be nothing in my dream that wasn’t already in my head. As for dreams being illogical or strange, it’s simply a matter of being free from the unreasonable expectation that life, and the things in it, will make sense. The other day I bought in-ear headphones decorated with little skulls, and found that both headphones were marked R, requiring me to have two right ears. “Weird,” I thought. But in a dream, I would have thought nothing. This is why we say that works by Lynch are dreamlike, because sometimes we don’t know what to think. What, for instance, do we think about the one pale horse who appeared to Sarah Palmer in Twin Peaks before Madeleine died, and who appears again as a figure in The Return, once in the Black Lodge and once in Las Vegas as the namesake of the Silver Mustang Casino? Coincidence, dream-symbol, or mere déjà vu?
Pale people, we can say with more certainty, are not woke but dreaming. In the funniest bit of Twin Peaks (1990), a lady named Gwen, sister of Lucy, surmises to Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill (Michael Horse, who, like his character, is American Indian) that given what they’ve done to his tribe, he must really hate whites. Hawk neither startles nor hesitates. “Some of my best friends are white people,” he says. A decade or two later, this would be an obvious joke. At the time it was perfect, part sincere. Lynch takes the stereotyped stoic American Indian and imbues his silences not with some mystic wisdom but with a down-to-earth amusement that befits a man burdened by history and tasked with protecting innocence in adults. That views on whiteness from elsewhere are entirely determined by the actions, behaviors, and thoughts of white people themselves is a ludicrous, too-common assumption. (It says more about the people who assume it, about their taste for vengeances, their grudges, similar to how what a critic says about a show can say more about the critic than the show, an old truism I haven’t found a reason to contradict.) This isn’t to say that Lynch’s views on nonwhite characters are unproblematic, rather that they are problematic in two senses, both the more current definition (offensive, troubling) and the more original one (merely troublesome), the additive effect being that his non-sense, unlike so much “white nonsense,” is worth thinking about.
Hawk is now deputy chief in the Twin Peaks sheriff’s department, and on the third and fourth hours of The Return, playing on Showtime, he grapples with a directive from the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson, may she rest in pines). “There is something missing,” says the Log, by way of the Lady. “Something,” that is, “to do with [his] heritage.” Puzzled and willing to play the game, Hawk unburies the box of case files and calls in Andy (Harry Goaz) and Lucy Brennan (née Moran, played with breathtaking continuity by Kimmy Robertson), who are deputy and secretary, respectively. Lynch and Frost’s scripts are like two-player games of word association, and the word here is clueless. “Your heritage,” says Lucy, slow and tremulous. “You’re . . . Indian?” Her particularly white way of being afraid that just saying a name is calling a name is, in this case, ironically justified. Hawk looks at her slowly. We see what he’s not saying. He says, “Yes.” It’s easy to make Anglo-Saxons, in the presence of a token or tokenized character, seem like the tolerant ones. Here the tolerance is all on Hawk’s side, and though the figure of him remains tokenized, a requisite nod to the precolonial history of town and country, the actor’s intelligence gives him an out-of-body aspect, and he glides above tokenization. When I said last week that almost no humans would seek representation in Lynch’s world, it was an exaggeration, and besides, the opposite is true about actors: Who wouldn’t want to be set loose on screen by this guy?
The fourth hour of The Return, destined to be an all-time fan favorite, brings us the only child of Andy and Lucy. As Lucy tells it, Cooper wanted the son to be named Marlon Brando, after the legend whose love affair with the American Indian is never forgotten, and at birth the couple compromised and named him Wally, Wally Brando. Boy, does he (Michael Cera) live up to that choice. Showing up unannounced on a motorcycle, clad in a punk-ass black leather jacket, a white-and-navy ringer tee, and an oversize army beret, Wally has transcended the decades to embody at least a quarter-century of boy-teen rebellion. He has roamed the country, he has a strong sense of dharma, and his idiolect is a very fine whine. “From Alexandria, Virginia, to Stockton, California,” he nasally muses, “I think about Lewis, and about his friend Clark, the first Caucasians to see this part of the world.” He enunciates each morpheme in “Caucasian,” such that it rhymes with Abkhazian. Kaw-kay-zee-uhn. Try it. Try not to laugh. Also, Wally informs his parents, in the deposed-royal manner of a fifth-generation middle-class American, that he will permit them to turn his childhood bedroom, which he has not seen in years, into a study. The Brennans respond like listeners of a classic pop radio show who have just been informed they’ve won the keys to a timeshare in South Florida and two vouchers for dinner at P.F. Chang’s.
Wally is right about Lewis and Clark, who were among the first white people to belong in the Kaw-kay-zee-uhn era. Less than a decade before the two stepped all over America, one Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a doctor and anthropologist in Göttingen, Deutschland, elaborated on the work of Carl Linné and reclassified as “varieties” the humans he saw. Unlike his more racist peers and successors, says Nell Irvin Painter in her empathetic, well-limned treatise The History of White People (2010), Blumenbach did not assort humans by race or assign to the races differing, unequal abilities, intelligences, and virtues, unless you count beauty a virtue: He chose, for the “variety” to which he himself would belong, the name “Caucasian,” because he felt that the people of Caucasus, a loose braid of mountains around Georgia, had the most elegant bones in their heads. Painter notes that the “unblemished young woman’s skull” from which he drew this conclusion had resonances with the old white-slave trade, one in which “the figure of the slave is invariably female, always young, emphatically whitesometimes even blondeand invariably beautiful”––a real Laura Palmer, in other words, one who “usually comes from Georgia or the Caucasus.” An upside to his superficiality was that, having organized peoples by color, he began to see their differences not in squares but on a gradient, the way we’d later see sexuality, or sanity. Nevertheless, it was pure white entitlement. It wasn’t that Blumenbach was given the first choice of skulls, nor that he stole the skulls, exactly, only that he happened to pick out the prettiest skulls; he also liked that all skulls were themselves “white in color, which we may fairly assume to have been the primitive color of mankind.”
There is something morbid and wonderful, as well as dastardly, about Blumenbach’s choice. When I said that Lynch appropriates whiteness, rendering it less flesh than guise, a naive costume, I was remembering that more than once he gave white actors “whiteface” with old-fashioned pancake makeup, most memorably in Lost Highway (1997). I was thinking that the whiteness of Twin Peaks was something like a skull mask worn over the face, a skeleton worn over the body on Halloween. Had I spent much time as a teen getting oppressed on the basis of being white and bony, I would perhaps be offended. Today white knuckleheads are always logging on to different websites to fret about oppression that has yet to exist, especially “white genocide,” by which is meant the declining birthrate among descendants of European whites, and which sounds more like white suicide, to which we have been led by our freedoms, like the sexual ones. As a woman of childbearing age and ability, I have been accused by my own youngest brother of being too ambitious, self-absorbed, and vain to further my race by becoming pregnant with another white fetus. Unfortunately, it’s beyond me to care whether so-called Caucasians have plenteous futures. For my people to die in vainness and sterility, aided by pills, would be appropriate, desirable, and not bad. I welcome our fate.
But before fate, nostalgia. Lynch, a shapeshifter who appears as a perfect square of a man, loves to pack and unpack the boxy, obsessive, even maniacal systems of classification (for identity, and thus for derangement) and storage (for pride, and for loss) that line the halls of the past, and to dwell on the backwardness that often now accompanies the nostalgic. Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), after a long and stressful journey through consciousness, lands on earth in his body; his mind, and his shoes, are left on the plane. Worse, there are more than two Coopers, for lack of a better term. One, the real bad one, Mr. C, has failed to show up for his scheduled return to the Black Lodge, and is alive in a prison cell. Sent in his place is another one, a licentious and chintzy-looking real-estate agent named Dougie Jones, whose mortal coil is compressed into a tiny golden nugget, leaving only a significant jade ring. Yet the person of Dougie remains, husband to a stressed-out, underweight woman named Janey-E (Naomi Watts) and father to the eight-year-old Sonny Jim Jones (Pierce Gagnon).
We meet Mr. Jones on an exurban tract-housing project in a development named Rancho Rosa, the two Rs recalling the Double R Diner of yore, in a beige-carpeted bedroom where light falls through the slats like on the set of a black-and-white noir; the shot, however, looks like a recent photograph by Torbjørn Rødland. He’s in the arms of an extremely pretty prostitute named Jade (Nafessa Williams), posed like the Venus Anadyomene, her black skin all bared. What she brings is such stomach-dropping eroticism that I have no clue whether I’m meant to be shocked. I can only suggest that, in the moment, MacLachlan has never looked more like the kind of Caucasian who needs a pocket calculator to tally his Scottish, Welsh, Irish, and Cornish heritage. Jade, another tolerant professional of color, emerges from her postwork shower to find that Dougie, prostrate on the carpet, has been replaced by Coop. She’s at a loss to ascertain where her client got “that suit . . . and that haircut,” but assumes by his abandonment of most functions that he’s had a stroke and drops him off at the Silver Mustang Casino, saying, “Call for help.”
Long scenes transpire in which Cooper may as well be an alien. Like the brother from another planet in the 1984 John Sayles film by that name, he has an unexplained power over things that plug into the wall, and simply by pointing at the slot machines, he wins twenty-nine jackpots. Like the invading body snatchers in both the 1956 Don Siegel film and the 1978 Philip Kaufman remake, he seems fated, despite this life-changing fortune, to end up a pod person. It is to the bright, clean, well-appointed life of the Joneses that he returns. We can’t keep up, but neither can he. Unable to speak except to repeat what’s literally just been said to him, he lights up for the first time at the breakfast table in the spacious eat-in kitchen. “Here’s your coffee,” says Janey-E, handing him a mug that says, in block letters, THIS IS DOUGIE’S COFFEE. “Coffee!” he gasps. Watching this the first time I sighed with relief, thinking it was all a bad joke about not being yourself before that first cup of coffee in the morning. Alashe takes one sip and, like a goddamn baby, spits it out.
By now I can see that it might be annoying to watch anyone, even Kyle MacLachlan, perform some enormous difficulty in being a straight, cissexual, employed, married, (relatively) able-bodied, blah blah blah white male. The more you dwell on it, the more perverse is the truth that white men discovered alienation. Better to think about white men’s greatest invention, other than Venetian blinds, lipstick in a tube, and the guillotine, and that is: romance. The beautiful scam! I’m obsessed. There is no more individuating force than romantic love, as I have said a thousand times or, at the very least, once. This is why we see on daytime soap operas decades-long plots revolving around the supposition that two identical white women, played by literally the same actress, are opposites on the inside. Lynch, in his soap-loving bones, is as romantic and Romantic as Blumenbach was. He’s a Double R romantic, we could say.
Case, point: Remember Denise, the top federal agent and trans woman with every reason to be proud, played with sly aplomb by David Duchovny? There was scant discourse on gender to greet her appearance in 1990, and there is discourse galore awaiting her reappearance now, yet the show needs no change. Anyone who self-actualizes and looks better doing it is fine and has always been fine by Lynch. “When you became Denise,” says Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole, who is Lynch himself, “I told all of your colleagues, those clown comics, to fix their hearts or die.” Unhelped by his hearing aid, Cole shouts this as he does most things, but here in a meter that edges on iambic, doubling the line’s sudden wham. Lynch in director mode can be less than present, relinquishing control to the aleatory and straying so far off the beat that the beat is a memory, so that when he does match a line to the pulse, it’s shockingly great.
Later, Cole and Agent Albert Rosenfeld (Miguel Ferrer), fresh from a visit to the imprisoned Mr. C., who is pretending to be an undercover Cooper, are standing outside. “Blue rose,” says Rosenfeld. “Blue rose,” as we know, is Cole’s code term for especially tricky and transmundane cases. The term first appeared in the literal, as a poly-silk corsage on a woman’s red dress in Fire Walk with Me, and no one could say what it meant, like how the proto-Romantic German poet Novalis, in Penelope Fitzgerald’s 2014 novelization of his life, The Blue Flower, knows only that it’s all he needs to know. “It doesn’t get any bluer,” says Cole. It really doesn’t. The anomalous, gelid blue that douses the frame doesn’t come from the sky behind the men, rather from the tinted window of the Lincoln Town Car, a tint known as Gasser, after a breed of 1970s muscle car, but to me recalling Gass, William Gass, and his On Being Blue (1975). Hell, he says in the book, has gas-blue flames, and on earth everything empty is blue, but so are human interiors. These connections weren’t planned for me, but sparked. Lynch does it again: a blue tuned to a frequency that cracks the protective glass between what you’re seeing and you.
“BLUE IS THE WRONG COLOR FOR ROSES,” says the crippled, disconsolate Laura in The Glass Menagerie (1944), my favorite Tennessee Williams play. “It’s right for you!” says Jim, her old high-school crush. They are about twenty-three years old and have been reunited in the one-sided hope that he’ll pick her out, pick her up, and carry her off. Once, all those years ago, she told him she was sick with pleurosis, which he misheard as “blue roses.” The mondegreen stuck. “The different people are not like other people, but being different is nothing to be ashamed of,” he says to her. “Because other people are not such wonderful people . . . They’re common asweeds, butyouwell, you’reBlue Roses!”
Though Laura is “pretty . . . in a different way,” she is apparently still more different than pretty. Jim wishes she were his sister, not his girl. He is engaged now to a chick named Betty, he says, dropping the bombshell like it’s a jacket on a chair. With about the same care, he lets fall a glass unicorn in the menagerie––its horn breaks, leaving it a mere pale horse. “I’ll just imagine it had an operation,” Laura makes herself say. “The horn was removed to make him lessfreakish!” Meanwhile, Laura’s kid brother, who has facilitated this unblissful reunion, is at the movies, which makes sense for a boy who, in the words of Laura’s sister, doesn’t know anything. “You live in a dream,” she says, when he gets back. “You manufacture illusions!” When Jim leaves, she says, faintly: “Things have a way of turning out so badly.”
There is an old word for women who believe they can overturn fate, and the word (adjective) is “weird.” (Remember, in Macbeth, the “weird sisters.”) This was also the word (noun) for fate or destiny itself, and is now the word (verb) for alienating others: “weirding out.” What makes the new David Lynch so weird, and at the same time traditional, sometimes ancient, is its ever more delayed, more inevitable reckoning with fate. Things in Twin Peaks have a way of turning out badly, and for women those ways are more predictable. “Blue Rose,” the designation lent by FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch) to the few, weird cases we see him handle, seems to imply that the cases are unsolvable, or that the solutions lie in the paranormal. But in the case of Laura Palmer, what was left unresolved was something very physical, very sick, between her and her father. If biology is not destiny, and neither is identity, we can split the difference: it’s family that destines and thwarts us, family that buries the evidence for what we can and can’t do, and family that decides, still and so often, where we end.
At the end of the second, third, and fourth hours in Twin Peaks: The Return, we were left at the Bang Bang Bar, the long-standing roadhouse in Twin Peaks, listening to a new band each time: the Chromatics, the Cactus Blossoms, Au Revoir Simone. They played songs about darkness and seeing angels, about going down to shorelines, living evening to night. Before the end of hour five, we go again to the bar, where now the band Trouble is playing, and a guy with the face of a wolf raised by housecats is smoking under a No Smoking sign. This guy, we see in the credits, is Richard Horne (Eamon Farren). It would seem that Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), the baddest girl with the second-worst dad on the original Twin Peaks, has a son who’s just evil. (Having yet to see Fenn, we can’t be sure; he could belong to another Horne.) A girl who asks Richard for a cigarette gets choked out, name-called, and threatened with rape, or something like rape, instead. Trouble plays a song about wearing a new pair of cowboy boots to dance on the future grave of Kenneth Anger, next to the one for Johnny Ramone, in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (the song has no words).
Over at the Double R Diner, where Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick) and Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) are still working, or where, I suppose, the women could have returned after second divorces, the daily lunch special is $8.95 and Shelly’s daughter needs $72 in cash. Becky (Amanda Seyfried) is wed to the weirdly hot asshole and coke dealer Steven Burnett (Caleb Landry Jones), just as her mother, in Twin Peaks, was wed to the weirdly hot asshole and coke dealer, also the woman-beater, Leo Johnson: “I’ve got one man too many in life,” said Shelly at the time, “and I’m married to him.” When her husband wound up in a coma, her real love, Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), believed she could cash in on the disability checks and change her life. Apparently not. “If you don’t help [Becky] now,” says Norma to Shelly, “it’ll be a lot harder to help her later.” Shelly says, “We both know that tune.”
Where sudden, unearned riches are an ultimate fairy-tale ending, the notion of being happy without money is no less fantastical. Even a little extra serves the purpose. Steven has thoughtfully saved a thimble of cocaine for his wife, a wee aperitif before he takes her to an unaffordable dinner, and she snorts it off his hand before putting on the song “I Love How You Love Me,” from 1961. We know this tune too, whether or not we’ve heard it before. Head tossed back to the sky, eyes so wide she’s like Joan Crawford playing innocent, Becky looks ecstatic, or should I quote the poet Harmony Holiday, in her new book Hollywood Forever, on “what hints at an ecstatic freedom of the mind but is actually our most tender disaster after birth” (I guess she means sex, heterosexually). Becky’s thrill is adamantine, ludic. Either the cocaine is also from ’61 or love is really the drug.
My friend Alan says that Twin Peaks: The Return is perfect because it manages to say exactly what David Lynch means: Our favorite auteur is funnier than ever, but he isn’t joking. My friend Fiona says he’s trying to get us all to transcendentally meditate, to slow down and stop thinking, which she’s into. As for me, the reason I feel so understood by Lynch is that, though like him I believe we do our best, and though sometimes our best is better than at other times, we can change very little besides ourselves, and our selves are in themselves not that significant. I believe in fate with every new year that repeats itself. I no longer believe that anything changes your life, your experience of life.
PARTS 6 & 7
THE SECOND-BEST USE of “Falling” outside the original Twin Peaks is on the fourth hour of Twin Peaks: The Return. Those vespertine keyboard notes, which used to go off with the regularity of an egg timer at an all-day diner, are saved until the moment you stop listening for them, and then: Officer Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) sees the portrait of Laura Palmer at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department and cries like he’s never cried in his life. He cries like he’s never seen the very first episode of Twin Peaks, the one where everybodyhilariouslycries, or like he’s on a Twin Peaks–themed Saturday Night Live skit. Only Bobby, the former football star and de facto ex-boyfriend to the homecoming queen, also the first and most innocent suspect in her murder, would get in on the joke twenty-seven years late.
The first-best use of “Falling” is in a demented mashup with the sad Britney Spears song “Everytime” (2003), made for fun by the composer Conrad Tao. Mashups are not often taste-affirming, but this one stays on your tongue: a razor blade in an apple baked into a tart, served with vanilla ice cream as cold as love (colder than death). I couldn’t believe I’d never thought of Britney being Laura, had only thought of her being Lolita, but duh. A Pitchfork writer did think of it: Tom Ewing, in a post about how her 2007 album Blackout sounds straight from the Black Lodge, wrote that “Palmer’s story is clichésour secrets of the suburban everygirl, virginal beauty off the railsbut it’s a cliché we have an endless appetite for: Witness the fascination with Britney Spears, and her messy life.” The exploding star’s “surrender of identity from track to track… to make individual songs more disorientating and thrilling” expresses what made Twin Peaks great, and “it wasn’t the central good-girl-gone-bad story, it was the strangeness liberated by the story.”
Britney co-wrote “Everytime” to get her boyfriend back. “Cry Me a River,” a massive hit for the single Justin Timberlake, turned rumors of her infidelity into widespread knowledge, and where another starlet (Mariah Carey then, Selena Gomez now) would have one-upped the allegations in a good-riddance banger, Britney, a heartbreakingly literal reader, responded in tears. Her concept for the music video, directed by David LaChapelle, involved an overdose, a drowning, and a reincarnation as a baby, but the record label wouldn’t let her die. (They should have hired our David.) The baby appeared as a more ambiguous symbol of rebirth, but seemed rather a harbinger: Within a year she was Mrs. Federline, and within three she was a barefoot, soon-to-be-single mom of two boys. She sold her Hollywood Hills mansion to Brittany Murphy, who lived there until she died in 2010. She bought and sold places in Malibu and New York City, then bought but could never resell a place on the edge of Mulholland Drive, a locale like “the lip of a pit, a vertiginous fall into destruction,” a Rolling Stone writer said. Though she did everything to stop being desirable, gaining weight, shaving her head, she was no less wanted (dead or alive). The Associated Press had twenty-two staffers on the Britney beat, and had her obituary prewritten. Dark nights she drove like Princess Di’s driver on Mulholland, daring paparazzi to finish the job. “I don’t know who you think I am, bitch,” Britney snapped at some fan at the mall, “but I’m not that person.” Paris Hilton nicknamed her “The Animal.”
Lynch likes to dance around the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat, a famous thought experiment wherein a cat occupies a box, concealed from the viewer, containing death-triggers arranged to give it a fifty-fifty chance of survival, so that Kitty is both dead or alive, or either, until we look inside. Martha P. Nochimson, in her 2013 survey of quantum physics in his later films, David Lynch Swerves, suggests that while Schrödinger didn’t think the cat could be both, Lynch does. While making Eraserhead (1977), Lynch obtained a cat’s corpse from a veterinarian on the condition that the cat not appear, or be recognizable, in the film; we have never been told how he honored this condition, but it’s easy to think that the cat, preserved in formaldehyde, then dissected, helped form the inhuman baby birthed at the end. In The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (1990), the bestselling tie-in written by a twenty-two-year-old Jennifer Lynch, we read that the day Laura’s cat got run over (“I can’t believe someone could hit a cat like that, right in the middle of the day, and not tell someone”) turned into the night she first had sex, and felt black and hot and nowhere near good inside, sure as a teen can be that no one knew who she really was. Lynch, after Twin Peaks, has brought heroines from Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) to Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) ever closer to “superposition”that is, being at once dark and light, particle and antiparticle, unknowing which form is her particular, original one.
The sixth and seventh hours of The Return bring us a long-missing piece of Laura’s diary, found by Hawk as the Lady’s Log predicted: in a funny, flimsy string of coincidences (a coin rolls under a bathroom stall door, a crack appears in the door) that signal his heritage. Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster) holds a page to the camera and reads aloud a dream in which Annie Blackburn, played by Heather Graham on Twin Peaks, and Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) are in the Black Lodge. Annie says that the real (good) Cooper can’t get out. This dream belongs to a future long gone and is the closest we’ve gotten to finding out how Annie’s doing. Laura wrote out her death before it happened. Maybe she also wrote her reincarnation. Reading along, we see that Truman skips one word, after the name Annie, in brackets: me??!!! Laura had never been seen in the same room as Annie, who spent five years in a convent after trying suicide, and Cooper only came to Twin Peaks after Laura was killed.
Graham was introduced to the show’s second season because Lara Flynn Boyle, who played Laura’s best friend Donna, was dating MacLachlan, and was annoyed by his on-screen romance with Sherilyn Fenn, who was already the fan favorite, as Audrey Horne. The show gave in, and Cooper got a girlfriend his own age. But Lynch as usual is getting his way in the end. Neither Boyle nor Graham is present or accounted for in The Return, while Sheryl Lee’s Laura appears in one form or another every hour, and Fenn’s reappearance has been promised at least a dozen times. As I’m given to wonder whether Laura is alive, whether she was Annie all along, or Annie her, I can hear Donna screaming in the cemetery: “You’re gone, Laura, but your problems keep hanging around! It’s almost like they didn’t bury you deep enough!”
Maybe the absence of Graham and Boyle isn’t so deep. Both actresses are a little too available, and would be dated and outclassed next to two arrivals: Watts, who has never looked stronger, and Dern. Both stars ascended via Lynch, and both do credible impressions of the boy scout from Missoula, with Dern emphasizing his backwards charm and vivifying, in-your-face ebullience, Watts his obstinate, encouraging screech.
Watts retains a trace sour-sweetness of that impression in her turn as Janey-E Jones, the long-suffering wife of Dougie, or Cooper, fending off anyone who’d make him suffer, too. There are the men to whom he owes a major gambling debt. Then there are the men, presumably hired by the vile Mr. C, also Cooper, who think his debt is eternal. When three indistinguishable policemen arrive at the offices of Lucky 777 Insurance with some questions about Dougie’s missing car, Janey-E is there to answer for him. Policeman number two asks if there’s a reason Dougie didn’t report it stolen. “Reason? Yeah, I’ll tell you a reason,” she snaps. “There’s more to life than cars.” Watts has a face so fine-formed as to convey a barely suppressed laughter at how mad she is, while getting still madder. “What were you going to do, break his legs?” she says when the bookies tell her how much Dougie owes. “Fifty thousand dollars is more than anyone can make, let alone with a broken leg.” They will take the twenty-eight grand Janey-E gives them, and they will be grateful. “Tough dame,” says one to the other.
“She’s a tough cookie, always has been,” says FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch) to his right-hand man Albert (Miguel Ferrara), thinking in admiration of Cooper’s ex-secretary, played by Dern. The actress is hardly recognizable when for the first time ever we see the mythic Diane, mid-forties, in a silver-white, obvious wig, with a freshly lit cigarette; it’s the way she holds it, tall and accusatory, that gives her away. In Dern’s second film with Lynch, the horrifying romantic comedy Wild at Heart (1990), she and her costar, Nicholas Cage, smoked constantly in so pronounced a fashion that the cigarettes were like tiny signal flares spelling out messages. She looked, like she does now, hot from spitting distance and molten up close. “I like a woman who talks tough and… fucks like a bunny,” says Bobby Peru, a Latino gangster type whose middle name is Problematiqué, played in Wild at Heart by a moustachio’d Willem Dafoe, before he zanily rapes her.
What we know of Diane’s relationship to Cooper is very little, but what we remember best of Cooper was given straight to Diane. “Diane, I’m looking at a small box of chocolate bunnies,” or “I’m eating a wonderful cherry pie,” or “I’ve got to find out what these trees are,” the agent would say into his tape recorder, and the secretary, who would have been college-aged, got the tapes in the mail. One night after Cooper returned as other than himself, he went to see Diane and something happened. We better pray it wasn’t rape, which unlike murder can happen to you more than once, a statistical truth that eludes male filmmakers who treat it as a one-night-only life-changing event.
Whatever it was, it’s enough. Cooper is imprisoned in the Dakotas? “Good.” The FBI needs her to see whether it’s really Cooper? “Fuck you, Gordon,” she says to Gordon. “Fuck you, Albert,” she says to Albert. A youngish female agent who, with her black patent pumps and pencil skirts, is given little actual work, tries to talk to Diane, and Diane politely asks her name: Tammy (Chrysta Bell). “Fuck you,” she says. “Tammy.” (Bell reacts as usual, blinking and widening her eyes and rolling her head, like a sexbot being reprogrammed. Everyone seems to agree that Tammy should get fucked.)
Diane’s scorn for older men and the babes who go along with them is insufficient to stop her curiosity, and she goes along too to South Dakota, dressed like a wonder. Her tight-fitted top looks sewn from the faux-silk leaves of a Christmas poinsettia. Her nails are painted each a different color, to match her outfit. Earrings rhyme on her ears. False lashes look like upended garden rakes. She carries a tapestried bag, a leopard-skin jacket, and a mini-bottle of vodka, bangles clattering with each unconcealed swig. After seeing the real bad Cooper, she can only drink more.
“It isn’t time passing,” Diane says in a sob to Gordon Cole. No, waitthe breaking lines should be heard not in quotes but as the bridge and the chorus in a plangent pop song.
It isn’t time passing
Or how he’s changed
Or the way he looks
It’s something here…
It’s something that definitely isn’t here
Jennifer Lynch did her own impression of David in her debut feature film, Boxing Helena (1993), starring Fenn as what else, a beautiful woman, held captive and amputated by a plastic surgeon (Bill Paxton). Lynch’s mom had a replica of the Venus de Milo in her living room, and both son and granddaughter were fascinated. Lynch Sr., in early hours of The Return, gave us a Venus in the Red Room with one arm disappearing and reappearing, perhaps corresponding to the new inhuman strength in Cooper’s arm, one trait shared by Mr. C and Dougie. Lynch Jr., interviewed in 2012, said she grew up noticing “people didn’t see [the Venus] as broken, they saw her as beautiful.” Inspirational quotes aside, it’s not very original to put a chick in a box, and Boxing Helena unpacked its metaphors clumsily, lacked brilliance, facetiousness. Still, had this been a Lynch or Cronenberg movie in that same year, there would have been protests and feminist remonstrations and bad, angry reviews, but with the apposite consequence, the devil-advocated redemption in cult status. A daughter who wants to please men and herself at the same time tends to seem less desirous than needy, and anyone’s open needs are hard to see (e.g. in Lynch’s Blue Velvet , I find it harder to watch Isabella Rossellini beg to be held than to watch her be raped).
Elders who fail their children are a constant, discordant theme on Twin Peaks, cranked to eleven on The Return. Coop as Dougie bonds with Dougie’s son in a moment like the one in Paris, Texas (1984), when the man played by Harry Dean Stanton, having wandered for seven years in the desert and forgotten his name, reunites with his eight-year-old son. In The Return, Carl Rodd (also Harry Dean Stanton, now like a hundred years old) sits on a bench and sees a little kid, playing tag with his mother, get hit by a truck on the run. As the boy dies a gold mist rises upward, where a certain telephone pole, significant in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), bears the number six. Another boy is nearly blasted to bits by the car bomb planted for Dougie, while at home his drug-addicted mother (Hailey Benton Gates), chants 119 like 911 backwards.
Lynch uses numerological phenomena more for effect, and for a generalized sense of consequentiality, than for narrative’s sake. “In real life, there is no algebra,” said Audrey Horne twenty-seven years ago. “In evil, as in dreams, there are not multiple interpretations,” said Simone Weil before that. Lynch solves for evil, plain and simple. His relentless sensationalization of human-on-human crime serves an upbeat message, which is that violence is bad, and when violence is worse than bad, gratuitous, that too is the point. He refuses to lessen evil by making sense of it. Innocence heightens his propaganda, but whether a harmed child or woman, or less often a man, was ever that innocent doesn’t matter to his conception of harm-doing, the underlying fault. (That the man Leland Palmer killed was a lowlife suspected in his daughter’s death made no difference to Cooper: “Do you approve of murder, Doctor Hayward?” Lynch is not a doctor. He can’t stomach explanations. Nor is he a math man.)
At the end of the seventh hour of The Return, a guy sweeps the floor at a familiar roadhouse, owned by the Renaults. For two minutes and ten seconds, there’s only the sweeping. A phone rings. A Renault (Walter Olkewicz) answers, and hears that some exaggeration of fate has befallen two young prostitutes who report to him, girls who are definitely of age, definitely not a problem, he says, “two fifteen-year-old, straight-A whores.” I guess I shouldn’t be laughing. One reason Lynch gets away with his treatment of women is that the women aren’t crazy nor understood as such. Almost no one is crazy in his “strange worlds,” to quote MacLachlan and Dern in Blue Velvet, yet when specifically female characters are sane against the odds, women notice and grin. Being insane in this world is only natural, not an excuse. Britney knew, and didn’t pretend her beloved self was the real one, so that now when she’s a good mom, happy in pictures, she is alsoat besthalf here, half disappeared on Mulholland.
Who are we when we’re not ourselves? Who else could we possibly be? Lynch takes this possibility seriously. Who are you, screamed Laura at BOB, the killer possessing her dad, or maybe her real dad. Who are you, screams Diane at Mr. Cooper, perhaps the new BOB. Everyone wants to hear that evil is inhuman. Who wants to hear the answer: Me??!! So the answer’s withheld.
PS: It has to be said, and should have been said earlier, that I hate this show. I resent it; it takes over my mind. Walking through quondam neighborhoods of mine in New York, I notice that a mediocre French restaurant I loved, while looking exactly the same, has been renamed The Black Lodge. An ex-lover who doesn’t like the internet, doesn’t read my writing, and didn’t know there was a new Twin Peaks sent a text to say he just watched Blue Velvet and “for some reason” thought of me. (Maybe he goes on my Instagram.) A publishing house sends me a novel, The Incest Diary, anonymously penned by a woman who was rapedwho seduced, she says sometimes, or let herself be screwedby her father. Ray Wise, who plays Leland Palmer, once said of Lynch that “his take on life is weird because life is weird.” I always have looked for echoes.
A man using the name “David Lynch” starts emailing me from Washington, DC, where he runs a small bookstore and reads everything he can about Twin Peaks. At first he seems interested in discourse, accuses my reviews of having “more red herrings than the show.” When I stop responding, he sends plaintive follow-ups: “kitten?”
FLAMMABLE AND INFLAMMABLE both mean “easy to burn,” though many people have tested their luck by reading inflammable as “fire-proof.” Flammable is, in one sense, how Lynch pronounces human. On the eighth and finest hour of Twin Peaks: The Return, his elegant pyrotechnics commemorate the birth of today’s America, and a near-wordless script shows that whether you describe a monstrous act as human or inhuman, you are right. But you are not trying to be right, you’re trying to be sincere, an effort so helpless as to defer meaning. Igor Stravinsky, a man so depraved he once asked the Nazisnicelyto unban his works, felt sincerity in art to be “a sine qua non that at the same time guarantees nothing.”
That there are no more guarantees in Lynch’s late direction is obvious. Ditto that this eighteen-part limited series, a presumptive sinecure for Lynch that he took as a gamble instead, has proved auteurs are so necessary. I knew as soon as the “retired” filmmaker signed on with Showtime, having shrugged off the network’s first offer, and demanded, in addition to full control, a bigger budget, that The Return would be great. Why else would I recap a television show, a task for which the term “armchair critic” was designed, and which is, accordingly, thankless and useless!? Prepared to be wowed, I still wasn’t ready for the unplugged rage and beauty of this episode, titledI forgot the episodes have titles, but this one is very good“The Last Evening.” Stravinsky would find it pleasurable. I did not. I recommend watching it twice.
The first thing that happens has happened before. On the eighth episode of the original Twin Peaks (1990–91), Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) opens the door to his room at the Great Northern only to be greeted by Josie Packard (Joan Chen), the shenanigans-loving owner of the Packard Sawmill, with a gun and three bullets to his chest. Now, five minutes into part eight of The Return, a friend named Ray (some friend) turns around on Mr. C, Cooper’s apparent doppelganger, and shoots him thrice. He dies, which is a shame because he just got out of prison. Ray (George Griffith) feels fine about it. But lo, from the woods emerge phantasms in sackcloth and ashes, or regular clothes they haven’t washed in decades. The Woodsmen, as they’re called in the credits, swarm around the body, making a performance out of exorcism or resuscitation, until the face of BOB appears in an amniotic bubble drawn from Mr. C’s chest. Ray drives off.
Interlude: Nine Inch Nails, live at the old roadhouse, play their 2016 song “She’s Gone Away.” Trent Reznor excellently impersonates a screaming BOB. The track sounds like it features a large elephant, but no elephant is to be seen. Mysterious.
Cooper sits up in a jolt.
Stravinsky debuted The Rite of Spring for the Ballets Russes’s Paris season at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on May 29, 1913, a year and two months before Germany declared war on France. There were riots, and (mocking?) calls for a doctor. There were objections to the story, about a young woman who voluntarily dances herself to death in a needed sacrifice to the renewing world; to the frustrating score, which one critic exclaimed “always goes to the note next to the one you expect,” and the concussive or even seizure-like rhythms; and to the dancing, by Nijinsky, so inconcinnus, visceral. Twenty-five years later, the Manhattan Project began with the discovery of nuclear fission, and a year after that World War II began. Then The Rite of Spring made perfect sense.
Imagine having been a child in the jaundiced dawn of the Atomic Age, anticipating the death of all you’d known, the reality at Hiroshima and Nagasaki transposed on your Manhattan, or your Missoula, Montana. Imagine seeing one photograph in particular, depicting the instant shared death of a hundred thousand people and thinking, “I have an idea.” Seeing a perfect image in . . . a mushroom cloud, and making it your own. Who is so outrageous? Sylvia Plath? Bruce Conner? I would kill someone to have that kind of brain, which is why God didn’t give it to me. He gave it to Lynch, who reappears on The Return as FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole, now with a fancier office, and behind his wide desk, as we saw in the third hour, a wider black-and-white photograph of a nuclear blast. Five hours later, this completely inappropriate decorating choice is explained.
We go to the first detonation of an atomic bomb, in White Sands, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, at 5:45 AM (MWT). The date and time, with its stressed specificity, is like an evangelical’s save-the-date for this year’s doomsday. The Trinity Test we are about to see did in fact take place, but a shimmer of unlikelihood, like this is unbelievable, remains. The cloud mushrooms and swallows the camera, so it feels like we’re shrinking, like Alice in . . . Hell. The colors are too much for words: imperial purple, incarnadine orange, gold. (Lynch, in his wonderfully inadequate explanation for dissecting a stranger’s recently deceased cat in his basement, said that “when I opened up the inside, it was unbelievablethe organs inside the cat were brilliant colors, and as soon as the air got to them, all the color started draining out, right before your eyes.”) The rest of the episode is in lambent black-and-white, as in Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977). There are quivering shots, almost stills, displaying staticky, patterned abstractions that look like Ross Bleckner’s paintings after AIDS. Bleckner has said that the disease, with its radioactive threat, was “a total paradigm shift in consciousness, a rupture.”
The vertiginous cinematography, the sensation of falling through a long telescope, and the upheaving sound trackPenderecki’s 1960 “Threnody to the Victims at Hiroshima”could make anyone remember Stanley Kubrick, particularly his 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). (Remember, too, the strange love is mutual: Kubrick screened Eraserhead for the cast and crew of The Shining (1980), to set the mood.) The way certain images vibrate and rattle like in a skull, lighting up the brain like a pinball machine, makes me think about the similar cracked landscapes (deserts, casinos, labyrinthian motels) of Nina Menkes, the under-known auteur who shares with Lynch a devotion to Buñuel and Maya Deren, and to Jungian views on the underworld. Menkes once told an interviewer that she takes cues from a Gertrude Stein lecture, “What Are Masterpieces and Why Are There So Few of Them?,” which she paraphrased, saying, “If you re-create something, it doesn’t have the organic precision of the spontaneous moment of creation.” (This is one reason that remakes of most films, reboots of most television shows, are unwise no matter how welcome.)
Why, seventy years after Stein, are there even fewer masterpieces per capita? Because generations of artists found it impossible to compete with a masterpiece, a “total paradigm shift in consciousness” like AIDS, or the A-Bomb. Lynch excels at creative recursion, starting with a simple, paradigmatic binary, the zero and one of dark and light, or Adam and Eve, that turns out to launch a Fibonacci spiral, and when he repeats himself it’s more like he never forgets. After the detonation, we see the Woodsmen at a convenience store and gas station, shuffling in stop-motion before drifting out like unstrung marionettes, a choreography recalling the sexlessautomated but not easydancing we saw at the start of Mulholland Drive (2001), the chaste couples swinging off-time with their shadows. Nine years later, in the same area, a tumescent, hideous insect emerges from a small, mottled carapace that looks like the shit-talking wad of gum in the Black Lodge. A girl and a boy walk past the empty gas station; he asks whether she likes some song, she lets slip that she knows where he goes to school. What echoes is the meet-cute between Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) and Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) in Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), when Sandy “just knows” who he is. Reincarnation, hinted at where two people feel like they’ve known each other forever, is a funny principle, and more spontaneous in its way than creation, certainly a more unlikely and difficult principle for a creator to assume.
Meanwhile, on a two-lane road, a husband and wife stop the car so some Woodsmen can cross. One comes to the car, sticks his head in the window, and points with a cigarette. “Got a light?” he says, his voice a cello bow scraped across a rock face. “Got a light?” At a radio station the DJ is playing a song and his secretary is busy. A mechanic listens while burning the midnight oil; a waitress while cleaning up at the diner; and the girl in her flowered bedroom, dreaming about the boy she just kissed. When the twilight has gone, the song goes, and no songbirds are singing. The Woodsman enters the station, and the secretary moves toward him in an awful trance. “Got a light?” he says, but by now it is evident that nobody has a goddamn lighter.
The Woodsman begins to crush skulls, killing first the secretary, then the DJ. Lynch opened Wild at Heart (1990) with Sailor (Nicolas Cage) crushing a man’s skull in much the same way, like saying, “It’s not all in your head now, is it.” This is not the best way to communicate, but it does grant the Woodsman access to more listeners, and taking the DJ’s microphone, he prophesies:
This is the water,
and this is the well . . .
The horse is the white of the eyes,
and dark within.
Someone whose primary reaction to the surreal is to say, “Whoaaaa,” and then nothing, eliminating hassles of the mind by believing “the work speaks for itself,” will take the sequence to be mere proof that Lynch explodes brains. Someone more inclined to believe that the work speaks about itself will recognize the white horse from Sarah Palmer’s premonitions and the Red Room, a harbinger of deathlike in the Book of Revelation, and more ambiguously in Godard’s King Lear (1987, another ultimate late film). I’m nervous about being spoken to, but I have some old-fashioned faith in pure symbolism: what a white horse means to a girl who cannot dream of riding one. Death is too near life to be symbolized, but a dying wish, or even a death wish, can be a symbolif it can be nothing else.
Maybe the best thing about Lynch is his absolute refusal to leave America. When he is not on earth, he is still in America; when he is dreaming, he is still in America. Mid-episode, between 1945 and 1956 on the clock, he takes us across a livid sea to a Streamline Moderne kind of castle, where the Giant (Carel Struycken) lives with a silent woman (Leslie Berger), made up for a silent film, in sequins. A gramophone, the jacquard clamshell settee, the Tiffany lamps, all telegraph the Jazz Age, while the crepitant electricity takes me back to the night Frankenstein’s bride was born, in the mid-1930s. A spotlight follows the woman who follows the Giant across the empty floor of a theater, going right up to the screen, where the explosion, the stars, the gas station, the face of BOB on an asteroid, all we saw, replays to the Giant’s astonishment. He levitates and issues from his eyeballs a primordial gold light and dust (like we saw when the little boy dies on the street in the sixth hour), followed by a golden orb (like the one formed from the body of Dougie Jones when he trades places with Cooper in the Red Room). The orb bears Laura Palmer’s face, mirroring the asteroid as if she and BOB were obverse, but they’re also separate, equal and whole. Lynch does not have to follow Marguerite Duras to Hiroshima to get to the other side. He locates (in)humanity at the test site, where for two hundred miles around there was no human presence: a void, in other words, where a nation usurped its own God so there was no one else left to blame for evil.
“The real question this episode asks,” says the critic Sean T. Collins for Rolling Stone, “is no more or less than the one pilot Robert A. Lewis asked [somewhat apocryphally] when he dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima: My god, what have we done?” Lewis said that as long as he lived, he would never forget those few minutes. He never attended a reunion of the flight crew. He spent the rest of his life working in a candy factory, a common way to make a good living, but one that, reduced to a biographical footnote, reads like an overstatement on manufacturing innocence. Lynch and Frost could have written a man like Lewis, a sweet man, no doubt, who died of a plain old heart attack, a touch on the young side. How dare we go on, is the follow-up question, and how do we?
The Woodsman’s words make the waitress faint at the diner and the mechanic collapse while the engine runs. The girl only sleeps. The insect comes to her open window, and her mouth opens, so it crawls in. I guess she could have let him in devil-like by having succumbed to temptation with a boy, but really the sin is of the father, the scene incestuous, as ever with Lynch.
PARTS 9 & 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.
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.
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.
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 waysone 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.
PARTS 11 & 12
CORRECTION: I SAID “WE CAN GUESS” that Miriam’s letter, bearing witness to Richard Horne’s (Eamon Farren) manslaughter of a boy, would make its way to the sheriff and would be believed. But she is not deadyet. Emerging on all fours from the woods, she is found and taken to the emergency room, where she, uninsured, requires a life-saving operation. Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster) delivers the update to Ben Horne (Richard Beymer), who says he will pay for it. A bad thought arrives: He could pull a Leland Palmer and suffocate the witness at her bedside. But from now on, “we” will refrain from guessing.
Coma and exposition are two of the several tricks that David Lynch (and Mark Frost, inspired by the ’60s show Peyton Place) borrows from soap operas, where comas provide suspense without camerawork, and sending a messenger to advance the plot is cheap. The borrowing is purposeful, but unnecessary: Twin Peaks: The Return has a budget to dwarf that of the 1990–91 Twin Peaks, and it has shelved the soap we saw there, a show within a show, Invitation to Love. Replacing its communal pulse is Dr. Jacoby’s alt-reality webcast, which keeps time for us: Two or three of its hours equals one day on Twin Peaks. “It’s seven o’clock,” the show begins. “Do you know where your freedom is?” This week’s monologue gets repetitious:
And the fucks are at it again! These giant multinational corporations are filled with monstrous vermin, poisonous, vile murderers, and they eat, drink, and shit money. They buy our politicians for a song. Then these fucking politicians sing as we gag and cough, sold down the river to die. Fuck you who betray the people you were elected to help, elected to work to help to make life better for.
Once a Reaganite, Lynch is changing the tune, in keepinguncharacteristicallywith the current-affairs beat. Tricky to say where his heart lies, but his hearing aid is tuned to the outcry at a new, buzzy pitch. He’s never been this attentive to the miserabilist vagaries of dead-end life, like at the Fat Trout Trailer Park where Carl Rodd (Harry Dean Stanton) is not only the manager but also the show’s moral compass. He hands cash to a resident who, troubled with rent, has been selling his blood plasma to the hospital. (Being Canadian, I did not know this was something you could do.) “I don’t like people selling their blood to eat,” Rodd says in the show’s most affecting and tweetable line since Agent Gordon Cole (Lynch) told “those clown comics” to “fix their hearts or die.” The handsome doctor, a melodramaturgical fixture whose role is partly to cure boredom, is no more present than the handsome Agent Cooper, or maybe he too is replaced by Dr. Jacoby. “He’s beautiful,” sighs Nadine with the eyepatch, watching on her desktop from Run Silent, Run Drapes, her too-silent drape store.
Irna Phillips, the “single mother” of American soap operas, began as a daytime dramatist on the radio, with Today’s Children (1933–50), and her resounding success came because she read listeners’ letters. Robert LaGuardia wrote in Soap World (1983) of Phillips’s belief in “time and character, rather than story,” her sense that “people want to become involved with the lives of other people; that viewers follow soaps not just to see what happens next, but to experiencedrink in, as it werethe characters, almost as if they lived in the viewers’ homes.” Characters on the shows she wrote for television, including As the World Turns, lived by “moment-to-moment emotions, expressed to each other in quiet scenes.”
Drink in, drink full. Time and character, in their enormous codependency, drive The Return. At last, at the start of the twelfth episode, it’s said clearly that the roads we are traveling bend back, like Laura Palmer’s arms. Limning the origin of the Blue Rose Task Force, Agent Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) says it’s possible that “these answers” (unpreceded, often, by actual questions) “could not be reached except by an alternate path we’ve been traveling ever since.” He seems to mean “alternative,” but what he says is “alternate.” Another soap-opera trick is having a single actor play a good and an evil twin, but here the splitting occurs in a single character, too: Cooper, obviously. Laura, less so.
And Audrey? Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), so singular as a precocious teenager, makes her hotly awaited return not in the eleventh hour, where I expected her, but three-quarters through the twelfth, after a sudden jump cut. She just stands there, and presents as another of the show’s shrill, dispossessed wives: Janey-E (Naomi Watts), wife of Dougie (Kyle MacLachlan); Doris Truman (Candy Clark), who has been in a petty rage since losing her son to suicide; and Sylvia Horne (Jan D’Arcy), ex-wife of Ben and mother, or babysitter, to the disabled Johnny (Erik Rondell). Audrey’s damage is unclear, but we found out in part seven that, after an explosion at the Twin Peaks Savings and Loan, shelike Ronnette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) before herlanded in a coma for some unspecified time, and was visited by Cooper in one or the other of his forms.
Audrey tongue-thrashes her tiny husband (Clark Middleton) for not helping her find her lover, a sober farmer named Billy; and her husband calls a woman she despises, maybe his own lover. This bathetic scene goes on for like forty-five minutes (actually ten), and if Fenn is reprising any character, it’s that of Anna Nardini, Luke’s ex-girlfriend and a sort of evil twin to Lorelai, on Gilmore Girls (2003–2007), in which she also played a totally separate character. The eyebrows and the maraschino lips are there, but something is glazed and doughy in her face, like she’s just been unwrapped from plastic; and some expressiveness has been lost, maybe to the needle. Ditto in the face of MacLachlan. Maybe they’re both frozen in time, and will awake if they kiss. But he does seem evil, and mostly she seems disappointed. Her new characterization spits in the face of her old imageher teenage, dreamy, indefatigable manner and perfervid will to seduceand of the men (on both sides of the screen) who bought into it. That or more simply: Precocity doesn’t age well.
It’s sad, in any case, but Fenn’s out-of-place performance makes you appreciate the other ones. Even Ashley Judd, playing Ben’s desired assistant, Beverly, seems to have a new, sly ripple in her flattish affect. Likewise with the amateur Chrysta Bell, who plays the FBI’s Tammy Preston with an advanced robotism, but who also displays a surprising range of expressionher facial muscles make the battle to control emotion into a cubist dilemma, or as Don DeLillo would say, her face is avant-gardewhen she reacts to a dangerous promotion: She will work with Albert on the Blue Rose Task Force, a latter-day replacement for the disappeared Cooper. The former members of the force, and its forerunner, Project Blue Book, are mostly dead or missing; and William Hastings, the layman who got physically closest to the metaphysical origins of the mystery, finds his head exploded (crushed by a Woodsman, invisible to the others) when he takes the agents and Diane to the dilapidated tract at 2240 Sycamore, where he first found the portal. Any scene can be stolen by Diane, who has the advantage of being played by Laura Dern: casually, brilliantly. “There’s no backup for this,” she whispers, peering through the windshield at Hastings’s beheadedness while the agents recoil.
Lynch exacts in every episode, more noticeably in the recent, quieter ones, these little ariosos that balloon, change shape, and deflate. At the Double R Diner, we watch with Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) as drama unfolds among Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick), her daughter Becky (Amanda Seyfried), and Bobby (Dana Ashbrook), who turns out to be Becky’s dad. Norma’s expressions shift dramatically but none are scrutable. She watches what is happening as if she were remembering it a decade from now. When Shelly’s new crime-boss boyfriend (Balthazar Getty) shows up outside the diner, appearing with his own neo-noirish lighting in his greasy leather, she seems to disappear in a flash, and, on the other side of the glass, rematerialize as her old teen self. Shelly’s glittering transition dissolves into the old Bobby’s feeling crushed as he sees her in love, and Becky instantly wises up to see him not as her father, for a second, but as a fellow broken romantic. Ashbrook and Seyfried could play those dogs with eyes the size of teacups and water wheels in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and their companionship too is doglike, hushed.
Back in the Dakotas, Jennifer Jason Leigh thrills as Chantal, the gum-smacking, laconic henchwoman to Evil Coop, opposite the equally white-trash henchman, Tim Roth’s Hutch. Near the end of episode twelve, Hutch shoots to kill a manWarden Dwight Murphy (James Morrison)and Chantal, driving the getaway van while watching Murphy die in front of his child (Luke Judy), licks Cheeto dust from her index finger, seeming to enjoy the orangey tang more than the sight of blood, which makes it sicker. “Next stop: Wendy’s,” says Hutch. Sky Ferreira, the very modern bombshell with an ash-in-ice-cream voice, appears at the Roadhouse at the end of episode nine as one of the locals who, with their unrecurring, relatively heterogenous appearances, make a jangling chorus. She’s a chick on methamphetamine, scratching horribly for too long at a rash in her armpit. She got fired from a burger joint, but it’s okay because she has a new job. Where? asks her friend, and she grins with the reply, At another burger joint. Ferreira has never looked worse, making the before-seen single mom on heroin (Hailey Benton Gates) look like a heroin addict in a Calvin Klein ad.
When I said the web was a substitute for the dream-world, I did not add that being online feels less phantasmagoric and venturesome as we professionalize, try to grow up, and play limited versions of ourselves. Compared to the nightmarish, as they say, state of the world, online feels lighter, more banal, and mere, like being stuck in an anxiety dream. Timelineson Twitter, Instagramare rearranged to show us what we already know to see. There is constant refreshing, getting nowhere. It’s like that, or like opening the fridge for the seventeenth time, only to find the same undesirable yogurts, every time Cooper as Dougie wanders on-screen. The eleventh hour threatens to be his last, as the Mitchum Brothers plot to end him, having lost to him in jackpots and again in a bid to collect, from his insurance company, a thirty-million-dollar payment for arson. I could yell through the screen: Wake up! You’re going to die a meme.
But one of the brothers, Bradley (James Belushi), has a dream and unlike real dreams it predicts the day. He remembers it bit by bit as the day catches up, and this for Lynch is a clever, if not new, way to build suspense. On a one-way road into the desert, in what looks like an homage to the endgame of David Fincher’s Se7en (1995), Dougie arrives with a box; should the box hold what it did in Bradley’s dream, the brothers will have to forgive Mr. Jackpots. Ding ding ding, the box holds a cherry pie. Table for three, at the Silver Mustang Casino: “Damn good,” says the other brother digging in, and “Damn good,” says Dougie, sounding more like Coop. He still might die a meme. ☹️
The single greatest performance of the series so far belongs to Grace Zabriskie as Sarah Palmer, unsurprising for this magnificent seventy-six-year-old actress but all the same a shake of the bones. Sarah is buying food she won’t eat and three bottles of Smirnoff at the store, when she sees a “new” kind of jerkyturkey jerky, which has existed since Natives were the only Americansand is rushed by terror, whether of the contents or the packaging, with its primal symbols. “They” once “came” and are “coming” again, she warns with escalating terror. Maybe she means the Woodsmen, who are a kind of smoked meat incarnate. Or maybe the animals she disconsolately watched maul each other on the Discovery Channel, on a big flat-screen television, in the second hour. That shot has become, for me, the after-image of the show, but any frame of Zabriskie’s untouchable face may trigger the lonesome. Hours after the outburst, a fan whirs monotonously in a lamp-less room and she answers the door as old Sarah, scarier with her cold, hard brow, her low-burning eyes, and her corroded smile suggesting a mettle twisted to bitter ends.
I watched these two episodes on a television like that, huge in a small room, dark, the way Lynch intended. To watch a movie on your phone and “think you’ve seen a film” strikes him as nuts, and to defend phone-watching on the basis that we all have phones, and don’t all have televisions, disinterests me since necessity is not inspiring or related to the good. (Besides, the television costs less than the phone.) A character’s face in a close-up on a screen should not appear as if it were in a pocket mirror, or even in a regular mirror. The head should be significantly, alarmingly bigger than yours, and in a portrait shot, from the shoulders up, it should be the size of a clock on the wall. Convenient alternatives begin to suck. On whatever websites, avatars the size of pencil erasers ease our forgetting the obvious, like that the owners of these avatars also have homes, incomprehensible habits, old haunts on certain square miles in a subdivided country, and especially that they have other faces, shaded minutely by expressions never represented in a reaction GIF. “The face is what one cannot kill,” said Emmanuel Levinas, another thinker of otherness, the year I was born. Can representation make us stronger? On The Return, it matters that the stories are disparate, that worlds diverge and are weirdly, sparsely populated, so that the faces do not appear in a crowd.
PARTS 13, 14 & 15
OVER THE LATEST HOURS of Twin Peaks: The Return, two timelines 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 other, 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. Theme from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake plays, like in I’ve wondered whether this bright, jangly story was lagging a little behind the dark one, whether Dougie does not really coexist with Agent Dale Cooper, so that eventually we find that his timeline ended when Mr. C’s began, and are left, willing 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, and 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). He seems unsure whether it has really 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 saying: “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 thoughta whole oneand 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 like 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. 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 timealthough we saw it an hour agothe foiled poisoner is flushing coffee for Dougie down the toilet. Ed’s line is a punchline and a pin in time.
Why are the pieces so 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, glassthe 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 drily, “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.
He 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 playing 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. 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. 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. The tension in an arm-wrestling match we know Mr. C, with his supernatural right arm, and his opponent unaware of it, can’t lose, yet 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 actual, known Cooper, 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 thenvoila, he’ll come, the way my period comes 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 the 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 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, 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 the titular kid, Rynn, and features, in a nude scene, her older sister as body doublesomething 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 (actually dead) dad’s name (actually the name of her hamster) is Gordon. Coincidences? At the end, you’re left with the same question you had at the start: Jesus, how old is this girl?
A murder suspect under investigation by Gordon and Albert, decades ago, died of being shot in a hotel room and her body, before becoming the body, vanished. Her last words: “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, in syllables like a mermaid’s first steps on land, that a blue rose isn’t natural and neither was the dying womanbecause murder isn’t natural, or suicide? 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 isspeech 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, undemotic, unnatural the speech, the more it begs repetition, the more unified its expression can be.
I’ve been rereading at night 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 quiteexcept 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 aliveexactly 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 viewerwe’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?” 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 manif the police come to the scene and see the man standing over the body and the womanlet'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 Lynchianthis weirdthis weird confluence of very dark, surreal, violent stuff and absolute, almost Norman Rockwell, banal, American stuff.
Americans are born into a history of unbelievable violence and the cover-up is usually banal. There are Nazi youth marching with tiki torches as if the suburbs are a source of pride and humans unwanted in college towns are only mosquitoes. There are immigrants who, like Naido, are “safer in jail.” There have now been at least 910 deaths attributable to Kool-Aid. Lynch as a prophet of homeland affairs is a turn in the dark that feels wrong or impossible: He and Frost wrote the show’s four-hundred-page script in a couple months and started production when “President Trump” was still a bogeyman. But then any successful near-future prophecy is an accurate observation of the present, like a palm reader's reading the nerves, not the lines.
A WORLD WHERE TWIN PEAKS is the center is horrifying and moral because there is, obviously, no God. There’s no sense of God, no shadow or presence. There’s not even a church, astounding for a town with a diner, a roadhouse, a hospital, woods, waters. There is a church in the unincorporated community of Twin Peaks, California. There are three churches of the Mormon kind by the foot of the Twin Peaks range in Utah. A work so wholly American, American as Underworld, as A Face in the Crowd, and yet not Christian exists nowhere else. But in Twin Peaks, Washington, in lieu of a creator, there is a dreamer and we don’t know who.
The first time around (1990–91) we wanted to know who killed Laura Palmer and David Lynch thought knowing would kill the show. Overruled by the network, he lost interest, left things to his cocreator, Mark Frost, and the show faltered, collapsed; or else the show couldn’t go on when the showman had left. This is Lynch’s second chanceto climb the dread heights, as John “Scottie” Ferguson does in Vertigo (1958). Cooper’s chance, too. MacLachlan’s MacLachlanaissance is in doubt, since between the dream-locked Cooper, the absent Dougie, and the evil-incarnate Mr. C, he has yet to play human, a writing choice that begins to seem like an excuse for the actor. He once played a man becoming more than that, the youthful quester, Paul Atreides, in Lynch’s ill-fated, fantastic, misunderstanding 1984 adaptation of Dune. Lynch had him imbibe what’s called “the water of life” and, rather than “drink full and descend,” ascend to being a god, whereas in the novel he’s only playing at godhood. (Imagine if Francis Ford Coppola, adapting Heart of Darkness for the cinema, had turned Kurtz into a literal deity and cast Paul Newman. The horror, etc.) Though Lynch retracted his authorship of the film after the studio made sense-destroying edits, it’s unclear that, had he been given the control he wanted, it would have been what we could honestly call great.
When I said the dreamer could be us, it was the simplest and not the best solve; I think the question should be answerable, not answered. “One does not offer an ethics to God,” says Simone de Beauvoir in her Ethics of Ambiguity (1947), and so “far from God’s absence authorizing all license, the contrary is the case, because man is abandoned on the earth, because his acts are definitive, absolute engagements.” (We can add “creative” before license, if we like.) Together, men bear “the responsibility for a world which is not the work of a strange power, but of [man] himself, where his defeats are inscribed, and his victories.”
And when the show ends, if you can believe it, this Sunday, we’ll want a sense that the dream of the show is not over, even we are not to see, for real this time, another new minute. I pray not, since Twin Peaks: The Eternal Return would be too ungodly. In the picture as it fades there should be a dreamer who is like us, made in our image as gods always are, in my god-averse view, but not us. A Godardian “perfect image,” like I said. Afterimage, maybe. Face without an “I.”
Cooper, a dreamer, cannot be the dreamer. An early episode in the original Twin Peaks was called “Cooper’s Dreams,” not “Cooper’s Dream” (or even “Cooper Dreams”). In episode sixteen of The Return, having put a fork in the socket and in Dougie, the hero awakes from both his medically induced coma and his once-interminable limbo. “You are awake,” says Phillip Gerard (Al Strobel), aka The Man from Another Place. “One hundred per cent,” says Cooper. Dale Cooper. Special Agent Dale Cooper. “Finally,” says Gerard.
What proceeds is as pure and fun an action sequence as any in a Bond movie (and I’ve seen every Bond movie), setfinally!to the Twin Peaks theme. He’s starving. He’s talking, all determination and cheer. He borrows a gun from his boss (he knows the exact make and model, which says he’s been watching, as in sleep paralysis, from inside Dougie) and tells the Mitchum Brothers to get the private jet ready. “What about the FBI?” says Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray), because the FBI is looking for Mr. Jones. Cooper turns, a familiar turn. “I am the FBI.” He’s suave, driving the white Beemer, another man’s wife, Janey-E (Naomi Watts), looking at him with lust and adoration. Leaving wife and kid tearful at the casino, he promises that “Dougie… I will be back.” (It’ll be a figure named Dougie but, for Janey-E’s sake, more like Cooper, made with a strand of his hair and a “seed” of some kind, conjured by Gerard.)
As for the other one, the bad one, he doesn’t dream ever, permitting the notion that what we see is his dreambut no, Mr. C cannot be the dreamer. Since minute one he’s been too in control. Dreams don’t tend to be plotted, lack beginnings or endings; they begin in darkness and they’re over when you stop remembering, or wake. He does createtulpas, like Dougie. He decreates his son, duh, Richard Horne (Eamon Farr), electrocuting him on a rock, and the son’s disappearance indicates he too was/is a tulpa, or half-tulpa. The one man he can’t control is Phillip Jeffries, who reappears at the old convenience store in voice only, and it would be apt for David Bowie to play the dreamer, to have, perhaps, an alter ego named Judy, and therefore to hold the answers two questionswho’s Judy and who’s the dreamer in one hand. However, if Judy is to be like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, played by Judy Garland, she should have once been a girl.
Kim Novak is Judy Barton in Vertigo, and Judy, mistress to the rich Mr. Elster, goes blonde and waspy to impersonate and frame as a suicide his wife, Madeleine. An early episode of the original Twin Peaks has Laura’s cousin, named Maddy or Madeleine after Novak, played like Laura by Sheryl Lee, put on a blonde wig to play the dead girl’s ghost. Syllogistically, casting aside, this means Judy is Madeleine and Madeleine is not Laura. Some fans ignore this and think Judy is Laura, pointing to the shot of a monkey saying “Judy,” followed by a shot of dead Laura, in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). But Judy has a sister, says Jeffries in the same film, and “part of her” is there in Argentina. Laura does not have a sister, far as we know. (Can a tulpa be considered a sister?)
Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) had a half-sister, Donna Hayward, played on Twin Peaks by Lara Flynn Boyle and unreturned here. Norma (Peggy Lipton) had a sister who was played by Annie (Heather Graham) and ditto. I suppose when Cooper asked how’s Annie the answer could have been “chilling in Buenos Aires” but it’s impossible to think of Norma as a Judy. Joan Chen, writing in character as Josie Packard to David Lynch, asking, in vain, to be on The Return, said that she often thinks of her “twin sister, Judy.” A writer on Fire Walk with Me said ages ago that Judy was, at one point, meant to be Josie’s twin, and at least one fan is convinced that Judy is Josie, while another on the same fansite is convinced, via the Bible and numerology, that Judy is Naido (Nae Yuuki). On the Twin Peaks Reddit I read that Judy is both Josie’s sis and Naido, but since Nae is very apparently Japanese and Chen is very apparently Chinese, this development would be racist, blind, and dumb. Diane (Laura Dern), we found out in part fourteen, is half-sisters with none other than Janey-E, their lives another soap-operatic double aria in this devil’s puzzle of a magnificent script.
But the Diane we have seen is not the Diane we never knew. She’s already been a double agent, working with the task force on the Blue Rose case and simultaneously texting info to Mr. C, but the latest text reveals she’s a double, a tulpa. Mr. C texts “ALL” preceded by a smiling emoticon, and the smile triggers her, as in literally triggers, weaponizes. Twenty-five years ago, on the night she doesn’t talk about, she tells Gordon, with Albert and Tammy listening, Cooper showed up at her house. He kissed her, and it didn’t feel like a kiss. He smiled, horribly. He raped her. Dern is incredible: What could be truer than the dreamy, teenage way she says “he kissed me” and then, breathiness curling and solidifying into disgust with the processive control of a ballet dancer’s developpé, says “something went wrong.”
Cooper was, then, definitively, bad at the time Richard was conceived with Audrey, meaning either that Audrey was a tulpa and tulpas can reproduce, which is unlikely but so are a lot of things before they occur; or that Audrey was raped and the dissociation a rape produces came to stick. Finally at the roadhouse, at the end of this sixteenth hour, she dances the dance we remember and we’re ensorcelled into grinning at the sight. But just when she seems like herself, she is interrupted by yet another barfight over someone’s wife and stops, runs to Charlie, screams get me out of here and poof, appears elsewhere, in a white room, makeupless in a mirror, as in a psych ward. I have already expressed my total disdain for rapelet alone rape by a partner, lover, friend, or acquaintance, a crime about as rare as petty theftas a plot device granting a male protagonist power over the rest of a victim’s life and I refuse to say more about it as a reason for a girl to go mad.
The matrilineal nature of madness, more accurate to my paradigm, is supposed in Vertigo and echoed in Twin Peaks. Other fans, in a theory I enjoy, say that the girl asleep when the Woodsmen come, into whose mouth the tumescent insect crawls, must be the dreamer; that is to say, some percentage of her never woke up. More than any of the other female characters, the girl looks like Mädchen Amick, enough so to have been her mother, making Becky (Amanda Seyfried) her granddaughter and analogous to the character of Madeleine Elster, with the insane, suiciding grandmother of lore, in Vertigo. But that’s perhaps my superficial reading and the fans who think the dreamer is Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), the desolated would-be matriarch who alone is the right age to be that girl as a woman if she’s still alive, are onto something more. She’s been nuts as long as we’ve known her. She’s only moreso. She has a sister, one we’ve never seen: Beth Ferguson, mother of Maddy, though again if we are following the plot of Vertigo this would make Maddy the Judy. Maybe I just want Sarah to be the dreamer because she is the character in Twin Peaks I most hope is somehow immortal.
Zabriskie had the greatest scene of the show so far, or so I said, in part twelve; she had a greater one in part fourteen, when Sarah goes drinking alone at an unfamiliar dive bar. Harassed by a man in a TRUCK YOU T-shirt (where’s Richard with Billy’s truck when you need him?) who accuses her of “looking like one of them bulldykes” (he may be excused for not knowing what a bulldyke looks like, there being a total of no lesbians in Twin Peaks), she takes on an attitudinal freeze and hiss, becoming precisely as touchable as nitrous oxide. He says he’ll eat her cunt. She says she’ll eat him. Removing her face like a paper moon from a collage of the galaxy, she emits the voice of a Woodswoman, saying do you really want to fuck with me, and a hand appears, and something bites, so that the next thing anyone sees he’s dead on the floor with a missing jugular. A half-second. A return to her human form. Then a scream which, in Zabriskie’s throat, has wit. I laughed the first, second, third time I watched it. The bar owner approaches her with suspicion and she plays helpless, stricken, then drops her voice to a mere chill and says: “Yeah. It’s a mystery.” Her alloy of the deadpan and sangfroid supercedes even that of Diane, and I wonder whether tulpas can have this much self-possession, congenitally; no other tulpa has gone off her head of her own volition.
Few other options are left for the dreamer’s identity. Gordon Cole (David Lynch), whose name is the last thing Cooper-as-Dougie hears, the final trigger, cannot be him either. You wouldn’t say to the dreamer, as Monica Bellucci does to Gordon Cole, that “we are like the dreamer.” If we’re not the dreamer and the characters aren’t like us, who are they like? Do we want to know what we’re like? Maybe it’s someone we’ve never seen. The original, human Diane, the invisible presence the old Cooper was always addressing, perhaps. Or someone we mysteriously can’t see, on the verge of disappearing, an old authority figure in the hospital, sick, someone people are always asking to see and can’tthe actor unavailable, retired. Sheriff Harry S. Truman, that is. Horrible to think we’re just in Truman’s show!
Go back to Vertigo, Lynch’s favorite. I had forgotten whether it ended with a fateand it did, a punishment for interfering with fate. But the plot is set into motion by cynical people, not “forces.” There is no “strange power” at work. People on The Return die of common causes, like being shot, but not for very good reasons: Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Hutch are riddled to bits by, of all people, an accountant in an act of mutual road rage. Steven (Caleb Landry Jones), in the fourteenth hour, was heard to die by his own handgun, startled, like Judy Barton atop the belltower, erroneously at the approach of a stranger. People also die in what are deemed paranormal or “not natural” ways, and these autopsy-defying deaths seem yet less “senseless,” less amoral than the picayune, indubitable ones. Morality, said de Beauvoir after Kierkegaard, is no more relevant than language is to nature, and is perhaps supranatural; it’s easy to make the slip to supernatural, then to sense good and evil as something no longer above but beyond us, something out there. Lynch is a true believer that some things can’t be explained. Yet Scottie, the detective in Vertigo, believed in the inexplicable too for a time, and was institutionalized, and when he solved the case and beat his agoraphobia, almost in one breath, it was because he saw, like Paul in Dune, that “fear is the mind-killer.” I suspect the best reason not to say who killed Laura was that people already knew, only they were afraid to think it.
THE FINALE: EPISODES 17 & 18
INTERVIEWER: Is Laura Palmer really dead?
DAVID LYNCH: Ummm. [A thirteen-second pause.] I'm pretty sure.
Lynch on CBC Radio, 1990
LAURA WAS DEAD, but her problems kept hanging around. It was like they hadn’t buried her deep enough! That is to quote from her best friend’s scream by the grave in the Twin Peaks, Washington cemetery where her body, unwrapped from plastic, had been inhumed six days earlier in 1989. One problem was the body itself, the body of a girl being motive, means, opportunity all at once. Another was the family, where odds are made. As for the rest, they were the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself, the only thing worth writing about, and that is to quote William Faulkner accepting the Nobel Prize in 1950.
The men who built Twin Peaks were born about seven years apart into nuclear families. They were eldest children, each with a younger brother and a younger sister, with fathers. David Lynch, raised on tree-lined streets across the Midwest, came to understand cinema as he did small towns, places where, because the horizontal is circumscribed, plots tend to spiral. “Everything, anything that is a thing, comes up from the deepest place,” he says in his guide to transcendental meditation, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity (2006). The mind reels. Meanwhile, Mark Frost, a child of Brooklyn and Los Angeles, learned to write television on the Inner City, U.S.A. drama Hill Street Blues. He is likelier to pair “the deep” with “state,” and to conceive the truth as being “out there.” When the two met it was to write a movie about the death and afterlife of Marilyn Monroe, called Venus Descending, which the studio nixed upon hearing who, in this adaptation, killed her: Senator Robert “Bobby” Kennedy. A bit close to home.
Lynch and Frost decided to write a network television show, and transposed the outline of Venus Descending from Washington, DC to Washington State, the Hollywood Roosevelt to the Roadhouse. Lynch redrew the goddess as Laura Palmer, a prom queen and after-school prostitute who was also, he’d later say, “a sideways self-portrait.” Frost modeled her fate after the unsolved murder, eighty years earlier, of Hazel Irene Drew in the woods around Taborton, New York, where as a child he summered. Here too a killer did not act alone: Lynch devised a spirit named BOB (pronounced “Bob”) who would possess Laura’s father, Leland, to do his worst, complicating the trope of a man just doing what he’s told. “Maybe that’s all Bob is,” wrote Frost for a government man to say. “The evil that men do.” By the second season, the cocreators had received the encoded message that a senator killing a movie star for political reasons was, for the same reasons, inconceivable on screen; a man strangling to death his own daughter upon finding she’d been raped by someone other than himself (for once) was not inconceivable.
Nights before her murder, Laura dreams. She tosses, turnsand turns to see an older girl, blonde, with a bloody mouth, wearing a white dress like a child at First Communion. Annie (Heather Graham) will not be seen in daytime until after Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), on his first trip to Twin Peaks, has “solved” said murder, and she will not be seen looking like this until the night Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh), a Federal Bureau apostate, kidnaps her and takes her to the Black Lodge. At the moment, however, she apparently can’t find a piece of paper, and tells Laura to write the following in her diary: “My name is Annie. The Good Dale is in the Lodge, and he can’t leave.”
This is useless information. “It’s like somebody in 1920 saying ‘Lee Harvey Oswald’ or something, and then later you see it all,” Lynch told the writer Chris Rodley for the book Lynch on Lynch (1997). John F. Kennedy is shot and dies forty-three years later. Laura Palmer is murdered forty-three years after the birth, in 1946, of David Lynch. No coincidence that prescience and nostalgia take equally as long to develop. Nothing much to see. Unless we are talking not about hindsight but anamorphosis: a technique for making a prima facie distorted, indistinct picture become legible when viewed from a specific angle, or a certain, warped mirror.
The fateful day is one where dawn comes at the end. In Greek myths, the ones I remember, a protagonist crosses the gods. She believes that she is taking fate into her own hands, that she can reverse or avert the dread event, only to make herself answerable for the very same outcomeand then it is fate. Antigone, sentenced to be buried alive, hangs herself in the tomb before the king’s men, on new orders, arrive to free her. Daphne is fleeing Apollo when she falls into a river and cries to the gods, who save her by turning her into a laurel tree, rooted forever, and watch as Apollo cuts off her branches for a wreath. Phaedra’s nurse cures her deadly lovesickness with a revelation that causes her suicide. And that is to say nothing of the men who “accidentally” kill their fathers: Perseus, Theseus, Oedipus.
A perfect myth is the one where Eurydice dies. Her husband, Orpheus, mourns her in songs so moving that the gods develop sympathy and permit him to retrieve her from the underworld, on one condition: He can’t look at her until they reach the light. Eurydice follows closely, but she is still behind him, in darkness, when he sees the sun and turns around smiling. My favorite reading of the denouement was done by Godard in his eulogy for Hitchcock. “The cinema is Eurydice,” said Godard.
Eurydice says to Orpheus: “Don’t look back.” And Orpheus turns around. Orpheus is the literature that kills Eurydice. And the rest of his life, he makes money by publishing a book on the death of Eurydice.
The second-to-last hour of The Return ends with Cooper in the woods on the night of February 23, 1989. Laura and James fought there. He watches them fighting now. Once Laura looked past James and screamed at what appeared to be nothing. Now when she looks, we see Cooper. Cooper thinks she sees him, and ducks. (It’s unclear that she does, and funny, when you pause on his modest face, to think of him causing a scream.) Later she returns to the woods and this time, seeing the man in a suit, uses her words. She wonders whether she knows him. “We’re going home,” he says, and takes her hand.
A portal is open. We glimpse a Twin Peaks where Laura does not, on February 24, 1989, die. The mill-owner’s husband goes out fishing, and does not find a body. The mistress does her makeup and hums a soft, disquieting tune. If everything were different, what would change? Tonight in a world where her daughter is or is not dead, the woman we know as Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) is drunk and alone, raging at the portrait of Laura, trying to scratch out Laura’s face.
In Don DeLillo’s Libra (1985), a novel about who killed John F. Kennedy, a line goes: “Something in his heart longed for this murder, even though he knew it was a sin.”
Laura follows Cooper out of the woods. He turns to look. She smiles, unsure. There is a sound of wind rising. He turns again. The rising wind. Again. A pause, an insectile scratching, and he turns to look a fourth time. Bad news.
“Moving forward in time, it is important that we learn to distinguish between mysteries and secrets.”
Major Garland Briggs in The Secret History of Twin Peaks, 2016
THERE IS APPARENTLY such a thing as an “extreme negative force,” says Lynch as Chief Gordon Cole to his right-hand man, Albert (Miguel Ferrer), and his novitiate, Tammy (Chrysta Bell), at the top of The Return’s two-part finale. Cole says that “in olden times” this “entity” had a name, about which there’s been some confusion. Lynch enunciates two syllables, like he’s learning pinyin: Zhǎo + Dēi. Closed captioning has this as Jow-Day, which sounds like an Old Celtic warning. Frost, going off script, has suggested that the entity is a Sumerian demon-goddess, a counterpart to Ba’al, called Joudy. (No such shakti appears in extant myths of Sumer.) Whatever her provenance, her name over the ages, as in a game of Chinese whispers, became Judy. Darkness, gentrified.
Judy was name-dropped at the offices of the Bureau by Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie), returning from Buenos Aires, in 1987. Her nature or presence was discovered by Major Garland Briggs (Don S. Davis) at some point before he disappeared in the early 1990s. The bedevilled Jeffries, who appeared only in Fire Walk with Me, and the divining Briggs, who appeared only in Twin Peaks (1990–91), never met. They continue to polarize the co-creation. Lynch told Variety that what happened in Fire Walk with Me, a Lynch minus Frost production, would be “very important” to The Return. Frost promoted his book, styled as a dossier on the paranormal kept by Briggs, The Secret History of Twin Peaks (2016). “I haven’t read it,” said Lynch, when asked to comment on the 368-page tome. Forty minutes into The Return we find the Major dead, his head severed as if it contained his mind, as if Lynch had personally executed him for knowing too much.
Briggs may have been named Garland as in Judy Garland, who appeared as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939), a film beloved by Lynch, a few years before he was born. But nomen is not necessarily omen. Lynch uses, across his ouevre, the same names for wildly unlike characters: Betty Briggs and Betty Elms. Frank Booth and Frank Truman. Dorothy Vallens and Dorothy, just Dorothy. Bobby Peru and Bobby Briggs. The denotive power makes meanings, two by two, cancel out. He likes it, too, when characters share names with his favorite people, or vice versa: Laura Palmer takes after Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944), but her persona also connotes Laura Dern. Dern is Lula Fortune in a Lynch film, and Lula is the name of Lynch’s latest daughter, four years old. A universe feels familial. Harry, brother of Frank, is the sheriff in a coma, and Harry was Harry Dean Stanton.
Stanton died two weeks after the finale aired, and I rewatched Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, the 2012 documentary in which he plays guitar, muses on the void, tries to avoid talking about his “career.” Lynch comes over and reads him some questions from a printout.
Have you ever been married?
No. But I was really close once…
The next question was, how did you meet your wife?
Lynch, like Frost as Cyril Pons, is enjoying his little cameo as a reporter. Where the screenwriter lent indulgence to the hack type, the director treats the business as a not-bad joke.
How would you describe yourself?
As nothing. There is no self.
Lynch and Stanton both laugh.
I didn’t know this existed until I googled “Lynch Yeats” a moment ago. After seeing a clear connection between Yeats’s “The Second Coming” and imagery and events in Twin Peaks: The Return, I became convinced that Lynch had read Yeats, but not that he’d written an entire monograph about him! I immediately ordered it and hope that it sheds more light on this fascinating and unexpected connection.
On the internet the past doesn’t die, and “medium” seems a double entendre. Connections constantly disturb. I said in an earlier recap that social media and dreams are on the same plane of reality, and that in Twin Peaks and moreso in The Return, telecommunications and networks are incorporated into a new, almost dreamless surrealism. Lynch and Frost attract message-board freaks who, never getting enough sleep, see clues in lieu of symbols and take inexplicability as a challenge. The number-one search engine suggests that The Poetics of The Self was authored by the famously atheoretical artist, not the minor, dead academic who actually wrote it. This was all very funny until I found myself wondering whether the Yeatsian notion of “negative capability” applies to the work of David Lynch, and only later remembered that the notion is actually Keatsian.
Superstition makes you do crazy things, says Robert Burton in his life’s work, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621). The Major to Windom Earle, under the influence of truth serum, surrenders the key to the Black Lodge: “There is a time, when Jupiter and Saturn meet, they will receive you.” He must mean the planetary event known as the Great Conjunction, scheduled to occur every eighteen to twenty-one years: the length of a trend cycle, or the time it takes a child to reach maturity. Great Conjunctions are historically mystified. Earle goes around singing: “When Jupiter and Saturn meet, oh what a crop of mummy wheat!” Which is, as it happens, a line from a Yeats poem.
“Television is the force of no-history, and it holds the archives of the history of no-history. … No good has come of it.”
George S. Trow, Within the Context of No-Context (1981)
A TRIPLE CONJUNCTION of Jupiter and Saturn occurred in Libra in 1981. David Lynch, a founding member of The Platters, died and was remembered for singing tenor on “Only You” (1955). David Lynch, the director of Eraserhead (1977), was nominated for his first Academy Award, for The Elephant Man (1980). Seven hours before the ceremony was to begin at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, a twenty-five-year-old man seeking the attention of a nineteen-year-old actress, who would turn out to be a lesbian, shot Ronald Reagan outside a Northwest Washington hotel. The ceremony was postponed for twenty-four hours, and a television set was procured for Reagan’s bedside. He watched the stars watch him give a competent performance as the President: “Film reveals that people everywhere share common dreams and emotions,” said Reagan to the Academy in a message taped two weeks earlier, when he had never been shot. The “theme” of the ceremony was that “film is forever.” Reagan said, “I’ve been trapped in some film forever myself.”
Lynch had voted for Reagan on the grounds of that smile and his “cowboy image.” He believed in an implanted memory of America. Daily for seven years he went to Bob’s Big Boy Diner on Riverside Drive, where he ordered a chocolate milkshake in a silver goblet and wrote ideas on white napkins, a lone communion. The ideas that came quickest were disturbing because he was easily disturbed: One day a man came into the diner and though nothing he did or said was memorable, he gave the director a feeling and the feeling gave us Frank Booth, the most terrific human monster, in Blue Velvet (1986).
His work from the beginning had the antagonism to shared reality of evangelical tracts. He used an unspoken Bible verse as “a key to unlock” the meaning of Eraserhead (1977). He devotes much screen time in The Elephant Man (1980) to the church that Merrick (John Hurt) builds in miniature, working on it daily until the night he says, “it’s finished,” and dies. In Blue Velvet, Sandy (Laura Dern) and Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) sit parked across from a church as she, backtracked by organs, talks about love and the coming robins. Dern told a New York Times reporter that “David is as much a believer in the robins as in Frank Booth.” The robin who appears at the end of the film is fake, a taxidermied marionette, but then so was Reagan.
“You don’t literally believe in angels,” said the interviewer, Mark Cousins, to Lynch on Scene by Scene. Lynch said he did. “No,” said Cousins. “Do you?” “Yeah,” said Lynch. Even the lawless Wild at Heart (1990) had Sailor (Nicholas Cage) and Lula (Dern) survive hellfires in a pilgrimage to reach the City of Angels, where an embrace reiterates that perfect love casts out fear. Yet nothing could prepare the unbeliever for the overwhelming theodicy of Fire Walk with Me. Heaven, in this reactive prequel, is promised to Laura (Sheryl Lee) and to her friend Ronette (Phoebe Augustine). Laura thinks the angels are leaving her, while the cinematographer, Roy Garcia, knows better and shoots from a high, diametric corner, the angel’s-eye view. (Garcia also, albeit in a deleted scene, provides a clear shot of the church in Twin Peaks, never before seen and since abandoned.) Dimly, we see her death as a choosing. She slips a significant jade ring on her finger, securing her place as the bride of someone like Christ, and goes to the Red Room to meet her angel, who is wearing an angel costume. Luigi Cherubini plays us out.
Any believability, or deceptive coherence, in Fire Walk with Me may be credited to the costume and production designer, Patricia Norris, who had done all Lynch’s films and the Twin Peaks pilot; and to the editor, Mary Sweeney, who had assisted Duwayne Dunham on Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, and Twin Peaks before taking over for one sublime episode of the show’s second season, “Lonely Souls,” directed by Lynch. Sweeney became his editor for the next decade, his live-in partner for several years, and, for one month in 2006, his third wife. “I never know where the point is when I’ve entered into [his] world,” she told an interviewer in 2007. “It is usually an unremarkable passage, but all of a sudden I just understand.” Audiences were less understanding, and tended to see Fire Walk with Me as a morbid betrayal, a tasteless, sad exploitation, or an interesting mess. Twenty-five years later, we see it all. Sweeney established a narrative structure that now seems definitively Lynch: A mystery is met with dissolution. Between two acts, the stage is rotated, the players and the story change.
Lynch has said that the few years after Fire Walk with Me bombed were the darkest in his life. He no longer went to Bob’s Big Boy, having one day gone into the dumpster and discovered what was really in the milkshakes: “Every ingredient ended in -zine or -ate. There was nothing natural anywhere near that carton.” Artifice, empty trash. No disillusionment like that of a man who believes, until after age forty, that there is milk in the milkshakes. When he returned to theaters with Lost Highway (1997), a schitzy, neo-noirish thriller, the change was clear. There would be nothing further for angels to do in a Lynch film.
The trouble in Lost Highway starts with videotapes sent anonymously to the home of Fred (Bill Pullman) and Renee (Patricia Arquette), filmed nightly in the bedroom where they sleep off desires, unfulfilled. Fred appears on the last of the tapes to murder Renee. On death row, he undergoes either a psychotic break or metempsychosis and emerges from his cell as Pete (Balthazar Getty), a mechanic whose crimes are minor and who is set free to live with his parents. Pete stays out of trouble until the day he meets a porn star named Alice (Arquette), who looks like Renee in a blonde wig or is Renee through a looking glass. Arquette’s interpretation: “It’s about a man trying to recreate a relationship with the woman he loves so that it ends up better.” (...Spoiler alert.) Fred says, about the business of video: “I like to remember things the way I remember them. Not necessarily how they happened.” He speaks for the auteur, who appeared to regret making his process seem easy, a matter of drinking too much coffee, getting a bad night’s sleep, and recording his dreams. Lynch told the Village Voice that was not “about dreams” at all.
Remembering one’s self is a difficulty. His structural opus Mulholland Drive, starring Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring, is an extraordinary conflict of memories, told in twisted ternary form. Each woman’s version of the story starts with the other woman in the backseat of a limousine, saying the line: “What are we doing? We don’t stop here.” These are the first and third acts, separated by a second where the stories line up and it’s love, the two falling silentof course, at a nightclub called Silencio. Rebekah Del Rio sings Roy Orbison’s “Crying” in Spanish, a language the blonde does not understand and the brunette in a blonde wig does, and the two, holding hands, perform an accompaniment in tears. “Crying often takes the place of speech,” says Dennis Lim in his great book on Lynch. “A language of the body, it insists that words are not enough.” The lovers exaggerate what they do not have to say, that the beginning is the end. Hereafter they will remember things differently.
Betty’s story stars herself as a natural, promising actress, uncorrupted as a Canadian can be. She finds a perfect object for a coup de foudre: a woman who has lost her memory and her identification, both in a limousine accident on Mulholland Drive, and who names herself Rita, after Hayworth. Betty connotes Grable, Hayworth’s rival. She watches auditions for The Sylvia North Story and knows she could outdo Camilla Rhodes (Melissa George, who like Watts is blonde and Australian), but when the director, Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux), turns by chance to see her and is enraptured, she flees like it’s midnight. Adam sighs and pretends to choose Camilla: “This is the girl,” he tells the shadowy producers, who likewise pretend. Betty, a victim in her own narrative, is hindered by a conspiratorial system and driven by pure, requited, yet ultimately self-destructive love. She finds a mysterious blue key and gives it to Rita. She starts losing the plot.
In Rita’s story she is Camilla, and Camilla (like Harring, like Del Rio) is a Mexican-American femme fatale. No accidents here: She is chosen by an older director to be Sylvia North in the fateful biopic, and by the young one, Adam, to star in a cult film and be his girlfriend. Betty, barely a rival, becomes “a friend” in the euphemistic parlance of backstage lesbianism, and when she gets out of the limo to join Adam and Camilla at a dinner, she plays third wheel. Betty is not even Betty. She’s Diane in the daytime in a wifebeater, the dark roots showing in her hair, strung out and desperate, getting her nom de guerre off a waitress’s nametag. This story ends with Diane alone, dyinga probable suicide. Rita’s fairy-tale ending (“Camilla and I... are going to be…,” says Adam, but then the scene falls apart) is no match for a Carmenesque gesture. But because her story is an on-the-record version of events, a tale told anecdotally, less as narrative and not as romance, it is seen as “realer” or “truer.” Most reviewers of Mulholland Drive think the mystery was in fact a dream, the love story a delusion, on the part of Diane, and take Rita’s real name to be Camilla.
But there is no Camilla. “The girl is still missing,” say the producers. “Camilla is still missing,” says Don Antonio, the Pantalone, in Renoir’s The Golden Coach (1953), a romantic comedy about the Columbine in a commedia dell’arte troupe, played by Camilla (Anna Magnani), and her three simultaneous lovers. Unhappy after losing all three, she wants to quit acting. The Pantalone, played by a man named Don Antonio says she might as well quit living:
Your only way to find happiness is on any stage … during those two little hours when you become another person, your true self.
Or, in another translation of the speech, said by Truffaut to be Renoir’s artistic statement:
You will find your happiness only on stage each night for the two hours in which you ply your craft as an actress, that is, when you forget yourself. Through the characters that you will incarnate, you will perhaps find the real Camilla.
In Mulholland Drive, Camilla is metonymic with “the girl,” the girl metonymic with the part. Whoever is Camilla is the it-girl, the director’s girlfriend, the girl of the hour, and anyone could be her in theory, only one at a time. When the two women go to the address listed under Diane Selwyn, Betty is confident it will turn out to be Rita’s place. They arrive to find that a neighbor and Diane have swapped apartments, and to see a corpse on the bed, also changeable, brunette and then blonde. The agonistic she-said she-said is presented in a vertiginous feat of editing, as quick and sure-handed as the riffle shuffle of a blackjack dealer.
Lynch decided to self-edit his next film. He authorized (and, at times, appeared to co-author) an unknown director’s documentary, Lynch: One (2007), in which he says at one point that creativity flows best amid personal happiness and at another point that he is so depressed he doesn’t know what he’s doing. In the late fall of 2016, the executor of William Faulkner’s estate told the Los Angeles Times that he was looking for someone to make a “David Lynch-style movie” of a Faulkner story, about three deteriorating generations of a Nebraskan family in a sick, lightless Hollywood, “Golden Land” (1935). Unfortunately, this is a fine description of Inland Empire (2006), released two weeks later.
I was willing to watch Inland Empire once. What I remember: shrieking, a danse macabre, a tale told in hideous Polish, conflations of the torturous and the pornographic, colors as if palm oil sludge had been smeared on the optical flat, and altogether a psychoactive morass. Despite starring the extraordinary Dern as a dithery, fey actress-or-whore, the narrative was clearly, too clearly, unreeled from the mind of a man who was having trouble thinking. I have also seen it describedin a four-star reviewas “the Atlas Shrugged of narrative avant-garde films.” The penultimate scene is a farce of literal homelessness on the Hollywood strip.
Parts seventeen and eighteen of the “eighteen-part limited series” that is Twin Peaks: The Return are stories about going home again. (A return to form matches content, thanks to superb editing by Duwayne Dunham.) The last hour begins with a new model Cooper, a tulpa to replace and improve upon Dougie, arriving chez Jones. “Dougie!” says Janey-E (Naomi Watts). “Dad!” says Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon). “Home,” says Dougie. The word triggers a near-verbatim replay of the fatal scene: Cooper in the woods, turning to look at Laura. Laura’s scream. There is one second’s difference, a shot moving in from over his shoulder, spliced into the long moment after she vanishes, before we see his eyes. This is all it takes to put us at the scene.
“Dark, menacing themes are like bass notes; they prepare us for the high beautiful strings.”
Lynch (again) on CBC Radio, 1990
FAULKNER’S HOLLYWOOD COLONIZES MY MIND. In “Golden Land,” a story he wrote while under contract with MGM in the 1930s, a Hollywood agent wakes up to tabloid stories about a sort of proto-”sex tape” starring his twenty-year-old daughter, a prodigal and aspiring starlet. Ashamed, he wants to grab her, say: “Can’t you understand that you don’t get into the pictures just by changing your name? And that you don’t even stay there when you get in? That you can’t even stay there by being female?” Instead he picks up the phone and sells to those tabloids the sickening details of her life, and the next day the headlines will be worse, and he won’t see his daughter. Neither will he spare some of the cash for his mother, who needs thirteen dollars for a train ride home to Nebraska. The old woman looks out the window onto a “cemetery dramatic as a stage set,” and thinks, horrifyingly, that she will live forever.
It’s now the “post-Weinstein era,” so-called as if the worst could not have been imagined before this fall, when stories of Harvey Weinstein’s crimes against women finally broke. That the women are in the movies is significant: Actresses embody in more gendered and sexed ways than we represent ourselves, making us younger and smaller, more appealing. The abuses they are “opening up” about now do not linger because sexual abuses are per se injurious, but because such abuses are insults to bodily integrity, added to the injury that is the sustained depression of the young, the girlish woman’s ego and therefore unbearable. Men acting as men respect ego, not flesh. Fathers know this, yet would rather see daughters become unconscious victims than knowing whoresa classic dichotomy. No movie star in America is about to reveal she slept with that monster for her career’s sake, even though her statement would be no less true of the feminine condition (or rather, as one careful ingenue put it, the “inhumane economic system”) than the statements we do hear, premised on helplessness and a prelapsarian nature.
Weinstein’s record has everything we need in a myth: the fair vestal beauty of nymphs, the ugly power of gods, and hubris. He was such a big man. No wonder so many women are imagining the man who hurt them, whatever his actual stature, as “my Weinstein,” or choosing this time to say “me too.” A triumph of “female storytelling” in a formal sense, the news cycle has taken on the tones and the atmosphere of women’s pictures, featuring sweet and vengeful heroines with powdered cheeks and waterproof mascara; even when the stories sound exaggerated or too banal to excite, only snobs and assholes get bored. Everyone I know is riveted by this daytime soap opera with its internecine plotlines about dick-wielding patriarchs whoalmost!got away with it forever. I read in a report from the Cinema del Festa di Rome that a woman at a press conference asked a certain famous straight white male director whether he feared being implicated in what the Italians continue to call “sex scandals,” and David Lynch replied: “Stay tuned.”
Lynch could have said more, and I would still have to wonder about him as a man, about whether he has done the things that men do in his films. I admit to being succored by stupid questions, like the ones he was asked a long time ago on CBC Midday. Unable to suss out why anyone would make a film as disturbing as the one he was promoting, Blue Velvet (1986), the host, whose name was Valerie, had to ask: “Do you think you’re a genius, or a really sick person?” Lynch smiled like he was flirting with a lady police officer. “Well, Valerie,” he said. “I don’t know.” She had to laugh.
That Lynch didn’t know was never a worse alibi than it was in the case of Blue Velvet, a movie based on his own personal wish to spy on a girl from inside her closet, as Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) does on Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini, who made the girl more of a woman). Jane Shattuc wrote that the progressive spiritual and physical disease of Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), and his commensurate, worsening violence against Dorothy, constituted “postmodern misogyny.” Pauline Kael liked it: “His fantasies may come from his unconscious, but he recognizes them for what they are, and he’s tickled by them.” Lynch, attentive to the provoked, did more interviews than usual with female journalists: “There are some women that you want to hit because you’re getting a feeling from them that they want it, or maybe they upset you in a certain way,” he explained to Lizzie Borden in the Village Voice. Does this sound like what a genius would say?
It’s easy, though it isn’t nice, to imagine that one day a former assistant tells a story about Lynch like the one Diane (or, Diane’s tulpa) tells about Cooper (or, Mr. C) in part sixteen of The Return. The rape plot is common, but here a woman’s account stands in place of seeing what happens, which is rare. Fans would have to find the story believable. Lynch’s ouevre would seem immediately like a shell game in which the object was the reality of what he showed. Flashbacks would be recast as foreshadowing, found in extant reportage: Lynch laughs at the rape scene in Blue Velvet. Lynch, directing a one-minute ad for Clearblue, has the actress take one of the pregnancy tests and switches it with that of a pregnant crew member. (“You bastard!” she yells when he says “Cut.”) Lynch gets frustrated with Watts on the set of Mulholland Drive and jokes, or is it a joke, that “Naomi’s gonna get a spanking.”
It’s harder to imagine that the feeling between this director and his female stars is anything less than love. Rossellini and he are friends, and she continues to speak of him as a genius, even a god. Dern is his neighbor, and she has said that “working with him is home and family.” At this year’s Comic Con, Watts appeared on a panel with nine other cast members of The Return, and talked more like a cult member:
I still get a little star-struck around David because he’s so unique. He’s like another world you want to be a part of, and you just want to please him in everything you do. [Laughing.] That sounds weird. On set! … He creates such an incredibly imaginative world and it’s so original and you just want to join that world at whatever cost.
The “post-Weinstein” discourse has isolated certain costs that the young and the feminine have paid unhappily to participate in the arts and the worlds of men. As a corollary, the category of genius is being problematized as more people who aren’t men become eligible. It’s very annoying, the notion that possessing genius is irrelevant to how people should behave, and that involvement in a masterwork, versus in a work that’s forgettable, promises no extra benefit. Genius is no alibi, but neither is it a myth; it is a spirit that comes into the room. Later, you can only say that you had to be there.
“Sometimes the network can give too much respect to an artist,” said the producer Tony Krantz in the New Yorker’s profile of Lynch in 1999, explaining why the planned televised version of Mulholland Drive wouldn’t pan out. Lynch had cast Harring and Watts on instinct, after long looks and talks in lieu of auditions, giving the network no time to complain: “They think the actresses are fantastic-looking, fine talents,” said Krantz, “but they’re a little old.” Harring was thirty-four, Watts thirty-one. Consider the unterrific result had that sexism prevailed. Lynch demands enough respect to share with his actors and actresses, to him irreplaceable.
In September at the second annual Spa-Con in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Sheryl Lee and Sherilynn Fenn dueted on a panel to promote The Return. Lynch once said that in the town of Twin Peaks there were two people he really loved: Audrey Horne, a character written to fit Fenn, and Laura, who became a co-creation with Lee in Fire Walk with Me. Laura’s vivification from body to ageless figure was the dreamiest career arc for a girl. Audrey was unluckier, and Fenn told the audience that when she read the first draft of her storyline, twenty-seven years later, she “cried and shook” and fought with Lynch to change it:
I can’t tell you what it was, but I can tell you what my job is, which is to illuminate the human struggle<em>my human struggle. I have to stay open, and, even just as a woman in the world, to keep trying to grow, and… that stuff was like,</em> ahhhh, like seriously?
Everyone clapped. They could guess what stuff. Fenn’s reaction to the original provided the material for a rewrite, or at least that would explain the numbing length of her scenes with Charlie and her erratic, reactive, at times contemptuous performance; that, in turn, explains the cathexis when she gives in and reprises Audrey’s dance. Cinema, even on television, has to show what filmmaking essentially is: collaborative, a clash of projections. (Auteurs, by the way, are not always directors. I have always seen Annie Hall as a Diane Keaton movie; if it were a Woody Allen movie, it would be called Anhedonia. But Keaton can’t really direct, as seen when she tried her hand in an episode of Twin Peaks.)
The process is allegory in the finale’s faked denouement, when, at the top of the penultimate hour, over a dozen incompatible characters stand in for figures on a film set. Mr. C, Cooper’s bad double, is a veritable svengali and a shark, arriving first at the Twin Peaks Sheriff Department. The Mitchum Brothers with their hard-won goodwill are the producers, giving Agent Cooper a ride. Andy and Bobby and James must be the hardworking crew. Lucy is the script girl, getting the warning call from Cooper and going straight into the boss’s office to shoot Mr. C before he shoots the Sheriff, who represents, say, the production manager. (She delivers the punchline: “Andy! I understand cell phones now!”) Candie and the bunnies bringing sandwiches on a tray are craft services, while Freddie with the green glove is the stuntman, tasked with defeating evil in the orbular form of Bob. Cooper directs, but his directions are supererogatory urgings-on and the action lacks spirit. Then divine inspiration arrives, how else but in a trembling breast: Naido, despite being played by the Japanese-American actress Nae Yūki, dissolves into the real Diane (Dern), now with a maraschino-cherry wig, à la Marjorie Cameron in Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954). The movie is reshot before our eyes.
Thrilling to see the work of geniuses and of really sick people, who sometimes live under one name. Instructive, at the very least, to suffer the cruelty and the misery shared in a Lars Von Trier film, or the moral angst in one by Elia Kazan. I watch and rewatch films by Roman Polanski involving tortures for women, particularly Repulsion (1965) and Tess (1979), to see how bad things can get without getting bored. I am for the best possible representations of badness. I want to see the work of a man who raped a thirteen-year-old girl in Gstaad in 1973 and the work of a man who, three years earlier, was in London when he heard that his wife, twenty-six years old, and their baby, twenty days from being born, had been brutally murdered by female teenagers. I am depressed by both the title and the subtitle of Samantha Geimer’s memoir, The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski (2013), characterizing her as an unknown cast in a production that has been stalled for decades. Film, the medium most conducive to realizing fears, is expressly durational. What it promises in fancy script: The End.
“She was like the composition of a beautiful puzzleits composition and its solution at the same time, since one is a mirror view of the other, depending on the way you look.”
Nabokov, on the subject of Lolita, in Playboy, 1964
COOPER AND DIANE drive in a 1963 Lincoln for 430 miles, and stop. “This is the place,” says Cooper. It’s a road in what looks like the desert outside my house, which is in California. He gets out to feel the hum of the power lines, the only live thing in sight, on his skin. Diane stays in the car.
“Electricity,” enunciated at length like “silencio” at the end of Mulholland Drive, is a buzzword and a curse on The Return. “Electricity is humming,” says the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson). “You hear it in the mountains and rivers. You see it dance among the seas and stars and glowing around the moon, but in these days the glow is dying.” When she passes her log turns to gold, a great conductor. Tulpas sprout from gold kernels. Evil sputters out against a rubber glove. Flowing like tears and for as many reasons, electricity charges that love, more than a word, is still not enough. Its salient use: to restart the heart after a failure. But even then.
They cross. They go to a motel. Diane sees her new tulpa loitering while Cooper goes in to get a room. How sublunary it is all of a sudden, another middle-aged man having sex with his ex-secretary somewhere out of the way. An anticlimax is set to the sound of The Platters singing “My Prayer,” a song we first heard at the end of episode eight. Diane looks to the ceiling in agony and not like she’s praying. She puts her hands over the face of Cooper, either because he looks like his double, Mr. C, who raped her, or because she sees the same loss of a love story we see and does not want to cry.
Judy Berman writes, in a piece wonderfully titled “Tears of a Crazy Clown,” that although sentimentality “can be used to the same emotionally manipulative ends as sadism,” it can also “deepen our engagement… and replace unmitigated bleakness with ambiguity.” Sentimental to me is when Cooper, as Dougie, stands imitating a big bronze statue of a cowboy in a corporate plaza, unable to break the pose, as the sun goes down. Sentimental to Berman is when Cooper shuffles off Dougie and fully awakes, saying triumphantly: “I am the FBI.” (I found that emotional to the brink of propagandistic.) Hence her reading of the original Twin Peaks as more bathetic and The Return as warmer, sincere: “The difference… is that, the second time around, Dale Cooper is fighting for the soul of a town worth saving.”
Cooper was sitting at the Roadhouse when Leland Palmer was choking the life out of Maddie, so that the Giant had to come on stage, interrupting a Julee Cruise show, to tell him. He was standing at the back of the room, staring without moving, when Windom Earle kidnapped Annie, his girlfriend, off the stage at the Miss Twin Peaks Pageant. When the Major disappeared in the woods, Cooper, the only potential witness, was in the bushes taking a leak. He is now the only one sent through time. Too late it is obvious that he has never, not once, saved the day.
He wakes to find Diane gone, splitno longer Diane. He puzzles silently over a goodbye note addressed to “Richard,” signed “Linda.” Some time ago, on his last day in the Black Lodge, Cooper was told by the Giant to “remember Richard and Linda,” but he didn’t write it down and now it seems he’s forgotten.
He checks his watch. Driving, he sees a diner named Judy’s.
“There’s no such thing as a bad coincidence,” says a detective in Lost Highway (1997).
Inside the diner are three guys harassing a waitress. Cooper disables them, takes away their guns, and then, in a gesture as automatic as it is unheard-of, drops each pistol like a chicken wing into the deep fryer. His efficacy perplexes, startles since we just learned to see his inaction as essential. Colors fade from his character. The waitress says yes, there is another waitress, who’s been off for three days. He gets the address and goes.
Richard Burton, in The Anatomy of Melancholy, says the devil is everywhere God is. Nobody better imitates Christ.
There’s a picture of a cowboy by the door.
There’s his car, changed from a 1963 to a 2003 Lincoln Town Car, like one we’ve seen Mr. C driving, waiting outside.
What do you knowthe same old car.
One last word. Are you quite, quite sure thatwell, not tomorrow of course, and not after-tomorrow, but some day, any dayyou’ll not come to live with me? I’ll create a God and thank Him with piercing cries, if you give me that small hope.
LOLITA smiles, shakes her head in smiling negation.
It would have made all the difference.
Nabokov’s screenplay for Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (1963)
CARRIE PAGE (SHERYL LEE) LIVES in a rented bungalow in Odessa, Texas. The decor is spare to nonexistent. The smells are Pine-Sol, Bounce dryer sheets, something wafting up from the concrete, the mustiness inside a jar of old, dried thyme, and the rotten-banana fume of drugstore nail-polish. She wears a dirty blonde, iron-curled bob that looks inspired by photos of Miranda Lambert, three years ago, in People. Her jeans are “heritage blue” and bootcut, size twenty-nine. Her jewelry is “antique silver.” She’s a waitress. Her entire circumstance has the air of a great find at the thrift store. You would say: Oh, is that a new life? She would reply, with a self-conscious shrug: It’s new to me. She looks like a woman who used to be a girl named Laura Palmer.
Now, if a woman doesn’t know she’s Laura Palmer, I’m not sure why you would tell her. Only a certain governmant man is bent on delivering the news. Carrie, wearing an upside-down horseshoe necklace (a deterministic touch) with a ditsy-floral georgette blouse, answers the knock and talks to Agent Cooper (MacLachlan) through a screen door. She says without seeming to prevaricate that she doesn’t know what he means, has never heard of Laura, or the Palmers, or the town of Twin Peaks. Normally, she says, she would tell someone like him to get lost.
Supposing Carrie is Laura: What’s changed? Men are still beating down her door. One is sitting in the living room with a bullet through his forehead, like a deer she ran over on the road or an abusive boyfriend who got what he deserved. “I do have to get out of Dodge,” she says, without further explanation, to Cooper. They get in the car.
The scene feels akin to the near-end of Kubrick’s Lolita (1963). Embarrassed hopes. Faded, weathered ideals. The moment, terrifying for both the narrator and a young female reader, when it’s clear that the victim is no different from a thousand other girls. A possibility: Carrie is Laura to the degree that Dolores Haze was ever Lolita. Lolita, hard to picture in the novel, has been metaphorized as America herself in her youth, innocence, vulgarity; and, of course, her vaunted ivory whiteness.
At New York magazine, in an essay on David Lynch and race, the critic Frank Guan says that “cinema is a world where flesh is made image and force” and “figures, whatever else they may be, have to be who they appear to be.” Believing the second part would make Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) a confusing film and Sirk’s Imitation of Life (1959) a dissatisfying one, but if anyone could believe it it’s Lynch, who often casts on the strength of an actor’s headshot, choosing faces with character. His preference for white faces on the poster may be, per Guan, “the most normal thing about him.” What is normal on today’s screens, however, is to see white leads set against a more “realistically” diverse milieu, whereas here we get casino scenes that look like postcards from Fremont in the 1950s. Lynch’s casting appears especially strange on television, where demographics matter: “These beautiful Nielsen families are in the driver’s seat,” he said to Entertainment Weekly in 1990. Twenty-seven years later, over two hundred credited actors make The Return one of the two whitest critically acclaimed scripted series set in present-day America and airing this past year (the other is season three of Fargo).
Caucasity this inbred is backwards, perverseand telelogical. “The crises that force his pale-faced leads to reveal their true nature are subtly and indelibly linked to the violence and discrimination that created and sustains their power, or in other words, whiteness,” as Guan goes on to say. (Or perhaps, as I said in an early recap: “Lynch appropriates whiteness, rendering it less flesh than guise, naïve costume … like a skull mask worn over the face, a skeleton worn over the body on Halloween.”) Several nonwhite actors pass as white, most importantly the late Frank Silva (who in real life was Native American) as Killer Bob, a.k.a. “the evil that men do.” When nonwhite characters enter they seldom speak, unsettling the score: Charlyne Yi responds to brutality by crawling on all fours through a moshpit. Ime Etuk, one of the show’s assistant directors, cameos as an impassive bodyguard to Balthazar Getty’s Red. In Twin Peaks and The Return, as in Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire, the thugs and lowlifes and sex-slavers are always white.
Yet so are all the enslaved. We return to the undying leitmotif of what used to be called “white slavery,” that is to say the prostitution of white girls like the two “fifteen-year-old, straight-A whores” reported missing, never mentioned again, at the end of part seven. The only two black girls on the series are also call girls, but happier ones. There was Jade (Nafessa Williams) in part three of The Return, seen by the critic Niela Orr as “a black symbol in a white world, meant to communicate a vague if deep truth.” There was Jenny (Lisa Ann Cabasa) in episode six of Twin Peaks, a perfume-counter girl at Horne’s whose recruitment for a brothel leads Audrey, Horne’s daughter, into trouble. Jenny and Jade are both naturals. The unsubtlety could pose as an art-historical communiqué, something pointed about black women being born nudes, but even as meta-representation, writes Orr, this would be more like “a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Lynch has made his pure, unhappy victims shiningly white, played by his favorite actresses, fair-haired. (The exception is Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy in Blue Velvet. Originally, he wanted to cast Helen Mirren.) They are threatened by brunettes. They are led down rabbit holes by darker beauties, racialized or differently raced. Their existential journeys require a transracial phase, as if Lynch clings to the suburban legend that by digging a tunnel in your own backyard, you will end up in China; and the East Asian or “Eurasian” actresses who play these mesmeric alternates have to channel a pallor. (Joan Chen is another exception, partly because her character, Josie, was written by Lynch for Rossellini.) Some perceptual ambiguity results. Like, are we seeing the same women with the same troubles over and over, or the same man’s trouble seeing different women?
Emerging over the course of The Return is “a gradual transition from the depiction of women as victims of violence to figures who have actively been locked in … a battle with female forces on both sides,” as Hanh Nguyen writes at Indiewire. Naido (Nae Yūki) and Diane combine as another albescent dream of goodness in The Return. Sarah Palmer reminds us that her middle name is Judy (or rather, Judith). Laura used to be so shining, with a cool nacreous glamour about her face under autopsy lights and a shadeless incandescence on videotape, but as Carrie she appears on digital with a low, low contrast, hovering over tenebrous. What dignifies her continued existence is looking mortal.
The evil that (white) men do does not become simply the evil that (white) women can do too. The root of evil is not per se whiteness, which hardly existed in “olden times” (the term Lynch, as Cole, uses to mean “ancient,” and to suggest himself as immortal, a legend beyond time and place, somehow capable of nostalgia for the dark ages). Skin privilege here is not the crime, it’s the cover-up. As Kierkegaard said in his last note on Schelling’s lectures, in Berlin in the spring of 1843, which he had been so excited to attend and was now finding tiresome,
Orpheus is a representative of time past. … Homer’s power consists precisely in the power with which he excludes the past. In that always lies the power to suppress the past. Homer is beautiful youth. Homer belongs to the time in which the Hellenic people isolate themselves from the universally human, so that they are really not even a people.
Carrie begins, in the passenger seat, to tremble and finally to speak. What she says is like a sophomoric contemporary poem, but moving.
I tried to keep a clean house,
keep everything organized.
It’s a long way
In those days, I was too young
to know any better.
Cooper and Carrie arrive at the family home. No Palmers live there, despite appearances. Another aging blonde, unfamiliar, childless, answers the door and gives her name as Mrs. Alice Tremond. Before that the owner was a Mrs. Chalfont. These surnames should be known to Cooper, having an esoteric significance in his long-ago investigations, but they don’t seem to ring a bell. The door closes. Cooper, back on the empty street, looks both ways in distress. He wants to know what year it is. Carrie doesn’t want to know anything. A pause. Then, from somewhere dark inside the house, the voice of Sarah Palmer: Laaaauuuuura. And Carrie’s scream.
The last image is a familiar still. Laura, up in the Red Room, whispers the name of her killer into Cooper’s ear, or that’s what she whispered once. Whenever the image recurs as it eternally does, like the same card pulled from a reshuffled deck, she seems to be whispering a different name, or anything, really. “Birds also sing in the winter.” “I have cocaine.” What matters is the delight on her face, and the fact we can’t hear. What makes an image cinematic? A certain ratio. A difference between dark and light. The definite impression of silence, except maybe for the sounds of air. Finally, a sense that time has passed, too much.
Whether Twin Peaks: The Return is a television show or a film is a question that occupies critics and gives way to instant longeurs. The show has ended repeatedly. First, Lynch tossed the script and directed the season two finale, taking it from premature to unexpected, ending with an antagonizing question mark. Then he directed a prequel that ended most satisfyingly, with the ascension, the red velvet curtains. That vision is now revised twice, with screams we can’t hear one more time. The finale’s conclusive. Three periods. Like an ellipsis. To continue would be cruel, if not impossible.
Sarah Nicole Prickett’s individual recaps of Twin Peaks: The Return:
Twin Peaks: The Return plays Sundays at 9 PM on Showtime.