Sweeping up the pieces from part 7 of Twin Peaks
There’s so much from last night’s Twin Peaks to talk about. Diane coming face to face with Doppel-Cooper and confirming that he’s not FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, but an incredible simulation; Dougie-Cooper fending off Ike “The Spike” with the guidance of The Evolution Of The Arm; the Skyped-in farewell to Doc Hayward. But what I’m most eager to talk about is the sweeping. At The Bang Bang Bar, where we’ve become accustomed to watching the credits roll over performances from the hot-young-things-of-independent-music-who-also-fit-the-Lynchian-aesthetic, it’s a night off. In a brazen test of “Green Onions”’ ability to make any footage look cooler by association, an unnamed roadhouse employee (as far as I can tell from scanning this week’s credits) sweeps the floor to the strains of the Booker T instrumental. He sweeps and sweeps and sweeps some more, for about two-and-a-half minutes—though, near the end of such an eventful episode (with at least one more major event up its sleeve), it feels a lot longer.
In a space so blank—“as a fart,” a late member of the Renault family might say—all we can do is interpret and analyze. To a detractor, it might be an emperor’s new clothes situation, or a demonstration (as we’ve sometimes wondered in this space) that Showtime gave David Lynch and Mark Frost more episodes than they bargained for. To a supporter, it’s a chance to catch your breath near the conclusion of a densely packed episode, one that’s of a piece with the episodes that have come before and the Lynch filmography in general. Or, from the practical perspective that my wife voiced during the sequence, surely that guy would be more efficient with a push broom.
It’s also an unorthodox suspense piece, knowing what we do about the type of things that have happened at the roadhouse, what’s been happening there again, and what type of people run the place. There’s a tension there that put me on the edge of my seat, even if it amounts to a duller sting than Ike’s sudden intrusion or the roll of the curtain that reveals the menacing calm of Doppel-Cooper. A dread settles in between the notes of “Green Onions,” and then the phone call legitimizes that dread: The Renaults might’ve picked up a mega-hip talent booker some time in the past quarter century, but they haven’t given up the habit of running underage girls across the border to One Eyed Jack’s. I was all Mr. World Out Of Balance and Mr. Things Really Have Changed In Twin Peaks last week, but this is fairly compelling evidence that the town’s most festered sources of rot have yet to be cut out. And now that Doppel-Cooper’s back on the road, it’s going to take more than a supernaturally guided judo chop to beat them back.
I was with you on Team “world out of balance” last week, Erik, but this time around I interpreted the scene you’re referencing very differently. Instead of tension, I found the scene to be the opposite of pulse-quickening. As you point out, almost every episode thus far has ended at the Bang Bang, to the strains of whatever impossibly hip group was performing that night. So this sequence felt to me like a waiting game—with each passing second, I was assuming we‘d see those familiar white letters, “Starring Kyle Maclachlan,” pop up. (True, it was only around the 50-minute mark, but if you have any conception of the rate of time passing during an episode of Twin Peaks, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am.) It wasn’t merely a chance to catch your breath; it was an inversion of the standard scene at the Bang Bang, playing upon our expectations and then giving us eight more minutes of show. I laughed repeatedly during the sweeping, and I think that was the point. But that’s not what’s sticking with me from episode seven.
No, I want to talk about this guy:
Last night provided ample progress on nearly every narrative thread (save one or two—wherefore art thou, Matthew Lillard?), and while I have plenty of thoughts about Diane’s confrontation with Doppel-Cooper, Dougie-Cooper’s ironically Arm-assisted disarming of Ike “The Spike,” and the Twin Peaks sheriff’s department making progress on their investigation, nothing thrilled me like this moment of true menace. For one, this mysterious and unsettling character makes an appearance in the middle of the audience receiving confirmation on a commonly held theory—namely, that the headless corpse was indeed Garland Briggs, the military man whose top-secret experiments somehow led to his body not aging as it should have. Whether this was the result of his own journeys into another reality or something even weirder, we don’t yet know. (His floating head, however, made sure Dale Cooper knew the words “blue rose.”) And the reveal helped connect this subplot to the central mystery in a tangible way.
But that steady march of the unknown person making his way down the hall, eventually passing right by the morgue, was a terrific and nerve-shredding slice of horror. It immediately calls to mind the man behind the diner from Mulholland Drive, a similarly scary figure who literally killed with a glance. But whereas that being instilled fear by his surprise arrival, this silent walker is seen from a long way off, slowly advancing toward Lt. Knox. The suspense comes from lack of knowledge about the intent, not the presence: Is he going to attack? When he ends up just walking right on by, the tension doesn’t end. We still don‘t know if he’s merely a random person en route to visit someone in the building, or if he’s a sinister force with malevolent intentions. That’s Twin Peaks—and David Lynch, really—at their essence, playing with the ambiguity and potential for good or ill in all things. And damned if it didn’t give me goosebumps.
I didn’t anticipate the sweeping scene to be so controversial: Not only does it tie this relatively action-packed and fast-paced episode with some of the season’s earlier, more leisurely-paced installments, but for my money that scene and the solid three and a half minutes we spent watching Dr. Jacoby spray-painting shovels were two of the most Lynchian of the series. Personally, I don’t see them as filler—Lynch’s a very deliberate kind of director—but as a meditative exercise for the audience, a call to just zone out for a minute and let your brain reset from a devoted follower of transcendental meditation.
It was necessary, too, in an episode that was very heavy overall. Finally, we got some glimmers of awakening from the good Agent Cooper, still stuck inside the corporeal prison of insurance agent/problem gambler Dougie Jones (the badge seems to have been especially therapeutic). But overall, the episode was dominated by his evil counterpart Mr. C, who was more terrifying than ever in this episode. The scene where he steps out out of his prison cell at the end of the episode filled me with a dread I hadn’t felt since the thing came out of the box in episode one, and whatever technique they use to give Mr. C’s dialogue scenes a sense of subtle ”wrongness”—it kind of looks like his face is being superimposed over his body, like the creepy mouth on the eponymous A Talking Cat?!, but it might just be MacLachlan’s performance—it’s very effective, by which I mean it’s creepy as hell.
But most disturbing aspect of this episode, one that gives Mr. C’s escape even darker implications, is the implied reveal of violence on the part of “Evil Cooper” after his escape from the Lodge. (What kind of violence remains unspoken for now, but I know I’m not alone in interpreting it as sexual in nature.) It doesn’t take a psychic to anticipate the reveal of more backstory for Diane, as I did in last week’s roundtable, but what we got this week not only confirms that the spirit of Bob is very much alive within him, but that Cooper’s return is more loaded than we initially knew. I can’t say enough about how good Laura Dern’s performance was in this episode, giving the character depths of trauma underneath her brittle exterior that give her a common thread with Laura Palmer and all the other women in Twin Peaks who are burdened by horrifying secrets. (The moment when she puts a hand on Gordon’s shoulder and says, “you and I will have a talk sometime,” broke my heart.) And based on Sheriff Truman and Hawk’s discussion after Hawk finds the missing pages of Laura’s diary, that may include Audrey Horne as well. Her reunion with Cooper, if it does happen, won’t be a happy one.
I’m of two minds about the Great Transcendental Sweep: Part of me does feel like these sorts of moments, as with Dougie’s fumbling workplace comedy, are the padding that naturally comes with Showtime tacking on an additional 10 episodes. But along with the natural, meditative state it produces, like the show’s use of traffic light shots and passing logging trucks—stretched here to an absurd length—it also forms that classic Lynchian juxtaposition of the terrible and the banal, with the latest of the seemingly endless parade of Renaults discussing sex trafficking 15-year-olds as matter-of-factly as his employee rounds up peanut shells. It again speaks to the undercurrent of menace that’s always coursing beneath the town as it just goes about its business, reinforced by that strange final scene at the RR, where some unseen person runs in frantically asking if anyone has seen what sounds like “Billy” (Billy who? Billy Zane?), but closed-captioning reveals to be “Bing,” credited to David’s real-life son, Riley Lynch, last seen playing The Bang Bang with his band Trouble. Then everybody just sort of shrugs and returns to their pie. That's Twin Peaks for you.
Speaking of things just sort of casually swept under the rug, Katie, I’m absolutely with you on the speculation about what might have happened between Evil Cooper and a comatose Audrey Horne. I think the show is definitely setting us up to understand that, once Evil Cooper left the Great Northern, he set about visiting a lot of the women in Good Cooper’s life and, as is Bob’s nature, used the intimacy allowed by the mask he wears to do unspeakable things to them. I’m still holding firm to my theory that the similarly smokes-where-you’re-not-supposed to, sexual assault-prone Richard Horne is the son of Audrey and Evil Cooper—and that, yes, whatever reunion she and Cooper are about to have will be full of rage, heartbreak, and—hopefully—she and Diane tag-teaming on kicking him in the balls.
Anyway, last night, I spent a lot of the episode thinking about how I’d be feeling about The Return if this had been, say, the second or third episode. This is really the kind of hour that I think a lot of us Twin Peaks fans pictured when we imagined the sequel—giving us a direct continuation of the story of what happened to Cooper immediately after he left the Black Lodge, revealing Audrey’s fate in the bank explosion, finally picking up the missing pieces of Laura Palmer’s diary, etc. I can see now the benefit of delaying it; there’s so much about the ambience and mystery that the show has reestablished that would have been lost with too blunt an approach. Nevertheless, I’m definitely more engaged when Twin Peaks actually resembles, y’know, Twin Peaks. If we can stick around in this town and in this mode, I’m even willing to indulge what seems to be the series’ latest unhappy marriage subplot, this time between Ashley Judd and her deathly ill husband—whatever purpose that’s supposed to serve. (Side note: What is it with Ben Horne and breaking up marriages where one of the people is in a wheelchair?) Or whatever the hell is going on with Andy and that Farmer.
Also, Frank Truman has a computer that springs out of his desk like he’s on Get Smart or something, and I find that delightful. I would watch Robert Forster tinker with that for two-and-a-half minutes, easily.
In the immortal words of Gordon Cole, “Tough cookie.” Of course I too have a theory on the peanut shells scene (doesn’t everyone?), so let me bore you with it. First off, it’s a pretty witty formal gag that pokes fun of the soapy cross-cutting of storylines that’s so essential to the surreal narrative of Twin Peaks; some hiccup in logic has sent us to the Bang Bang Club about two minutes too early, and now we have to wait for the obvious cut point, i.e., the moment when the music fades out and Jean-Michel Renault gets the phone call. Everybody knows that Lynch’s dark and nightmarish undertones are revealed through extreme banalities, the same way rustling noises turn ominous in silence. What I think gets under-addressed is how that works in TV, which is a medium with a built-in banal factor; it’s the screen in the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom, not the screen in the darkened theater, I think that’s why TV has a great capacity to confound, which is taken advantage of by much of the best TV comedy but is rarely used for drama. The two-and-a-half minute peanut-sweeping shot is one of those things you’d never see on a TV show, which is exactly why it works so well on TV.
Second, I think it’s also a suggestion of things to come, as is the very similar static long take in Double R—the one that the end credits roll over to the sound of Santo And Johnny’s deathless “Sleep Walk” being gradually darkened by an ominous ringing. For as topsy-turvy as the Peaks-verse might be, there’s something worse waiting in its subconscious. But to switch gears at the last moment: Is this one of the greatest collections of veteran character actors ever assembled for a TV show or what? Lynch and Frost have a very clear affection for this broken mirror universe they’ve created, and it really expresses itself in the way they handle the cast. A lot of great moments here: the magician’s flourish with which Jane Adams pulls out the slab with the headless cadaver; Robert Forster and Frost’s late father, Warren Frost, giving a very authentic portrayal of two old people using Skype; basically everything with the late, great Miguel Ferrer. The familiar can be very poignant, because it ages with you.