I remember watching Twin Peaks for the first time seven or eight years ago, and thinking that it wasn’t as strange as I’d been led to believe. Yes, Cooper’s dream, Maddie’s death, and the trapping of Josie’s soul in a wooden knob lived up to the hype, but most of what surrounds those scenes plays by TV convention—when those conventions aren’t being warped by Twin Peaks. Having previously absorbed the show’s subtler advancements by osmosis—the serialized mysteries, the surrealism, the atmosphere that seeped out of the TV into my Game Boy—my uninformed impression of Twin Peaks was instead made up of the larger pieces of Lynchian flotsam and jetsam that lingered in the public imagination. It was a version of the show that took place entirely in the RR and Black Lodge, where the most eccentric denizens of Twin Peaks flummoxed and beguiled Homer Simpson and Cookie Monster, and there are always accurate recreations of Angelo Badalamenti’s instrumental score in the air.
I love Twin Peaks regardless, but I think there’s been a part of me that’s been holding out for something like “Part 8” of The Return ever since I first saw Homer see The Giant waltzing with a horse beneath the traffic light. This was, without a doubt, one of the most flummoxing and beguiling hours of TV I’ve ever seen—and one of the scariest, too. And although I’m reluctant to embrace anything that tries to put the mythology of the show in more concrete terms, as Sean reminded me this morning, there’s nothing really concrete about Frank Silva’s face floating in a gelatinous orb barfed up by a shadow.
Let’s resist the temptation to analyze and simply react to this episode, whose imagery is seared in my mind this afternoon. The Trinity test, apocalypse by way of Stanley Kubrick and Stan Brakhage. The Woodsman, stalking through the New Mexico desert like the star of an atomic-anxiety creature feature where this (and this, and also this) is the director’s idea of a creature. That horrible, awful, no-good insect/reptile hybrid crawling into Tikaeni Faircrest’s mouth. I’ll cop to drifting off during the interlude with The Giant and Senorita Dido, but I was as fixated on and horrified by the explosion footage as Carel Struycken’s still-unnamed-in-the-credits character. I’m the type of doofus who’ll pony up for 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm just to see the stargate sequence, so maybe I’m not to be trusted here. But way back when, I started watching Twin Peaks expecting more of this type of non-narrative, bizarre material. To quote one of the great thinkers of our time: Brilliant. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on.
Erik, just reacting to a David Lynch project without analyzing at the same time is almost an impossibility for me, despite your urging. The director’s work courts psychoanalysis, even if it’s just free association of the kind you perform when you (very appropriately) make comparisons with Brakhage and Kubrick, and then talk about what sequence most elicited a horrified reaction from you. Because sure, there might not be concrete answers here, but this is the closest I’ve seen Lynch come to offering up some definitive ones in this series, and honestly, I’m not sure it even makes sense to pretend it’s more ambiguous than it is.
This was essentially an origin story, albeit the most free-floating and elliptical origin story of all time. It took an act of destruction unparalleled in human history—the first testing of the atomic bomb—to unleash a far more elusive destructive force into this reality. Whether the nuclear blast created Bob or simply allowed for his entry into this dimension, it’d be hard to argue that the sequence wasn’t giving us the birth of Twin Peaks’ malevolent figure of evil. Especially if you take into account the original series itself (please enjoy going down this rabbit hole with me): Mike’s monologue from way back when name-checks the store that gets destroyed as his original home. “We lived among the people—I think you say, ‘convenience store.’ We lived above it.” That would explain the strange and otherwise inexplicable scene where the mystery men arrive at the burning store, following the hypnotic explosion. I’ve been as vocal as anyone about the fact that much of the new season seems to be an excuse for Lynch to indulge whatever weird symbolic culs-de-sac he feels like strolling down, but there were visual cues here that directly linked these scenes to the old Twin Peaks mythology. Like most of Lynch’s work, they’re rewarding if you enjoy making those connections, yet they’re also not necessary to appreciate what he’s doing. This was entrancing stuff by any barometer—but for a diehard fan, that callback was exciting as hell.
Also, let’s take a moment to give respect to the decision to follow the surprise shooting, mystical blood-smearing, and rebirth of Doppel-Cooper with an abrupt cutaway from the story, in order to do a nearly wordless 40-minute flashback to a creation myth of a different kind. Bob has often been described as a parasite, and here, we get a very literal version of that, with the creepy reptile/insect creature crawling into a young woman’s mouth (could this be Sarah Palmer?) at the same time as the spirit version of Bob is floating into the world. We also get the Giant’s floating orb of energy, adorned with Laura Palmer’s image. Erik, you may have drifted during this sequence, but I was riveted by the Giant’s home, from the old-time jazz music to the big-screen replay of the nuclear blast’s fallout. And there haven’t been many scenes as unsettling as the Woodsman, lead avatar of all those dark figures, leaning in with his unlit cigarette, repeating, “Gotta light?” Sure, I could just let it wash over me without delving into speculation as to what it all means, but why would I, when there are so many signifiers just begging to be floated like a ball of Bob-energy? After all, Bob’s been with us for nearly 65 years, now—and this installment manages to pay off a number of allusions while still keeping his origin shrouded in mystery and confusion. That’s one hell of an achievement.
But most of all, even for a series where oddity and the confounding of standard television narrative and technique are par for the coffee-laden course, this was a Twin Peaks that challenged the very idea of what an episode of television can be. Lynch and others have referred to the return of the show as more like an 18-hour movie than a TV series, but really, it’s more like 18 mini-movies, each one united by a shared world and story, but roaming through numerous stylistic and framing devices, exploring the boundaries of the medium, and teasing at the edges of the entire edifice of Twin Peaks mythos. And of all the little worlds he’s delved into thus far, this one filled with billowing clouds, amorphous births, and menacing murderers is my favorite.
Before last night’s episode aired, Twin Peaks cinematographer Peter Deming posted on Instagram that episode eight would be “like no other,” which turned out to be the understatement of the year. Personally, I find David Lynch’s more puckish tendencies delightful, and love that we’re left with two weeks off after that mindfuck of an episode. I do admit to pausing the episode halfway during the extended fall through space sequence, if only to see how much was left. “There’s a half-hour left. Surely they won’t do this for the entire rest of the episode,” I thought. I was pleased to be wrong, and laughed out loud when the credits came up. This episode was one of the most audacious works of art I’ve ever seen on TV.
I agree with Alex and Erik that this seems to be an origin story, with shades of Kubrick and Brakhage; I would contend, though, that this episode also ties into Lynch’s own oeuvre in ways we haven’t seen since the first two episodes, and am surprised no one’s brought up Eraserhead yet. To me, this wasn’t a diversion, it was a peeling back to reveal the deeper cosmic mystery behind the surface-level murder cases that Gordon Cole—Lynch’s onscreen avatar and our tour guide through this whole mystical affair—and his FBI agents have been chasing the whole time. (Now we know why he has a picture of an atomic bomb on the wall behind his desk.) In short: I don’t really mind that we haven’t seen Audrey Horne yet, but I do hope that the “Phillip” on the phone was Phillip Jeffries.
Congratulations to everyone who was able to watch one of the most artistically daring episodes in the history of American television as it broadcast. (I had to catch up with it very early in the morning myself.) The new iteration of Twin Peaks has been making callbacks to Lynch’s pre-Eraserhead experimental shorts since early on (e.g., The Evolution Of The Arm), but this one actually broaches new avant-garde terrain, especially in the nightmarish atomic genesis sequence. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it was designed by the same effects team that produced Gaspar Noé’s Enter The Void. But as ballsy and ominously beautiful as this section might be, the real meat of the episode lies in the black-and-white nuclear-fear monster movie (of sorts) that follows. As Erik rightly points out, this seems to be Lynch’s take on the drive-in fare of his own childhood and teen years; Lynch grew up in the 1950s in a variety of small towns and smallish cities in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, moving around frequently because of his father’s job, which I think is the source of his nostalgic “every-America.”
What’s so great and paradoxical about this episode is that it actually gives the clearest answers we’re likely to get on the Twin Peaks narrative (the origin of Bob, perhaps), but is at the same time the most abstract and metaphorical hour of TV that the show—probably any American TV show—has produced so far. Someone in the comments can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the most black-and-white footage that Lynch has shot since The Elephant Man; he always had a great eye for the format, and he uses it perfectly here to evoke both nostalgia and unreality. The dream world of the past, let’s call it. For popular culture has turned the ’50s into a symbol of the idyllic and innocent—and yet it was a period when this country was in one of its all-time-great paranoid fits and dark, repressive forces coursed through its society. What I’m saying is that I don’t read this as an origin story for Twin Peaks’ supernatural villains, but for its art—that behind the good old days of the radio and the long walk home, there lurked a toxic evil.
Because even with the undead-mining-prospector-looking types who swarm the car on the road like the spacemen in a classic UFO encounter narrative, even with the gruesome terror of the radio-station scene, even with the creature crawling into the girl’s mouth, the most unsettling moment in the episode—one of the most haunting moments in Lynch’s body of work, period—is of the man with the cigarette slowly disappearing into the darkness as he walks away. He doesn’t leave. He becomes the night.
Since most discussions of this episode are going to focus on the later sections, I’d like to just note here that I loved the opening sequence in the car, and that “You’d probably like to go to that place they call the farm,” as said by Doppel-Cooper, is a perfect example of Lynchian sinister banality. This show, y’all.
I’m not sure what else I have to add other than that, week after week, David Lynch has made what we’re doing right now—and the entire TV recapping sport at large, professional and amateur—seem laughably irrelevant. Even attempting to articulate an emotional reaction to what we just witnessed runs the risk of being both hyperbolic and insufficient. And trying to delineate it in a linear, narrative sense seems equally fruitless; my notes from last night’s episode read like a dream journal after eating a pot brownie.
That said, as gloriously abstract as it all was, as close to Lynch’s original inspiration of “paintings that move” as anything in his film career, we all obviously can innately sense what it’s all about. I hadn’t made the connection to “convenience stores”—thanks for pointing that out, Alex—but even before Bob’s head appeared in the cosmic gelatin, the line that flashed through my mind as we first saw the mushroom cloud over White Sands was Albert Rosenfield’s earliest assessment of him as “the evil that men do. Maybe it doesn’t matter what we call it.” With the construction of the atomic bomb, man’s capacity for evil approached that of the gods; and yes, it’s tempting to read this episode as Lynch’s interpretation of how the “gods” responded. Not only by barfing a string of Bob-filled goo at our world, but apparently also by conjuring that golden orb with Laura Palmer in it, possibly as the means through which Bob might, eventually and circuitously (and not without tragedy), ultimately be defeated.
That was my read on it, anyway, and like most of these analyses, I haven’t a clue how far away from the mark I probably am. I also have no idea what the charred Woodsman’s chant means, even in terms of abstract symbolism. (Uh… We’ve seen horses on Twin Peaks before.) But I also like that I’m actively being encouraged to abandon any pretense of decoding it all. Wait, what if that long string of viscous vomit is TV recap culture, and David Lynch is the Giant who dreams up Twin Peaks as the celestial savior who would end it all?! That’s as satisfying an interpretation as any.