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Twin Peaks, Episodes 5 & 6: Five Notes (The Number Means Nothing)

Kyle MacLahclan in Twin Peaks: The Return

Having watched episodes 1-4 in one marathon session, what I expected is true: the new Twin Peaks is considerably less satisfying taken in one distanced hour at a time. This needs sustained duration to really breathe. I’m not fool enough to try to parse What It All Means at this time, but five stray notes:

  • I seriously doubt David Lynch has spent more than, at most, five seconds in his life wondering if he’s doing something too “difficult” or inaccessible for a hypothetical viewer. It’s been both unsurprising and mildly annoying to read umpteen TV recappers who — unable to go about their traditional business of sifting and collating different character/plot arcs and speculating as to how they’ll all configure — are forced to remind readers, week after week, that they should just sit back and feel rather than think. Per the 76ers, “trust the process.” If Lynch takes six episodes to introduce secretary Diane in a very long tracking shot and then immediately cuts away for an indefinite amount of time, he’s not being obdurately expectation-confounding for the hell of it. The original Twin Peaks did its best, per network norms, to check in with all or most of its characters every episode; here, it’s become pretty clear that it takes at least two hours to return to most of the main strands, Dougie Jones excepted. All this to say: gold star for whatever theaters program this as a marathon view, if that’s even an option (no clue).
  • Dreyer used to say he watched very few films for fear of being influenced; Lynch doesn’t seem to have that anxiety, but I doubt he takes in that many movies (though I’d love to know what in the gallery realm rings his cherries). But there’s an unconscious affinity with Apichatpong Weerasethakul in the charmingly low-key on-screen graphics for the various signs guiding Cooper along his way: a simple green dot is enough to cue him as to how to complete inspection of insurance claim forms, similar to the way Weerasethakul will just drop in a mildly transparent person to indicate that a dead spirit has arrived to crash the dinner party. As ferociously technically adept he is on the sound/image tech details front, Lynch also has a Cocteau-esque fondness for using faux-primitive images and transparent devices to access the uncanny; just because you see how simply it’s done doesn’t make it less effective. (I suspect, but will ignore, that these moments of guiding inspiration align with not just Lynch’s artistic process but double as a reiteration of his enthusiasm for transcendental meditation; by not thinking consciously and just being open to what comes to him, Cooper is catching that big fish.)
  • “We’re viewers where you know if you’ve got Tom Sizemore, that you’ve ruined the movie for us,” David Foster Wallace told David Lipsky on their 1996 road trip, meaning that the character actor’s appearance is a reliable signifier of immediate or imminent psychopathy and general bad news. The appearance of Sizemore in episode five proceeded exactly along those lines, which isn’t surprising: for someone whose cinematic intake is unknown but seemingly low, Lynch has the casual vidiot’s understanding of how certain performers can reliably be expected to behave. That squares with his love/hate relationship with the dream machine: Lost HighwayMulholland Drive and Inland Empire form a loose Los Angeles trilogy, equally enamored of Hollywood’s starry history and possibilities and increasingly disgusted by the compromises and banalities raising a certain amount of money requires. At the same time, this series has acted as a curtain call for familiar players from the Lynch Cinematic Universe; I think he knows/expects that this is his final artistic statement (surely no one will again give him whatever amount of money this cost for something this impractical), and it’ll be fun to think about how the recurrence of beloved performers from Lynch films past double as final commentaries on their previous personas. 
  • One thing that really is new: the startling introduction of the real, unmediated world. I’m still mulling over Dougie Jones’s arrival to his workplace at a hideously typical mock-skyscraper. The tracking shot that follows him to the entrance features something Lynch has never shown (and that most Hollywood films don’t bother to either): the entrance to a real workspace in all its banal non-spaceness, populated by dozens of business-casual-clad extras milling about before resigning themselves to taking the elevator up to whatever awful floor they work on.
  • Lynch and Douglas Sirk’s movies are especially fun to watch in theaters because of a particular shared trait: people will laugh at them, but never at the same time. They’re so unstable, so tonally hard to parse at times that they confound you into laughs the same way horror movie jolts goose you into relieved/disbelieving/shocked cackles. There is a longtime argument that Sirk movies bring out the worst from rep audiences who laugh at what they wrongly perceive as melodramatic excess rather than taking it at face value, a position I take issue with. In Written on the Wind, Robert Stack learns he’s impotent and emerges to see a young boy riding a toy horse outside a convenience store: how’s that not funny? I think Lynch operates on the same level, allowing for sincere grief and strong emotion to also place itself in skeptical brackets. One of episode six’s big setpieces is the killing of a young boy in a hit-and-run, which you can take both seriously — the random intrusion of evil under the sunniest and least ambiently sinister of circumstances  — and at an emotional distance. There’s a passel of drivers who stand and respond to this event, some more convincing in their responses to each other; one brings his hand to his brow in a particularly unconvincing freshman-year acting response, while Badalamenti’s score ups the histrionics. But that’s perfect, no? What do you do at moments of strong emotion, where the acceptable/normal response is both completely predictable and so banally reflexive as to approach self-parody? Processing trauma is hard, and not just because it bruises.

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