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Five Ideas Regarding Twin Peaks: The Return (Parts 1-6)

Kyle MacLachlan and Naomi Watts in Twin Peaks: The Return

It would require a doctoral thesis to concoct a coherent theory regarding the deep intellectual structure and symbolism of the new Twin Peaks, and I am sure that there are numerous academics already hard at work on the task. There are early indications this series could prove to be David Lynch’s masterwork, and one reason for this is Lynch’s commitment to operating in the register of atmospherics and affect rather than plot. This means there are emotionally resonant elements of the series that will most likely defy any concrete narrative explanation. (“One-one-nine!”) This is entirely by design. Twin Peaks is an open text, able to accommodate wild intrusions untamed by the laws of narrative economy.

Below, I am attempting to follow five threads that I have found wending their way through the show thus far, recognizing full well that some of them may turn out to be dead ends, and others will very likely expand their trajectories as the series continues. What follows is a kind of snapshot of a running horse, the sort that Eadweard Muybridge captured in order to see what it looked like when a majestic animal was caught in midstride. I guarantee that some things discussed below will be rendered moot by subsequent snapshots in the motion study. But we’ve got to start somewhere.

1. Bob/Cooper: While there are many ways that Twin Peaks: The Return has thus far differed from both the first series and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the primary anchor point remains Killer Bob. After the solving of the Laura Palmer killing, agent Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) hypothesized that Bob was “the evil that men do,” and no one has yet come up with a better explanation for this hyper-violent inhuman entity. In a Freudian frame, Bob is the embodiment of pure Id: he not only destroys life but takes orgasmic joy in doing so.

Inasmuch as Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) has been able to perceive and expel Bob – chiefly through supernatural means of his own – the Twin Peaks mythology has subtly introduced the idea that Cooper may be the Anti-Bob: perhaps not a force of Pure Good, but certainly one of benevolent Order and the Law. However, where Bob is a spirit in need of a host, Cooper is a flesh-and-blood man. This is fully consonant with Christian symbology – Lucifer requiring a host, while Christ is the Word made flesh. But of course this also makes Cooper vulnerable. At the end of Season Two, Cooper’s body had been infected by Bob, the rest of him stranded in a cosmic waiting room known as the Black Lodge. What does it mean for Bad to incarnate itself within Good? (As Tegan & Sara once asked, where does the good go?)

2. “Netflix and Chill”: Some form of Cooper escapes the Black Lodge near the beginning of Twin Peaks: The Return. (“The Return,” then, has a double meaning. Lynch’s show is indeed back, against all odds. But the primary thread of the series is the Hero’s Journey, the return of Cooper to both Twin Peaks and himself.) But then, some alternate form of him is already out and about. There is a Bob-infested Cooper who is a drug dealer and a violent scumbag, snapping necks and cashing checks in the criminal underworld. Meanwhile, in New York, there is a young man being paid to take part in a mysterious experiment. He has to watch over a large glass box, which is part of some kind of unexplained device.

Against protocol and all better judgment, the young man accepts “coffee” from a woman named Tracy (Madeline Zima) who has been trying to put the moves on this guy for a while. They finally start having sex and suddenly a ghostly gray being materializes in the glass cube. It then proceeds to break through the glass and eat their faces off. This transfer of violent energy is connected to the Black Lodge (it begins when Cooper turns to vapor and slinks into a telephone receiver), but more significantly it is related to the program before us. Lynch is warning us that Twin Peaks is not background TV, and that in certain respects it is dangerous stuff. Sorry, young lovers. You need to watch that glass box carefully, because you’re strapping in for the long haul.

3. Zigs and Zags: The Black Lodge, also known as the “Red Room,” has become one of the most iconic images in television history. Even for those who never watched Twin Peaks, it is recognizable from parodies or greatest-shows countdowns, possibly as a signifier of “weird TV” if nothing else. Its purpose shifts somewhat in The Return, as we learn that it has been a holding tank for Cooper’s good essence, not necessarily his body. (“Doppelganger!”) However, once Cooper emerges from this place, “becoming” Las Vegas insurance agent Dougie Jones, the Black Lodge ceases to become a place, or even a memory. It becomes a kind of hovering object, something that accompanies Dougie along his amnesiac way.

We first observe this when Dougie wanders into a casino. Jones’ affect is that of a manchild. His behavior and parroting patterns of speech appear to be an homage to Jeff Bridges’ performance in John Carpenter’s Starman. Dougie starts playing the slots without even understanding what he’s doing, but he has a little help. Hovering over one machine, and then another is a shimmering avatar of the red curtains and zigzag flooring of the Black Lodge. When Dougie plays the “Red Room” machine, he gets an instant payout, astronomical odds be damned. (An elderly casino patron dubs Dougie “Mr. Jackpots,” a moniker that has already attained meme-infamy, along with MacLachlan’s strained “HelloooOOOooo!”) Later on, the zigzag room materializes again, with the one-armed man (Al Strobel) telling Dougie (or more likely, Cooper) “Wake up. Don’t die.” But what is of interest here is that while some form of Cooper has left the Black Lodge, the Black Lodge has not left Cooper/Jones. and it is unclear whether it is something that will save him, or a pesky remnant of Bob’s dominion that this man must shed.

4. Meanwhile, at the Sheriff’s Office: One thing no one can accuse Lynch of with this new series is fan service. The Return has been rather slow, even stingy, in rolling out the old characters and locations. So far only a couple of brief scenes have taken place at the Great Northern Hotel, for example. One such scene seemed to exist solely to allow Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) to introduce audiences to his new assistant Beverly (Ashley Judd). But one classic locale where we have spent a fair amount of time is the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Office, and there are a few key elements of The Return that seem to be in play there.

Were Cooper to return, this would be the most logical place for him to do so. He is, after all, the Law writ large, and the sheriff’s department was Cooper’s primary affective nexus with respect to the town. (It was here that he was made an official Bookhouse Boy. It is perhaps not so unusual for a secret society of vigilantes to operate through the official organs of the law, but it is certainly uncommon for them to welcome an FBI agent into their ranks. Cooper stated that he was “moved beyond [his] ability to express [him]self.”)

But there is more going on at the sheriff’s office right now. In Cooper’s absence, Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) is essentially occupying Cooper’s role, keeping his place with the owls warm for him, as it were. It is Hawk who is seen in Part One taking (obscure) direction from Margaret the Log Lady (Catherine Coulson), and it is implied several times that Hawk’s status as a First Nations subject gives him special insight – a privileged vision – into Twin Peaks’ often perplexing reality. This is, of course, somewhat racially problematic, especially since most of the time Hawk’s actual role is as the straight man in a kind of ongoing comedy of errors that is the sheriff’s office itself. Receptionist Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson) and Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) are an item now, but their behavior is as childlike and perplexing as ever. (Lucy seems to be afraid of cellphones, for example.) And Sheriff Harry Truman has been replaced, oddly enough by another Sheriff Truman, Frank (Robert Forster) whose beleaguered mien is explained by every appearance of his relentless, pissed-off wife (Candy Clark). The other new addition to the station crew, Chad (John Pirruccello), is practically beamed in from another world. His role is mainly to observe the “strangeness” of the David Lynch world and remark upon it like a snide asshole. (One imagines Lynch patterned Chad on some unsympathetic TV or movie executive from some point in his career.) Ostensibly assembled to find Cooper, the sheriff’s team has thus far functioned as a unit unto themselves, a kind of variation on Lynch’s surreal sitcom Rabbits.

5. Dougie and Identity: Speaking of sitcoms, meet Dougie Jones. Inasmuch as we can glean much about his previous life, he seems to have been kind of a sad sack: compulsive gambler, philandering husband, unspectacular pencil-pusher. In some respects you could graph Dougie as the apex of a triangle between Cooper and Bob. He was neither a man of integrity nor a force of radical evil. Dougie Jones, with his cookie cutter suburban home and midsized sedan, exemplified mediocrity. However, nothing is ever entirely normal or banal in David Lynch’s universe, particularly where the American petit-bourgeoisie are concerned. (See Blue Velvet and, of course, Twin Peaks.) There are some cracks in this façade that indicate that there is more to Dougie’s world than meets the eye. What’s with his lime green suit? Perhaps a visual shout-out to P.T. Anderson and the electric blue get-up Adam Sandler wore in Punch-Drunk Love? Dougie never changes his clothes, and he sticks out at his place of work, Lucky 7 Insurance, like a lettuce leaf. And Dougie’s perfect family? The oddly named Janey-E (Naomi Watts) and Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon) both seem willing to work with this new, obviously impaired Dougie, perhaps because – shades of Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry – this bumbling fool is a mite better than whatever Dougie was before.

Still, one has to grant quite a bit to The Return and its particular version of Las Vegas to make the Dougie story work. People everywhere seem willing to cut this guy a lot of slack, and aren’t too concerned that someone they knew before as a reasonably adept individual is behaving as if he’s had a major stroke. And as several folks on “Black Twitter” have noted, the race and gender that Dougie/Cooper/Kyle MacLachlan carry on his/their body enables this particular array of moves, even in the surreal world of Lynch. Cops, coworkers, even Jade the sex worker (Nafessa Williams, so far the only woman of color in Twin Peaks: The Return), would not likely tolerate such shenanigans from a woman or a POC. But then, let’s think about this. Dougie did not necessarily embody privilege afforded him by his race and gender. He was on the run from gangsters (Jeremy Davies, Neil Dickson) and didn’t command much respect at work. As Cooper begins to emerge in / from Dougie, this no-count shlub is coming to take on the psychoanalytic role Cooper fully and effortlessly occupies – that of the Law.

Yes, it’s cute when Dougie mutters about “coffee” and “case files”; those are the superficial trappings of Cooper bobbing to the surface. But it’s when Dougie’s boss Bushnell Mullins (legendary character actor Don Murray) looks at the scribbles Dougie has made on the files and mentally imbues them with meaning that we see the power of Cooper coming back in force. This is, of course, that sweet spot where Cooper and Lynch are one and the same. We believe in Lynch the Father, the Author and the Law, and are willing to take each and every scribble, suspend judgment, and wait to see if patterns emerge. Or, as Mullins tells Dougie, “You’ve given me a lot to think about here.”

Next time: The Return of the Dead; “Change Their Hearts or Die;” Meet Diane.

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