This Week in ‘Twin Peaks’, The Characters Arm Wrestle With Loneliness
I must admit, a lot of my extrapolating on Twin Peaks comes from an impossible position - part hunger, part gratefulness. Even talking about the show as it happens is always done so in tandem with the sheer relief I have at knowing this is real and actually happening. How often does a piece of pop culture you adore - something that shaped you, made by someone who completely reinvented how you even consume film, one that was never given the run it deserves - get given a second chance?
Nowadays, it’s more common than it used to be. This is the post-cancellation age, where the end of every series, regardless of its popularity or acclaim, will inevitably be followed by a petition to save it or pleas to a new network or streaming service to give it another chance. Even then, that does little to quell the sheer miracle of Twin Peaks: The Return being a thing. Do you know what I’d do for a 3rd season of Carnivàle? Or a Murder Husbands focused season of Hannibal? Or more of basically everything Bryan Fuller developed that got cancelled after less than two seasons?
Every critic has their biases - it’s the fun part of the job, as much as the ridiculous assertion of the objective critic remains in the discourse - and for me, this show and my thoughts on it will always be defined by the unbridled joy of being able to watch new episodes of one of my favourite things ever. There are things I can point to in this season that grate - Dr. Jacoby’s Alex Jones-style webcast has gone on too much for me - or irregular pacing issues that could be tightened up - oh, Dougie - but for now, my experience of Twin Peaks is one of discovery and immense patience, the latter of which I have in (gold painted, two coats guaranteed) spades for David Lynch.
That said, let’s get on with the show.
Don’t let the pacing fool you - and I confess, that can be a tough hill to climb - this season has been driven by plot. Indeed, this is a season fuelled by multiple threads coming together in a deceptively simple fashion. That’s never been the show’s driving force, of course. Lynch didn’t even want the show to reveal who killed Laura Palmer in the first place. Back in Vegas this episode, the detectives investigating Dougie Jones’s curious past find out the truth - he IS Dale Cooper, and he DID escape from prison a few days ago - but it’s too ludicrous and impossible to buy, so the evidence is simply trashed. If you’ve ever wondered if David Lynch has ever considered trolling his audience, look no further than that wonderfully blunt moment. Plot does not drive this vehicle, but it’s a welcome essence to a rich stew that demands your utmost attention.
One of the most satisfying elements of that has been the understated, beautifully detailed performance(s) of Kyle MacLachlan. Between the melancholic catatonia of Dougie and the quiet menace of evil Dale, MacLachlan has reminded audiences of his oft-underrated abilities, particularly under the hand of Lynch. He’s really the perfect fit for the auteur’s vision. It’s like he never left Twin Peaks to begin with. Every moment is in tune with this esoteric symphony. After an especially wince-inducing game of arm wrestling, evil Dale exacts his revenge on Ray, the man who left him for dead in episode 8, and discovers why the betrayal took place. Ray has the infamous jade ring, which Philip Jeffries has ordered him to place on Evil Dale. The ring, iconic from the series, can keep the wearer safe from evil or mark them for doom. We can guess what intent was meant for Evil Dale. Another mention of Jeffries is a sad reminder of the absence of David Bowie from this season. Can you imagine how amazing that would have been? I still hold out hope that he filmed something before his death. Mashable certainly doesn’t think it’s out of the ordinary.
As for Dougie, life is going great. The Mitchum brothers now count him among their best friends, leading him in a conga line through his work’s offices to celebrate their new cashflow, and Sonny-Jim has the world’s best jungle-gym to play on (which Lynch films like it’s a rave). The Mitchums’ insurance pay-out doesn’t bode well for Anthony, who now must finish Dougie off for good, but he stops before he can let Dougie consume the poisoned coffee, apologizing to the clueless man in hysterics while he finishes another damn fine slice of pie. Bless poor Anthony, he even spills all to his boss about his corruption and insurance fraud, which Dougie has already revealed. Dale’s still MIA but everything’s coming up Dougie (special shout out to the look on Naomi Watts’s expression of satisfied lust when she drops Dougie off at work in their brand-new car).
Back in Twin Peaks, the diner is doing great business, going so far as to have opened franchises, which have benefitted greatly from a certain pie loving detective-turned-mystical-riddle. That’s great for Norma, but less exciting for old Ed Hurley, the owner of Big Ed’s Gas Farm, who watches forlornly as Norma saddles up to a new man. At least he has company in his booth, as Bobby Briggs knows that pain all too well. For Norma, that new success has come at a price - if you want profits, you have to make sacrifices. As her boyfriend/business partner informs her, the flagship diner that started it all spends too much on ingredients for those iconic pies, but charges too little per sale. You can almost hear Frost and Lynch having this same argument with Showtime when it came to negotiating for this season. Norma hears the argument of “tweaking the profit to ensure consistency and profitability”, and the audience are immediately reminded of Lynch pushing back against Showtime’s original plans for a shorter, cheaper season. If you want the foods, you pay for them.
Nadine and Dr. Jacoby have a tender moment together, but now more than ever, Twin Peaks seems like a very lonely place: Bobby and Ed are separated from their long-time loves; Sarah Palmer spends her time alone in her old home, downing vodka and watching the same boxing match repeatedly on her huge TV; and Audrey is trapped in her own sense of solitude, feeling as though she’s always somewhere else. Audrey’s return infuriated many fans in last week’s episode, as the fan-favourite had been absent from the season thus far, and the Audrey we got is a far more bitter, world-weary woman than the diner-dancing amateur detective of the original seasons. She’s frantically searching for answers regarding a bunch of people we’ve never met before, which makes her storyline, as small as it is, somewhat insular viewing.
While she was furious and acid-tongued last week, this week she is shaking with fear and uncertainty, with no idea of what to do or where to go. It’s hard to watch, but fascinating in the possibilities it opens up. This scene with Charlie, her apparent husband but also possible therapist given how he talks to her, feels from another time, and the room they sit in has the retro decor of decades past, right down to the old-school radio. Audrey’s never talked about her family, or possible son Richard, or anything in Twin Peaks we know of from her life, be in Dale or Laura or the bank explosion. Is it possible she never woke up from the explosion, and now she finds herself smothered by an inescapable purgatory of constant infuriation?
The Bang Bang welcomed a musician of a less famous calibre than its recent good run of performers - James Hurley, the ex-boyfriend of both Laura and Donna. Not only is he a headliner in his home-town, he’s singing ‘Just You’, a guitar-waltz ballad he played for Donna and Maddie (Laura’s cousin and exact double). Now, his captive audience includes diner worker Renee (Jessica Szohr), visibly driven to tears with the promise of more from James. At least someone in this town’s finding an alternative to crushing loneliness. For Ed, there’s no ‘you’ to his ‘I’, and his solitary cup of soup as the gas station beneath the end credits plays out as one of the season’s most devastating moments of isolation.