This Week on ‘Twin Peaks’, Violence Against Women Comes to the Forefront
Violence against women has always been at the heart of Twin Peaks. This is a show singularly defined by its portrayal of the ways in which men, driven by fear and anger, try to justify the pain they inflict on those around them. Evil can be a possessing force - often literally in this case, as demonstrated by the horrific omnipresence of BOB - but sometimes, people are just bad and will use any excuse available to excuse it.
The original seasons of Twin Peaks were populated with abusers, small-time crooks and systemic pain, so it makes sense that such poison would remain permeated through this world, particularly after the revelations of season eight and its operatic vision of the creation of evil. David Lynch’s oft-imitated style is rooted in exploring the inherent oddness of the mundane, and how that can be forced to fester into something terrible if it’s not allowed to be free. The ’50s inspired Americana of Twin Peaks itself was always the aesthetically pleasing cover for the poison of suburbia, with Laura Palmer at its heart as the epitome of the perfect girl for that setting. Of course, so few thought to truly understand the real Laura until after her death, revealing the complexities beneath, yet 25 years later she is still the prism through which this world is viewed. As the Log Lady says, “Laura is the one”.
Laura is the perfect girl but also the perfect victim. Then again, in our society, practically every woman is the perfect victim. We see this demonstrated in this week’s episode, the tenth in a nineteen episode run, as Richard Horne violently kills one woman then chokes another. The first woman, the only witness to him running over a child with his truck, seems aware of her fate and prepared accordingly by writing to the sheriff of what she saw, but even in her savviness she remains naïve, and Chad, the lazy creep working at Twin Peaks’s police department, fixes the problem for him. We do not see the murder, but we hear it, as the camera lingers on Miriam’s trailer and her bloodcurdling screams. Afterwards, we are given a glimpse of her body, still breathing but face down and bleeding heavily across the floor, the gas oven open and turned on. The explosion doesn’t need to be shown because that suggestion is eerie enough.
When Richard makes his way to his grandmother Sylvia’s house, she is already weary and wants him gone, but this is a coward who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He chokes his grandmother, demands the combination to her safe and cleans out her home of cash and jewellery before calling her a ‘cunt’. This scene, which feels achingly long in a season with no qualms about taking its time, plays out with Angelo Badalamenti’s score in the background, Sylvia crying on the floor and her mentally disabled son Johnny, who we had previously seen run into a wall and injure himself, futilely fighting against the bounds that keep him tied to a chair. A bizarre teddy bear with a transparent globe for a head repeats the line, “Hello, Johnny! How are you today?” as this all goes on. Few people can include such a seemingly random oddity in a scene like this and make it work, but as Lynch is so skilled in doing, it merely highlights the disturbing pain of violence in the home.
Richard’s parentage is unknown, but it’s not hard to theorise that his mother is Audrey Horne, who has yet to appear on this season. The fan-favourite, played by Sherilyn Fenn, is apparently set to show up sometime in the next few episodes, possibly to confront her shitty son. As for the father… Remember reports from earlier in the season of Agent Dale Cooper having been seen skulking around outside the hospital where she was kept after the bank explosion, or at least someone who looked an awful lot like him?
His vileness is often tough to bear, even for a show that has never shied away from exposing brutality or the supposed innocents who aid and abet in its creation. Lynch has been the frequent subject of criticism over his female characters and his often fetishistic approach to their depiction. With Richard, prior to this episode we had already seen him kill a child and threaten a woman with rape in a bar. We know he’s vile, and that is only confirmed here, but even for a show I am heartily invested in, I couldn’t help but wonder at what point would it be enough. How much of this violence against women and children would we have to see to get the message that this guy sucked?
I’m not sure there is an answer to that. The show is as much about the voyeur who sits back and does nothing as it is about the perpetrators. We also saw Steven, the drug addicted waste of space and husband of Becky (Amanda Seyfried), beating his wife in a fit of rage in their trailer. She’s on the couch, cowering with her hands over her head, and he goes for her throat. It’s clear he’s a weak man and attacking someone weaker is the only way he has to feel like a big man. Outside, Carl (Harry Dean Stanton), plays his guitar but stops when Steven launches a mug out of his trailer window. Carl hears the screaming and Becky’s sobbing. He laments the situation, shaking his head and calling it ‘a fuckin’ nightmare’, but he doesn’t do anything to stop it.
This strange episode of men’s control over women takes a sharp turn back to Vegas, where casino owner Rodney Mitchum (Robert Knepper) works while surrounded by a trio of near identical blondes in matching pink showgirl outfits, named Candie, Sandie and Mandie. It’s Candie who makes the biggest impression, accidentally whacking Rodney with a remote control as she tries to kill a fly. While this provides a mild inconvenience for Rodney, it leaves Candie broken and sobbing in horror, wondering aloud how he could ever forgive her for what she’s done. It’s funny, and then it’s not. Later, Candie seems to have sunk into a mild catatonic state, having to be yelled out of her stupor to be ordered into action. Perhaps she is brain damaged, or has spent so long as one of a trio that she can no longer remember which one she is (it doesn’t feel like much of a coincidence that all three blondes bear a striking resemblance to Naomi Watts, one of the few women on the show this week having satisfying relations with men as Dougie/Dale gives her a night to remember). Candie definitely seems to be under some level of control from the Mitchum brothers (including Jim Belushi!) but they also spend much of their screen-time being flustered by her odd behaviour, later acknowledging that if they fire her she has nowhere else to go.
The Log Lady knows Laura is the one, and Agent Gordon Cole (David Lynch) too is haunted by her, opening his hotel door to be overwhelmed by images of her. After 25 years of death, Laura Palmer is still the spectre that reminds the ensemble of Twin Peaks that violence and terror are seldom far away. Forget Dale or Gordon or the story’s residents: The man most haunted by Laura Palmer seems to be David Lynch himself.