Twin Peaks Recap is a weekly column by Keith Uhlich covering David Lynch and Mark Frost's limited, 18-episode continuation of the Twin Peaks television series.
A study in contrasts. That's the best way to describe Part 11 of Mark Frost and David Lynch's revived Twin Peaks, which opens with a brief moment of doom-laden calm—three young boys playing catch happening upon the bruised and beaten but very much alive Miriam Sullivan (Sarah Jean Long)—then details, for its first half, the many ways in which the titular town, as well as the few-states-over locale of Buckhorn, South Dakota, are coming unglued. But this is dramatic incident Lynch-style, which means that the narrative rhythms are always shifting (violently, unpredictably), as if someone was continually revving a car engine into the red, but never in a calculable way.
There's madness in such extremity, as there's insanity in the blood-curdling scream unleashed by Becky Burnett (Amanda Seyfried) after she gets a phone call confirming that her husband Steven (Caleb Landry Jones) is cheating on her. She grabs a gun from under the sofa and commandeers the car of her waitress mother Shelly (Mädchen Amick). Becky is so consumed with rage that she almost kills Shelly, who grabs onto the vehicle's hood as her daughter peels out of the Fat Trout Trailer Park. Mixed in with the noise of a combustive motor and the screech of overexerted tires is a familiar sound: the high-pitched wail of Twin Peaks' murdered homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), an emotional specter of sorts, haunting the turbulent periphery of peoples' lives.
Yet no one character is ever in the same fervent place. Becky blusters forth unchecked, unloading a full round of bullets into the door of Steven's extramarital lover (who turns out—as we see at the tail-end of an eerily sped-up tracking shot through her apartment complex—to be Alicia Witt's Gersten Hayward, sister of Lara Flynn Boyle's absent Donna Hayward). Shelly, meanwhile, makes a hysterical call to her RR Diner employer Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton), who is herself at too far a remove (in this scene, anyway) to be of much help to anyone. And trailer park manager Carl Rodd (Harry Dean Stanton), who gives Shelly a ride into town after hilariously tooting a long metal whistle to summon his loyal VW van driver, tries to maintain a more measured pace amid all the drama. "Can't we go any faster, Carl?" Shelly asks. "I want to get us there in one piece," he replies. Lynch and Frost don't necessarily wish the same for their characters or their viewers. The sense here is of a world off its axis. Even the Twin Peaks police dispatch, manned by the ever-vigilant Maggie (Jodee Thelan), is overwhelmed, with 911 calls coming in rapid-fire. And when Lynch cuts from this overture of chaos to the sudden stillness of Buckhorn, South Dakota, the aura of unease in no way dissipates.
FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (Lynch) and his law-enforcing posse are being led by distraught former school principal William Hastings (Matthew Lillard) to the dilapidated site where they can purportedly enter the mystical otherworld—discovered by Hastings and his dead paramour Ruth Davenport (Mary Stofle, a severed head in a prior episode, an artfully contorted nude torso here)—called "The Zone." There's a wonderful long shot in this section, observing from a high distance as Cole stands with his arms raised, flailing at something in the sky. When the camera cuts in close to Cole, we see what he sees—a swirling vortex that opens in the clouds above, and reveals, for a brief moment, three of the unearthly Woodsmen standing on a burned-out staircase that looks suspiciously like the one in the Palmer family home. Yet Cole's loyal subordinate Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer), standing just a few feet back, has a different vision, witnessing only Cole flickering in and out of existence, crystal-clear one moment, a transparent blur the next (he eventually pulls his boss back from the brink). And the rest of the crew—the seemingly duplicitous Diane Evans (Laura Dern), fellow faithful FBI agent Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell), Buckhorn police detective Dave Macklay (Brent Briscoe) and Hastings—see nothing of this at all. Viewed from afar, it's blackly funny to note how everyone is so completely in their own space, aware of each other's presence and yet, not. How does one act in the company of a person having a clearly profound experience in which you yourself are not sharing?
How about with incomprehension? Look at the way Deputy Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) reacts after he happens upon a bizarre scene following an eventful family discussion at the RR Diner. He's already watched Becky—his and Shelly's daughter, as this episode confirms—go through every kind of extreme justification for her abusive relationship with Steven. He's also watched Shelly, who he's either divorced or separated from, sneak off for a quick make-out session with the drug-dealing Red (Balthazar Getty). (Unsurprising that Shelly falls for another charming bad boy, though it's to Lynch, Frost, Amick and Getty's credit that they show—especially through both performers' gleeful, goofy body language—how intoxicating such a relationship can be.) So it's been a night—and it's at that point, of course, that two bullets come whistling through the RR's windows.
Everyone panics. Bobby keeps his head and goes outside. He sees a woman (Cherity Parenzin) arguing with her husband (Linas Phillips) in an intersection. The man apparently left a loaded gun in their minivan that their young son (Elias Parenzini) fired into the RR. Bobby asks for the parents' IDs, then eyes the boy, who is dressed in camouflage gear like his dad and stands defiantly by the door of the vehicle. It's easy to imagine a lesser director turning this into a cheap "sins of the father" moment, one that reflects and refracts Bobby and Shelly's own failures as parents. But the aberrant rhythms in image, sound and performance instead emphasize the scene's inscrutability. This isn't like anything else. It's its own thing. As is the accompanying spectacle Bobby happens upon when he attempts to quiet a delirious woman (Laura Kenny) who's honking her car horn nearby. First he gets an earful from her about being late for dinner and other such small indignities. ("We've got miles to go!") Then he watches as the woman's daughter (Priya Niehaus) rises zombielike from the passenger seat and throws up green vomit, all while her mother shouts erratically. It's another unfathomable sight. And it's unrelated to anything beyond some inexpressible sense that an equalizing element is absent in Twin Peaks.
Meanwhile in Las Vegas… The convoluted situation involving insurance man Dougie Jones a.k.a FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) comes to a surprising head. Lynch and Frost do another of their comical info dumps as Dougie/Cooper's boss Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray) lays out the criminal plot (uncovered by his not-so-slow-witted-as-he-seems employee) that's been orchestrated by some unknown party to defraud the gangster hotelier Mitchum brothers, Bradley (James Belushi) and Rodney (Robert Knepper). Bushnell, fortunately, took out a complementary policy that allows the company to pay out the $30 million settlement sum to the Mitchums in full. And he wants Dougie to deliver the check.
The Mitchum boys are still stewing, however, because they think Dougie screwed them over. Murder is in their hearts, but over an early-afternoon breakfast (because no Las Vegas bigwig rises before 2pm, presumably), Bradley tells Rodney about a dream he had, though he can barely recall the details. Yet he knows it's important. In Lynch's world, the people who succeed (or survive whatever trials they're presently going through) tend to pay heed to their dreams and other reveries. Doesn't matter if you're a tough-talking hoodlum or a law-abiding Eagle Scout from Missoula, Montana—anyone is capable of looking, and therefore moving, beyond their narrow field of experience.
And so it comes to pass that Cooper/Dougie disarms the Mitchum brothers in more ways than one when he arrives at their desert meetup. He's carrying a box with a mysterious object inside (Al Strobel's Red Room resident, the One-Armed Man a.k.a MIKE, leads Cooper/Dougie to the store where he purchases it). Bradley recognizes the box as an element from his dream. But one specific thing has to be inside it: a cherry pie. (But of course.) The delight with which the Mitchum brothers react to the fact that there is indeed a cherry pie in that box—and that Dougie has, in his pocket, a $30 million dollar check addressed to the both of them—is infectious. (This will surely be the episode that launches a thousand Jim Belushi reaction shot memes.) "I love this guy!" screams Bradley, and like that the balance of this section of the new Peaks narrative is (mostly) restored. (There's still the matter of Tom Sizemore's two-faced Anthony Sinclair, but that's for another week.)
The scene that follows is perhaps the new series' most sublime one so far, as Cooper/Dougie is feted by both the Mitchum brothers and the homeless Lady Slot-Addict (Linda Porter) from Parts 3 and 4, who shows up completely by chance, remade as a successful older woman who has reconnected with her son (and even bought a dog!). "I hope you realize what a special person you have dining with you," she says to the Mitchums, further emphasizing the ways in which this whole Dougie arc has been a kind of superhero origin story-cum-spiritual quest—a way, really, for Cooper to relearn how to be the profoundly moral and selfless person that he strived (with varying degrees of success) to be in the original series. This feels in many ways like a summative sequence, and I'd almost be satisfied with it as a climax to the series in a David Milch non-ending ending sort of way. (Not saying I really want that.) Still, there's something ineffably moving about the way Cooper/Dougie mutters "friend" to the clearly touched Mitchums, in-between gobbles of that "damn good" cherry pie. It's almost enough. It feels like we could just stay in this moment forever. But there's another place, as we know, that's in dire need of our Special Agent's harmonizing influence.
MORE SLICES OF PIE
• Alicia Witt only appeared in one episode of the original series, the Lynch-directed Season 2 premiere, in which Gersten (dressed as a fairy princess) plays piano during a dinner party for the Palmers at the Hayward house. Witt began her career in another Lynch project, the like-nothing-else sci-fi epic Dune (1984) in which she was cast as the younger sister, Alia, of Kyle MacLachlan's messianic Paul Atreides.
• More Diane villainy in the Buckhorn, South Dakota section: She avoids mentioning the Woodsman (David Nieker) sneaking up behind Detective Macklay's car. A few moments later, William Hastings' head is crushed in a way very similar to the unfortunate radio station employees at the end of Part 8's 1956 flashback. A terrified Macklay calls for backup. "There's no backup for this," says Diane, her voice (in a great sound design choice) muffled by the car windshield that she's standing in front of. Later, she attempts to memorize the markings on Ruth Davenport's arm, which Albert (who notices her sneaky behavior) identifies as coordinates to a small Northwest town.
• Has there ever been a Gordon Cole-ier line-reading than the stoic way the FBI Bureau Chief says, "He's dead" upon seeing the freshly deceased Hastings? Though I also appreciated his reprise of a great original series Cooperism ("A policeman's dream!") upon seeing the plate of donuts and pot of coffee that Macklay and Tammy bring for the group to devour at the police station post-Hastings head explosion. And what the hell, one more, describing the Woodsmen vision in the sky: "I saw the bearded men. Dirty bearded men in a room."
• The only truly calm scene in Twin Peaks the town occurs between Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster) and Deputy Sheriff Tommy "Hawk" Hill (Michael Horse) as they plot their expedition into the woods, to the location Major Garland Briggs (the late Don S. Davis) noted in his secret message. I especially love how Hawk describes the hand-me-down map he unfurls: "This map is very old, but it is always current. It's a living thing." That sense of an object as something that is alive to both the situation at hand and to those looking at it could describe Twin Peaks itself—or any work of art that aims to resonate far beyond its moment.
• Margaret "The Log Lady" Lanterman (the late Catherine E. Coulson) calls in to Hawk to check on his progress and offer another prophetic warning: "My log is afraid of fire. There is fire where you are going."
• I recently finished reading Dennis Lim's essential study of Twin Peaks' co-creator, David Lynch: The Man From Another Place (2015). It's filled to brimming with astute critical observations and stories about Lynch's formative years, many of which I knew but had forgotten and now wish I'd mentioned in earlier recaps. Most regretted brain fart on my part: Don Murray's Bushnell Mullins is named after Bushnell Keeler, an artist who gave the fifteen-year-old Lynch a book, Robert Henri's The Art Spirit, that changed the young man's life.
• Before he gets in the limo that will take him to his fateful meeting with the Mitchum brothers, Dougie/Cooper gets a pep talk from Bushnell. "Knock 'em dead!" his boss says. Dougie grabs his own face and scrunches it, much like Mr. C., the evil Cooper doppelganger, did to a henchman in Part 2. "Dead," he repeats—a moment at once eerie and forlorn.
• There are many eloquent beats in the second half of Part 11, but my favorite is one involving the Mitchums' bubbleheaded showgirl employee Candie (Amy Shiels), who talks about how lovely the traffic on the Vegas strip looked. "It was incredible," she says with absolute sincerity. There's beauty everywhere.
• No Roadhouse scene this week. But there is a musical montage, as Dougie/Cooper is driven into the desert, set to Shawn Colvin's cover of the popular Elvis Presley song "Viva Las Vegas." And the final sequence with the Mitchum brothers and Dougie features a pianist who tickles series composer Angelo Badalamenti's gorgeously aching "Heartbreaking" on the ivories. (One rumor making the virtual rounds is that the pianist is actually Badalmenti himself in a Burt Bacharach wig.)