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.
What's an FBI Special Agent to do after being locked away for 25 years in unearthly purgatory? Episodes three and four of Mark Frost and David Lynch's revived Twin Peaks, which aired on Showtime this past Sunday in a two-hour block (aside from September's two-part finale, it's all single, hour-long episodes from hereon out), follow our besuited, Black Lodge-incarcerated hero Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) as he reintegrates into modern terrestrial society. So this is basically Peaks doing Rectify, just with a sterile death row replaced by an infernal hellscape out of Clive Barker.
Or David Lynch, really. What's becoming more and more evident as the new Peaks progresses is that the series is, in large part, a repository for Lynch's subconscious, past and present. A place for new visions, certainly, but also one where former flights of fancy can be restated and recontextualized. Returning to Barker, there's a quote from his introduction to an early short story collection ("Books of Blood") that's apropos of Lynch's current method: "We are all our own graveyards I believe; we squat amongst the tombs of the people we were."
Whether Cooper himself, who begins this installment careening through a starfield, ends up in a graveyard or something more alarmingly undead is certainly open to interpretation. No doubt it's a necropolis of some sort, a purple-tinted concrete structure (on the edge of a vast ocean) that houses one of Lynch's most purely terrifying creations—an eyeless woman, played, I believe, by Nae Yuuki, the homeless "Pomona" monologuist from Inland Empire (2006), who acts as Cooper's herky-jerky spirit guide. I mean herky-jerky in a literal sense, as much of this sequence unfolds in editorially start-stop fashion, with frequent jump cuts and fast-forward/rewinds that make it seem like both characters are taking one step back for every two steps forward. There's what appears to be a mega-size outlet on the wall, on top of which is the number 15 (it will later change to the number 3). And there's a loud knocking on a nearby door, by something that sounds big and pissed off.
Early on in the last recap I noted that I felt like I was speaking in tongues; describing what happens in Lynch is an easy way to believe, and to demonstrate, that you've gone off the deep end. So it's with that in mind that I say that Cooper's fractured journey with the eyeless woman concludes with both of them standing on top of a box floating through space, below which floats, Eraserhead-style, the disembodied head of Major Garland Briggs (the late, likely digitally-recreated Don S. Davis) who mouths two words, "Blue Rose" (a Fire Walk With Me callback), into the ether. And that's hardly the end of the adventure. (Where's my strait-jacket?)
Soon reappearing is Phoebe Augustine, the actress who played Ronette Pulaski, the only surviving witness to the Laura Palmer murder. Though here she's credited as "American Girl" and exists mainly to prod Cooper out of this nightmarish netherworld before her "mother" (the monster on the other side of that door) arrives. Cooper leans into the life-size outlet (recall that "electricity" is the primary conduit by which the Black Lodge denizens move between realms). It proceeds to suck him through and deposit him—at 2:53, a time as seemingly important here as 9:45 in Inland Empire—in a Nevada gated community called, like the series' production company, Rancho Rosa, where he slips into the body of yet another Cooper doppelganger named Dougie.
Ah, Dougie. As if MacLachlan wasn't already giving a tour-de-force performance as both Cooper and his evil double, Mr. C. (who, while all this is going on, is busy crashing his car and vomiting up the creamy Black Lodge life essence known as "garmonbozia"). Now he gets to act the fool, in numerous inspired ways, as Dougie, a paunchy, toupee-wearing avatar created by Mr. C. so that both actual Coopers (dark and light) can exist simultaneously on the mortal plane. There's a bit of black comic Red Room business involving avatar Dougie where his arms shrink ("That's…weird," he slurs), his head turns to ash and he is re-formed as a tiny, floating golden ball. Two details of note: On Dougie's finger is the Owl Cave ring used to pinpoint the Black Lodge residents' real world victims. And the mustard-colored coat he's wearing is very similar to, if not an exact copy of, the jacket worn by The Yellow Man (Fred Pickler) in Blue Velvet. (In episode four, we see that Dougie's wardrobe also includes a green jacket that recalls the one worn by Peter J. Lucas's Piotrek Król/Smithy in Inland Empire.)
But then there's good Cooper/Dougie, who acts like a combination newborn/savant (colleagues have invoked everyone from E.T. to—because of his repeat-what-others-say vocabulary—Being There's Chauncey Gardner) and spends most of the rest of Part Three trying his luck at slot machines in the Silver Mustang Casino in Las Vegas. This sequence has the feel of a conceptually meager joke that becomes hilarious because of the length to which it's stretched. It certainly helps that one of the first people Cooper/Dougie meets is a cashier played by the great genre actress Meg Foster (of John Carpenter's They Live and Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem, among many other credits) who manages, with her phantasmagorical blue eyes and mesmerically raspy voice, to suggest a celestial being hiding out among humanity.
She directs Cooper/Dougie to the slots, and Lynch gets a lot of mileage out of the narcotizing sights and sounds—the lever pulls, the electronic bells and whistles, the labyrinthine sameness of betting machines lined up in apparently endless rows—of a casino floor. A hilariously chintzy digital effect (a mini Red Room surrounded by a cartoon flame) appears over every slot machine that will result in a huge win. Soon enough, Cooper/Dougie is breaking the casino's bank; his post-lever-pull cry of "Hell-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!," which he mimics from another casino-goer, gets more gutbusting the more he repeats it. And he becomes a kind of patron saint to an especially Lynchian figure—a dirtied old woman (Linda Porter) who takes to calling Cooper/Dougie "Mr. Jackpots" after he inadvertently helps her strike it big.
It's best to pause the plot here, just to take note of the copious doubling and tripling (of people, names, numbers, places and themes) in which this new Peaks indulges. It's dizzying beyond belief and, coupled with Lynch and his collaborators' multifaceted aural-visual schema, lends each and every moment a coiled complexity. Whatever sense there is here of a straight story (and there certainly is that, much more so than in the more purely avant-garde Inland Empire) is constantly being impeded by experiential asides. These can be lengthy or brief: There's a moment once Cooper/Dougie leaves the casino, right after he's been driven to his "home" on "Lancelot Court near Merlin Market"—Arthurian legend references (the location of the Black Lodge, "Glastonberry Grove," being another) that are very Mark Frost—when he glances out the window and loudly gasps. At what, we're not entirely sure. But the out-of-nowhereness of the reaction upends the seeming normalcy. This shouldn't be a surprise for the Lynch faithful, though it might hopefully help a more casual viewer get on this inimitable filmmaker's wavelength, which demands, time and again, and all of an instant, that we alter what we think we know.
MORE SLICES OF PIE
• Plenty of "slices" to plate in the bullet points, beginning with Cooper/Dougie's pre- and post-casino sojourns. He's taken to the Silver Mustang by an exasperated African-American prostitute named Jade (Nafessa Williams), who has occasioned several grumbles from the Internet Thinkpiece Brigade about Lynch's treatment of race and gender. To wit: Why so few people of color in the director's work? Why do those few—like, say, the black Bob Ray Lemon (Gregg Dandridge) at the beginning of Wild at Heart—tend to find themselves on the gory wrong end of a fist or cudgel? And why are women frequently naked, beat up, ogled and/or in disreputable professions? These are certainly questions worth parsing, and each viewer will no doubt have their own read on the situation. For myself, I find that Lynch treats all his performers and characters, whatever their origins or narrative fates, with an adoring equipoise that reminds me of Vincente Minnelli, who tended to place people as he would objects in the store display windows on which he cut his pre-cinematic teeth. The difference, of course, being in the destructive, distortive ends to which Lynch often takes the human body—something that Minnelli rarely did except in the realms of the psychological. I got into all this in last week's recap when I described the extended death of Darya (Nicole LaLiberte) as "sculptural." In Jade's case, I appreciate how her arc is something of the mirror image to that: She moves from a lustful object to an erudite foil for Cooper/Dougie, and it's clear to me that Lynch finds much good humor and oddball humanity in their repartee, no one character above the other.
• Post-casino, Cooper/Dougie goes home to a wife, Janey-E Jones, played by Mulholland Dr. alum Naomi Watts. She's initially worried about where her husband has been, then quickly changes her tune when she sees the big bag of money he's brought from his casino winnings. There are hints of a large debt hanging over their heads, but this is all secondary to Part Four's highlight scene—a breakfast table pantomime, scored to Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," in which Cooper/Dougie, wearing clothes two sizes too big, plus a tie draped over his head, relearns how to eat. This is likely the sequence that inspired the E.T. comparisons, considering it revolves around a young boy, Sonny Jim Jones (Pierce Gagnon), the couple's son, who helps Cooper/Dougie through all the masticating ins and outs. The kid also reintroduces Cooper to his signature gesture—the grinning thumbs up. And our beloved special agent seems to get a good bit of his faculties back after he has a sip of some hot coffee that he promptly spits out and compliments by striking a most absurdly goofy pose.
• There's a moment after Cooper/Dougie returns "home" to his wife and son in which an owl hoots and flies overhead. As in the original series, best to presume each and every one of these nocturnal animals are not what they seem.
• I love several of the incidental details when Cooper travels through the life-size outlet, particularly the way his head distorts and slightly smokes as if he were a piece of meat being thrown on a grill pan. Also how his shoes don't go through with him, dropping to the floor in a gorgeous insert shot. This then begets a great visual gag on the other side of the outlet where we see one of Cooper's socks has a hole in it.
• In Cooper/Dougie's pocket is the key to room 315 in the Great Northern Hotel, which is where he stayed in the original series. It's sure to play a role at some point in the future. The key also saves his and Jade's life: When it falls to the floor of her Jeep, Cooper/Dougie ducks down to pick it up, and a rifle-toting hitman (one of two) waiting outside the Rancho Rosa estates fails to see him. Also good to note that Cooper/Dougie reacts slightly when he and Jade drive by a road named "Sycamore," which calls back to the grove of trees that surround the entrance to the Black Lodge.
• One of the hitmen, Gene (Greg Vrotsos), stalking avatar Dougie puts what appears to be a tracking device or a bomb on his target's car, which was left behind in the driveway of the Rancho Rosas house. It will be interesting to see whether this ever comes into play or is a narrative dead end. For the moment, its only purpose seems to be to introduce us to a spying young neighbor boy (Sawyer Shipman) who eats from a box of Saltines while his pill-popping mother (Hailey Gates) downs some Evan Williams bourbon and repeats "119!" (911 backwards?—more reflections and refractions) like a life-giving mantra.
• To Twin Peaks! Finally. Where Deputy Andy (Harry Goaz), receptionist Lucy (Kimmy Robertson), and Deputy Chief Hawk (Michael Horse) begin sifting through the Agent Cooper/Laura Palmer evidence files to uncover what's missing. Lucy has a horrified moment where she admits eating one of the "chocolate bunnies" (a callback to one of the funniest lines in the original series's pilot episode) to deal with some gas. Hilarity ensues. "It's not about the bunny!" says Hawk, before pausing, then opining, "Is it about the bunny?" At this point it could be about Bugs Bunny for all we know.
• The Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) shovel plotline proceeds apace. Frost and Lynch give us an extended sequence in which he uses a gorgeously handmade contraption to spraypaint five of the metallic implements gold. The punchline comes when he then turns them around (nice and slow) to paint the backs. It's an exasperating and funny play on the waiting-for-something-to-happen vibe of much of the new series. And it also acts as a light fictionalization of Lynch's own process as a carpentry artist, which was fascinatingly explored in Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm's recent documentary David Lynch: The Art Life (2016).
• Speaking of our multihypenate co-creator, these episodes see the return of Lynch as hard-of-hearing FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole, once again in the company of prickly forensics specialist Albert Rosenfield (the late Miguel Ferrer) as well as a comely new agent, Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell), who Peaks freaks will recognize as a primary character in Mark Frost's 2016 tie-in novel The Secret History of Twin Peaks. The evil Mr. C., who is taken to a South Dakota federal prison after his car accident, calls into Cole, reigniting his, Albert and Tammy's involvement in the long-cold Cooper case. They discuss this turn of events in Cole's office—decked out with wall-size posters of an atomic bomb blast and Franz Kafka—which leads to Albert sighing a most Lynchian line: "The absurd mystery of the strange forces of existence."
• Another scene with Cole at the FBI features the introduction of a government colleague, Bill Kennedy (Richard Chamberlain), who speaks cryptically about an acquaintance who's been sent to the North Pole. ("Well there ya go!" shouts Gordon, as if the mysteries of the universe were suddenly revealed.) And there's also the reintroduction of David Duchovny's trans agent Dennis/Denise Bryson, now in a supervisory role. Duchovny manages to give as many shades to Denise here as he did in the original series (all the more impressive considering how, at initial glance, the character is more a drag queen sight gag than anything), and Lynch's Cole matches his scene partner beautifully, especially when referring to Denise's past troubles with some phobic fellow agents: "I told all your colleagues, those clown comics, to fix their hearts or die!" In that exchange alone, Lynch's eccentric humanity shines above all.
• Some more town-of-Twin-Peaks happenings: Another sorta double appears in the form of Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster), brother to the absent Harry Truman (Michael Ontkean, who reportedly won't make an appearance in these new installments). Forster was initially cast as Harry in the original series, but had to drop out, so this is a nice bit of karmic come-around. He's great of course, and especially so in his every deadpan reaction shot during the already love-it-or-hate-it sequence involving Andy and Lucy's grown son, the motorcycle-riding Wally Brando (Michael Cera). Wally dresses and speaks like The Wild One-era Marlon Brando, spouting long-winded platitudes about America. He pays his respects to his absent "godfather" (ha!) Harry, and informs his doting Mom and Dad that they can turn his childhood bedroom into a study. But like so many scenes in new and old Peaks, what begins as absurdly studied and comical becomes profound by the end. (In conception and execution this scene recalls one from the original series in which Royal Dano's Judge Clinton Sternwood grants Ray Wise's Leland Palmer bail, but not before a beautiful prefatory monologue about one day meeting him in "Valhalla.") "My dharma is the road," says Wally to Frank. "Your dharma…" he continues, before silently gesturing all around him to indicate Twin Peaks itself and effectively passing the torch between Trumans. Damned if Forster, in his stoic fashion, doesn't seem deeply moved. And damned if Lynch and Frost don't once again, in their off-kilter way, get at some deep truths about the American character.
• A brief scene in the Buckhorn police station involving Jane Adams's Constance Talbot and Brent Briscoe's Detective Dave Mackley reveals that the identity of the male John Doe from last week's installments belongs to someone who worked for the military. The info is classified, though it seems likely the body belongs to Major Garland Briggs or one of his associates.
• Another Briggs, Bobby (Dana Ashbrook), returns this week. As a Twin Peaks police officer, no less! Ashbrook was always one of the unsung talents of the original series, and he certainly doesn't disappoint here, lending maximum psychological credence, with minimal expository fuss, to how Bobby became a law-abiding citizen. But even he isn't immune to memory: When Bobby sees the Laura Palmer/Dale Cooper evidence splayed out over the police department conference table he bursts into raw, unguarded tears. This is also the first time in the new series that Angelo Badalamenti's music (a reprise of "Laura's Theme") overwhelms the scene—a perfect choice as it calls back to the show's melodramatic past without denying its rougher-edged present.
• The two-parter concludes with Gordon Cole, Albert and Tammy arriving at the South Dakota prison where Mr. C. is being held. Their interrogation of him is terrifying, notably due to the unearthliness of Evil Cooper's speaking voice and his own forced attempt at Good Cooper's thumbs-up gesture. A subsequent scene involving Cole and Albert, in which the Deputy Director turns up his hearing aid to the max so the two can speak in a whisper, and visually tinged a shocking shade of blue, sets the stage for what is to come. The late David Bowie's character Phillip Jeffries is mentioned (as he was in last week's installment). "Blue rose" is said once more. And both men talk about finding "a certain person to look at Cooper" (the never-seen Diane, perhaps?), all to confirm their suspicions that Mr. C. isn't the good Dale that they know and love.
• The end-credits sequences of both episodes once again take place in the Roadhouse, with performances by The Cactus Blossoms and Au Revoir Simone. Aside from Part 1—which, when aired individually, plays its end credits over an image of the Giant's (Carel Struycken) victrola—every episode through Part 4 concludes in this musical fashion. Will all subsequent installments follow suit? I wouldn't put it past Lynch to shake up something even as seemingly certain as this.