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.
"Did you like that song?" the boy (Xolo Mariduena) asks the girl (Tikaeni Faircrest). His words are hesitant and tentative—tinged with naiveté, therefore open and earnest. "Yes," the girl replies, playing along with the courtship ritual. "I did like that song." Yet there's a sense in the slight pause between his question and her answer that she could say anything. That awkward dead space is filled with possibilities—positive, negative and in-between. And what excitement there is in that. This exchange comes toward the end of Part 8 of Mark Frost and David Lynch's revived Twin Peaks, though the quiet beauty of the moment is offset by the many horrors (and wonders) that precede it…and that, will indeed, follow it.
It's easy to say that there's never been anything quite like this episode on any motion picture screen. It's simple, too, to blather on about supposed references and influences: Demanding mainstream works like Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, perhaps. Or, say, any of the avant-garde touchstones by Stan Brakhage—Mothlight, Dog Star Man, even, during one particularly gory head-trauma close-up, that astonishing documentation of an autopsy The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes—among many, many other radical artists. (The a-g savvy Blake Williams and Michael Sicinski have and/or can provide much more informed and erudite analyses of the debts, if any, that Lynch's movies owe to experimental cinema.)
Yet I'm reminded of what the late author David Foster Wallace said of Lynch's work (Blue Velvet specifically) during a 1997 interview: "What the really great artists do is they're entirely themselves.…They've got their own vision, their own way of fracturing reality. And if it's authentic and true you will feel it in your nerve endings." Wallace goes on to clarify that his own experience with Blue Velvet is unique ("I'm not suggesting it would do it for any other viewer"), which indicates that, when it comes to opinion (as much as the act of creation and what results from it), each of us stands alone. But what potentials exist in that mysterious space between our exposure to a work of art and our reaction to it—between a question posed and an answer given.
"How'd you do this?" asks Ray Monroe (George Griffith) of Mr. C. (Kyle MacLachlan)—the dark-side-made-flesh of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper—in Part 8's first scene, as they drive away from prison scot-free. "You needed to get out, Ray," he replies in a scarily stiff monotone. Though some narrative beats are hit (a shadowy reference to Nicole LaLiberte's murdered Darya, killed by Mr. C. in Part 2, as well as to a numerical code that Ray has memorized and is hiding from Mr. C. so as to force a larger payout), the oppressive mood is paramount above all. It's obvious one of these men isn't walking away alive, and Lynch brilliantly stretches out the tension, misdirecting us to presume that Mr. C. has the upper hand. So when Ray is the one who shoots Mr. C., apparently killing him, the shock is palpable. But before we have a chance to fully digest the action, all hell breaks loose.
It makes sense that any attempted felling of Mr. C. would fracture the narrative fabric of Twin Peaks; you can't dispatch the bogeyman without consequence. Before Ray can deliver a headshot, an army of who I've previously called creepy ash men come racing out of the woods to perform a resurrection. It's apparent now, both from their plaid-shirted, wool-capped wardrobes, as well as from the end credits listings, that these dusky, translucent spirits are actually kin to the Woodsman (Jürgen Prochnow), who is briefly glimpsed with several of the Black Lodge denizens in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. They dance and cavort around Mr. C.'s body, rubbing his face with dirt and blood while extracting a bulbous appendage (shades of David Cronenberg's The Brood) that contains the terrifyingly grinning face of Killer BOB (the late Frank Silva).
Ray hightails it out of there, making a frantic call to "Phillip" (no doubt the deceased David Bowie's character Phillip Jeffries) to inform him that Mr. C. is likely dead…but maybe not. It's at this point that any conventionality ceases and Lynch dives full-on into his inimitable id. First up is a head-thrashing musical number at the Roadhouse by "The" Nine Inch Nails, who perform "She's Gone Away" from their 2016 EP Not the Actual Events. It acts as an invocation: several hundred miles away, Mr. C. sits up—blood-caked, but alive. Smash-cut to black.
Slow fade-in on an expansive black-and-white landscape shot. A title card appears: "July 16, 1945, White Sands New Mexico, 5:29 AM (MWT)." A countdown begins. When it reaches zero, a white light flashes and the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki's discordant "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" screeches on the soundtrack. A mushroom cloud (one very similar to the wall-size illustration in the office of FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole) forms. It's now evident that this is the Trinity atomic bomb test (the first-ever explosion of a nuclear device). And Lynch is flying us, slowly but surely, into the belly of the burning beast.
Fire walk with me: For a dialogue-free half-hour, Lynch visualizes the birth of the Black Lodge and Killer BOB. Out of the flames and molecular breakdown of the atom bomb arises the "Convenience Store" that MIKE, the One-Armed Man (Al Strobel), referenced in the original series's third installment, in a scene edited down from the international version of the "Pilot" episode. (His exact words: "We lived among the people. I think you say 'convenience store.' We lived above it." Note, of course, that the building has no "above" where a room could be.) A gaggle of the ghostly Woodsmen amble around in herky-jerky motion, as if film frames were being skipped (though there's no celluloid involved in this production). Eventually, a suspended body—a female form called simply Experiment (Erica Eynon), which devoured the unlucky voyeur couple, Sam (Ben Rosenfield) and Tracey (Madeline Zima), in Part 1—materializes and vomits up a stream of what looks like the Black Lodge life essence, garmonbozia, inside of which is a cell containing BOB.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction: Within the roiling universe of this exploded atom bomb is an entrance to the purple ocean world that the good Cooper discovered in Part 3. Here, in a moutaintop castle (the design of which wouldn't be out of place in an UFA-produced German silent), lives the Giant aka ??????? (Carel Struycken) and a female companion, decked out in full 1920s finery, named Senorita Dido (Joy Nash)—likely a reference to the founding queen of Carthage, though she's a Lynch creation first and foremost, equal parts Princess Irulan from Dune, the radiator lady in Eraserhead and the catbird-seated Club Silencio socialite from Mulholland Drive. A victrola plays a scratchy, flapper-era dirge (composed by Lynch and Dean Hurley), to which Dido slowly sways back and forth. Then an alarm summons the Giant to an empty, dilapidated movie theater where he watches highlights of BOB's creation. He steps closer to the screen and levitates. Dido walks in, spotlighted like an old-time movie star moving among her (nonexistent) fans. Gold light emerges from the Giant's head, forming an orb, which descends to Dido's hands. She brings it to her face. Within is the beaming visage of high school age Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Dido kisses the orb, and lets it float far, far up into a clockwork-like mechanism, which deposits the sphere into the movie screen, above a 1950s-esque instructional-film image of Earth, where it inches its way toward the Pacific Northwest.
This is surely better experienced than described, but it's rewarding to pick at the psyche that dreamed up these sounds and images. Lynch isn't the only popular artist to be so resoundingly affected by the atomic bomb and its cultural fallout. Like Steven Spielberg (in films such as Empire of the Sun and Bridge of Spies) or Japan's Hideaki Anno (whose epochal anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is as scarring in its way as anything here), Lynch views the omnipresent specter of nuclear holocaust as species-transforming. If it's not a full-on annihilation of innocence, it's certainly a perversion of it, as shown by the episode's closing section, set in 1956, in which a New Mexico town is descended upon by a Black Lodge Woodsman (Robert Broski) who proceeds, via radio, to murder and/or mesmerize the residents (a mass media tool spreading sickness and unease—the opposite of the Giant and Dido's movie palace). Ickiest moment of all: An oversize insect/lizard hybrid, birthed in the desert the day before the eleventh anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, crawls its way into the mouth of that young girl mentioned above, who is now lying comatose. The implication is clear: Mankind reaps what it sows. And if you don't suffer, your children will.
Yet wherever there's garmonbozia (pain and sorrow), Lynch also sees hope. And that comes in the form of Laura Palmer, the small-town beauty queen who is here raised to the level of myth—both a savior and a sacrificial lamb, her death acting as a kind of God-given catalyst for mankind to expose their sick souls, and, perhaps, to transcend them. If the original Twin Peaks was a micro view of this effect (sticking solely within the borders of that quirky Pacific Northwest town), the revival ambitiously broadens its scope to the macro…and to the meta. For this story doesn't only resonate in the onscreen fictional realm but in our offscreen factual one as well—the reverberant result of a question that was itself once asked in all wide-eyed innocence: "Who killed Laura Palmer?"
MORE SLICES OF PIE
• It wouldn't surprise me if the boy/girl courtship scenes, so oddly specific and lived-in, are taken from Lynch's own life—minus the insect/frog, of course (though, really, who knows with this guy?).
• Until he reaches the radio station (KPJK is the handle), Broski's Woodsman says only one thing, "Gotta light?" referring to the unlit cigarette between his fingers. The scene in which he stops a very Lynchian-looking couple (Leslie Berger and Tad Griffith) on the highway—time nightmarishly slowing down, a spine-chilling electrical hum on the soundtrack—made me even more of a non-smoker than I already am.
• When he arrives at the radio station (and after he sickeningly, squishily crushes a head or two) the Woodsman recites/repeats a poem that I take as a comment on mass consumption (of media primarily, but likewise of any of the indulgences that lead us down unrighteous paths): "This is the water, and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within." In tenor and theme it also comes off as a polar opposite to the Platters song, "My Prayer," which is playing on the radio before the Woodsman enters the DJ booth. Most telling lyric: "My prayer/Is to linger with you/At the end of the day/In a dream that's divine." A hopeless incantation vs. a hopeful one.
• An extratextual note on Broski: He mainly plays Abraham Lincoln in numerous shorts and features, such as the surely-not-as-hilarious-as-its-title Linclone (2014) and Netflix's Pee-Wee's Big Holiday (2016). This lends some added resonance, I suppose, to the moment in which the adolescent girl discovers a face-up penny—a sign of good luck apparently, though Honest Abe sure doesn't come through for her.