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"Twin Peaks," Episode 8 Recap: Did You Like That Song?

It's easy to say that there's never been anything quite like this episode on any motion picture screen.
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?"
• 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.
I assumed the refrain "This is the water, and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within," was lulling the innocent girl to sleep and to swallow what was crawling into her throat - letting the dark in.
The middle section of the last episode reminded me of the work of Jordan Belson -- the films you cite by Brakhage are far too frenetic and multilayered to have much in common with what Lynch was doing. (And "The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes" is so corporeally intense and graphic that it makes the gross-out images of the last episode look like those of a cheesy horror movie in comparison.) And it could be merely coincidental, but all of the A-bomb and pre-teen iconography reminded me of the work of Leslie Thornton, especially "Peggy and Fred in Hell." Finally, I think the Lincoln reference is extremely significant. I could be wrong, but Lynch seems to have referenced the assassination of Lincoln in "Blue Velvet" and "Mulholland Drive" as a metaphorical warning against the immersiveness of spectacle -- don't get too caught up in what you're looking at or else you'll fail to notice your surroundings and risk physical annihilation. The spectacle in the last episode is aural rather than visual, but it nonetheless fully absorbs its listeners and opens the way for the invasion (implantation?) of evil.
MJR: That's my a-g ignorance showing. Limited exposure, much like my weak knowledge of modern theater outside of Albee, Sondheim and the like. So the field of reference is limited, and I was fairly certain someone more a-g savvy like yourself would be schooling me. (I've never seen any Belson or Thornton, though I still got an ACT OF SEEING vibe from the head crush, as if it were that film via the prism of cheesy horror.) The real point was to move beyond the refs into my larger view that Lynch, like any artist worth their salt, is unique and shouldn't be weighed down by who a viewer like me considers his antecedents. As to the Lincoln thoughts, I did actually try to draft a part about that in the bullet points, and thanking you for the insight. (Everyone reading this really should seek out MJR's work.) But in a quick search I just found Lincoln refs in BLUE VELVET and nowhere else, so didn't seem like a larger pattern that I could tie into this episode in any interesting way. The "immersiveness of spectacle" argument you bring up, interestingly, is how I take the Woodsman's poem, or it's at least a result of the awe-inspiring horror/spectacle of the atom bomb.
The question of Lynch's antecedents is an interesting one because as far as I know he claims to have never watched a lot of a-g work. So the similarities to Belson and Thornton are more likely coincidental (or of the "great minds think alike" variety) than anything else -- meaning that, yes, whoever influences or corresponds with Lynch is largely besides the point. As for Lincoln, I always considered the blue-haired woman(?) in the Silencio balcony in "Mulholland Drive" a reference to the Great Emancipator's seated position vis-a-vis theatrical spectacle during his assassination. Given that the scene in the Silencio theater (one of the most powerful scenes in all of Lynch's work, in my humble opinion) hinges upon issues of spectatorial immersion and alienation, the Lincoln reference further reinforces the idea that absorption by and in illusionistic spectacle brings about psychic/physical peril. By the way, in terms of the connections among spectatorial immersion, the Woodsman's poem, and the A-bomb, remember that in "Twin Peaks: The Return" we first see a mushroom cloud via media, as a gigantic photograph on the wall of Gordon Cole's (Lynch's!) office -- immeasurable energy and destruction repackaged as consumable/spectacular decor.
Furthermore: in "Eraserhead" Henry has a photograph of an atomic bomb mushroom cloud on the wall of his apartment. And at one point in that film Henry is so taken in by an illusionistic spectacle (the Lady in the Radiator's performance) that he becomes a part of it. Henry's position within the theater that houses the Lady is kinda/sorta like that of the blue-haired woman(?) in the Silencio theater (it's not a balcony seat, but slightly elevated and off to the side, if I remember correctly). I've barely touched on the role of the technological recording and playback of sound (and especially music) in all of these works ("Eraserhead," "Mulholland Drive," and "Twin Peaks: The Return") and how it relates to their shared immersion/alienation theme.
"It wouldn't surprise me if the boy/girl courtship scenes, so oddly specific and lived-in, are taken from Lynch's own life." YES. I had this same feeling. I will watch them again. It felt so very "created from memory." I was totally there, in there, with them. Also in the posts I've been reading no one mentions Lynch's SOUND design! I watched this episode with headphones on and the nuances and specificity of the sound design are just mind-blowing. So, If anyone decides to re-watch, do so with headphones on for maximum immersion. Thanks for another great recap, Keith. I guess it goes without saying in this forum, but it is incredibly gratifying and moving that Lynch's brilliant artistry validates and expresses my feelings and perceptions that extreme darkness/ugliness/evil and extreme light/ beauty/goodness co-exist in our world – that they are not separable, but touch each other, weave through each other in visible and invisible ways. I've seen a lot of films – and all of Lynch's – but this "one little hour of TV" simultaneously scared and uplifted me in a new way – and I'm still feeling it days later.
Though I hate to judge before all the facts are in, the detail that this Twin Peaks was filmed for nine months from one long shooting script, might lead us to look at it much differently than anything else--not only because of the constraints, or lack of them, but in how to digest the product, only about half-delivered at this point. Letting it seep in after a week-long absence also does something to how we are viewing this—maybe fuzzying the effects of certain things that, seen relatively all at once, would stand and sparkle more. I don't think I'm going too much out on a limb to say one of the few experiences parallel with this Twin Peaks is Out 1—indeed Lincoln Center programmed Rivette/Lynch just about two years ago. Of course, the means are much different, but seeing how Lynch has basically done what he's wanted (glorying in the long takes of seemingly nothing important and Episode 8 and the long devotion to Good Cooper escaping the black lodge), there is more than a little cross-over with the waiting out or glorying in the long rehearsal scenes in Out 1 to get to the mystery story and the protein of the characters (actors) coming together and playing off of each other. Twin Peaks is also doling out squibs of story (much more Lynch than Frost) and disenfranchising a lot of the lay person viewership with the slow-ness—my wife, who went all four hours of L'Amour Fou, made a bee-line for a nap during Episode 8. It's probably more amazing that this Twin Peaks was funded than the first. Anyway, I've never liked looking at these shows in terms of episodes and it's my hope that the whole will someday stand free from breaking it up—it will be a 20 some hour visual experience. I do think we've seen all this before, and from Lynch himself. There are echoes of everything he's done in every piece of the new Twin Peaks, but he's put it together in a different form, extended himself, with scant sentimentality to the first series (my biggest fear going in).

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