Milo Garner reviews the next chapter of David Lynch’s return to Twin Peaks.
WARNING: This review contains spoilers.
Despite a very surrealist first few episodes, the Twin Peaks revival has since settled into a form more familiar to its original run. Sure, it’s a lot more Lynchian than before; but the provincial, ensemble dramatic form is fairly similar to what we’ve already seen. As such, when Part 8 opens with Ray (George Griffith) and Bob Coop (Kyle MacLachlan) conversing in a car, my expectations were pretty set. It was strange as always – with some mention of a new obscure location, ‘the farm’ – but no more than the usual. Following this is some quite sudden action – the pair pull guns on one another, but Ray had sabotaged Coop’s attack. Coop is shot, seemingly dead. Shortly after his apparent demise, ghostly figures begin to surround Coop’s body, touching and rubbing it. They fade in and out as Badalamenti’s bassy synth is muffled in the soundtrack, accompanied by the terrified screams of Ray, similarly obscured. It’s a shocking and frightening opening – even for Twin Peaks – and sets the tone for the rest of the episode. The surreal is back, and better than ever.
Following this early section is a switch in formula – most episodes in this new season have concluded with a band playing at the Roadhouse, whereas here we are presented with one very early on. And the band in question are none other than ‘the’ Nine Inch Nails, an industrial outfit with whom Lynch had formerly collaborated with on the soundtrack for Lost Highway. They play ‘She’s Gone Away’ as the camera treats the scene like a fully-fledged live music video – the performance is great and suits the tone of the show perfectly. This is also as close to normalcy as we will get in this particular episode. Quickly following the song’s conclusion we are taken somewhere Twin Peaks has never yet strayed – that’s right, the 1940s. As a title informs us, the date is July 16th 1945; and as has been foreshadowed by a massive poster in FBI HQ, we witness a nuke go off. But more than that, the camera slowly pushes toward the mushroom cloud. It closes in, maintaining its unhurried pace, until we are enveloped by the dark. Following is one of Lynch’s most compelling – and terrifying – sequences yet, one that bears far more similarity with Douglas Trumbull’s groundbreaking work in 2001: A Space Odyssey’s closing sequence and The Tree of Life’s ‘universe’ section than to any of his own filmography. Only an additional dose of chaos and fear are injected into this journey through oblivion. Aside from the fractious and often abrasive visuals, the soundtrack is key to instilling an intense feeling of unease. On it is Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima – perhaps an obvious choice in some ways, but also one utterly chilling. Penderecki’s music has the ability to terrify even unaccompanied, as I am well aware, so linked with such engrossing and off-putting imagery it is given ever more power – that Kubrick used his music in both 2001 and The Shining to a similar end is further evidence of this. Following this, we are again shown a giant purple ocean (a la Part 3). The camera tilts up to a great rocky structure reaching for the sky, atop it a lighthouse-like building. We cut within – the visuals suggest the 1920s, but the music that we are still in the forties. A woman (Joy Nash) sits alone and beside her in a bell-like steampunk-esque looking object, and soon she is joined by the Giant from the Black Lodge (Carel Struycken) – though this room, and the colour of the remainder of the episode, is monochrome. In the next room, the iconic Giant rewatches the last section of the episode on a projector, then ascends into the sky and spews a golden substance, and an orb (there’s always an orb).
Even for Lynch, this is very bizarre yet utterly compelling. On the day of watching this particular episode, I had recently finished Matthew Barney’s somewhat deranged Cremaster Cycle, a surrealistic series based around the muscle that lowers testicles (it’s weirder than it sounds). I feared Lynch’s ‘TV surrealism’ would seem muted in direct comparison, but as is evident in the above description, he held his own, and then some. In fact, this might be some of the bravest TV of recent times – certainly, it is some of the best. By this point, actual implications for the plot are limited at best – it seems that Bob may have been created, or triggered, by the nuclear blast (though we can’t be sure) and that Laura Palmer might have some greater significance as an orb with her face on it drifts toward a representation of Earth. Maybe hers is the ‘Return’ in the series’ title? Regardless, this is an episode very much worth watching for the ride rather than the scant plot that can be found between the cracks.
Continuing on, the episode then fast-forwards to 1956, and we see a sinister being descend from the sky. This one of many Woodsmen (Robert Broski) is a hobo-looking character whose otherworldly nature is fairly clear – he wonders around his desert locale repeating ‘gotta light?’ while crushing the heads of those who he passes with his hand. He ends up at the local radio, who are playing ‘My Prayer’ by The Platters. After killing a woman and the host (with a horrifying [s]platter of blood) he speaks into the microphone: ‘this is the water, this is the well, drink full and descend, the horse is the white of the eyes and dark within’. Of course, we all expected him to say ‘gotta light?’, but a cryptic message is at the very least not unpredictable for Lynch, unlike the majority of this episode. All the while this is happening, a young couple are parting ways after what seems to be a first date. The girl, once home, is sent to sleep by this hijacked radio message, and we see a small creature – a frog crossed with a fly, at first glance – climb into her mouth. We had seen it hatch from an egg a while earlier – but what it is or what it is doing remains totally obscure. As might be clear, this episode has almost nothing to do with the events that directly preceded it, and indeed only featured a trio of recognisable characters. But, nonetheless, it was totally compelling and has instantly become a favourite episode of mine, not just of Twin Peaks but of TV as a whole. This sort of experimentation, regardless of its meaning, rarely graces the small screen and rarer yet at this quality. Let’s only hope Lynch has allowed himself a few more such flourishes as this before the curtain closes on Twin Peaks once again.
Twin Peaks: The Return airs Mondays at 2am in simulcast with the U.S. on Sky Atlantic, and is then repeated at 9pm on Tuesdays.