Monday, June 26, 2017

Twin Peaks, Season Three, Episodes 1-8

The question is, "Where have you gone?" Waking up after a 26-year dream, Twin Peaks drops us, and at least some of its characters, into disorientingly unfamiliar situations.

The first two seasons of Twin Peaks (1990-1991) presented the viewer with sharp contrasts in tone, unapologetically strange personalities, and intervention on Earth from a bizarre spirit plane while keeping one thing almost totally constant: The setting of the town of Twin Peaks. This geographical constraint was dropped in the prequel film Fire Walk With Me, and it is totally blown away in the new, third season. In its first eight episodes, Twin Peaks: The Return takes us to the fictional and somewhat Twin-Peaks-like rural town, Buckhorn, South Dakota, and also to Yankton Federal Prison on the other side of that state, a long days' drive south from there to Las Vegas and to East Coast metropolises Philadelphia and New York City, with a short stop in Buenos Aires. And yes, there is some action in the town of Twin Peaks, but far less than the opening seasons would lead one to expect. What this all signifies is that the third season is not about a town or even small, American towns in general but about a phenomenon that happened to affect powerfully the town of Twin Peaks but is broad and far-ranging in its extent. Season 3 has focused so far by following the threads of one specific (but very complicated) story, and then panning back – way back – to something general.

The specific story is that of three Dale Coopers – two more than we started the series with and one more than we had in 1991. Way back in Season 2, Episode 11, Deputy Hawk told us:

There is also a legend of a place called the Black Lodge. The shadow self of the White Lodge. Legend says that every spirit must pass through there on the way to perfection. There, you will meet your own shadow self. My people call it The Dweller on the Threshold. … But it is said that if you confront the Black Lodge with imperfect courage, it will utterly annihilate your soul.

Been there, done that. Cooper has met his shadow self, or doppelganger, and survived, but their meeting resulted in a switcheroo – Evil Cooper has been on the loose for 26 years now, while Good Cooper has sat cooling his heels in the Black Lodge, having at least a few conversations with friends such as The Giant and MIKE. But this situation has a time limit, and it has just expired. Good Cooper is free to leave the Black Lodge if he can get Evil Cooper back in. Evil Cooper knows this and has backup plans. First, he created a third, fake Cooper named Dougie Jones who is sucked into the Black Lodge when Good Cooper appears. That kept Evil Cooper on Earth, but he was incapacitated and taken into a Federal prison. Good Cooper has to kill Evil Cooper in order to remain on Earth, but Good Cooper has returned with his mental capacities reduced to that of a toddler, stumbling – in a successful Forrest Gump style – through the life of Dougie Jones while he struggles to regain his memory and/or be found by his friends in law enforcement. Evil Cooper, as shrewd as he is immoral, has backup plans behind backup plans, escaping prison and even death to remain free and fighting for his evil life to continue.

As they prepare for an inevitable showdown, both Good Cooper and Evil Cooper have some supernatural assistance. Good Cooper is being given hints and cues from some unstated source – probably MIKE and The Arm (the Man From Another Place, now "evolved" into a walking human nervous system that resembles the baby in Eraserhead). These clues enable him to win big in love and business and even in a Las Vegas casino. Meanwhile, Evil Cooper knew in advance of his incarceration how to (and the need to) hack the prison security system and blackmail the warden into allowing his release. Good Cooper is gradually regaining his memories and skills, best seen when he rapidly disarmed ruthless assassin Ike The Spike. His allies Deputy Chief Hawk and the Log Lady in Twin Peaks and FBI personnel Cole, Bryson, and Rosenfield are perhaps on his trail and will perhaps accelerate his recovery if they find him before Evil Cooper does. Along the way, Season 3 has picked up some very loose threads, showing us Diane (played by Lynch regular Laura Dern) and surfacing the missing pages (except one) from Laura Palmer's diary. For reasons that are not yet completely clear, Evil Cooper needs some numbers and in the season's first scene, The Giant gives some numbers to Good Cooper; there's a decent chance that those are the same numbers.

Those are the facts of the season's first seven episodes; then Episode 8 drops the bomb, literally. After Evil Cooper is revived from death by dark, horrible-looking men from nowhere, we jump back to July 1945, and witness in psychedelic detail the first atomic bomb explosion in the desert of New Mexico. Inside the fireball, we, The Giant, and a new character named SeƱorita Dido witness the emergence (and possible origin, or passage to our world) of BOB. Eleven years later, in 1956, a horrible winged bug-lizard hatches from an egg while the horrible dark men (according to the credits, Woodsmen a la FWWM) stagger like zombies away from a Convenience Store (again, a la FWWM) and begin to terrorize some nearby people. A Woodsman kills a couple of people and sends a hypnotic message over the radio, "This is the water and the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within." Then, a girl who has left an idyllic Fifties date opens her lips and allows the horrible bug-lizard to super horribly crawl inside her. It seems quite probable that we have thus witnessed the origin or transition of the entire Twin Peaks spirit world.

To connect a few dots (or plots), here, in 1956, Leland Palmer was about nine years old (at least, the actor, Ray Wise, who plays him was). This allows for the bomb, egg, creature, and Woodsmen to be on the scene when Leland, as a boy, met BOB and allowed him inside. Gordon Cole has a photo of an atomic explosion on his office wall, indicating that he may know about the relevance of nukes and the great menace out there facing his world. Dido is (from the Aeneid), the name of a woman whom a man meets on his way to a greater destiny, and this is the name of the woman who witnesses the origin of BOB. And the horse in the Woodsman's verse may be the one we have seen twice now (just before Maddy dies and when Good Cooper leaves the Black Lodge), when the spirit world is interfacing with our own.

Twin Peaks is as much about tone as it is about plots and details, and the tone of Season 3 is unmistakably more like David Lynch's theatrical films than the television show that Twin Peaks started out as. Lynch has peppered the cast with actors such as Naomi Watts, Patrick Fischler, and Laura Dern who were prominent in his films. He has also brought, from his films to Season 3, visual and thematic motifs such as a woman listening to a record player, menacing and unnaturally dark men, and a world of big, bad criminality. Twin Peaks: The Return may provide a unifying glue to Lynch's entire career and it seems not impossible that he could even link one or more of his fictional worlds to the Twin Peaks universe before it is over.

It is also noteworthy how much Season 3 shares with comic books, particularly the works of Alan Moore, whether Lynch is a fan who has drawn upon this material deliberately, or if they simply share the same influences. A bug infecting someone with an evil spirit by crawling into their mouth was done long ago in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. The idea of a profoundly violent event changing the world for the worse as if by synchronicity was also seen in Alan Moore's From Hell: Moore's story had the crimes of Jack the Ripper directly triggering the conception of Hitler while Lynch gives us the atomic bomb as the trigger that allows the evils of BOB and his spirit companions into our world. Of course, the idea of a scientific event producing beings with special powers is an older comic book trope, going back to the Flash in 1940 and Superman in 1938 as well as Jerry Siegel's evil "Super-Man" of 1933.

Now, preceding Episode Nine, we are truly at a crossroads. Evil Cooper is somewhere in the countryside, evil, enraged, and possibly immortal. Good Cooper is in Las Vegas, on the path towards regaining his capabilities. Good Cooper's allies are trying to work out the mystery before them. And now that we know that the evil in Twin Peaks began in 1945/1956, where are we poised in 2017? In the past, numbers (such as the time between Jupiter–Saturn conjunctions, and "I'll see you in 25 years") have been important. Is there some numerology with years about to unfold, so that what started in 1945 will end sometime soon, based on a magical number of years or alignment in the skies? Is there predestination guiding us to an inevitable conclusion? Or does Good Cooper have to rise up and win this as an act of will?

A key to the nature of the Twin Peaks story was perhaps spelled out way back in the second episode, "Zen, Or The Skill To Catch A Killer." Agent Cooper, beginning to work on the Laura Palmer case, memorably positioned a bottle on a log and threw rocks at it from 60 feet and 6 inches away (the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate in baseball). Cooper, using an idea that came to him "in a dream," seeks clues in the way his subconscious mind and/or luck affect his throws. The "Tibetan method," he calls it. The episode was titled, "Zen, or, The Skill to Catch a Killer." Less than one episode later, Cooper tells Harry and Lucy that his dream (which ended the second episode) is the key to the case. "Break the code, solve the crime." This created the juicy prospect that the viewer, too, could break the code and solve the crime. Ultimately, however, this was not true. Many of the clues in the dream matched nothing at all. Others were hopelessly vague (e.g., that BOB's hair color matched Leland's, which it did only loosely). Still others were absolutely impossible to apply until the viewer already knew the solution (e.g., "that gum you like is going to come back in style," but the gum was linked to Leland after we already knew that he was the killer). In fact, Twin Peaks has never been built upon cleverness and logic and puzzles. It's full of dreamy obfuscation and wildly spiralling complexity without end. It sometimes makes sense after the fact, but it is not laid out according to conventional logic, and Lynch's comments on his own artistic process explain why:

Certain things are just beautiful to me, and I don't know why. Certain
things make so much sense, and it's hard to explain. I felt Eraserhead, I didn't think it.

Twin Peaks is driven more than anything else by David Lynch's visions from nowhere. It's how he works and it is, naturally, how his hero, Agent Cooper, works. Now Cooper – Good Cooper – is once again in the driver's seat, and Lynch will ask him, as Albert did twenty six years ago:

Cooper. In observation, I don't know where this is headed. But the only one of us with the coordinates for this destination and its hardware is you. Go on whatever vision quest you require. Stand on the rim of a volcano, stand alone and do your dance. Just find this beast before he takes another bite.