Listen: it’s four in the morning, and I don’t plan on doing anything resembling a running recap of this Twin Peaks return. I probably won’t even write anything else about this season.
But since this is the first thing David Lynch has filmed in over a decade, and since this is one of the most influential and important shows in the history of television, and since tonight’s episode, the eighth of this new season, was one of the most blisteringly insane things I have ever seen, I felt compelled to write…something.
I won’t really try to recap this episode, since nothing really happens in it, plot-wise (and since I haven’t been doing such for the previous seven eps), so instead I’ll just do some stream of consciousness riffing on it and how it’s the closest thing this show will ever get to an origin episode, 25 years later.
So the first part, the only part that takes place in the modern day, already established “real world” as it exists in Twin Peaks, begins with one of the most Lynchian visuals there is: an empty highway in the dark, illuminated solely by the headlights of a car, plunging further into the unknown. The inhabitants of this car are Ray (George Griffith), and the hideous monstrosity passing itself off as Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan, of course). David Lynch is not the most obvious filmmaker in the world, but even he loves heavy-handed imagery once in a while, and the meaning of this particular metaphor has always been obvious: what we don’t know scares us more than what we do.
The golden rule of horror is that an unseen monster is always scarier than a guy in a rubber suit. What’s more unseeable than nothing? For most of the history of this country, the open road is a symbol of freedom and new opportunity. For David Lynch, its a symbol that the world wants to fucking kill you and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
Anyway, the basic plot of this episode starts and stops as Ray and EvilCoop (“Mr. Cooper” from here on out) are escaping from jail, an escape orchestrated by the latter after blackmailing and scaring the absolute shit out of the warden of a federal prison. Mr. Cooper is pretty obviously about to kill his traitorous minion Ray, whose capture was the only reason Mr. C was in that prison in the first place, where his identity was nearly exposed by the FBI in the form of Gordon Cole, Albert Rosenfield, and Diane (David Lynch, Miguel Ferrer, and Laura Dern).
So it reflects well on Ray when he turns the tables on his boss and shoots him seemingly to death, before escaping into the night and calling who I assume is Phillip Jeffries to let him know Mr. C has been dealt with. Before that, however, Mr. C’s body is surrounded by a bunch of nightmarish hobo spirits, whose purpose and identity is unknown and uknowable. They scare the shit out of Ray (and caused me to gasp out loud, not for the last time), but what really scares Ray is the unholy visage of BOB, leering out from Mr. C’s flesh. Frank Silva’s death is one of the saddest and most unfortunate of all the former Twin Peaks cast members, but having access to his face only though archival footage has made him something more primal and fear-inducing, which was what made him so appealing to Lynch in the first place.
As the weird hobo ghosts (apparently called “The Woodsmen”) surround and seem to devour Mr. C, we transition to the Roadhouse for the week’s requisite musical performance. Lo and behold, it’s “The” Nine Inch Nails, performing “She’s Gone Away,” from last year’s excellent EP Not the Actual Events, probably the darkest and grungiest thing the band has done in a while. Atticus Ross even shows up for a bit. As the song growls to an end, Mr. C sits up, covered in his own blood. Is it BOB, in full control? Is it the real Dale Cooper? We don’t know.
From this point on, this episode is almost completely unmoored from anything resembling a narrative, though very curiously, it’s completely moored in time and place. July 16th, 1945. The White Sands Missile Range. New Mexico. The Manhattan Project. Trinity.
As the bomb detonates, a tiny speck from an angle nearly in orbit, the camera rushes in, and suddenly inside the explosion, fire everywhere and everything. Now we are all sons of bitches. As we go deeper and the fire rushes by, Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, screams at us. Suddenly we’re in the middle of the explosion, the eye of the storm, and the weird creature from the premiere — the one that killed those poor dumb kids watching the box in New York City — is there, and she (?) vomits up a bunch of weird orbs. Inside one of them is BOB.
The insinuation here is that BOB was born of man, not the Black Lodge, which as we know, is ancient. In a sense, the Trinity Test represents something that human beings cannot ever come back from. It opened up a box that we, in all honesty, should never have opened. I think it’s not unreasonable to assume that some day, probably sooner than later, it’s going to be the end of us. So as a metaphor for human evil, I think it’s pretty apt. Remember that in Gordon Cole’s Philadelphia office hung a photo of a mushroom cloud. Across from it, a picture of Franz Kafka. Both appropriate signifiers for this episode, I think. A picture of Kubrick might have been too on the nose?
People have sometimes accused this show of trying to absolve Leland Palmer for the horrible things he did by saying that BOB had complete control of him (a reading which is refuted by how awful he is in Fire Walk With Me), but I think this revelation, that BOB was seemingly created by man, the ultimate symbol of man’s inhumanity to man, helps smooth that out a bit. Lynchian villains are never one-dimensional. They’re strange, terrifying, and slightly pathetic. Leland may in fact be the best of them, which would make him the worst.
Anyway, we see some Woodsmen flickering around a convenience store (!!!) before eventually ending up somewhere that looks at least a little bit like the isolated fortress Cooper found himself inside of in Part Three. The one with the woman who had no eyes and Ronette Pulaski. An alarm of some kind starts going off. A woman sits patiently. Then, the Giant (played once again by Carel Struycken and credited as ???) investigates. He makes his way to an amphitheater, where footage of the Trinity Bomb is showing. Eventually, it shows the birth of BOB, and the Giant is perturbed enough to start levitating in the air and spewing golden tendrils from his body. The woman, credited as Dido, stands by patiently, looking equally perturbed. A golden orb appears. Inside it is the face of Laura Palmer. Is it future or is it past? The woman takes the orb, then shoves it into a giant trombone and shoots it through their theater screen and towards the planet Earth.
Back on Earth, an elderly couple are driving down another dark highway in 1956. The Woodsmen appear, and the leader, played by an actor named Robert Broski (who apparently takes bookings as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator, which is important?), approaches them, and asks in the same distorted tone if they’ve “got a light?” He keeps asking them as more Woodsmen surround the car. The woman screams, inhumanly deep, like when Leland killed Maddy Ferguson in the original show. It should be hilarious and awkward, but like before, it makes my blood run cold. The Woodsmen get closer and closer, until the husband guns it and they escape. An egg hatches in the desert, and a strange CGI moth/frog crawls out, and slouches toward some Bethlehem to be born.
Meanwhile, a couple of teens, walking home from a movie, find a coin. A penny. “It’s heads up, which is good luck!” she says, not knowing that another being with Honest Abe’s face is out there in the darkness, and he is coming. The boy kisses the girl goodnight, and she heads into her room to listen to her radio and dream. At the radio station, the Head Woodsman walks in, and asks the secretary if she’s “got a light?” She screams, and he crushes her skull with one hand. He makes his way into the broadcasting room, and stops the song, which I think was another Jimmy Scott tune.
As he slowly crushes the DJ’s skull, he takes the mic, and repeatedly chants
This is the water, and this is the well
Drink full, and ascend
The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within.
Everyone who hears it immediately passes into a deep sleep, and as the young girl (Sarah Palmer?) slumbers, the Moth/Frog crawls onto her bed. She unconsciously opens her mouth, and it climbs in. The Woodsman walks into the dark night, where the unknown dwells. The credits roll.
People have complained that this new Twin Peaks lacks a lot of the weird charm and quirkiness of the original, and they’re not wrong. But the undercurrent of the show was always as dark and fucked up as anything ever aired on television. Like all things Lynchian, it’s the stuff of dreams and nightmares, designed to elicit an emotional reaction above all else, especially conforming to what we traditionally understand narrative to be. The thing about Twin Peaks that always stood out most to me compared to Lynch’s other works was that it still managed to be somewhat accessible. While I’ll admit that this new season hasn’t quite hit that mark yet (aside from a Harry Dean Stanton’s scenes and anything with Gordon and Albert), it’s compensating by ramping up the nightmarish, distinctly Lynchian imagery to a fever pitch. The original Twin Peaks was the most bizarre and experimental thing ever seen on television, and this episode made it look like Happy Days.
If Lynch’s goal as an artist is to elicit emotional reactions, he’d probably be happy to know that I spent the first 15 minutes of “The Return: Part 8” confused and afraid, and that I spent the last 45 minutes stunned into silence.
Wow, BOB, woW.