Saturday, March 2, 2024

A Dream-like Haze Hovers Over Twin Peaks

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“Zen, or The Skill to Catch a Killer”

So, here we are. This is the third and final episode (for a while) with Lynch’s pen next to Mark Frost’s. In a way, it was the final chance to encompass most of David’s favourite themes with his own hand. The ensuing writers at the helm did a very competent job in building upon these foundations. Among other things, this is why the first season has its near-legendary reputation. The memorable, ultra-quotable moments stem from the comprehension and execution of these three episodes.

However, it may be time to start addressing the giant in the room. For, as much as I can’t stop praising season one, season two definitely had a major dive in quality. We’ll get to that eventually, as there were several factors to this decline. For now, it suffices to say that the series strayed too far from these first episodes’ mystique. This would all be tragic if the series’ final episodes hadn’t magnificently returned to these ‘Lynchean basics’. The result was memorable, to say the least. Each moment closer to the end echoed with motifs we learned at the beginning. Yet the finale still averted the ‘book ends’ narrative, thus giving us something new and stranger even.

Does the good outweigh the bad? I truly believe so. Let’s get to it, for there’s a lot going on this episode.

“All work and no play make Ben and Jerry dull boys”

We start off at the Horne household at supper. Aside from Johnny’s restless hums, suppertime feels distant and cold. Anything to break the awkward dining room silence would be welcome. Thus, we get Benjamin’s brother, Jerry (David Patrick Kelly), loud and recently come from business in Paris. He is not well liked by Audrey or Sylvia, who openly expresses her discomfort via facepalm. However, he brings Brie and butter baguettes, so it’s all good news, really. As Ben and Jerry munch away, we get to see an unexpected side to the entrepreneur: a fun side. Out of the dining room, the siblings speak of the current state of affairs.

Jerry becomes depressed at hearing about Laura and his brother’s business deal falling through. Benjamin tries cheering him up by suggesting a stop at “One Eyed Jack’s”, a casino-brothel owned by him. We learn that he gets women for the establishment from the perfume counter at his own store; charming. Now, speaking intelligibly without their mouths full, they appear equally sinister in pursuit of the “new girl” they got; delightful. Evilly, they make their way – by riding a boat, at night; splendid. Upon arrival, we are introduced to a place we’ll visit fairly often in the series. For the time being, though, we’re only here to witness one of their most disturbing fraternal antics.

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Meet Madame Blackie O’Reilly (Victoria Catlin), the black-adorned woman who runs the place at the behest of Benjamin. The two clearly have a very close relationship, judging by Benjamin’s greeting. Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” is a most charming way to greet a lover; that’s as pretty as it’s gonna get. The new girl walks in, and Jerry tosses a coin. He loses, which means Benjamin is the one who gets to “break her in” this time. This little event at One Eyed Jack’s speaks for itself as it sheds a disturbing tone on the brothers’ bond. The dining room fun strikes vilely on hindsight.

“I remember a time in school, in the hall, we were suddenly alone and we looked at each other”

It’s time to wash away the dirt a bit, with some budding romance. James had dinner with Donna at her family’s home on the previous episode. Faced with the challenge of meeting the parents, James does quite well. Now Donna and he are left alone, with their hearts bared open. They confess their feelings to each other, which were apparently brewing for a while. The kiss they share is nothing short of tender, yet with a hint of anguish. Greatly contrasting the previous scene, this innocent pairing will take initiative to try and solve Laura’s murder.

While we’re on the scale of the benign, let’s visit the Great Northern Hotel. Cooper receives a call from Hawk. He updates our Agent on the news at the hospital, including the One-Armed Man’s appearance. Curiously, hearing of the latter visibly spikes his curiosity. As we’ll learn later in the episode, Cooper also has quite an intuition for things beyond the evident. Immediately after, somebody knocks on his door and slides a piece of paper underneath. Cooper sees nobody; the paper reads “Jack with One Eye” in very pretty handwriting.

Of course, this is a dead giveaway for us viewers. As it is, the brothel becomes easily associable with an ever more mysterious Laura. Given the nature of her death, her possible involvement with sex work becomes disturbingly plausible. But at this point, the highlighted question is who wrote this note?

“Leo Johnson happened to me”

Meanwhile, back into the foreboding night, Bobby and Mike drive into the woods. It’s time to flirt with early nineties horror aesthetics. The torch-lit ambience speaks of nothing but dirty business, especially given their cell conversation. Now we follow that narrative line as we see them look for their drug stash. They find some of it inside a football buried under a tree. SUDDENLY, Leo’s face appears, revealed by that bonfire torch angle everyone loves. He had been expecting them, Mr. Plausibility, the evil twat. Scared, Bobby and Mike spot another person stalking the trees behind Leo, which he dismisses as irrelevant.

Leo wants his money, no matter in what context you say that, it always sounds menacing. The two youths tell him the drugs they just got barely covers what they paid for. Alas, Leo, third person speaker, tells them they owe him. Unfortunately, the rest of the money is back at Laura’s safe deposit box, to which they have no access. Leo won’t hear any of that, though, oh no; man’s got a shotgun. He’s a tad miffed because he knows his wife cheats on him (if only he knew with whom). Naturally, Bobby and Mike just want to get the fuck of there, swearing to get his money. Leo just tells them to run. They do, in full first-person camera glory with the shaky torchlight out of the woods. They find the football on the cat’s bonnet, knowing Leo truly means business.

The next day, Bobby visits Shelly because he just doesn’t learn. He sees the consequences of Leo’s bad mood on her face. Bobby is understandably angry, promising to kill Leo if he hits her again. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the characters are not morally one-faced. Bobby appears more humane than we’ve seen so far. Will this prove true for Leo, Catherine and Ben? We’ll see.

“DAMN GOOD COFFEE, AND HOT. Will everyone please take a seat?”

What is a Twin Peaks’ episode without a side of fresh quirks? I’m not sure I can say, but I sure do appreciate them. Ed and Nadine are almost entirely made of quirks, for example. She is determined to create the world’s first completely silent drape runners. That and her frustration towards her husband results in nigh-super strength, as you do. These moments of silliness have certainly become so far a staple of the series. Certainly they help in generating contrasting narrative tones for the episodes’ plentiful dark moments. However, these can also function as transitional devices towards more unconventional degrees of quirkiness. This really is a fancy way to say that we’re about to approach Agent Cooper’s actual investigation method.

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So, it’s a lovely a day in the forest, with a table full of donuts. Several names are written on a blackboard; possible suspects. Sheriff Truman, Deputies Hawk and Andy, and Lucy sit before him. I can’t possibly do justice to Cooper by paraphrasing, but huge quotes are generally considered poor form. Deeply moved by the historical struggle of the nation of Tibet and the Dalai Lama and filled with the desire to help them, Agent Dale Cooper subconsciously acquired through a dream the means towards a most peculiar deductive technique involving mind and body coordination, as well as the deepest level of intuition. It’s beautiful.

The method itself is highly precise and involves the many names on the blackboard. These all feature the letter J, as per Laura’s diary entry, and they all have some connection to Laura. Truman, Hawk, Andy and Lucy participate in this approach. There’s also Cooper throwing rocks at a bottle; it’s quite something. After several failed throws at the bottle, and an unintended successful one to Andy’s head, the list becomes shorter. Dr. Jacoby is highlighted with some degree of suspicion. Yet, the bottle only breaks at the last name: Mr. Plausibility, Leo Fucking Johnson, connection to Laura unknown. He is our prime suspect.

“What are you waiting for, Christmas? We’ve got work to do damn it.”

So far, we’ve pinpointed several themes on these three episodes. We got the pursuit of happiness, the presence of the uncanny, and coffee and donuts, among others. It’s now time to observe a favourite of all Lynch fans: duality. In one way or another, each character and dynamic has flirted with the notion of two-sidedness and contrast. The cold approach of criminal investigation opposes Cooper’s esoteric approach. Happiness and innocence oppose grief and filth. Dreamy Audrey opposes weirded out rational Donna. It thusly makes sense that the mystery surrounding Laura’s murder shares this quality.

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As it is, Cooper’s peculiar method mixes two apparently contradicting approaches. The show highlights this duality with the arrival of FBI Forensics Specialist Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer). This is a cynical man defined through his dry demeanour and straightforwardness. As you’d expect, lacking Cooper’s affability, he will butt heads a lot with Sheriff Truman. You can tell by how he leads his team to the morgue that the man means business. However, for one character with his feet on the ground, another will be unhinged. At the Palmer household, Leland is just losing it. Grief-stricken, the man dances with a picture of his daughter before breaking down into tears. Cue “Laura Palmer’s theme” once more, still as effectively as the first time.

That’s far as the duality in demeanour and composure goes. There is yet the one in terms of approach to this case. Remember how Cooper acquired his method. This time, we’ll get to see it happening.

“She’s filled with secrets”

The episode’s drawing to a close as Cooper goes to sleep. The aesthetics of dream are yet another signature of David Lynch, and he milks it fully here. As several images surrounding Laura Palmer flash by, we see a slightly familiar face: the One-Armed Man. His words are cryptic and reverberating with an otherworldly tone. He introduces himself as MIKE and the man Sarah Palmer saw as BOB. The latter’s words are increasingly unnerving as he says he ‘will kill again’. The restless atmosphere dies down as we’re transported to another place in the dream. Most references to Twin Peaks in other media are drawn from this very scene. Welcome to Uncanny Valley, the Red Room.

This place is considerably nicer, yet all the more surreal. We see an older-looking Cooper and a strange little person only known as The Man from Another Place (Michael J. Anderson). We also see Laura, alive and sitting across from Cooper. Both of them speak in a most peculiar way; as if their speech had been reversed twice over, thus necessitating subtitles to be understood by the viewer as well. The man introduces Laura as ‘his cousin’ and remarks on her uncanny resemblance to Laura Palmer. The young woman says she feels like she knows her but ‘sometimes her arms bend back’. Both Cooper and the viewer are left with few devices to make sense of all this.

In a meta sense, the confusion of this scene is an amazing technical staple of the series. Every word, however cryptic, is prone to be valued as if it was Chekhov Gun in its own right. The viewer will be on the lookout for the meaning to these words, revealed as the series progresses. Dandy Jazz starts playing and The Man from Another Place starts dancing, as you do. Meanwhile, ‘Laura’ whispers something in Cooper’s ear, something we don’t get to read or hear. Cooper wakes up with the best bedhead ever and quickly reaches for the phone. He dials Truman’s number, telling him to meet him for breakfast the next day. He knows who killed Laura Palmer. Credits roll in, with the same music from the red room. Instead of Laura’s picture, we see the Man dancing, further highlighting the dream’s relevance.

We know it’s too early for the mystery to be solved just like that. Well, you bet it is. But even if the killer’s name was indeed revealed the next episode, the mystery spans both the mundane and the surreal. Comprehending the nature of this crime will require an approach beyond the expectations and tropes of the genre. We’re no longer looking at a mere crime drama. We’re looking at something far greater, which will become even more intriguing. I promise, for although the second season will get really sketchy, the destination back at this room of strangeness will greet us with open arms and lovely music.

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Images courtesy of CBS

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