David Lynch, David Lynch and Mark Frost, Detective fiction, Dwarf, Father Brown, G. K. Chesterton, Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Nostalgia, Special Agent Dale Cooper, Surrealism, The Nineties, Twin Peaks
[The following contains spoilers.]
Is Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return loosening up and growing friendlier, or are we simply getting used to it? Episode seven seems to linger longer over the town of Twin Peaks though the familiar is not yet wholly homely. We begin back in the woods and with a comic character from Twin Peaks’ earliest days, Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) but there is immediately a disconnect. “I don’t know where I am!” Jerry bellows in anguish. Yes, he is high, but this is otherwise one of those self-referential metaphors that now regularly punctuates the series. We are meant to see ourselves reflected in Jerry: confused, lost, and high on the “pure heroin” version of David Lynch’s handiwork (the description with which this season was first advertised). We too still don’t know where we are.
The familiar is discombobulated anew in this episode’s final scene. There is briefly footage of the woods again. Next there is a cheery tableau of the Double R Diner, the spiritual home of Twin Peaks nostalgia, before a young man bursts in and shouts… well, the consensus is that he shouts “Has anyone seen Billy?” This is a good opportunity to pause because it offers a perfect demonstration of how we can never in fact return to Twin Peaks.
There are two different ways in which we can today consume the show. There is the traditional method of watching Twin Peaks on linear television, which is how most viewers had originally experienced it. Had the “Billy” scene appeared in 1990, the shout that breaks through the diner would have been an annoying and probably forgettable mystery. Unless you had recorded the show using a VCR, and you were patient enough to repeatedly rewind back in order to immerse yourself in the noise, you would have had to let it go.
In 2017, however, the digital footage can be instantly replayed and scrutinised. There are subtitles. There are web forums that pick away at the mystery from every angle. There are YouTube videos that reveal “ten things you might have missed” or even provide a shot-by-shot breakdown of each episode (duration: one hour fifty minutes plus). With this 2017 toolkit, it is not long before you realise that the diners in the Double R are actually wearing different clothes before and after the man bursts in.
In 1990, the detail about the switching clothes would have been absorbed subliminally by most viewers. It would have subtly deepened the sense of a sleepwalker crying out in their sleep, with the diner appearing firstly as a dream vision and being subsequently viewed “for real” upon awakening. But in 2017, there might be also a feeling of alienation from Lynch’s never-ending chicanery. The traditional nostalgic glow of this town is being always subverted. Nothing is innocent anymore.
In the original series, Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) had recited messages to his secretary Diane into a dictaphone. I assume that all of the rules about federal funding in the USA had meant that Cooper had to itemise every slice of cherry pie that he claimed on his expenses. This is no doubt stipulated somewhere in the Constitution. A fruitful art project in 1990 would have been to ask fans of Twin Peaks to draw what they thought that Diane looked like. My Diane would have ultimately resembled James Bond’s Miss Moneypenny – a sexy but tight-lipped professional, seated conscientiously at a typewriter and perhaps allowing herself on occasion to dream primly about Dale Cooper’s distant eyes. So there is a lot of discomfort to Laura Dern’s unveiled gorgon.
She chants “fuck you!” rather as a duck quacks and she chain-smokes between the abuse. Imagine her at her typewriter in 1990, listening daily to Cooper’s lunch costs, snarling and spitting at each reported cup of coffee. Except that it is 2017 and we can no longer access her original character. Dern’s portrayal of Diane is not altogether hilarious. It looks unlikely that Diane can ever be mended and perhaps she is as irretrievable as her old boss now appears to be.
Fewer new characters are introduced in episode seven, lessening this disorientating feeling that the show is sweeping forward too quickly and leaving great piles of itself behind. There are still latecomers to the party. James Hurley (James Marshall) who had seemed to hog the screen for hours in the original Twin Peaks has been glimpsed only briefly in the new season’s first episode. Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is similarly yet to show her face. Nevertheless, we do get to see Doc Hayward again, in a posthumous appearance from the ninety-one-year-old actor Warren Frost. The Doc is beamed into the town via Skype, ostensibly from the original Twin Peaks, a gentle, heavenly world of fishing in the sunshine. It is a beautiful scene and one that is rich with melancholy. Frost is indeed calling from another time: the actor would not have been privy to the full script of the new show let alone be able to see how radically it had changed.
Two actors to be exiled from the new season are Michael Ontkean, who had played Sheriff Harry Truman, and Michael J. Anderson, who was “The Man From Another Place.” Ontkean is missing for “unnamed reasons” and Harry is replaced as Sheriff by his brother Frank (Robert Forster). This absence is in keeping with the season’s theme of missing brothers, since one of the Horne brothers is lost (i.e. he is always high) and the missing Cooper is represented on Earth by two doppelgängers. There is equally a highly surprising appearance from Jean-Michel Renault (Walter Olkewicz), a newly minted brother of the deceased Jacques Renault.
As the backwards-speaking dancing dwarf, Anderson had supplied some of the most memorable imagery from the original series. After Anderson’s services were not required for the reboot, he accused David Lynch of raping his own daughter Jennifer and murdering the actor Jack Nance. Jennifer commented that, “I am sorry that Mike is doing this. None of what he says is true, and I hope he receives the help and peace he needs.”
The Man From Another Place was originally a severed arm that had mutated into a new being. In Twin Peaks: The Return, he is now a talking tree, or a brain with a flapping mouth and a tree’s body, and his own evil doppelgänger is a scampering child-sized hitman named Ike “the Spike” (wonderfully, Ike is played by a surfer named Christophe Zajac-Denek who is so unknown that he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry). Ike is just as personally vivid as The Man From Another Place and his weekly appearance is currently the highlight of the show. One enjoys his appeal intuitively – it is, in fact, the authentically medieval fascination with the glamour of a frightening dwarf. Here is where we can reconnect with all that is timeless and untrivial about the new Twin Peaks.
Consider the scene in which that mysterious shout cuts through the Double R Diner. Or the scene in which the windows of the jet plane carrying FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch) flicker with a secret code. For some fans, such scenes license a massive micro-engagement with all of the available wealth of detail. I am not sure, though, whether Twin Peaks exactly endorses this code-cracking and clue-foraging, this analytical bullheadedness with which so many fans interpret it.
I am reminded of Antonio Gramsci’s verdict that the detective Father Brown “totally defeats Sherlock Holmes, makes him look like a pretentious little boy, shows up his narrowness and pettiness.” Holmes reasons purely from the evidence, through deduction and ratiocination, whilst Brown is instead guided by inner certainties. Cooper might not share Brown’s pugilistic Catholicism but he is still an adherent to Tibetan spiritualism. His dream-questing and use of intuition go beyond merely auditing the clues. He confirms that his own knowledge of a “deductive technique” has been gained only “subconsciously.” It involves throwing rocks at a glass bottle.
So whether it is Bing or Bill – and who this personage is – and whether anyone has seen him – is probably neither here nor there. The solution is the mystery itself and so it is not worth smashing a single bottle over Bill.