[The following contains spoilers.]
The tenth episode of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Return opens with three successive scenes of violence. In the first, the primary school teacher Miriam (Sarah Jean Long) is apparently murdered in her idyllic trailer park home by Richard Horne (Eamon Farren). In the second, Becky Burnett (Amanda Seyfried) is being terrorised by her inadequate husband Steven (Caleb Landry Jones), who hurls a red coffee cup out of the window of their own trailer. In the third, Candie (Amy Shiels), a ditzy glamour girl, tries to swat a fly and ends up hitting her gangster sugar-daddy Rodney Mitchum (Robert Knepper) in the face with a television remote control. The shock at what she has done fritters away Candie into tears, squeals, and palpitations.
There is still innocence in this world. Richard amazingly cracks knuckles in his neck before storming the caravan; amazingly, that expelled coffee cup lands, after numerous somersaults, perfectly upright.
Juxtaposition is often Surrealism’s surest way of doing things. We have three images that are vaguely teasing in how they are sequenced. A homely woman lying in a pool of blood; a battered coffee cup; and a splatted, or un-splatted, fly. It is like a voiceless challenge. Which is the funniest – which is the most distressing? Are we so deadened to televisual violence that Miriam’s mishap is the same to us as the misuse of a coffee cup? Or does our soul-searching identify a subtler problem: that the fly-swatting slapstick, which is completely hilarious, is altogether funnier than the assault on Miriam is disturbing?
Episode ten has added to the discomfort amongst some reviewers about David Lynch’s increasingly frolicsome misogyny. Indeed, one headline, hot off the press, reads: “Twin Peaks Basically Hates Women At This Point.” It is easy enough to dismiss these critics for “just not getting it” or for confusing the passive depiction of violence with its active celebration. But it is also fair to question whether airing scenes of misogyny over and over again is really the most virtuous means of commenting upon its ubiquity. On the technicalities of torturing women, Lynch seems to know his way around the subject rather too well, like a gamekeeper who possesses surprising expertise about poaching.
Within Lynch’s universe, the hatred of women, or the instinct to wreak violence upon them that is continually shown by the male characters, is at heart a kind of symbolic rebellion against the goodness of the feminine. This is a worldview in which the women are God and the men are basically Satan in revolt. Of course, the men are partially sympathetic because, like Satan, they have prioritised their freedom. A freedom from goodness is certainly an important and interesting freedom.
The women’s dilemma, or even their tragedy, is that their bodies are required to symbolise goodness. When Richard Horne murders a lady who looks after small children, and who had presumably once cared for him, then the symbolism has obvious purchase. Next, he moves straight on to his grandmother (Jan D’Arcy). Yet when Ike “the Spike” (Christophe Zajac-Denek ) invades an office like a rampaging toddler to stab three women, why does it appear to mean the same? One of these women was, after all, a murderer. Why, when Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) kills Dayra (Nicole LaLiberte), does she look and sound so innocent, even though she was originally scheming to kill him first?
Unable to resolve how the reality of women is often not the same as their angelic or vulnerable appearances, Twin Peaks returns neurotically to replay scenes of this crisis. The very starting-point of Twin Peaks was the hometown lovely Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) who was simultaneously a seductress, a prostitute, and the victim of sexual abuse. Episode ten is subtitled “Laura is the one” but she is not “the one” in the sense that she is singular. Laura had been not even murdered once – she was killed and then she was killed again by proxy with the murder of her doppelganger Maddy and then Lynch created an entire film, Fire Walk With Me, in which she was slaughtered anew.
Laura’s centrality is momentarily reasserted in episode ten when FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch) opens the door of his hotel room and, for a split second, he beholds a vision of her sobbing. Cole is a character who stands half outside of Twin Peaks, a faerie figure who allows the barely camouflaged Lynch to oversee the world that he had created from within it. In that split second in the hotel doorway, all of the overarching apparatus of Twin Peaks, all of those murdered women who are proxies for Laura and those investigating agents who are proxies for Lynch, are whipped away. We hold the seed of the whole tree in our hand. We see Lynch’s bewilderment at a suffering woman and there is a distinct nod to how Steven Burnett scrutinises the “innocent look” of the woman who he is abusing.
Laura is the one but Candie is another. We are meant to place this robotic woman alongside Dougie Jones (Kyle MacLachlan), the grinning humanoid dildo who Janey-E (Naomi Watts) exuberantly makes love to in this episode. A comparable joy is brought by the chanting robotic teddy bear who so cheers everybody up during the grandmother-strangling scene at the Horne residence. More problematically, however, out of the long gallery of Lynchian heroines, Candie most recalls the television star Betty (Marla Rubinoff) from Lynch and Frost’s 1992 sitcom On the Air. Betty is a giantess of a bimbo but she is never shameful. Her golden goodness and tenderness are all that ever matter.
If Candie literally cannot kill a fly, she weeps uncontrollably at having harmed her man. She appears to weep throughout the day and long into the night. There is nonetheless some discrepancy within the circuitry. Candie was previously depicted leaning spiritlessly against a wall, with her two fellow android bombshells, as the casino supervisor (Brett Gelman) was beaten up by mobsters. She also looks in her element when she is thuggishly sweeping the insurance agent Anthony Sinclair (Tom Sizemore) out of the mobsters’ presence. The robot façade is simply inscrutable.
That “Laura is the one” inevitably reminds us that Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is still missing. Laura might have been the archetypal female in the original Twin Peaks, but Audrey was surely always far more popular amongst viewers. With these two twin peaks, Lynch was playing with that timeless distinction between fair beauty and dark, between the goodly maiden and the sensual, knowledgeable temptress. He was indeed just playing and I am not sure whether there was any real difference between Laura and Audrey aside from their hair colour. Laura was as wily as Audrey and Audrey was as good as Laura.
Audrey was reportedly plunged into a coma at the same time that Cooper became trapped in the Black Lodge. If the death of Laura had propelled Cooper into this nightmare, could an encounter with Audrey’s goodness call him back? Or is the idealised purity of women no longer realistic as a solution to this tale?