[The following contains spoilers.]
In my poor, addled, overheating mind, fifty-four plays have come between episodes twelve and thirteen of Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return. The Edinburgh Fringe has been basically nothing but a huge, congested, non-commercial break for me. But my memories of the theatre also seem increasingly spectral. Even though they were physically performed in front of me, with no screen and by three-dimensional people, these plays have typically lacked the piercing clarity of, say, the startling vision of Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) in episode twelve. Returning to the series after four weeks, everything looks so pristine and almost painfully dazzling.
Episode thirteen is unlucky for men. It takes as its theme their humiliation.
We find Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) marooned on the sofa of her living room, manufacturing Bloody Marys, whilst footage of a boxer being floored plays on a loop on her television. It vaguely echoes an earlier scene in which a robot bear’s message, “Hello Jonny, how are you today,” had replayed jarringly throughout the whole of Richard Horne’s assault on his grandmother (Eamon Farren/ Jan D’Arcy). Here, however, the old lady is not the victim. She looks depleted as she watches the boxer crashing down, taking no obvious enjoyment in it, but maybe, in some psychic way, drinking the humiliation. It repeats like the sips of the vodka and “blood” from her glass.
The footage is from the early days of television – the commentator is clueless and he doesn’t know what round it is. Perhaps the punched man is the former boxer, Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray), in which case this footage would undermine his otherwise conspicuous provision of strong male authority during episode thirteen. Mullins is elsewhere in this episode shown “speechless” after being serenaded with “gifts, tokens of our gratitude” by some delighted customers. The boxer is left speechless and taking receipt of a very different type of boxed gifts.
David Lynch’s paternalistic character Gordon Cole is absent throughout episode thirteen – he doesn’t fit into the pattern of imagery this time. The initial images of celebratory males in this episode are distant and unearthly. Sonny Jim Jones (Pierce Gagnon) trips around his phantasmagorical (sonny?) gym set like a little angel on a cloud. These early, flimsy scenes of male triumph will clean our palette for the later ones in which males are pulverised, as repeatedly as on that loop of the endlessly thumped boxer.
Bad Coop (Kyle MacLachlan) invades a gangstas’ paradise and kills the two biggest men, comparing them as he does so to nursery children. That Renzo (Derek Mears) is killed during an arm-wrestling contest with Coop clearly locates the childishness of these men (Lynch’s arm-wrestling scene is possibly modelled upon the horrendous stroke of vein-popping horror in David Cronenberg’s The Fly). We will later realise that the physical heft of Renzo had rendered him no more practically powerful than the little bespectacled creature (Clark Middleton) who is currently tyrannising Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn). As Ray Monroe (George Griffith) is being butchered and humiliated, another tiny swot, an accountant (Christopher Durbin) scuttles away, like the departing soul from a dying body. Maybe this is what men like Monroe are in essence.
Elsewhere, a brawny Las Vegas cop (Eric Edelstein) turns out at the end of his phone call to be talking to his mom. A heap of abuse is piled on the crooked insurance agent Anthony Sincair (Tom Sizemore), who is described as “a weak fucking coward… a chickenshit punk.” Soon Sinclair is snivelling and crying like an overwhelmed schoolboy. An otherwise random discussion between two lovey-dovey assassins (Tim Roth and Jennifer Jason Leigh) airs the notion that the Mormons are not real men because they don’t drink and refuse to have sex before marriage. Finally, there is the long-awaited reappearance of “Big” Ed Hurley (Everett McGill), in unlucky episode thirteen, and he is still mooning over his sweetheart Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton). The episode ends with him sitting alone beside a hacked-off bear’s head and keeping vigil over his lonely gas station. He burns a piece of paper – the only thing to be on fire in this crestfallen scene.
So this episode does not focus on the good or evil characters, but on the weak ones. In the cases of Monroe and Sinclair, whose humiliations are on the menu as the main course, these characters are weak because they are earmarked as neither totally good nor totally evil.
This episode ends with a reiteration of Twin Peaks’ most famous image of humiliation: Lynch manipulating a puzzled James Hurley (James Marshall) into singing “Just You.” It fits perfectly, like the last piece in the jigsaw. There is the same repulsive lullaby guitar-playing, the same simpering falsetto that issues ludicrously out of James’ granite face, the same collapsed meaning that comes from the two female backing singers echoing the earnest lyrics about the just-one lover. Quite characteristically, James has shown more commitment to this dopey song than to the four women who he has been in love with throughout Twin Peaks (so far, that is). What a wretched mud-pie of male worthlessness!