[The following contains spoilers.]
Episode fifteen of Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return is antagonised by the problem of how to tell stories and make them believable. Its central figure is Charlie (Clark Middleton), the apparent husband of Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn). Charlie is tired, careworn, formal in his dress and speech, and like the archetype of a 1950s husband. He is a vaguely authorial presence – in episode thirteen he had threatened to “end” Audrey’s story – but he is now visibly struggling. Audrey is rebelling and refusing to budge from their own “starting position.”
Whoever Charlie is, and whatever he is trying to achieve, he is limited because he is not authoring Audrey’s story but negotiating it. He does this painfully and he is so far moving towards the front door at a pace of only one room per episode. Perhaps Charlie is meant to represent the converse of FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole, who is a manifestation of the storyteller David Lynch and played by Lynch himself. Yet Charlie is stripped of all of Lynch’s normal storytelling powers. Whereas Cole is currently hurtling around the country, Charlie cannot even get beyond his own front door.
As if to further rub salt into Charlie, the story in episode fifteen is told flippantly and it submits flagrantly easy solutions to hitherto intractable problems. The episode begins with Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie) walking along a highway with a golden shovel slung across her shoulder. This imagery is evidently meant to clash with that of Christ carrying the cross to Calvary. Nadine is smiling triumphantly, there are no booing spectators, and the shovel is being carried forward-down, like a bayonet. Nadine has come to her husband Ed (Everett McGill) in a spirit of messianic self-sacrifice. She has decided, after years of ensuring that he was dutifully trapped in a marriage with her, to suddenly allow him to marry his childhood sweetheart Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton). Nadine proclaims, “Ed… I want you to be free… run to her… enjoy the rest of your lives together. I’m so happy just thinking of you two being happy.”
Ed is not convinced, suggesting that, “honey, tomorrow you’re gonna wish you never said these things.” I do not think that we are greatly convinced either. Nadine looks just as insanely overjoyed as normal – she enthuses over her decision in exactly the same key as she had done with her invention of silent drape runners. She insists that, “I walked all the way here. I had plenty of time to think, turn back, but I didn’t.” When compared, however, with Ed’s trail of tears throughout most of his life, Nadine’s walk is a very small thing.
Is it really possible for a happy ending to jump so merrily out of the blue like this, after years of misery? Are the implications of Ed and Norma’s happy ending joyous or mocking? Why did they have to wait so long if the problem was so easy to solve? Is it right that they had waited passively and entrusted their happiness to an eventual random shift in the brain of this irascible hobgoblin? Unsettlingly, Nadine has been persuaded into her self-sacrificing love by Dr Amp (Russ Tamblyn), the sort of vlogger who normally inspires people to vote Trump or confront “the truth” about 9/11.
In the scene in which Ed proposes to Norma in the Double R Diner, the pair are carrying on like archetypal 1950s teenagers. Norma toys with Ed, initially rebuffing him before her tender hand falls across his sorrowful shoulder. Otis Redding blares. Everything is superficial and, beneath the surface, senseless. Or maybe the surface is so alluring that we should just switch off our brains and consume it without worrying. I prefer the inept attempt of James Hurley (James Marshall) to chat up another man’s wife – an attempt that will end with James being humiliated and two men in comas. Although James is not dissimilar in his pining to Ed, no fairy dust has been sprinkled over his own story.
Elsewhere, weeks of Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) being mentally blocked out are abruptly ended when his bodily vessel, Dougie Jones, overhears a line uttered on television. We have not seen Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie/Nathan Frizzell) since 1989, and he has unexpectedly appeared as a gigantic, magic metal tea urn who briskly refuses to answer any questions. For weeks Duncan Todd (Patrick Fischler) has been built up as a pillar of immense malevolence, but now he and his assistant (Joe Adler) are promptly slain by an airy assassin (Jennifer Jason Leigh) whose mind is more on ordering her dinner.
Of course, Todd’s death is shocking and humiliating because it is so perfunctory. This great controlling man is swatted like an insect; he turns out to be as easy to shoot as a fish in a barrel. There might be a tiny dot of dignity going spare in the fact that his assistant, Roger, is the only barrier between himself and his assassin. Had Todd hired proper protection, instead of indulging this worshipful puppy, then he would have lived. The flippancy of Todd’s death is played off against the subsequently mournful reaction throughout the town of Twin Peaks to the passing of the Log Lady, Margaret Lanterman (Catherine E. Coulson).
The scene in which Margaret confronts her own death is especially affecting because the actress is wearing an oxygen tube and she would die of cancer shortly after Twin Peaks: The Return was recorded. Lynch cannot concoct a flippant happy ending to the Log Lady’s story. Death has removed some of the storytelling powers at his disposal. Just as the reason why Jeffries has returned as a tea urn is because the original actor, David Bowie, had died before his intended scenes could be filmed. Hence his inglorious posthumous incognito.
“I hate your fucking guts! I hate you! Do you know how much I fucking hate you?” A potential scene of viewer catharsis comes when Audrey assaults her husband Charlie. This incompetent storyteller is beaten up by his own story, rather as Lynch has been thwarted by the absence of some of his most iconic actors. The careful, frustrated Charlie is the very opposite of flippant and this is no doubt the reason why his story is going nowhere. Can you imagine such a stoic, calculating presence boogieing to the Nail Inch Nails at the Roadhouse?