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[The following contains spoilers.]

Episode fourteen of Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return seems to be richer and more powerful than previous episodes. Terror is seldom the forte of this instalment – it is instead an aesthetic of anxiety that comes from the deliberate disruption to familiar meanings. Familiar characters are suddenly in unexpected places or the wrong categorises.

Take Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz), a normally peripheral, comic character, whose stiffly robotic clowning in prior episodes had sharpened his meaning to the point of brittleness. With Andy, the series’ self-parody had appeared to verge upon the flippant. Yet in episode fourteen, when the four policemen worm their way deep into the woods, it looks likely that Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) or Deputy Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) will be the one to experience the looming mystical event. After all, Hawk is supposedly more in tune with the forest’s mystery, as a Native American, whilst Briggs’ father had provided the clue that is leading them into the forest. At the end of this expedition, however, Hawk and Briggs are left as peripheral as Andy usually is. A character who has been otherwise programmed to fuss over domestic trivialities has now got the mental gear to be welcomed into another dimension.

There is admittedly a nice fan theory that Andy ascends because he is the only policeman to take a vegetarian sandwich on the forest trip. Even so, it feels like a previously understood narrative law has been quietly broken. There is surely a wrongness to Andy being allowed a pass to the supernatural realm. In the original Twin Peaks, Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) and Deputy Hawk had been too earthbound to ever experience the supernatural. So was FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer), who literally cannot see the supernatural vortex that opens up in episode eleven. In a surprise promotion, Andy is now ahead of these characters and part of an exclusive visionary club. It is thrilling that Andy can shift categorises like this, but it is also worrying for us. We are having to learn how to read the series all over again.

Andy’s newly disrupted status is soon replicated in Freddie Sykes, a brand new character who is played by Jake Wardle. Sykes is possibly the most exaggeratedly English character to appear on American television since Pip from South Park. Twin Peaks rejoices for a while in his cockney accent and so he is definitely functioning as a comic character. But Syke’s hand, gloved and ominously shiny like that of Dr. Strangelove, is deadly serious. The gloved hand possesses the same supernatural strength that Bad Coop (Kyle MacLachlan) had wielded in the last episode’s arm-wrestling contest, but there is otherwise a frivolous body attached to it. Incidentally, this upends the symbolism in which the severed arm of MIKE (Al Strobel) is transformed into a smirking, dancing dwarf.

The wrongness of Andy in the Black Lodge is neatly inverted with the migration of a character from the Black Lodge down into the humdrum reality of Twin Peaks. Naido (Nae Yuuki) is a woman with her eyes sewn up who can only make snuffling doglike noises. One had assumed that she had belonged entirely in the world of the supernatural, not amidst the coffee and donuts in the Twin Peaks’ Sheriff’s Department. Disconcertingly Naido has, like Andy, been switched from her original category. She must be therefore a real person and we will be forced to contemplate the idea of her having some extraordinary backstory.

The status of Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) has been unstable for a while now. She was originally wretchedly tragic, the widow of Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) and the mother of their murdered daughter Laura (Sheryl Lee). In previous episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return, she had looked distressed and tormented, but she was still a figure of noble grief. In episode fourteen we are finally brought up to date on what she is really about.

This unsociable figure incongruously enters a bar, where she orders a Bloody Mary. Her drink will get a top up. A misogynist bully sidles down the bar to her, spitting with abusive language, and he invades her safe space. After a couple of cursory warnings, Sarah both removes her own face and bites a crater out of his. She has officially, and quite unexpectedly, supplanted Ike the Spike (Christophe Zajac-Denek) as this series’ weirdest and coolest villain. We are again learning how to read what is happening and there is little that is, to borrow a catchphrase from Twin Peaks’ lore, “happening again.” Maybe Sarah has been possessed by BOB, in the same manner as her husband, or maybe she has been always secretly like this. She is currently the most persuasive candidate for the girl who had swallowed the BOB bug in episode eight.

There is a dreamlike inconsistency to many of the scenes in episode fourteen. How can Sarah take a bite out of man and have not a tell-tale spot of blood on her? Why do the police not react to the fact that Naido’s eyes are sewn up and rush her to hospital? How can Diane (Laura Dern) have known Dougie Jones (Kyle MacLachlan) for years and never once registered his resemblance to her colleague Dale Cooper? These are haunting anomalies that you would only accept as unremarkable in a dream.

David Lynch’s character FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole will dream in this episode, though, in an amazing paradox, he is actually his real self in this dream. It would be quite customary for the film director David Lynch to meet the model Monica Bellucci in Paris, but it would be rather more out of character for a shadowy FBI boss to do this. In a deft sleight of hand, Lynch’s fantasy of Twin Peaks has been here mislabelled as real and his real life as a dream.

“We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream… But who is the dreamer?”

Lynch has dreamt up the town of Twin Peaks and he is now living inside this dream, by playing one of its characters. Lynch dips back into something like his native reality during his Monica Bellucci dream, only to look over his shoulder again and plunge back into another dream from the world of Twin Peaks. One particularly on-the-ball Reddit user, charmonboz, has worked out that when Cole looks over his shoulder at the dream, Lynch is in fact looking down the Paris street “directly at the exhibition space where [he] has a show IRL – David Lynch ‘Plume of Desire.’”

“We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream… But who is the dreamer?”

Dougie Jones’s personality is now as blank and weirdly lobotomised as that of the dreamer who reacts to every eerie absurdity as though it is normal. The uncomfortable buoyancy of the Dougie Jones scenes – the unreality of such details as when Rodney Mitchum (Robert Knepper) pulls a cut off his cheekbone as if it was a plaster – are as unique to dreams as voluptuous colours are to Titian’s paintings.

“We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream… But who is the dreamer?”

Or is it Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), who is now swirling down deep in some dreamlike murk? Or is it Audrey’s husband Charlie (Clark Middleton), this fretful, semi-controlling figure who has warned that he will “end” her story? There is something more prosaic and low-key going on with Charlie – the powerlessness of the dreamer to influence what is unfolding in front of them.

The original mystery was: who killed Laura Palmer? Now it is: who is the dreamer?