Twin Peaks Diary #4
It’s been a month since the last Twin Peaks diary, and that left off with the dated and disappointing Fire Walk With Me, where I established that Laura Palmer was much more interesting dead than alive, so to speak.
Since then, I’ve read co-creator Mark Frost’s novel The Secret History of Twin Peaks and watched what is to this point the 12 episodes of Season Three (aka “The Return”), currently unspooling on Showtime each Sunday, with I believe six episodes still left to go.
A quick reminder is in order, context I guess: this site, this project, this blog, is dedicated to my two nephews, both of whom are still children – one is 9 and the other is 5 here in the summer of 2017 and obviously they don’t read this right now. What I write here is aimed at them for when they are teenagers or older, as a way to introduce them – primarily – to the world of film as I appreciate it and as their mother (my sister) appreciates it. What I write here is, in effect, informal letters to them about the movies I see and what I think about them.
As a quick recap, the goal with these diaries is to explore the world of Twin Peaks step by step, which means:
- Season 1 - 8 episodes - centered on the murder of the extroverted, over-achieving teenager Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), but casting a wide net which focuses on FBI Agent Dale Cooper's immediate love affair with the rural town in the Pacific Northwest, its Douglas firs, excellent coffee and damn good pie.
- Season 2 - episodes 1-9 continues to follow the mystery surrounding Palmer's death, which is finally resolved in its ninth episode. David Lynch and Mark Frost holding off on revealing the true killer for this long is infamous in fictional American television because, while effective in my viewing and in retrospect, probably murdered the show's potential audience. To Lynch’s credit, he has said previously that he never intended to reveal the killer. The more you explore the world these men created, the more Lynch’s vision becomes the clearly correct one.
- Season 2, episodes 10-22. When the show aired, all but the most die-hard fans lost interest in the show after the resolution of the Palmer plot, the final 13 episodes remain largely un-watched compared to the first 17.
- Fire Walk with Me, the film directed by Lynch that was a commercial and critical bomb in 1992. As Lynch’s work has aged, the revisionist criticism of the film is in full effect – I still think this goes back to overwhelming agreement that Mulholland Drive is one of the best films of the 21st century. I have seen Fire Walk with me multiple times, most recently within the last month, and still think it is weak not only in the Twin Peaks universe, but within Lynch’s filmography.
- The Secret History of Twin Peaks: A Novel, by co-creator Mark Frost, which I bought when it came out late last year. The work is a pastiche, a dossier if you will, that chronicles the happenings of the fictional area from the time of Lewis & Clark's expedition up to the present day. Having read it in the last month, what I will say about it is it’s wonderful if you’re a fan of the world of Twin Peaks, and the lore it builds is incredible. There is a great deal of X-Files-type material in the book, including UFOs, giant biped skeletons found throughout the continental United States, time travel, the Nez Perce tribe and much lore regarding the people who made the first season one of the most influential ever created for television, including why the Log Lady carries a log with her and the origin of the feud between the two octogenarian brothers.
- Season 3, which is currently 12 episodes in and will make almost no sense to anyone who hasn’t seen the first 17 episodes of S1-2 and the last 2 episodes of S2, which explains in full BOB and shows the transmutation of Agent Cooper after being possessed by BOB.
I’m going to forego my thoughts on Secret History for another entry – I loved the novel, and I’m far more critical/judgmental of writing than I am of film/tv.
There is a quote from Terry Gilliam comparing the work of Stanley Kubrick to the work of Steven Spielberg. Paraphrasing, he says that the difference is that Spielberg’s work is more popular and makes more money because it is comforting and offers answers, while Kubrick’s work leaves viewers with questions. He makes a contrast between Spielberg’s universally praised Schindler’s List and Kubrick’s highly-praised (and still-debated) 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I don’t think it’s remotely shocking, clever or insightful to say that our tastes develop as we age. Were I asked a decade ago about the best films since, say, 1990, a time-marker that means I was 16 and therefore old enough to make judgements about such things, the 22- or 32-year-old me would list a wholly different set of films than the 42-year-old me; as a common example, the 22-year-old me was blown away by Quentin Tarantino, the 42-year-old me knows he hasn’t made a decent movie since Death Proof and his work is a visual scrapbook, not individual unified expressions of an auteur.
The current-me’s list would have 10 different films on his list than the iteration of me a decade earlier, and 32 is a pretty firm age to have a grasp on taste. Film is funny like that – my grasp on my lit-list would be far more consistent as I’ve read a hellva lot more “classic” literature than I have watched classic film – as strange as it may sound, I find the written word far more accessible than the visual medium of film, the most collaborative of arts yet one that isn’t a “fine” art. I rarely get bored with books, and if I do I have the heavenly ability to put them down and give up – it’s rare, but I do not have a compulsion to finish work that bores me, the absence of such a trait being a curse I wouldn’t put on my worst enemy.
Lynch, like Kubrick, Bergman, Bresson, Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, Ozu and Dreyer (to name a few who I tend to enjoy) can be infuriating to watch. Episode 8 of Season 3, depending on who is describing it, will call it everything from the most mind-blowing and important hour of television ever created to the dullest, most pointless waste of an hour ever devised. Why is there a full performance of a re-united NIN playing a song at the Roadhouse? Why is an atomic bomb detonated in the New Mexico desert in 1945 (that one makes much more sense in the context of BOB as he relates to the show, which at its base is about the conflict of good and evil)? Why was the Giant floating? Was that really an homage to Glenda the Good Witch thrown in there for good measure?
My dislikes of Season 3 are multi-faceted, its centerpoint being in the character of Dougie Jones, which McLachlan plays like a fusion of Forrest Gump and Rainman, and he is paid much attention (my view, as with my negative view of Dunkirk, is very much a minority one – on fan boards, most people seem to love Dougie). That he is paired with Naomi Watts makes it all the more difficult, because I love me some Naomi Watts. Dozens of new characters have been introduced this season and very little time has been spent in Twin Peaks – much of the action takes place in South Dakota and Las Vegas for reasons that have by now become clear to anyone paying attention.
The problem with most of the new characters is they simply are not very interesting to me, always a problem inserting new characters into a universe already filled to the brim with characters fans of the show yearn to see more of – case in point being Audrey Horne, my favorite character in the Twin Peaks universe, followed closely by Hawk. Although Hawk has been a stable of S3, Audrey is not seen or heard from in eleven-and-a-half episodes.
I do not like all the cursing, mainly coming from Laura Dern’s Diane and, incredibly, Sherilynn Fenn’s Audrey, who finally returned in Episode 12 with an obscenity-laced tirade with her diminuitive husband, a scene that goes on for 10 minutes. In Diane’s character it sort of makes sense and is at times actually funny – in Audrey Horne, it is divorced from what we know and love about the good and the bad in Audrey.
That said, I was also hoping to get a lot deeper into the lore laid out by the end of S2 and The Secret History of Twin Peaks – there has been some of that, but not a great deal. I suspect a frustration for many viewers of the show who stick with it is that much of the universe it is working in is the same universe of Lost Highway and Eraserhead, two of Lynch’s least-accessible works to people who don’t find pleasure in his cinematic idiosyncrasies, but – it must be said – works that also contain some of his best work.
That is the negative.
And with all that said, I haven’t enjoyed a series this much since Season 1 of True Detective. There is a great deal of what I loved and what is beloved about Mulholland Drive in Season 3, and that there are six episodes remaining is a very happy thing. I’ve watched several of the episodes multiple times, especially the first four. The season doesn’t really find its footing until halfway through the third episode, and there are long, looong stretches in those early episodes that Lynch is clearly indulging himself and yet … it’s hypnotic, again returning to those aforementioned idiosyncrasies that are crack to people who love his work and wholly off-putting to those who are agnostic or just don’t get it and don’t really care to.
One of the stories that is starting to heat up is the particularly evil son of Audrey Horne – in the most shocking scene of the season thus far ….
…. He drives a truck through the town after a confrontation with his supplier and hits a little boy and kills him, and then doesn’t bother to stop.
The only thing in the show’s run that comes even close to that shock was Laura Palmer’s rape by her father, and that still doesn’t rise to the graphic nature of the moment described above. The difficult part in this business wasn’t how long the incident took to set up, but how clear it was where it was going, the contrast of what we know is going to happen with the sunny day being enjoyed by people in a beautiful park.
Episode 8 is a throwback to Lynch’s very real taste for the macabre and the nightmare juice that was best on display in the film Eraserhead, one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen, certainly one of the strangest films to ever receive a decent amount of both critical acclaim and cult status. Episode 8 provides a throwback to the Lynch of 40 years ago, only this time he has a budget, a lot more craftsmen around him and a lot more to say.
Broken into five vignettes, the episode introduces the ultra-creepy Woodsmen, who have been seen lurking around the morgue in South Dakota and now show off the ability to crush a human skull with one hand. There is the detonation of the A-bomb in New Mexico and the long strange trip into the detonation’s heart, and it is here that we see BOB being unleashed on the world, the metaphor being fairly straightforward. There is the hatching of an egg and the sickly sound it makes (a hallmark of Lynch’s f/x sound work) and I’ll not spoil what comes out of it or, even worse, where it ends up. The vignette from the mid-1950s that begins with a teenage boy and girl working up to share a kiss and how that moment concludes is otherworldly.
So, where is all this leading?
With Agent Cooper’s doppelgangers out of the lodge, I’m not really sure. There is the evil Mr. C, and the not-evil Dougie. Dougie’s good fortune is a running joke – he wins jackpots, solves an impenetrable insurance claim, avoids being executed all while saying only the last word or two whoever he’s speaking to has uttered, and he walks like someone recovering from a stroke. Most fans seem to find this endearing, but I haven’t bought into it. His wife and son are smitten with this new version of himself, the one that replaced the Dougie Jones who was a philandering alcoholic with a gambling problem.
Back in Twin Peaks, Sheriff Truman’s brother is now Sheriff, and Hawk is the Deputy Sheriff. The police department and the venerable Great Northern Hotel have both modernized substantially, and much less attention is paid to the quirks of the town, likely a statement on the effects of modernization and its side-effect of smoothing the rough/interesting edges of a place.
Russ Tamblyn is back as the curious Dr. Jacoby (Secret History goes a long way in explaining Dr. Jacoby’s oddities as well as the Log Lady, Margaret Lanterman, as played by Catherine Coulson) and he hosts a regular political rant show on what appears to be YouTube – his rants are howlers, his obsessions with Big Everything (Government, Business, etc) are right at home in our increasingly paranoid age. The slogan? “It’s 7 p.m., do you know where your freedom is?”
Episodes 11 and 12 signal that the show is starting to return to the town of Twin Peaks with more frequency, which is as it should be. A particularly cogent storyline that is unfolding regards a message given to Hawk by Margaret that has turned into the discovery of a message left by the Major Briggs that is decrypted by his son Bobby, who is now himself a deputy in the Sheriff’s Department in Twin Peaks. This thread of the show’s return has been its most satisfying and in E12 it starts paying big dividends and is the best of Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost’s vision.