“An Essay of Images”
In his quirky little book, Catching the Big Fish, David Lynch describes how he uses Transcendental Meditation to aid in his creative process. In some of the episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return, such as “Gotta Light,” he is surely casting bait in search of Moby-Dick. However, in the more tranquil episodes, like this week’s episode 10, “Laura is the One,” Lynch seeks something more diffuse, but no less powerful.
Our attention is spread across plot lines, genres, and modes of being, an atomized approach that adds up to a big fish, but one constructed out of individual cells. We need a different form of criticism to follow such televisual maneuvers. I here propose an essay derived from isolated images, rather than one which constraints those images within logical argumentation.
As with recent episodes, “Laura is the One” begins with the orb containing Laura Palmer, generated by the Giant’s head, superimposed over the familiar school portrait of the murdered teenage girl. Why is Laura “the one?” What does “the one” mean? Is she the chosen one, like Neo or Anakin? Is she a redeemer, like Christ? Why would Lynch, or God, or the space aliens, choose a drug-addled prostitute as their redeemer? Perhaps Laura’s tragic flaws are what make her the most human, and thus of interest to the space aliens, to David Lynch, and to us.
The first narrative segment of the episode features the drug addict who ran over the little boy. He murders Miriam Sullivan (Sarah Kean Long) in her trailer home because she was an eyewitness to the crime. Later in the episode, we learn that the drug addict is Richard Horne (Eamon Farren), grandson to Benjamin and Sylvia Horne, owners of the Great Northern Hotel. Presumably this makes him the son of Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn). And yet, this makes little sense.
In the last episode of the original Twin Peaks, we presume Audrey blown up in a bank vault. Could Richard be the son of paraplegic Johnny Horne, who is featured prominently later in the episode, as a grotesque teddy bear with an orb-like head banally queries of him, “Hello, Johnny, how are you today?” during a brutal attack on his grandmother, all ironically set to the song, “Charmaine,” most famously used in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Milos Forman, 1975).
More likely, however: If Audrey did somehow survive, perhaps Richard’s evil is explained by being the offspring of Evil Agent Cooper. Audrey was deeply in love with our hero, Dale Cooper, who gallantly rebuffed her adolescent sexual advances. We presume the Killer Bob-infested Cooper would have no such qualms. Evil Cooper seems to have had a similarly distasteful relationship with Diane, another woman with whom the good Dale seems to have had a wonderful rapport.
Lynch also frames Richard’s murderous encounter with Miriam in a way that suggests his possession by evil. Richard’s reflection in the glass pane on the front door of Miriam’s home creates a doppleganger image of himself, one that virtually blots out Miriam, who is standing at the door inside her home. In ghostly mirrored reflections, we often see Killer Bob hiding within Leland Palmer, and in the last moment of the original Twin Peaks, Agent Cooper. Richard leaves Miriam lying in a pool of her own blood.
At the entrance to the trailer park he manages, unaware of the nearby murderous events, Carl Rodd (Harry Dean Stanton) plays his guitar and sings the cowboy folk song, “Red River Valley.” It is a melancholy poem to a departing lover, “So come sit by my side if you love me. / Do not hasten to bid me adieu. / Just remember the Red River Valley, / And the cowboy that has loved you so true.”
In a nearby unit, an unknown domestic abuser terrorizes his partner. The scene calls back to the original Twin Peaks, when Leo Johnson beat his wife Shelley with a sock full of bar soap.
In “Laura is the One,” Lynch alleviates the two horrific acts of violence with two parallel comic sequences. This is the hallmark of the postmodernism of Lynch’s art. His genre referencing wildly mixes vicious tragedy with comic celebrations of the world. In this episode, a cocktail waitress at a Las Vegas casino, Candie (Amy Shiels) attempts to kill a fly. She begins by using a rag to swat the annoying creature.
When the rag fails to kill the fly, Candie resorts to her bare hands.
Still unsuccessful at ridding the room of the flying pest, she grabs a television remote. However, she misses the fly and hits her boss, the casino owner, in the temple. Candie spends the rest of the episode crying, lamenting the injury she has done to her meal ticket.
As in the original Twin Peaks, Lynch is at his Puckish best when delivering Absurdist comedy. He is in good company: William Shakespeare often uses the killing of a fly to accentuate the absurdity of violence in the world. As Act IV of King Lear begins, Gloucester laments the human predicament: “As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport.” In Act III of Titus Andronicus, Marcus kills a fly by smashing a knife into his dinner plate. Titus laments the killing of a poor innocent creature, whose father and mother is now bereft of a child.
Furthermore, Candie’s choice of weapon points to one of Lynch’s central motifs: absurd television is ubiquitous in the world of Twin Peaks. “Invitation to Love,” a parody of a soap opera frequently lurked in the background of the original series. In the current episode, the hubbub created by Candie’s fly swatting is calmed when the casino owners spy Dougie on the television news. As the result of some sort of supernatural intervention, Dougie won dozens of jackpots at their casino in an earlier episode, lured by mysterious swirls above the winning slot machines.
The casino is a location which centralizes surveillance as a theme of the show. In another comic sequence, the casino owners send Candie down to the floor to bring a messenger up to their operations room. Candie seems to forget her mission, and engages in an extended conversation with the man. The surveillance cameras prove less than helpful, as they deliver image without sound to both the casino managers and us in the audience.
The culture of surveillance spreads from corporate misdeeds to even our most beloved characters. Knowing something is off about her colleague, Deputy Chad Broxford (John Pirruccello), the Twin Peaks Sheriff Department’s receptionist, Lucy Brennan (Kimmy Robertson) attempts to spy on the man. At such a distance she cannot discern the truth: Chad is collaborating with Richard to hide the evidence against him in the hit and run murder of the little boy. We, and Lucy, however, knew Chad was no good episodes ago: his cruelty toward others stood out among the otherwise delightful family of Twin Peaks’ men and women of law enforcement.
The implements of televisual surveillance appear everywhere in Twin Peaks: The Return. There is a television set in the doctor’s office where Dougie is examined, having been taken in for a check-up by his wife, Janey-E (Naomi Watts), worried about her husband’s unexplained, and sudden onset catatonia.
The doctor’s visit extends the comic middle act of the episode. Janey-E notices for the first time how muscular the Agent Cooper-infested Dougie is. At home, she is sexually aroused by him, even though he is sitting quietly eating cake.
Janey-E takes Dougie up to bed and makes love to him. As she rides atop him, Dougie comically flaps his arms onto the bed. Janey-E’s orgasm is so loud, their son bolts straight up in bed. Janey-E’s position and the son’s are graphically matched by Lynch in editing.
Despite our anxiety over Agent Cooper being unable to extract himself from the banal life of Dougie Jones, we revel in Dougie’s return to adolescence, having experienced again the first thrill of sex. This marks a huge transformation in the logic of Twin Peaks, nominally a world of sexual predation and deviance. Dougie and Janey-E’s loving, spirited sexual relations are delightful in their celebration of the best of humanity, not its dark underbelly.
The comic sequence with Dougie and Janey-E also directly inverts the Oedipal structure of Lynch’s film, Blue Velvet (1986). There, Kyle MacLachlan plays Jeffrey Beaumont, who returns from college to help his ailing father. He gets involved with a woman, Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rosselini) who is forced to have sex with the murderous deviant, Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) in order to protect her little boy.
Jeffrey abandons his school-boy romance with Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), in order to pursue a sado-masochistic relationship with the emotionally wounded Dorothy. He is initiated into this dark world when he hides in a closet while Frank Booth rapes Dorothy. Jeffrey then reluctantly capitulates to Dorothy’s sexual demands that Jeffrey hit her when he makes love to her.
The plot structure of Blue Velvet offers a textbook Freudian Oedipal trajectory. In what Freud calls the primal scene, the teenage Jeffrey hides in the closet, peering through the slats as his symbolic mother and father have sex. Jeffrey secretly desires the mother figure, abandoning his innocent, pre-sexual relationship with Sandy. When he succumbs to his primal desires, he replicates the bad father, in pursuing Frank’s violent sexuality. Only with the murder of the bad father can Jeffrey resume his wholesome relationship with Sandy.
By siphoning off the role of the bad father onto Evil Cooper, Twin Peaks: The Return allows a world of domestic tranquility virtually unprecedented in the world of David Lynch. His tabula rasa, Dougie experiences the world in a state of innocence; he is what American Studies scholar R.W.B. Lewis calls “the American Adam.”
The end of the “Laura is the One” episode of Twin Peaks: The Return follows Lewis’ analysis of American culture away from comedy, back toward the overarching tragic story of Laura Palmer. As the director-within-the-text, Lynch as FBI agent Gordon Cole draws a strange image of two trees emerging from a headless wolf-like animal, with a mysterious hand reaching out to them.
Cole’s Transcendental Meditation seems to match Lynch’s, as this image comes very close to the Giant birthing Laura’s orb at the end of the “Gotta Light” episode, and to the talking tree that inhabits the Black Lodge. Indeed, Cole continues his clairvoyance when his drawing is interrupted. He opens his hotel room door to his assistant, Agent Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer), but instead has a vision of Laura Palmer in pain.
Indeed, if Laura is “the one,” the person who should know is the creator of Twin Peaks. The next shot features a cross-dissolve of Laura’s image over a medium shot of Cole’s bewilderment.
Cole’s other assistant, Agent Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell) brings a photo of Evil Agent Cooper at an unsolved crime scene in New York City. A master of understatement, Cole describes the photo as, “this is really something.”
Lynch spirals the knowledge of the supernatural goings-on away from himself as creator toward his other savant characters. The Log Lady speaks with Deputy Hawk over the phone.
The centrality of the Log Lady in Twin Peaks: The Return marks a considerable shift from the original series. While she periodically offered indirect information to the investigation, her role was only expanded significantly for the rebroadcasts of the show in syndication on the Bravo basic cable television network (and subsequently on the DVD set). In those framing segments, the Log Lady became an extension of Lynch’s voice, speaking as obtusely as her creator’s audio-visual productions.
Now a central part of the narrative, the Log Lady tells Hawk that, “Laura is the one.” With the gaping hole left by the absence of both Sheriff Harry S. Truman and Special Agent Dale Cooper, Deputy Hawk holds all our hope for a positive resolution of the plot. We are glad he is there on the other end of the phone, to hear with us the messages of the Log Lady. When she spoke to us from the liminal world of the television bumpers, we sat helpless, unable to intervene in Laura’s world, stuck as we were in the role of passive audience members.
As with most of the episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return, “Laura is the One,” ends at the Roadhouse bar. In another song co-written by Lynch, “No Stars,” Rebekah Del Rio belts out a torch song of absence and lost.
However, the tragic bookends of the episode cannot quite contain the comic middle. As much as the world appears darkened, we are beginning to see longer and more sculpted glimpses of the humor that graced the original Twin Peaks, and made us watch, not just in horror, but in full awareness that Lynch was codifying the reasons why life is worth living. Candie’s hilarious fly swatting, and the sweetness of the lovemaking of Dougie and Janey-E, prove just as emotionally moving as the show’s engagements with murder and despair. Comedy is always just as potent as Tragedy. No small fry this, Twin Peaks: The Return is a big tuna.
— Walter Metz
Lewis, R. W. B. The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1958.
Lynch, David. Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity. New York: TarcherPerigee, 2006.