“The Fort/Da of Twin Peaks”
For a show that has deliberately subverted its audience’s expectations of compelling emotional drama, episode six of Twin Peaks: The Return finally delivers the goods. A little boy is run over by a truck driven by a crazed drug mule. For emotional impact, the sequence rivals only Agent Cooper shepherding the grief-stricken Leland Palmer into the afterlife, a quarter of a century before.
In the middle of the episode, “Don’t Die,” a friend drives elderly Carl (Harry Dean Stanton) into the center of Twin Peaks. Meanwhile at the Double R Diner, Miriam delights over the wonderful cupcakes that the diner serves. The drug addict, speeding away from a disturbing encounter with a seemingly magical kingpin, rants to himself in a frenzied state.
Carl sits in the park, looking with concern up into a tree. He seems to despair until a little boy runs by playing a fort/da game. The running boy’s mother catches up to him, only to have him run away again. Carl smiles at them, delighting in the coffee inside of his Double R Diner paper cup.
Impatient in his truck, the druggie drives into the wrong lane. The little boy runs into the street because another truck driver, stopped at an intersection, waves him across the seemingly tranquil thoroughfare. The lunatic’s truck hits the little boy, going so fast as to kill him instantaneously. Everyone at the street corner stands cemented in place, as the mother cradles her dead son in her arms in the middle of the street. The addict speeds away, under the glare of the stunned Miriam, holding a tray of coffees.
The aftermath of the murder is unendurable. People stop their cars and get out in the middle of the intersection. The stopped truck driver puts his hands over his eyes, realizing his inadvertent role in the little boy’s death. Dozens of people cannot summon the fortitude to help the stricken mother, unable to approach the death that they keep away by denying its presence in their lives.
An elderly couple begins walking toward the mother and child, but then stop dead in their tracks. Only Carl makes it to the middle of the intersection, mouth agape, stumbling forward. From his point of view, we see a small burst of spiral flame float up into the sky, presumably the soul of the child leaving his body. Energy passes through electrical wires above the intersection, attached to telephone poles on the sidewalk.
After the flame disappears into the sky, Carl kneels next to the hysterical mother, putting his left hand on her shoulder in consolation. He stares directly into her eyes, not speaking, but communicating human contact nonetheless. The mother’s crying subdues. The rest of the people, no longer just gawking, now console each other with embraces, following the example of Carl, a lonely beacon of humanity.
Lynch cuts to a close-up of one of the telephone poles, calling our attention to the numbers embossed on the side, enticing us to believe that there is an ordered universe behind this madness, but agonizingly refusing to reveal what that power fighting chaos might be. Lynch tilts the camera up to focus now on the top of the telephone pole, where the electrical lines scratch and hum on the soundtrack, the only noise to displace Angelo Badalamenti’s hauntingly Romantic score. A lengthy fade to black punctuates the sequence, as moving a short film as I’ve ever seen.
At the end of the episode, Lynch provides one, and only one, link to this sequence. The good Agent Cooper, now seeming to inhabit Dougie, an insurance agent, presents his boss the case files on which he was asked to work. Dougie has drawn ladders on the pages, circled what seems like random names, and placed spirals next to others. Dougie’s doodling leads his boss to connect the dots: our hero has unearthed some sort of criminal insurance fraud. Like Carl, only Dougie can see that which others glance past. Dougie’s spirals perhaps point to other lost souls.
In a world of good and evil, White vs. Black Lodge, Twin Peaks: The Return defines two types of people, those who live in the darkness of ignorance, not seeing the secrets of the world, and those who do. As the episode ends, we long for our hero, the Buddhist Agent Cooper, to awaken from his twenty-five-year slumber, and once again work to redeem the world. Week to week, throughout the summer, we dream for the sleeper to awaken.