Notes from the Bookhouse: What’s the Story?

Notes from the Bookhouse is my new weekly column! My hope is that this will be a place to do some theorizin’, some speculatin’, and to generally discuss the big topics of the Twin Peaks world.

Today we’ve got a trio of Bookhouse Babes (Eileen, Jenn, and myself) in the house to talk about the whys and wherefores of The Return. What could have made Lynch and Frost want to return to Twin Peaks, the town, and Twin Peaks, the series?

Lindsay: I think it’s good to talk about the story itself, broadly. Presumably David Lynch and Mark Frost wanted to come back into this world for some reason. So why now? What was that big story that anchors The Return and made them want to…well…return to Twin Peaks after 25 years?

Eileen: I listened to the recent Skype interview with David and he talked a lot about themes and ideas, and that those are what pull him into a project. I think that’s really the crux of it. It’s less story and – not even mood – but thematically an element he wanted to expound upon, I think. Or elements, obviously.

Jenn: That’s a really good question. One that I’ve thought about a lot and my first thought honestly would be, haven’t got a clue. But I think it was to show life, no matter how much you recall of the past, will never be the same as you remember. And as you grow and change, those memories may be all you have.

Lindsay: From the very start, so many people involved with this project were adamant that this wouldn’t be an exercise in nostalgia. And it wasn’t. But…it kinda was, in a way, wasn’t it?

Jenn: I think so. There was many little Easter eggs here and there. I think it was a great mix of nostalgia and new.

Eileen: I looked at it, in terms of nostaligia at least, as a Bradburyesque warning against the reliance on nostalgia. Bradbury uses nostalgic literature to teach against it, while also basking in it. I think that Frost and Lynch did the same thing here.

Lindsay: Great point, Eileen.

Eileen: You can rely on it, but it won’t keep you afloat if you try.

Jenn: I think it’s funny that is was called the Return, and although they returned to Twin Peaks is wasn’t a return to what we knew of Twin Peaks. So that’s what polarized a lot of people who thought they were going to get a Nostalgia fest.

Lindsay: It’s funny then that the original Twin Peaks was steeped in this kind of longing for the 1950s, in a sense. So much of Lynch’s films seem to be built on a desire to look back to that idealistic period in American history, the Father Knows Best years. All of a sudden, The Return seems to slap down any sort of notion that this is a worthwhile pursuit. And yet we still get that sense of relief, especially in Part 17, that we’re back. They told us we weren’t going to get it, then they kind of gave it to us, and then we all felt cheated when it didn’t pay off the way we were explicitly told it wouldn’t. It’s interesting.

Eileen: Even in that longing for the 50’s, but like with Blue Velvet, there’s still that dark undertone – maybe, the things that we long for and remember the most fondly are still as imperfect as they were when they occurred and now we can no longer afford to ignore that in order to bask in the days of glory?

Jenn: I think they had the right amount. Cherry pie, coffee, Thumbs up, and Big Ed and Norma. They gave us some, but the new stuff was so much more.

Eileen: But what they gave us was a distorted version of cherry pie, coffee and thumbs up. When Ed and Norma finally got their happy ending, everyone still felt off, with the music and the shots of the sky…It’s like putting a sour note to things that we remember as being sweet.

Jenn: See I didn’t take the sky scene at all that way. That made me feel that maybe theirs was one of the few real Twin Peaks stories and not the “alternative” timeline.

Eileen: At first I was very on the level with it, but as the scene went on, it just felt more and more unsettling. I think, because I’d just watched Blue Velvet, and those shots were reminiscent of it, it maybe sparked that in me. But Lynch has a tendancy to take innocent 50’s and 60’s songs and turn them ominous too.

Lindsay: Lynch has always been good at that. It goes without saying: for Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but for Lynch, a shot of the trees or the sky or a sticky drip of syrup on a crashed pile of dishes is never just that…there’s always something more underneath.

Jenn: Yeah. But Lynch can also film some beautiful straight shots. That whole scene I took as positive. Even the sweeping sky shot.

Eileen: In a very interesting, meta way, considering that many are looking at this as Lynch’s magnum opus, what with all of the artistic elements pulled from his previous work, that is also a double inverted commentary on nostalgia – taking his other works (the good with the bad) and all his ideas and blending them into The Return.

Jenn: I also think an underlying theme is even if you take the time to grow and learn, it may not be the lesson you were intended to learn at all. (i.e. Dougie/Cooper).

Lindsay: So what are Lynch and Frost saying about lessons learned? Or are they saying anything? Is that the point or are we missing the point when we focus on that sort of thing?

Jenn: Yes. Sometimes you go through something thinking that the underlying message or lesson you’re supposed to learn should be glaringly obvious. I think Cooper thought that if he woke up and set everything in motion, like he decided with the Major & Gordon, he’d be free to escape the Lodge and also help Laura. Which I’m still not sure the Giant warned him or told him how to find her.

Jenn: I also think that they wanted to show that changing one thing can set a chain reaction in either direction, which will come back to the beginning. The infinity symbol. Going back to find Laura. Being in the Lodge.

Eileen: I’ve always been a person who could predict the lesson, and predict the goals of a film, of literature, so I like that that expectation is flipped. I intended to learn a lesson from The Return, and indeed, it wasn’t the lesson that I thought I would learn. Some were straightforward – teaching us how to watch new television. I think the phrase ‘rewired the brain’ has been used. I didn’t expect the circular narrative angle at all, or the ‘you can’t go back’ ideas. In some ways, I feel like Cooper that way – I should have known better but I was still completely thrown. Cooper, despite it all, was still our audience proxy. I think it’s so much about not looking for answers as it is feeling our way to them – intuition versus logic. Lately I keep coming back to Lynch’s quote: “What you know is valid.”

Lindsay: And that’s an interesting concept too, because certainly the huge number of competing but equally plausible theories and ideas about the world of Twin Peaks leads me to believe that everything everyone knows is valid where it concerns this show. Becks on TFCAA Podcast said that if there are amillion people watching the show, there are a million different Twin Peaks out there. Everyone has a different one. And everyone’s is equally valid.

Eileen: It’s such an incredible way to present a work of art. Are the curtains blue because of depression, are they blue because the author liked blue? Both and neither! Schrodinger’s meanings and interpretations. It really comes down to the fact that the Return is art and not…something else. It’s not television, it’s not a traditional film. It’s an 18 hour art installation.

Lindsay: The death of the author!

Eileen: Beyond the death of the author, perhaps the immortality of the author – each person assimilates the work into their understanding and the author lives through them forever. I think Doug sort of talked about that in his latest article. It’s also very much a classical lit angle – stories through word of mouth, altered, passed on. We are all Homer, we are all the author. And Homer becomes immortal

Lindsay: It’s really quite poignant when you think about it…

Jenn: Yes, it is.

Eileen: I think I might have been inclined to feel like I’d been misdirected, but I think that was our expectations working against us, however minimal my own were – Like Lindsay said in her article, they led us by the nose all the way through. Almost all our first feelings were right: Briggs being the body, Richard being Audrey and Mr. C’s son, Diane and Audrey’s rapes…

Lindsay: Some might have called it obvious but I think it really is a direct comment on the plethora of plot twists that every TV show seems to throw at us these days. We armchair TV critics and experts start looking away from the obvious and try to outsmart each other. Lynch and Frost have to have known that that would happen, so the relative lack of plot twists like that felt refreshing in a way, didn’t it?

Jenn: I also think that they wanted to show that changing one thing can set a chain reaction in either direction, which will come back to the beginning. The infinitely symbol. Going back to find Laura. Being in the Lodge.

Lindsay: I was listening to the EW podcast today and they were talking about similar issues. Yes the atomic bomb was a disaster for humanity but it also led to some cool stuff. If we go back and change that so it never happened, what else changes with it? Does it change for the better? We could avoid dropping the bomb and save the life of every other person in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but what horrors await us in that alternate timeline? Do the Nazis develop the bomb first? Then what? There’s no easy answer.

Eileen: Like the episode of Star Trek where Spock and Kirk end up back in time and this woman who could have done amazing things dies, but Kirk thinks he loves her, and if he were to save her, a bunch of different bad things might happen…

Lindsay: The City on the Edge of Forever!!!

Eileen: Yes, thank you! The world’s infinite imperfections – the world and time rights itself by force of will.

Jenn: But if you stop looking at time as linear, and start looking at it circular, then nothing we do matters and everything we do matters, it’s just the way that it affects others that is the true test on how important it really does matter overall.

Lindsay: So by ending the series with Richard/Cooper and Carrie/Laura in the situation they’re in, Lynch and Frost have to be commenting on cause and effect, no? Is that their ultimate aim? They show a lot of characters who end up in ruts, going in circles. Cooper breaks out of his circle and we think he should be successful, but of course that’s not clear…

Eileen: I suppose the answer to that depends on the interpretation we’re working with…

Lindsay: Touche!

Jenn: I don’t know. I would think so. And the reason I say circular, is the last shot we get is them back in the Red Room.

Lindsay YES!! Great point. It does seem like time or this story (whose story? Laura’s? Cooper’s? The little girl who lived down the lane?) is infinitely circular.

Eileen: Each one is a circle, but they are interconnected and create the infinity symbol. Their circles feed into each other endlessly.

Jenn: Together. Because one does not exist without the other

Lindsay: Guys, you’re gonna make me cry…They can’t exist without the other. That’s just so goddamned poignant…

Eileen: Literally can’t. Everything in Dale’s life leads him to Laura.

Jenn: That’s why he wants to save her so badly. If he saves her, he saves himself.

Eileen: But he can’t save her without jepordizing her own personal salvation – so maybe the question is what would it mean to save Laura, and I think that’s the final scene of FWWM.

Lindsay: Therein lies the tragedy, I think. Dale can’t save Laura; Laura has to save Laura. Personally, I think that’s the biggest message. It’s important to Lynch, I’m sure, because of the prominence of FWWM and the personal/professional ruin he staked on that film.

Jenn: That’s why they end up back in the Red Room. He has to learn that she needs to die to gain that salvation. He has to learn to let go, which is part of why he holds onto so tightly. He wants to take away the pain & suffering, but that what gives us strength. Dale has felt pain, but not submitted over to it.

Eileen: I want to sob. It’s such a beautiful commentary. We always look for the easy ways out. Why do bad things happen? – because they are part of life. Because they have to occur. Darkness with light.

Lindsay: So is that the ultimate message of The Return then? Are they telling Dale’s story for this reason?

Eileen: I think that’s definitely one of the biggest lessons I got out of it. Dale doesn’t believe in giving up, but also hasn’t realized that giving up and letting go aren’t the same thing. The longer he persists in ‘saving’ her, the further into the rut he gets himself and the farther he is from his own salvation. SHOVEL YOURSELF OUT OF THE SHIT.

Lindsay: I feel it’s possible that Lynch and Frost both walked away from Twin Peaks in 1991 hoping that they’d get the chance to finish Dale Cooper’s story someday. Lynch tackled Laura’s in FWWM; Dale needed his FWWM. And that seems to be a popular opinion now too, that this is Coop’s FWWM. Agree/disagree?

Jenn: I can see that.

Eileen: Sure, but Laura’s reached enlightenment and Dale hasn’t – an unfulfilled FWWM?

Jenn: I think the way David has been interviewing and talking, this isn’t done yet.

Eileen: I don’t think he’s ever been done or will be done with Twin Peaks, but I’m not leaning either way on whether we will ever see more come to fruition.

Lindsay: I’m honestly not sure either. But since the possibility lies within all of us to see this story to “a” conclusion for ourselves, perhaps we’re the ending to Dale’s FWWM?

Jenn: I think the one line that resonated with me is when Cooper tells Diane ” everything may change” and I’m paraphrasing. But he’s right. Everything will and has changed. The face of tv, what we knew of Twin Peaks and our characters we’ve loved still after all these years. Everything.

Lindsay: It comes back to nostalgia, in a sense, but also the newness of this experience. Lynch/Frost broke the mold again with The Return. Everything is going to change beyond this. Maybe not right away but it will.

Jenn: It has. Look how many have embraced this and been inspired and theorized.

Eileen: I agree completely with that, assessment – there’s a new bar set, and I’m sure that there will be plenty of facsimiles, and some which might live up to the attempt. It’s definitely taught us to expect more from our tv.

Lindsay: Okay, Bookhouse Babes…before we sign off, we got some sad news today that one of the Twin Peaks family–Harry Dean Stanton–passed away at the age of 91. He was my favourite superhero…him and his Carlmobile, helping Shelly and Becky, one of the original Bookhouse Boys…he’ll be greatly missed.

Jenn: He was such a force on the screen. Like a mystic, you just wanted to hear what he had to say. I will greatly miss our Carl Rodd and the beautiful soul that was Harry Dean Stanton.

Eileen:I just feel blessed that we got so many basic, humanly decent scenes with Carl Rodd, and hopefully we all still get the chance to experience Lucky. He’s been with me since childhood, from Kelly’s Heroes to Care Bears, to Twin Peaks. No one else could possibly have ever been Braveheart Lion. And he will go on with me and many others still.

Lindsay: I remember him from Pretty in Pink, actually, (though I loved him in Twin Peaks, he will always be Andie’s dad to me!). Something that always struck me about him as an actor is the way he imbued his characters with such depth and emotion, often with very little screen time. In fact, I’m going to go watch Pretty in Pink right now…

Eileen: Peaceful rest to one of the kindest souls the world ever knew.


Written by Lindsay Stamhuis

Lindsay Stamhuis is a writer and English teacher. In addition to editing and writing about TV and Film, she is the co-host of The Bicks Pod, a podcast currently deep-diving into the collected works of William Shakespeare. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner Aidan, their three cats, and a potted pothos that refuses to grow more than one vine.

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