Welcome back to 25YL. This will be the second week of my ongoing attempt to better understand and decode what I believe was an 18-hour masterpiece, Twin Peaks: The Return. If you missed the last week’s column, What Exactly Is An 18 Hour Film? Audrey Is The New Chet Desmond & More – The Waiting Room Returns, check it out and then come back to this one! As you can tell by the headline, this week I want to dive into what was the most talked about hour of this season (at least until the finale), Part 8 and the role that it perhaps play into the larger scheme of things now that we’ve been given the whole picture.
July 16th, 1945: The first nuclear weapon, nicknamed “Trinity” was detonated, as depicted in Part 8.
August 6th, 1945 & August 9th, 1945: The United States drops nuclear bombs on Japan, ending World War II.
January 20th, 1946: David Lynch is born.
November 25th, 1953: Mark Frost is born.
The entire world was changed by the nuclear bombs that ended World War II. Once nuclear weapons had been introduced, was there no turning back? Was this the future of all warfare? The entire world watched an arms race as countries flexed their nuclear muscle, fully intending to provoke fear in their enemies. While American soldiers returned home and began populating the suburbs, creating the “white picket fence fantasy” that still exists today, there was an underlining fear in our society that it could all come crashing down with the detonation of one bomb. An entire generation – a generation which included both David Lynch and Mark Frost, grew up with “duck and cover” drills at school as part of their normal routines in case of nuclear war. They grew up not only questioning their own mortality as we all do but the mortality of the entire world as well. Hundreds of thousands of people died—citizens and soldiers alike as a result of two detonations. While everyone, of course, wanted the second World War to end, not everyone agreed with the introduction of nuclear bombs into war, including future President Eisenhower. This technology, with its vastly destructive capabilities, represents death and in the wrong hands, could play a role in the destruction of society. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost – a majority of which were innocent citizens. To some, a great evil had been introduced to the world. While I am not of that generation, one cannot help but wonder what impact it would have on two creative types such as Mark Frost and David Lynch to grow up post-nuclear war, knowing exactly how many lives were lost and with the threat of it happening again lingering in the air?
A lot has been said about Part 8 of Twin Peaks: The Return, some of which bears repeating. Visually and stylistically, a masterpiece and perhaps one of the most exceptional accomplishments of David Lynch’s directorial career. What I really want to focus on today however, is the storytelling choice Lynch and Frost made to have the first nuclear detonation become so closely connected with the introduction of evil into their narrative. The aftermath of the Trinity test showed Experiment regurgitate several eggs, one of which revealed Bob’s face. Woodsmen began to populate the surrounding area, the long-discussed Convenience store was introduced and the antagonists of our story had arrived.
Could Lynch and Frost have been telling the story of their generation in Twin Peaks: The Return? The story of how the bomb changed us, using Bob and the Woodsmen to represent how our society has become desensitized to violence and human suffering in the years since the bomb? In fictional terms, Bob and the Woodsman came here as a result of the bomb and are responsible for murders, rape, pain and suffering. In Season 2 of the original series, the question was pondered if Bob was “the evil that men do”. If my theory holds any weight, that’s exactly what Bob (and now the Woodsmen) are.
In the original series, so much was made of the 1950s vibe of the show. Characters and the town itself didn’t seem like they belonged in the 1990s at all. We had the fashion, music, locations, even character archetypes from the era of Lynch and Frost’s youth. To complete that theme of their youth, while things appeared perfect on the outside, fear, violence, lies, betrayal and corruption all simmered beneath the surface in the show’s first two seasons. The Return shattered that 1950s vibe to pieces. While the show’s Baby Boomers (and in Carl Rodd’s case, pre-Baby Boomers) still clung to values and ideas of the past, the rest of the show’s culture had modernized. No longer was the violence, immoral behavior and lack of concern for others, something that was hidden behind closed doors. Pain and suffering was on full display every night at the town’s favorite gathering spot, The Roadhouse, among other places. In America, when the 1950s ended and the 1960s began, culturally, we experienced change that would lead us to our present day. In Twin Peaks, once the 1950s vibe left, the town began to look like the rest of the country.
What if we could do it all over again and not drop the bomb and end World War II through different means? It’s a question many have asked themselves, particularly from Lynch and Frost’s generation. If that destructive force that claimed so many innocent lives and brought about a new, constant fear had never been introduced what impact would that have had on our society? Would we have valued human life more? Or would the evil that men do still have progressed and taken a hold on us although perhaps at a later time? Is that the question that the character of Agent Cooper was asking in Part 17 of Twin Peaks: The Return when he attempted to alter the course of events that shaped our narrative: the murder of Laura Palmer? Agent Cooper tells Laura Palmer that he’s going to take her home when he’s attempting to change the course of history. My interpretation of that sequence of events is that he wants to take her to the White Lodge where she’ll be free of the horrors of her life without having to be murdered by her father and in the process, perhaps spare the town the chain reaction that stems from her murder that ultimately robbed the town of its ability to preserve the 1950s ideals. What the ending of Part 17 and Part 18 showed us was that whatever happened, will always happen. There’s no changing the past.
I’ve recently heard many people who aren’t happy with The Return (or perhaps just its conclusion) asking what story Lynch and Frost were trying to tell. What was the point of bringing the show back? While I believe there are many major themes that the show hit on that probably carry very significant personal values to both Lynch and Frost, one of those themes and stories I believe is the story of their generation, the direction this country they’ve both called home their entire lives has taken and how so much of that can be traced back to the end of World War II. For men Lynch and Frost’s age, telling the story of what they’ve witnessed in their lifetime has to be a huge artistic triumph and that’s not even factoring in everything else that they worked into these 18 hours. The more that I take a step back from The Return, the more I realize how much there truly is to unpack, to study and to appreciate. This is art like I personally have not experienced before, and I’m grateful not only for the viewing experience but also for the opportunity to explore it.