Notes from the Bookhouse: Joel Bocko on The Return

When Joel and I sat down for our Bookhouse chat a few weeks ago, we talked for nearly 2 hours about various and sundry items of interest. Joel had a lot to say about The Return, about Cooper and Laura and Audrey and Sarah and Judy and those theories…so here’s the back half of our chat, for your reading pleasure.

On critical and fan reaction to The Return: With this series, it’s been great in a way: the critics just raved about this. I was shocked. It got the best reviews of probably anything I’ve seen in years, just non-stop gushing. The fan reaction has been a little more divided, but I would say—in my view—mostly positive. Maybe I just haven’t looked in the right or wrong places. But then at the end, there was that explosion of frustration: “No, what’s happening?” Maybe it’s sadistic of me but I kinda like that that happened. And it did happen to me a little bit too, maybe less because I was pretty happy with the finale or enjoyed it or whatever but like, you know, I felt a little of that feeling too, that: ”Oh no, is this gonna end? Oh my god, this is where we are?! Are we even gonna hear what she’s saying to him?!” Thank god Lynch can still do that to us! Even after he’s finally gotten to this point in his career where everybody accepts him and is willing to go along for the ride, he can still upset us.
On the Sheriff’s Station battle: They went out of their way to make that as exaggerated as possible, to give Cooper as little to do, to make the cartoonishness of it rampant. You’ve got all these diverse characters conglomerating on to the sheriff’s office, and it totally worked for me because of that. If they’d tried to make it more seamless, it would have stuck out more, I think. So I compared it to the Episode 16 of the original series, where they do a lot of stuff like that, they make BOB sort of this almost cartoon in a lot of ways, and they absolve Leland, and they have BOB go up into the sprinklers and water comes down, and you get all of the characters marching together into the Roadhouse who have nothing to do with it, they’re all just gathered around. Cooper’s making announcements to them, and then Laura just gives him—he just remembers what she whispers to him, he doesn’t actually do anything. […] This felt like “Oh, we need something like that in the story to give it some television storyline resolution. But if we’re gonna do that, let’s just go so over the top with it that it’s basically a parody of the action-packed outcome.” I thought that was great.
On the controversial finale ending: People complain about the ending like it ruins everything, but you still enjoyed all of these hours before. I think that’s true here too, and I think they quite consciously did that with a lot of these little stories. You don’t get an ending. You don’t get an ending with Becky, you get a very hazy one with Steven, you don’t get any ending with Red—you almost don’t get a story, you just get these little sketches, these little portraits—and I think they made that work. Some of it was a little frustrating. I would have liked to know more of what happened with the whole extended Briggs clan, which I guess includes Red and Steven. […] But there’s something really intriguing about and it creates a sort of yearning, this longing, which is very much the spirit of the older show. And it’s funny, in the older show I think it was more around Laura. It was like: you wanna know what’s going on with this girl, why was she so troubled. And meanwhile you’re getting more down-to-earth stories with all the other characters, an easy-to-understand soap opera melodrama with them. With The Return it was almost the opposite. The central storyline with Cooper, you did get a conclusion, early in Part 17, to that story. That was closed off. But all these little subplots surrounding it those were all very open and mysterious and you felt like you were only getting wisps and glimpses of it. So yeah…to get to the question about Laura and the ending…I’ll have to wrestle with it a little and I’ll just say coming out the first time, I didn’t feel it undercut Fire Walk With Me, I just felt like it was sort of an addition to it…
On Cooper’s downfall: Probably Martha Nochimson was the first one that really brought that to my attention. Her essay that’s in that book “Full of Secrets” is called…I think, “Desire Under the Douglas Firs.” She talks about the final episode. I think initially with Lynch, especially ‘cause Twin Peaks was messy in how it was constructed, there’s maybe a tendency to not read too much into things. Some people have the opposite impulse: right away trying to come up with these theories. For me it was more like, well…let the surrealism wash over you and don’t try and figure it out or make sense of it. But over time, you see patterns start to emerge. Her interpretation of the final episode pointed me in that direction. Have you read “Passion of David Lynch”? It’s really good. It’s a Jungian and feminist analysis of Lynch. Her whole point is not to try and force a view on it; she talks to him, she does interviews, like two or three interviews with him so she gets a sense of what he feels about certain things. Of course he doesn’t come out and just say “This is what this means” or “This is what that means.” Taking that lead, looks at it through those lenses and sees what that brings out of it. Her writing led me to notice, “Well okay, so Cooper has a downfall in the final episode.” A lot of people feel like it’s just, oh the good hero was defeated by the bad guys. If there’s any message in that it’s just “The universe is a dark place” or something. That doesn’t quite resonate with me, with what I see with Lynch and his other films or in narrative storytelling in general. I think what makes his work so rich and compelling is there’s a sense of the characters struggling with something in themselves. So that’s how I started to view the finale, as this has something to do with Cooper’s inner struggle. And John Thorne wrote a really good piece about that too…”Half the Man He Used to Be” I think it’s called. Which is interesting and that’s a whole other issue we could get into—his idea was that Cooper sort of split into two and these were two halves of one being. I felt like a lot of The Return didn’t play out that way, like I thought it would, and then in the last hour it did.
On Laura: Some people got upset about [Laura’s role in the ending], and for whatever reason, like with the gold ball too, I just kinda took that in stride. After that episode, Part 8, I heard all these people say “They’ve turned into like this goddess…” I think you guys [on Bickering Peaks’ Part 8 episode] were saying that: “It kind of cheapens her.” And I was like, “Okay. That’s interesting.” I just kinda rolled with it, like this is sort of an extension of Fire Walk With Me. Like, the Laura story is done, and now we’re seeing her enshrined as…you know almost “This is what we’ve done with Laura: taken her from being this dead girl trope to being this centre of the Twin Peaks universe.” So I saw it in this positive light, sort of instinctively, and with Part 18 too, especially once Cooper didn’t take her [away, in Part 17].when that didn’t happen, I thought: “Ok, they’re reconfirming the end of Fire Walk With Me,” and all of that. But then afterwards, thinking about it, it’s like…well, is this actually going back and kind of negating her ending? So that’s something that I’m struggling with now and trying to figure out how to deal with.
On Diane: Laura Dern was a totally unexpected—maybe not unexpected because we know she’s important to Lynch, but I thought what they did with Diane was very interesting. I think if there’s three things that give The Return its “extraness”, whatever it’s bringing to Twin Peaks, it’s Dougie, it’s Sarah/Judy/Mother or whatever is going on with all that stuff, and it’s Diane. I think that’s huge. I think she’s really a way in to kind of understand what damage Cooper maybe has done and what damage he could do, what he’s capable of doing, The Mulholland Drive thing fits but that’s also different because we’ve only spent an hour and a half with that character. This is a character [Cooper] we’ve spent so much screen time with. So to find out at the end: “Here’s this complex portrait,” it feels a little different. You have to kind of wrestle with it in different ways. I just thought Laura Dern was fantastic, and I thought—and I know a lot of people didn’t like that they had them as a couple, almost, like: “Well, we never really got that from the old show” and does that really need…for me, that was one of those elements that we were talking about earlier. Knowing Lynch’s work and thinking of this as a culmination of his whole legacy or a summing up of it, that made that so much more powerful. Because when you watch the scenes from Blue Velvet, it’s just like “WOW!” It’s these two adolescent…these young kids out in the world. You see them now, thirty years older, and there’s all that mileage and it’s such a powerful, potent call back. So I really appreciated that. That Lynch made Diane and specifically Laura Dern as Diane so central to that last hour, that really felt right to me in a way that I guess it didn’t feel right to other people.
On Sarah Palmer: My operating assumption, the way I come to a feeling with Twin Peaks is: “Well, what doesn’t work for me? What are the things that seem true?” And then you build outward from there, the psychological truths. You find what works based on that versus just pulling something that doesn’t feel right and running with it. To start with, it doesn’t quite feel right for me to say that Sarah is somehow this new evil force. It doesn’t really build on the character we had. It just kind of erases the previous Sarah: “Well, here’s this new Sarah who doesn’t really link up with that.” I don’t think he would do that. I don’t think he would see that character as being this evil force or whatever. I do think the frogbug girl is probably her. That could just be a side metaphor thing that ties to Twin Peaks obliquely, that’s definitely possible. And maybe that’s even more likely, given Lynch not wanting to have a neat bow on everything. However, there are a lot of hints that the little girl is Sarah, and it would be completely random if it didn’t link up at all. Look, they told us who Judy was. If they got to do that, I think they can have the frogbug girl be someone that we know. But I’m not comfortable going with “She’s the new BOB” which I’ve heard a lot of people say. Not that she’s necessarily literally BOB but that she’s that new evil force in Twin Peaks. Doesn’t quite click for me yet. Maybe somebody will say something that makes it do that, but I don’t quite see that.
On BOB in The Return and in Part 17, specifically: My only complaint might be—maybe it was too late and too much had been lost, for them to bring BOB back to what he was—but in acknowledging that he had become this deus ex machina, they took away whatever little was left of of his resonance. I went back and watched a couple scenes from the original series and thought, “Oh, yeah, that’s right! BOB was really scary!” Like when he climbs over the couch to Maddy. I guess now we’re done with BOB. It feels like they’re almost punishing BOB for something that wasn’t BOB’s fault! Not BOB the character but BOB the motif, it was a great motif, and THEY misused it. And Frank Silva’s dead. That’s a huge part of it. They had to find a way to do that. I mean, look at poor Major Briggs. In a way he got a nice tribute, but in another sense he showed up as a bloody headless corpse with his chest cut open. What is Don Davis’s widow gonna think? I guess she approved it but I was kind of surprised that they went there with him. But yeah, in saying that Twin Peaks is about much more than the supernatural BOB thing, it unfortunately does kind of say “what was strong about that is now cast aside.” Scenes will always be scary, but it was weird going back and watching—especially reading all the stuff like “Oh no no no, Leland was the red herring, Sarah is the real big baddie in the Palmer House or whatever” which is weird. But for a moment, I wa looking at all this footage of BOB and Leland and feeling like I was looking at like the lower level boss or something.
On the popular Part 17/18 overlay theory: Here’s the thing: I do a lot of videos where I do split screens and I love comparing things side-by-side, so I love looking at things that way and seeing what comes up. But what was really bothering me about this idea was this implication—and at times the article seemed to be outright stating: “Lynch did this this way.” Like, he edited these things side-by-side so they would match up. And I hate that idea because I feel like people keep doing this thing with Lynch where they try to make him this Christopher Nolan, you know, a puzzlemaster. It’s just so anathema to his working methods. Lynch isn’t gonna sit there with like a stopwatch and be like: “No, no, we gotta cut off…yes, this is a great moment at the end of this shot but it’s gotta match this other shot…” People have been doing it all through the season, like comparing the glass box scenes. And I think that’s great, if you’re acknowledging these happy accidents and cosmic coincidences that arise out of having some fundamental sense of rhythm. It’s like [Pink Floyd’s] Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz. They really do match up nicely and it’s obvious they didn’t have a projection booth in the Abbey Road studio with like—where they were timing every take to match up with something, that’s absurd. But, you get these poetic resonances and that’s great. But sometimes people forget that what you’re editing for is […] rhythm, and for the mood. So, a shot—you’re finding the right length for a shot to hold and for the interplay of elements to work. Plus not even to mention a lot of this isn’t cutting at all, it’s long takes on the set, and you’re doing that to fit the rhythm of the moment and the mood. Taking it out to do this structural abstract intellectual thing that people are going to have to pick it apart/put it back together again to notice is totally contrary to that spirit. So I feel like as long as people use that as an interesting lens to look at it with, I think that’s great, but please please let’s not try to say that Lynch was pulling one over on us and just doing this.

We spent quite a while chatting about Audrey’s importance and the possibility that The Return is operating on the level of metafiction:
Joel: So, I don’t know if people have heard more about Audrey, I’m just getting these things by osmosis. People are saying: “Oh, this wasn’t in the script, that wasn’t…” and I’m like “Oh, really?” I read the one interview with Sherilyn Fenn and it does seem like she’s suggesting—and maybe I’m reading too much between the lines—it seems like she’s suggesting that they had a story for Audrey, she didn’t like it, and they rewrote it and kind of created this almost little standalone bubble of a narrative that exists outside of that. So, I mean a) I’d be super intrigued to know what they did write for her, if that’s the case, and b) I think that’s…I kinda like that. I think Audrey’s a unique case. She’s a character who really wasn’t supposed to be central to Twin Peaks and she kind of developed this little bubble, this little mythos of Audrey as almost like she’s not quite like the rest of the cast, but she’s not really quite on the level of a Cooper or Laura or even a Leland where they’re central to the story’s core. So she does sort of already exist in this little bubble. Doing the story in this way is kind of a neat way of acknowledging that, I think. Audrey is special even though she’s not central. I like that, that’s kind of what she is. She’s this unique characters who didn’t really get her due in the second season because that wasn’t what she was originally supposed to be. They tried to create a new scenario with the whole Cooper/Audrey romance thing, and it didn’t take, and it was like she drifted away. But you can never undo or lose that special Season 1 Audrey, that magic that happened. This is a neat way to recognize that. She’s only in a few scenes, very frustrating for a lot of viewers, but they’re very unique. They stand apart from the rest of The Return, and they signify that there’s something unique about her, and the fact that we see her quote-unquote “waking up” or whatever also does that. I know some people have said “Okay, Diane is a projection of Audrey,” or “Audrey’s dreaming the whole story and this and that.” I don’t know if I buy that. I think it’s more this case of giving—carving out—her own space where she can be allowed to thrive on her own, over here…
25YL: Just off to the side, just a little bit. And I like that because I didn’t think she would be central but she was very interesting and intriguing for only have a realtively few scenes, only five or something…and then she does wake up, I think that’s important. Even if it’s not related to the plot, it does say something about what we’re seeing, maybe? Right.
Joel: And it ties into the larger theme in a sideline kind of way.
25YL: So even if it’s not directly plugged in to what we’re supposed to understand or what we come to understand about it, she still has this very key role to play for the audience to help us get there, maybe? And maybe we won’t get there for five or ten or 25 years but I feel like that’s kind of where they were going for with her.
Joel: Wait, so flesh that out a little if you don’t mind.
25YL: I’m wondering if the idea that she’s…and I don’t even know what it is she’s waking up from or waking up to…but this idea that she wakes up…she sees herself in a mirror, it’s this white space, I started wondering as soon as the finale ended, like “Okay, did the dreamer wake up and is this what happens to the characters in our dreams when we aren’t asleep?” or is this what happens when the characters that David Lynch stops writing them and then the characters are still there but they’re just in this white space.
Joel: Yeah, that’s a great point. Like a metafictional kind of thing.
25YL: I started wondering if it was something like that, and we were supposed to come at it in that way, and especially with some of the theories that have now come about about the finale about “Are Richard and Carrie in the real world now or is this…” So it kind of plays into that, maybe, or it could play into that and I could kind of see people reading it that way. Um so it’s maybe given some colour to future theories that were going to come out after the finale.
Joel: When you said earlier, “Where can Twin Peaks go from here? How much further can it escalate and change and sort of subvert it or whatever?” There’s a comment I’m gonna have to dig it up, because I know I made it like 3 years ago when they announced the Return, and I was like, “So so far, they started out with this sort of small town murder mystery soap opera, little off-kilter but realistic…then they teased these psychic elements, then they brought in the spirit world, then they had them actually going to other dimensions, then they brought in time travel with Annie…and I think now they’re going to maybe do alternate timelines… And I’m like…the ultimate point that they would have to reach to just take that all the way, would be to acknowledge it’s a movie or something. So…maybe they kind of did that a little bit here. Maybe I was right.
25YL: Even with Cooper saying “I’ll see you at the curtain call.”
Joel: They didn’t pull back the camera like they do at the end of Inland Empire, and actually show them filming it, they didn’t quite go that far with it. Wasn’t, you know, an Ingmar Bergman movie but still…that’s pretty…there may be some suggestion there.
25YL: Would be interesting if that were the case, but I don’t think we’ll ever…well, we won’t hear about it from David Lynch. But I think there’s an argument that could be made for that.

Joel’s final thoughts took the form of a tweet from 7 Sept 2017, referencing his hopes for the Return and how/if they’d panned out:

[Editor’s note: This article was edited for clarity before publication, with tremendous thanks to Joel Bocko]

Lindsay Stamhuis

Written by Lindsay Stamhuis

Lindsay Stamhuis is a writer and English teacher who also moonlights as 25YL Site's Executive Editor and Style Manager. 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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