I was so excited that Adam and Mark, one half of the powerhouse Diane Podcast, agreed to chat with me about The Return Parts 13-16. I was a regular listener of theirs during the initial run of The Return last summer, and was always blown away by the insights that they and their team (including Rosie and Bobsy) were able to provide. And they did not disappoint with this discussion! In fact, the conversation around this (virtual) dinner table was so lively that we needed to split this into two articles! Today we tackled roughly Parts 13 and 14; look for the second part (Parts 15 and 16) soon!
Lindsay: How did you prepare to watch these Parts? Were you staying up to watch them live or waiting until a reasonable hour? If you did wait, how did you manage to keep the mystery alive, avoiding spoilers until you were able to tune in yourself
Adam: As much as I approve of a 24/7 Twin Peaks lifestyle, in the end I’m a dad, husband, dog owner and have a day job, so that meant waiting until they aired at a more reasonable time on Monday evening. That also meant dodging spoilers while maintaining our social media presence — not easy!
Lindsay: Definitely one of the trickier parts!
Adam: To be honest, I can thank the Twin Peaks community for keeping me unspoiled. Everyone was remarkably respectful, far more so than we had any right to expect. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the fanbase is uncommonly decent and intelligent.
Mark: Preparation? Well, the obligatory agreed magic circle and decapitated goat’s head mask seemed a strong look at the time…
Lindsay: Oh, you did that too! Nice 😉
Mark: Yeah, and the bit where I was suspended from an inverted pentagram with my nipples on fire. It was brilliant. Totes dugpa.
In all seriousness, I soon realised I was never prepared, at least not mentally. Season three wasn’t at all interested in behaving itself and most weeks I went in not knowing what to expect. It goes without saying we all had our theories, but regular listeners know we’ve been around a bunch and fully understand that just because you’ve got a theory, even one that’s consistent with a show’s themes and all the rest, it’s always an idea to hold it pretty lightly. I mean, this isn’t an attitude I’ve cultivated, but one borne out of being wrong more times than I can count, and season three proved me wrong week after week. It was almost funny.
As for a viewing schedule, my son had just been born so I just snatched an episode where I could. The sleep deprivation added to the overall weirdness of the season. I’d recommend it.
Lindsay: At this point in the season, how were you feeling about the tone of the series compared to the original season? What did you enjoy most about the new material and what did you miss most about the original material?
Adam: By Part 13 I’d kind of given up speculating as the show consistently defied my expectations. In a day and age of binge watching and endless thinkpieces it was great to just focus on what was in front of me and not the deferred satisfaction that characterises so much of my media consumption.
I expected Lynch and Frost to create a different beast this time around. They’re both much older men, whose creative output has changed significantly since the original show aired. Lynch in particular has been steadily developing a more formalist style and an increasingly sceptical attitude towards conventional narrative construction and notions of character. I wanted to see that reflected in S3 and was pleased when that’s exactly what we got. Much as I love it and continue to miss it, I didn’t want a return to S1 and 2’s vision(s) of Twin Peaks. We’ve been there and done that. There’s also the important fact that S3 grapples with that distance. As most commentators have noted, in many ways it’s a show about how you can’t go back and what that means, hence its recurrent focus on mortality, time and homelessness. As someone who’s just breached middle age, that emphasis was difficult but welcome.
On the Counter Esperanto podcast, Karl Eckler, in typically incisive fashion, noted that if S3 has a central theme then that theme is loss. While I still think the show is a trauma narrative at heart, there’s a lot to be said for his take. Off the top of my head we have the loss of Laura Palmer (who disappears and is seemingly erased from existence), the loss of a recognisable Dale Cooper (who is almost entirely absent), the loss of the modernist project that promised us a brighter future based on technological and social progress (technology is either baffling or monstrous in Season 3, the social contract is in tatters), the loss of home (S1 and 2 were fixated on place – S3 is littered with tract homes and trailer parks and never sits still), losses brought about by time, and ultimately the loss of Twin Peaks. You might say that a feeling that something is missing is kinda the point.
Lindsay: Loss as a theme is a great observation, and not at odds with the trauma narrative either, as loss can be traumatic in itself. They seem to feed into one another quite nicely.
Mark: Tonally the season felt different from the outset. To begin with, the soap opera elements were really only gestured to, and that was a massive change. Then there was the slowness and the melancholy, perfectly expressed by Johnny Jewel’s wistful half-used score. And Vegas’s dustbowl palette, in fact the plain speaking sterility of the mise-en-scene more generally, was a million miles from the dreamy log fire browns and billowing greens of seasons one and two. How did I adjust? Simple – I was fascinated by this new aesthetic, which was easily as complete and well realised as what had gone before. Of course, like our co-host Rosie I missed the old Twin Peaks, but that, it seemed to me, was the point. The feeling of longing was a part of it. I became super interested in Season 3 as an artistic response to the original series. It seemed to me very unromantic, even anti-romantic, obstinately denying all those cosy pleasures we’d come to expect. We hadn’t returned, we were lost out there with no stars to guide us. It’s not a happy thing, but I’m suspicious of, if not averse to, escapism as the dominant norm. I expect Lynch’s stuff to be about something. And while Season 3’s unheimlich message of an unsalvageable past was, at times, difficult to deal with, there was also a comfort there – that someone else understood, that they were prepared to face age and irrevocable change and the uncertainty and loss that came with them head on, and that they were using my beloved Twin Peaks, a text likely to have maximum impact, to express their concerns. I think the world would be a better place if we faced down our fears, and art is a great, relatively safe place to do that.
Anyway, those were the thoughts. Still are.
Lindsay: Brilliantly said, and quite on the mark in my opinion. The longing for a return in The Return was part of that experience. I guess a follow-up question to you both (and to readers) might be: how do you respond to people who either didn’t understand that message or who understood it and still hated it? Or is it even necessary to respond at all? Maybe it isn’t — I’m just thinking out loud here…
Adam: If there’s one thing hanging out in fandoms and critical spaces has taught me over the years it’s that people enjoy things in different ways, and that’s not just okay it’s probably a good thing. Twin Peaks’ creators don’t even agree on what it’s about — that’s part of its magic. Does that mean I never get frustrated when someone is wrong about the show on the internet? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t, but that’s one of the reasons why I podcast: to have a small impact on the wider critical conversation. That’s what I hope to influence. He said vaingloriously.
Mark: Whatever else it is, original Twin Peaks is almost pure popcorn, isn’t it? Straight up entertainment. Which in terms of Lynch’s filmography makes it the exception. I don’t think you could realistically go into Season 3 expecting a similar sort of thing — even though many of us did, me included. Nah, this was never going to be a fuzzy nostalgia trip. Lynch, since Blue Velvet, has made a career of problematizing America’s idealised past, we just always assumed his own contribution to that same mythology would remain unmolested. Sadly, but thrillingly, it turned out we were wrong.
Lindsay: Part 12 seemed to end on a lot of interesting cliffhangers, which Part 13 didn’t pick up on immediately or satisfy in a way that we might have come to expect — Sarah in the grocery store, Diane’s recruitment into the Blue Rose team and her discovery about the coordinates on Ruth Davenport’s arm, Ben and Frank discussing Cooper’s old room, etc. By Part 13, the focus shifts to Dougie in Las Vegas, to Mr. C in Montana, with only a few scenes in Twin Peaks advancing those plots (if at all) and major turning points apparently abandoned (like the Fusco investigation into Cooper, which could have led somewhere but didn’t), leaving some viewers frustrated. How did this jumping around, all-over-the-place plot progression sit with you? What, in your opinion, was the purpose for this?
Adam: Hah, I have many complicated and possibly boring thoughts about this that I get into semi-regularly on our podcast! I guess I wasn’t at all shocked is the TL;DR answer. While there’s a pronounced disjunction between 12 and 13, we’ve been primed for it from the beginning. Next to nothing about the show progresses or has cohesion in the way that most drama trains us to expect.
For example, we’re used to the idea that characters have an arc, that they face challenges that force them to grow and change and that the story progresses on the back of that. There’s an entire industry of screenwriting classes based on the principle that character wants and needs drive story. But with Cooper, our lead, we got a guy parcelled up into discrete packages, one that was all want and one that was all need. That’s a great example of Twin Peaks throwing the traditional model in the dustbin or at least doing something much weirder.
What did it all add up to? That’s a big question and I’ll develop some ideas throughout my responses. For now I’ll just say that it serves to create a unique emotional and aesthetic texture that forces us into the moment rather than building into the next plot beat. That’s not hugely satisfying if plot is your bag — and most of the time plot is very much my bag — but S3 is demonstrably not a season that cares very much about plot, at least not in a way that we’re used to.
Lindsay: Part 12 reintroduced us to Audrey Horne, and Parts 13-16 really hammered home the strangeness of her situation, with no truly clear answers coming out. What are your thoughts about how this plot fits into/doesn’t fit into the larger story? (In other words: please tell us what’s happening with Audrey!!! lol)
Adam: Audrey’s in a psychiatric institution. Breaking news: Season 4 will tell her story.
Lindsay: From your lips to Lynch/Frost’s ears!
Adam: Hahahaha. I suppose I’m only half joking with that comment because if there was ever a character who seems to have her own deal going on it’s Audrey Horne. Should Lynch and Frost return to the well, that feels like the best and possibly only place to start precisely because she floats to the side of everything else, unresolved in her white room.
LS: And because, as so many people have pointed out, she seems important somehow to the main narrative in spite of her physical disconnection from the rest of the show. I totally agree with you.
Adam: The last time that Audrey was locked into the main storyline was back in S1 where she’s the character most haunted by Laura’s story. She relives it through the lens of a risque Nancy Drew mystery. After that, not so much. She has her own momentum that’s tied to but not beholden to Laura and Dale’s. You could even argue that she’s the third pillar of Twin Peaks, so seeing her removed from the heart of the show in S3, with her own stuff to do, could be read as doubling down on that (even if we didn’t get enough of her). Shades of the original plan for Mulholland Drive, which was envisioned as an Audrey Horne spin-off series.
As for how she figures into S3, her arc was changed substantially from what was originally scripted, which is probably the IRL reason why she doesn’t quite fit in. Audrey watchers will note that this echoes the dramatic compromises of S2 after Lara Flynn Boyle and Kyle MacLachlan intervened to nix the Cooper-Audrey romance.
But going back to S3, when Audrey’s Road House scene moves into self-referentiality then collapses into a white room and a close-up of her face, she stands at the most extreme point of narrative breakage in a season that’s all about snapping narrative into pieces. In fact her arc continually gestures towards the flimsiness of narrative construction in ways that I found genuinely disturbing. When Charlie threatens to end her story a pit opened up in my stomach. I was fearful for the character, but it also felt like the whole fictional world could be in jeopardy. A not uncommon reaction if Twitter was anything to go by. More disturbingly, Charlie’s comment mainlines the darker aspects of what this season, with its non-sequiturs and fragmented souls, has to say about our fragile personal narratives: there’s a sense in which they don’t exist. Taken one way that’s the bliss of transcendental meditation. Taken another that’s the hellish depths of the Black Lodge.
Which brings us back to the question of whether Audrey wakes up in psychiatric institution. As you guys noted on the Twin Peaks Unwrapped podcast, the Hornes have a history with mental illness, and of course the mirror suggests self-reflection, especially given that Audrey isn’t wearing make-up. An absence of make-up is straightforward cinematic shorthand for being open and vulnerable (again, thanks to the TP Unwrapped guys’ interview with Debbie Zoller, the Season’s principal make-up artist, for that titbit). Oh, and white rooms are a staple of psychiatric medical dramas, so…
That final shot is a fascinating when considered within the context of the Season as a whole, which dramatises a conflict between elements of a man’s psyche or soul. A confrontation with the self, you might say. Exactly what we’re left with here: Audrey shocked to find herself looking in a mirror.
Mark: I don’t think I’ve much to add that hasn’t been said already. I suppose one thing that hasn’t been made much of is how it chimes with the overall shape of the show and Lynch’s other work. There’s always the feeling that the lights could go off on this place over here and suddenly on somewhere else. Feelings of imprisonment and release, and more broadly, perhaps more resonantly, a deep sense of artifice — of constructedness — runs through the whole thing, without ever wholly providing the safe, Brechtian distance we normally associate with artworks happy to lay bare their pulleys and strings. Instead new Peaks is like the labyrinthine set in Inland Empire, so vast you could lose yourself behind the plywood trees and risk, when it’s time for everything to be folded up and put into storage, being collapsed away and forgotten with it (Josie in the door knob par excellence!). Dale, Laura and Audrey get to explore this behind-the-scenes territory, and while Audrey is unceremoniously dumped there at the end of her story, it feels right, as part of TP’s holy triumvirate, that she should be afforded this strange intangibility. Of course, she finds her way “out” in contrast to Dale’s suffocating journey “in” (Dale spends most of the season trapped in what feel like basement realities – in the penultimate episode, passing through a literal basement in order to affect a dimensional transition), but in TP, and in Lynch’s stories generally, these coordinates are confused anyway. The current hot take, I believe, suggests they might even be the same place, Audrey’s trajectory recapitulating Dale’s. Dreamers awakening.
Lindsay: I feel this in my bones, truly. Shivers. So interesting that Audrey could be playing a significantly more important role and we have no way of knowing how she fits in. Just an uneasy inkling somehow that these characters’ fates are linked.
Lindsay: Okay, moving on: The Farm, Montana. This was a riveting scene and ended up illuminating a bit about what the Owl Cave Ring seemed to do (via Ray’s disappearance into the Lodge once he was wearing it). Fire Walk With Me taught us to pay close attention to the ring, and this scene in Part 13 seemed to underscore that again. How did this scene speak to you? In your view, is the Owl Cave Ring an important thing to figure out, or is it its own kind of red herring, or is it an elaborate MacGuffin?
Adam: Ah, the good old Owl Ring. The way you come at it depends very much on how you view Twin Peaks. For the frostians in the audience it’s undeniably a key component in the mythology, given that he devotes so much time to fleshing it out in the books. For the lynchians it’s a highlight of the season’s gloriously opaque sci-fi weirdness that sits alongside uterus trumpets (sorry, in joke for Diane listeners), interdimensional boxes and space ladders. Personally I tend towards the latter camp, but I also enjoy time spent in the former. There’s this double aspect to my Twin Peaks fandom that I never ever tire of. It keeps everything invigorated.
So yeah, I’m not locked into one way of thinking about the Owl Ring, which is why I also read its purpose differently in Fire Walk With Me, or I do when I haven’t got The Secret History and The Final Dossier on my brain. To explain exactly what that reading boils down to would be a digression too far.
What strikes me most about the various rings and associated mysteries of S3 is that they accommodate all levels of engagement. There’s absolutely plot or world-building avenues to explore, especially if you’ve got Frost’s books within reach. At some point you’ll hit a wall of uncertainty where the text refuses to offer up any more information, but that’s where the fun of theorising starts. At the same time you can watch the show, and get a lot out of it, just by wallowing in the feel of these strange details. That’s the magic of Frost and Lynch’s dynamic in a nutshell.
Mark: Love that scene (“Starting positions”!). Love the ring too. But, no, I don’t really see it as any of the above. I mean, yeah, it’s worth thinking about in the context of FWWM. It’s worth thinking about all the time if it deepens the experience and makes it more fun. But is it important to think about? As much as it’s important to think about anything, I guess. A red herring? MacGuffin? That’s not how I read Lynch’s work at all. I actually fail to understand how anyone could approach the ring that way. And that’s not meant in a snooty way. I just don’t get it.
The thing is so powerfully charged, like a claw extending out of the Lodge and penetrating our world. It finds you wherever you are: locked in a jail cell, secreted away in a lonely caravan park, in your bed, in your dreams – anywhere. In those isolated places tucked away at the scenery’s edge. Those places especially! The further out you are, the closer its proximity. It’s so many things: the Doom that awaits; the Magician’s ring that allows him to walk between universes; the strange, inscrutable desires of the spirit world; a bit of that world shorn off, fallen into ours – an unholy contaminant, like Kryptonite.
Seriously, that conversation is for someone else. I’m just happy to bask in the thing’s radioactive glow.
I guess I’m what Adam would call a “Lynchian”.
Lindsay: You can so easily get bogged down in reductive lines of inquiry if you follow the Ring far enough looking for it to make sense. I honestly don’t think it’s supposed to, but I understand the (Frostian?) need to untangle it if that’s how you want or need to make sense of Twin Peaks. On the flip side, Mark, you’re right to point out that it’s not nothing either. It’s something; it’s almost aggressively something. You wouldn’t get chills seeing in on screen if it meant nothing. (Another instance of gut feeling, maybe.)
Mark: I love the way Lynch and Frost’s dynamic has been cast as this faintly comic left-brain/right-brain double act — which I’m sure depresses them from time to time… but they can’t really convincingly deny!
That’s a roundabout way of saying, okay, yeah, Frost probably has some pretty clear ideas about what the ring — literally — is. But I don’t think that’s the real draw. Because regardless of whether they were intended, these explanations always take second place to the singularly irreducible and visceral imagistic universes that spawn them. I think in some way they’re an effort to make Lynch’s work safer, even the more horrifying ones.
Maybe there are people out there who coldly appraise TP as straight ahead, if stylistically slightly wonky, sci-fi, where every element collapses into a single, immutable meaning, there’s room for all comers, but I reckon those guys are a minority. There’s always that nonverbal first taste, like when someone’s seen a ghost or a UFO or something — this inexplicable thing that’s just happened. And after that the explanations come thick and fast.
Which is fine, but never, ever the whole story.
Adam: Regarding the Farm, my short answer is that it speaks to an alienated and kind of hilarious masculinity that bubbles up throughout Lynch’s films, and which Frost seems to enjoy playing with in Twin Peaks. Evil men watching evil men on screens, only coming together to arm wrestle for dominance is pure ”world of truck drivers”. It also darkly echoes those joyous and awkward moments of masculine camaraderie at the Sheriff’s Station. Loved its crazy excess.
Lindsay: Ooh! Like another inverted version of the world of Twin Peaks — that was you guys who brought that up, right? With regard to the Deer Meadow being an inverted Twin Peaks, right down to the fact that the crosscut saw on the wall was straight and not circular?
Adam: Oh for sure, yeah the inverted thing. Twin Peaks feels worryingly like Deer Meadow this time around. It even has the same trailer park!
Lindsay: Part 14 featured one of the most startling “mythology” scenes since Part 8 with the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept team heading up, finally, to Jack Rabbit’s Palace and discovering Naido, a portal to the Fireman, and a potentially mind-bending realization that there could be multiple timelines at play here. How did you view this scene and its implications for the larger story?
Adam: You’re making reference to the way the deputies reappear in different positions, right?
Lindsay: Yes, sorry — wasn’t clear on that.
Adam: Time, like so much else, is out of joint in S3 to the point where it’s moved beyond the hauntological vibe of S1 and 2 and into something else entirely. Everything is fuzzy, colder, like we’re moving away from the fire at the show’s heart into territory where we haven’t got any bearings. As the Log Lady tells us, “in these days, the glow is dying”. In Rebekah Del Rio’s words, there are “no stars”. Unsurprisingly everyone’s looking for coordinates. Worth noting that the desert is a recurrent motif, along with all those empty tract homes and sad little trailers. These elements paint a picture of a world unmoored, particularly when contrasted with the powerful sense of place that characterises our memories of the first two seasons.
The possibility that Twin Peaks is happening again and again across different dimensions or timelines, maybe both, is an extension of this core idea. The key component is a lack of fixity, or rather a lack of certainty on behalf of both the viewers and the characters about what precisely it is we’re seeing and where we are. Scenes are presented out of order, storylines refuse to resolve or resolve in oblique ways, meaning is encoded or deferred. Most importantly the idea that reality is in some sense broken means that the structures on which the story is built is up for grabs. All that we’re left with is repetition divorced from context (we return again and again to Twin Peaks throughout the season but do we ever actually get there?). A disturbing idea that finds ultimate expression in the closing moments of Part 18 when someone who isn’t quite Dale attempts to save yet another dead woman, who isn’t quite Laura Palmer in a world that isn’t quite Twin Peaks. Time, space and identity are exposed as profoundly unreliable, hence we shudder when Dale asks “What year is this?” The only certainty we have is the certainty we’ve always had, that the trauma captured in that scream abides. Unlike in most narratives, where time, characterised by a beginning middle and end, is a measure of change, our proximity to trauma is the only distance travelled that truly matters here.
Which brings me back to Frost. In his interview for the On Story podcast, he talks about how he wanted to introduce something of the modern American context. He also states that he sees Season 3 as Dale’s quest to integrate his spirit. In light of what we got and his political comments on Twitter, I’d suggest that Frost sees 21st Century American life as alienated from itself. There are glints of light – there always are – but the American Dream of The Return is an arid place of unhomely homes, unhomely people and riven by lost highways. I don’t think it’s a mistake that the woodsmen look like demonic vagrants.
Talking of those glints of light, one feels like the deputies are travelling on a golden track, whether across multiple timelines or just the one. Who else but Andy, perhaps the show’s most fundamentally decent character, should be given secret knowledge by the good spirit of the woods? In a season that’s short on heroic journeys, their woodland quest, with its echoes of Dale, Harry, Andy, Hawk and Doc Hayward’s trek to Margaret’s cabin, is an understated joy, particularly because it sets up the delightful and ludicrous climax at the Sheriff’s Station.
Mark: I’m not saying they’re not there because in the past I’d often dismiss stuff only to hear the arguments later and find them compelling, but I’m not sure I understand where the multiple timelines come in. As I suppose is pretty clear by now, when it comes to TP I’ve never been that interested in hard(ish) science-fictiony rationales. Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy the way this episode reinterprets classic sci-fi and fantasy tropes like fairy/alien abduction, missing time, the dangers of straying off the path in the Deep Dark Wood etc. I adore all that. Something in me loves seeing these old and rather staid ideas have new life breathed into them. To see them made strange and wonderful and frightening again. It’s such a shame that their ubiquity renders them so toothless and everyday. Alien abduction is just part of the furniture now, but back when Whitley Streiber penned Communion? That stuff was off the chain! It was so disturbing and otherworldly and resolutely refused to make sense. And I reckon these pre 90s (pre Men in Black, pre South Park, pre Alien Workshop tees – texts where the aforementioned were made safe and fit for mass consumption) deeply alien energies are very much alive in Mark Frost’s mind. These were the thoughts going round my head, as much as trying to fit this new and cryptic information into some kind of grand theory or whatever. I just wanted to go hiking into Lynch and Frost’s take on the perennial fairy-tale forest and see what I found there. I almost didn’t want to understand. That would make it less exciting.
These thoughts were likely abetted by the fact that, at the time, I was deep inside Brian Caitlin’s Vorrh. THE book about that place. A postmodern fairy-tale forest formed in the overlap of all fairy-tale forests. Along with sleep deprivation, another big recommend.
Adam: Yeah, the re-ignition of burnt out tropes is something that Lynch and Frost do so well. I’d like to second Vorrh. It’s nothing like Twin Peaks, it’s nothing like anything else, but that’s why it’s worth mentioning it in the same breath.
Lindsay: Side note — have you watched the Netflix series DARK? This conversation has me thinking about the way DARK absolutely cast the Deep Dark Wood as evil again but in a totally new and frightening way, using some very traditional sci-fi elements like time travel but also reimagining that in a way that makes it feel wholly new. It’s fascinating that this show was in production around the same time The Return was, so it wasn’t inspired by this newest iteration of Twin Peaks and yet the two feel very much linked.
Adam: One of those eerie synchronicities, eh? It’s the forest that they share, isn’t it? The sense that you can get hopelessly lost. The monolithic incomprehensibility of it all.
We’ve mentioned Sapphire and Steel on the podcast a couple of times, a British show from the early 80s that literally employed time as a villain. DARK has something of that. All these characters adrift in the black ocean of time, desperate to control its currents, failing utterly. Not unlike Dale, really. To make matters worse, one has the sense that were they to succeed terrible things would follow. Don’t go in expecting cherry pie, reader. DARK is grim.
Lindsay: Semi-related to the above: The hum from beneath the Great Northern, which James discovers in the basement and which Ben and Beverly had been striving to uncover all season — it ended up being important, but what were your thoughts as that scene played out to its conclusion? James, in the dark basement, the same (or similar) set as the basement in the European closed-ended film where BOB was discovered with the ring of candles, and that ever-present and mysterious humming over it all…how did you react to that at the time and how do you view it now that a year has passed and you’ve had time to think about it?
Adam: The basement in the European film felt more straightforwardly demonic to me, what with it being where they confront Bob and his ring of fire. Here it still feels like the entrance to the underworld, all the more so for Coop’s Orpheus-like quest and the use of black and white, but more ambiguous.
I’ve been thinking a fair bit about hum and its sibling drone recently, in part because they’re all over Season 3 and in part because I listen to an awful lot of ambient music (right now I’m listening to 12 hours of the ambient noise in Deckard’s apartment. I am weird).
Lindsay: (It’s okay — I have three separate tracks of Star Trek ambient noise bookmarked in my browser…not weird at all!)
Adam: A life choice that I thoroughly endorse!
I don’t have any conclusions, but some ideas keep recurring. Primarily, that the oscillation peculiar to drones and the layering of interweaving microtones is the musical equivalent of David Lynch’s approach to layering divergent textures within scenes, such as the scene where Big Ed recounts how he and Nadine got together. A heartfelt moment that’s counterpointed by Albert’s efforts not to laugh. Like the drone, Lynch refuses to settle on a single quality. Not one thing or another. An idea that’s no doubt close to Lynch’s heart as a practitioner of Advaita Vedanta Hinduism. They even have a term for the concept: “neti neti”, which means “not this, not this”. A widely used meditative method that attempts to foster union with the divine by refusing conceptual understandings. There are of course similar techniques employed within Buddhist practice.
On a related note, the sound beneath the Great Northern reminds me of Tibetan bells, which are used in meditation to keep practitioners in the moment. Within the framework of Buddhism, to be in the moment – which, it’s claimed, is all that exists — is to abide in the unity of things. Plus, you know, they feel good in the show – like a positive force. Those scenes with Ben and Beverley are joyful, right? If you’re me, it makes sense that we hear a similar sound in the Fireman’s Palace, the closest we get to a White Lodge, and see recurrent bell-like imagery (don’t get me started on those things – they spark so many divergent thoughts). The sound alludes to a space where time and location have no meaning. How better to represent that in a Lynchian mode than the electricity junctions between worlds?
The other thought — and it’s rather more nebulous — is that the world’s many drones and hums often come to our attention at moments of crisis, when we are unable to act and become fixated on small details in our surroundings. For what it’s worth, much of Season 3 feels like that to me.
Lindsay: It does seem very much rooted in that sensation familiar to anyone who suffers panic attacks or from depersonalisation, which probably could lead us into a very deep discussion about the representation of mental illness in Twin Peaks or Lynch’s works on the whole…far deeper than we could go into here. But yes, I agree, that fixation aspect is important.
Adam: Beyond trauma, mental illness and The Return is not a subject that I’ve thought nearly enough about. One suspects there’s a lot to be said.
Mark: Again, my thoughts are pretty much what they were when I first saw it. That disturbing tendency Lynch has to take an apparently benevolent element and flip it into something sinister. But that’s the puckish, fickle nature of TP’s magic more generally, isn’t it? People make all sorts of confident proclamations, but you never know where you are really. It’s part of the fun, part of what makes Peaks Peaks. So it worked in a formal sense. We recognise and expect this stuff. But it also feels right, doesn’t it, that the heavenly ringing should emanate from the Northern’s guts, that you have to go down beneath the story to find the escape hatch, your way out? There’s a very illuminating quote in Lynch’s biography, Room to Dream, where he talks about — or one of his lovers or friends talks about, I can’t remember – Lynch’s disinterest in windows. How he doesn’t want to look out of a place, but into it. How he wants to go deeper inside. You see it all over his work, this attoscopic focus on interiority, and Season 3 is no exception. Instead of glass, Lynch gazes into concrete, floorboards, smoke, and somewhere at its most suffocating the inspanse opens out onto a star-field. Or maybe not. Maybe the lights go out and you’re trapped down there with the monsters, with BOB, the ringing just a siren song calling you to your doom. I think Lynch loves these tensions. I know I do.
Adam: Mark’s just taken my brain in a whole ‘nother direction. That’s the joy of sharing this stuff with friends and loved ones.
Lindsay: Same here!
Lindsay: We also hear Frank and Hawk discussing the possibility of there being two Coopers in Part 14, which was another one of those moments of elation, thinking we were closer to getting “our Cooper” back. In this scene, Hawk’s analysis, his map, and the knowledge of his heritage played a huge role; Hawk was a central figure, more so than he was in the original series. How do you understand Hawk’s importance in The Return?
Adam: Talking of coordinates, Hawk personifies them, doesn’t he? He’s our map maker, the hope that we can navigate the confusion of the season. I mean, he literally takes on that role, while also being one of the most important ways in which the show leverages our emotional connection to old Twin Peaks, thereby grounding us in the familiar. An uncommon emotion in this season.
Hawk always felt and continues to feel inextricably linked to the goodness in the town, not only because he can talk to Dale on the same level about matters of the spirit, or because he’s heroic, but because he cares about people. A component of his character which is recurrent throughout S3 and most pronounced in his relationships with Margaret and Sarah. He’s there for all these lonely people, fans pining for a lost world among them.
Mark: Hawk’s map was one of the season’s most evocative conceits. Black corn! Wonderful! But to address the question, the way the map identifies Hawk so completely with the landscape… that seems key here. For me, Hawk and Margaret (her death scene capped by that aerial shot – spirit dissolving over the forest like a rain cloud) are Twin Peaks. Not Dale, not Laura, or any of the first tier characters. Those guys, sure, they’re intersecting with the forest’s mythic cycles of blood and redemption – there’s always a Girl lost in the woods and a brave Woodcutter who follows after her – and in that sense they’re tuned into something eternal, but Margaret and Hawk, at the end, are like two great Douglas Firs creaking their goodbyes across the dark. Their affinity, their allegiance, isn’t to that lost girl, but to the trees, the glades where these flickering young stories, every iteration of Twin Peaks past and present, real or conjectured, play themselves out. There long before stories, before us, they are our hosts. Or they represent our hosts. That’s what this season acknowledged, I think, albeit quietly. That’s Hawk’s importance.
Lindsay: He’s a literal fixed point for us to hold on to as we work our way through the disorientation of the new Peaks. And so is Margaret. That’s a tremendous way of seeing them. (So then the fact of Margaret’s death removes her physically from that world, while at the same time almost transferring more importance to Hawk…but is Margaret still there in a non-corporeal sense? Maybe she literally becomes one of those Douglas firs — which might be part of Coast Salish legends, though may not about Douglas firs specifically…) Anyway, it’s a beautiful thought.
Mark: That’s what I was trying to get at with the, admittedly, slightly poetic raincloud thing. She’s going to become one with the forest. You can feel the trees pressing in all around during the Hawk and Margaret scenes, waiting to swallow them. It’s one of the few spaces in TP that doesn’t somehow contain Laura, that might conceivably be about something else, something bigger. Now I think about it, it’s very freeing to be around.
Adam: Loved Rosie’s point (that she made on the podcast) about Margaret, the good witch, becoming one with the forest, and Briggs, the good wizard, becoming one with the cosmos.
Lindsay: Yes to all of the above. Absolutely. Moving right along — Sarah and the “Truck You” guy at the bar. WTF? Give us a run-down of your reaction to that scene and how you feel it works in the grander scheme of things.
Adam: We’re back to Beulah’s “world of truck drivers” line. I guess it speaks to the dangers of transience and non-attachment – a world where no one cares, let alone stops to look at the trees or smell the coffee. It taps into that strain of frightening masculinity that I mentioned above. Perhaps most importantly, it locks us firmly into Laura’s experiences as a sex worker, given that her clientele in FWWM are exclusively in that line of business. And well, trucks work nicely as an analogue for a penis (“truck you”), unbridled, brutal masculine power, that kind of thing. Shorthand for ugly male shit, basically. Maybe also a little classist, but Lynch has never cared much about the politics of his work so make of that what you will.
Lindsay: It does have a certain Mark Frost feel to it, much like Janey-E’s earlier “We are the 99 percent” speech, just because of the politics involved being so blatant.
Adam: With all that in mind, the scene reads as a figurative dramatisation of Sarah’s conflict with Laura’s past while also being a horrific moment in its own right. One which too many women have to tolerate without the aid of razor-sharp teeth. Sarah, a woman who doesn’t present as being sexually available in any way (perhaps in itself a tragedy born of how culture sees women over a certain age), is viciously harassed by a man who’s angered by her lack of availability and her unwillingness to take his insults on the chin. The casual way that he invades her space and assumes dominance connects us to the theme of male sexual violence that’s been central to Twin Peaks from the beginning. This is the dark side of Laura’s world, the thing which she struggled to prevent from defining her (Bob’s pretty much the ultimate Twin Peaks truck driver). It’s also the unspoken evil that Sarah failed to protect her daughter from, and that she’s lived with since Laura’s early adolescence.
There’s catharsis here, for sure. All that monstrous pain is finally given an outlet, the repressed feminine biting back, but at the same time it’s revealed as precisely that: monstrous – fangs, snake tongues and dead girl’s smiles. Could it be that that tells us everything we need to know about Judy? Assuming Sarah and Judy are connected, that is. How private pain can go septic, hollow us out so that all that’s left is rage and sadness. This man, while an iteration of the evil that Laura fought, isn’t Bob, isn’t her husband. This small revenge is 25 years too late, and a demon has taken root in her soul.
I have much more that I’d like to say about the relationship between Sarah and Judy, but as I’m not covering Part 17 I’ll leave that to whoever picks up the baton. I’ll just add that empathy and a non-judgemental attitude towards Sarah are important when considering Judy. There’s a tendency to straightforwardly demonise Sarah that I find troubling and see as unsupported by the text.
Mark: Lynch comes in for a lot of criticism for his camera’s rather icky obsession with women in trouble, but from time to time, like that to-camera sequence in Inland Empire where Laura Dern talks about killing rapists or whatever, Laura Palmer’s omnipresent banshee shriek or the scene you mention, the Male Gaze runs headlong into a clenched fist. Some will complain that the decision to quite literally demonise female rage is revealing in some extremely dodgy ways, and they’d be right, but in the moment it was not only terrifying but exhilarating to see that misogynistic piece of crap get his. An authentic moment of resistance, which you just know was intended that way regardless of whether or not Lynch and Frost have mummy issues. So in terms of the broader cultural conversation around TP and Lynch’s work generally, it’s an uneasy fit, problematizing definitive statements vis a vis the creators’ feminism or lack thereof.
In terms of the overall narrative however? I don’t know. I will say that it’s typical of Lynch to situate an infernal bad ass in a broken down old alcoholic’s vodka bottle strewn front room. I mean it almost seems ridiculous, doesn’t it, Jowday’s present day situation and concerns absurdly parochial after the balls to the wall nuclear chaos of episode eight where we were led to believe we were dealing with a truly cosmic level threat? But that’s just Lynch’s habit of looking inwards again, isn’t it? As above, so below. So below, as above. In Lynch’s mind Evil can be both cosmic and profane, unfathomable yet deeply relatable and personal. It makes for a strange and not wholly unsettling, not wholly humorous tension. It’s difficult to know what to feel about or how to approach this stuff, which, you know – that’s good art, isn’t it?
One thing I do find interesting about episode eight and Jowday’s origins is that, like the mysterious Dreamer with whom Cooper is identified, she appears to come from outside the text. A malevolent female force born of that supreme metaphor for phallic power, a nuclear explosion, which responds to male/female sex and sexual situations, positive or negative, with obliterating rage… It seems to me that, for the mother of BOB, far from the popular, if slightly puritanical, vision of it as a creative act, sex, and perhaps male/female relations generally, can only be understood in purely destructive terms. Which lends credence to the idea that wherever she comes from, wherever the Dreamer, Cooper, comes from, something very bad happened between a man and a woman – and I don’t mean Caroline and Windom Earle.
Adam: The topic of sex in The Return is one of my personal favourites. There’s SO much that could be said. I’ll resist the urge to go down that rabbit hole as it would demand a close look at Part 18...
Adam is a co-founder of Diane Podcast and thinks way too much about Dick Tremayne for a guy in his 40s with non-men’s fashions related responsibilities. He lives with his family by the seaside in Brighton, UK. Email him at email@example.com.
Mark is the guy who tagged along with that podcast because, hey, it looked like D&D Thursdays were no longer a thing. He, too, lives with his — far younger — family by that very same seaside, desperate for more sleep. He can be reached at the same email as Adam.
We hope you enjoyed Part 1 of our illuminating conversation about The Return thus far. Check back tomorrow for Part 2!
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