David Lynch tears up the rule book, dives into horrors at the heart of the 20th century, and delivers a work of visionary genius. Stewart Gardiner bears witness to a landmark in television history in Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8.
By Stewart Gardiner // David Lynch is never weird for the sake of being weird. He has that rare gift of being able to communicate how he sees the world. His art – for it is undoubtedly that – delves down into the minutiae of life and soars up into the unknowable realms of existence. Underneath and beyond. Inside and out. Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8 is the purest expression of Lynch’s art on screen to date. The real world felt different afterwards, like I was looking at it for the first time. Through a glass darkly.
The Meaning of Working Through the Past
Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8 is a mostly wordless meditation on the genesis/existence of evil. Its formal experimentation is the equal of its philosophical reach. That it is a truly great work of art is undeniable and all the more impressive since it doesn’t have the luxury of being a separate entity.
This is an installment of Twin Peaks absolutely brimming with story, alive with the potential of storytelling. Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8 expands upon existing mythology, picking up threads that have been there from the beginning without ever demystifying anything. (Quite the opposite in fact!) Mark Frost’s 20th century obsessions are central. Such concerns have been part of Twin Peaks lore since its original run and The Secret History of Twin Peaks novel doubled down on many of them.
That Frost and Lynch are perfectly in tune with each other as to their vision for Twin Peaks has never been clearer than it is in Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8. It’s as if the two of them traveled back into the heart of the 20th century and brought back all the answers. But such answers are not easily accessible. They cannot be.
Some Kind of Help
The bulk of the dialogue takes place in act one. Ray and Mr C (Ray calls him Mr Cooper here) are driving at night after escaping the prison. This is a night episode. There’s a lot of black and white later on and Lynch readies the palette from the start.
Mr C plans to get the information Ray has then kill him. But Ray has turned the tables on him. Mr C’s gun won’t fire and Ray has a gun of his own. “Tricked you, fucker,” says Ray as he puts a couple of bullets into Mr C. He’s about to take a final head shot when strange things start to happen.
There are strobe flashes and dark men apparitions appear out of the woods. A dark man has been haunting proceedings on Twin Peaks of late. It would however now seem more accurate to say the previous two appearances were of different individuals. There are many in Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8. They appear uninterested in Ray’s presence, instead fluttering around Mr C like moths drawn to death. The scene is utterly haunting, with a palpable sense of wrongness about it.
These Woodsmen, as they have now been named, perform some sort of ritual, clawing at Mr C’s body. A death dance of life bringing. They remove a gelatinous sac. Bleak cosmic surgery indeed. The sac is the essence of Bob and contains his face.
Ray screams in horrible slow motion. That nightmare feeling when you cannot move. Real time has been slowed down although the Woodsmen move about quickly. Time is running at different speeds. It recalls one of Mark Frost’s prevailing interests: alien encounters. As interpreted by David Lynch and filtered through Twin Peaks it is a unique experience.
Ray is able to get up and drive off. He calls Phillip Jeffries:
“Phillip. It’s Ray. Uh, I think he’s dead. But he’s found some kind of help, so I’m not 100%. And I saw something in Cooper. It may be the key to what this is all about.”
Cut to “The” Nine Inch Nails playing in the Roadhouse. The stage is darker and more harshly lit than previously, the music brutal with only shards of light. This extended musical interlude captures and draws out the mood, occupying the interstices between eras.
Back to Mr C. He sits up, opens his black eyes. Is Bob still with him though?
Gordon Cole does not have random pictures on his office walls. I previously focused in on the portrait of Franz Kafka, the patron saint of blue rose. But it’s the nuclear explosion that Lynch focuses on in Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8. That statement doesn’t go far enough. Lynch dives right into the explosion as Penderecki’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” cuts like glass through the chaos.
JULY 16, 1945
WHITE SANDS, NEW MEXICO
Welcome to the first ever nuclear test, known as Trinity. Part of the Manhattan Project, under the guidance of Oppenheimer. The result of which inspired his “destroyer of worlds” comment and made possible atrocities including Hiroshima. Not a shining moment for mankind.
The blast goes off in slowed down time. Lynch pushes down through the desert and into the mushroom cloud. Black smoke/ink bursts forth, as it did in the glass box in New York. The black and shaking stars of non-exis-tence that Cooper fell through going to and from the glass box also make an appearance. Changing states. Cosmic clouds of color. Explosions going off. Destruction and creation. A long dark journey into night.
Ever watched the ending of 2001 and kind of hoped it would be a little, well, stranger, more out there? I sure have. Lynch granted my wish and then some.
Origin Story/Regeneration Cycle
So what lies within mankind’s awful hubris? Lynch takes us further until the primal elements settle and there is a twisted vision of normalcy. A convenience store, populated by the rushing apparitions of the Woodsmen. It’s as if setting off the bomb breached the lining between worlds. Mike and Bob of course lived above a convenience store and the Lodge denizens held meetings there too. Is the convenience store a manifestation of an aspect of the Black Lodge? (Was that even a real sentence?)
This isn’t yet the core. Lynch pushes on through the blackness. A white creature floats in blank space. Credited as Experiment in part 8, it is the glass box manifestation. She – for it is clearly female – spews forth a viscous trail containing eggs. The Bob sac is attached to the outside of the substance.
A Twin Peaks origin story then. Bob birthed out of the folly, madness, and ultimately evil of the 20th century. “Maybe that’s all Bob is,” Albert once said, “the evil that men do.”
Bob seems to represent a much older evil though. So perhaps it isn’t his birth as such, but rather a rebirth in a uniquely 20th century form? After all, with mankind acting as gods, what better evil to visit upon us than man at his basest? Twin Peaks’ terrifying version of Doctor Who’s regenerations.
I wonder if, like the convenience store, Experiment was always there. Is this Mother and does Bob just want to get back to his mom? The name Experiment suggests the nuclear test itself however. A representation of the terrible power in harnessing the atom.
Slow 30s Room
Into the living substance and back out into the bomb. A shiny bulbous mass appears. Through that and it’s back out over the purple sea. There is a palace upon a rock. It would appear to be a different building from the one Cooper visited on his journey back to the human realm. Although perhaps it is merely a different aspect of it (I mean that in the most ambiguous way possible).
It is not the Purple Room inside. Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8 instead allows a closer look at the black and white room glimpsed at the beginning of the premiere. I’m calling it the Slow 30s Room after the Lynch and Dean Hurley track that is playing. A woman (Senorita Dido) sits swaying to the music, off in dreamland. There’s one of those bulbous bell machines in the room, like the one outside the purple cube in part 3.
The Purple Room might just exist somewhere else on the purple sea. But maybe it is in the same place. Some disruption has caused an inside/outside occupation of the same space. The 1930s aspect makes the room a 20th century time capsule before the twin horrors of Auschwitz and the atomic bomb.
An Alarming Story
An alarm starts ringing from the bulbous machine. The Giant – sorry, the character’s name here is ??????? (seven question marks, lucky number seven) – steps out from behind the bell. ??????? leaves the room and slowly walks up the stairs of an old theater. The upstairs space has an almost outdoors feel to it. He goes to a screen that shows the Trinity test, the convenience store and the Bob sac. The theater resembles nothing less than Club Silencio from Mulholland Drive. It may even be the same location used in part 8.
His reaction to these events is a cosmic one. ??????? floats up into the air and sheds golden light from his head. Like strands of DNA or a tree of light. Senorita Dido watches as a golden, living ball is formed out of the strands and floats down to her. She reaches out and takes it in both hands. She lifts it towards her and looks upon the face of Laura Palmer! Senorita Dido kisses the ball, sends it up into the air, where a device sends it on to Earth.
It Was Laura
All of this would suggest that the black and white zone/Slow 30s Room are an aspect of the White Lodge (well, maybe). “It is in our house now,” ??????? told Cooper.
The struggle between Laura and Bob always seemed a cosmic battle between good and evil. She was, after all, the only one able to defeat him…albeit temporarily and at great cost. It was always desperately unfair that it had to be her. Laura, or the idea of her, was created to provide the world with some balance. At least that’s what Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8 suggests. Still unfair, but helps explain her status among the Lodge denizens and provides further hope that she can live with the angels. Yet Laura was pulled out of the Lodge in the premiere. Where to? I previously speculated that Laura could be the glass box manifestation (now Experiment). Why does that idea return to me now?
Laura and Ronette Pulaski are sitting in Club Silencio during Mulholland Drive. Whether it is actually them or not is open to debate. But seeing Laura’s essence created in Club Silencio’s White Lodge twin strengthens the thematic tissue.
When Woodsmen Attack!
The years tick away on screen and it is 1956, August 5. New Mexico Desert. One of the eggs from Experiment hatches. A reptilian, amphibian, winged monstrosity crawls out (shades of the Eraserhead baby). Kind of like those flying ants that half crawl, half fly, neither of which seems right.
Over in town, two teenagers stroll home. The girl stops to pick something up.
“Oh look, I found a penny. And it’s heads up. That means it’s good luck.”
Another coin on Twin Peaks. Interesting. The boy asks if he can kiss her. She reluctantly agrees and he gives her a chaste peck on the lips. It is all very 50s. Lynch and cinematographer Peter Deming not only capture the period, but make it look exactly like a 1950s movie. Which is all the more astounding since it’s digital. The range of cinematography across Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8 is breathtaking, that it also has narrative cohesion is quite frankly startling.
A Woodsman descends out of the night. Another walks across the desert. They cause a couple in a car to have a close encounter. “Got a light?” asks the Woodsman as if he were asking to remove the insides of their heads. Now that I mention it…
Time goes wrong. The Woodsman asks the question repeatedly, like a stuck record. He’s accompanied by the sound of crackling electricity. Does this electrical/atomic force burn them over time? The present day Woodsmen seemed more blackened.
The Words of the Woodsman
A radio disc jockey plays a Platters record. The town listens. Lynch is fond of using 1950s music in his work, the innocence of the lyrics evoke a dreamlike world and are a stark contrast to the darkness (see Blue Velvet for other powerful examples).
“When the twilight is gone and no songbirds are singing”
Of course the birds do not always sing a pretty song, even when there’s music in the air. The girl is in her bedroom, listening to the radio, lost in a dream.
The Woodsman goes into the radio station. He squeezes heads until what’s inside gushes out. Is this the real world equivalent of what Bob does to Windom Earle in the Lodge? He drags the needle off the record, grabs the microphone and speaks into it. One spoken chant between two worlds. The townspeople listen and collapse.
“This is the water.
And this is the well.
Drink full and descend.
The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within.”
The girl lies down, puts her head on the bed and goes off to sleep. Her mouth opens and the creature crawls in – kiss me deadly, indeed. The Woodsman walks into the black of the desert and disappears into the night. A horse neighs. Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8 draws to a close. Wow.
This Is the Girl
The identity of the girl is not provided during Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8 or in the end credit titles. It’s clear that she is a person of interest and she’s probably not a new character. I should know better than to use words like “clear” and “probably” where Lynch is concerned.
At this stage the question of the girl’s identity hinges on what the creature is or represents. Bob? No. Laura? Not quite. The Woodsmen have arrived at this point in time to facilitate something, which would lead assumptions away from Laura. However, I don’t think it is Bob. I have a feeling that he made it out into this world not long after the bomb and around this time he possesses Leland. My gut tells me that the girl is Sarah Palmer and the event centers around Laura.
The Woodsman speaks of a white horse. Sarah Palmer has psychic abilities and has visions of a white horse. Laura won’t be born for another decade and a half or so, yet perhaps the creature must wait. The name of the atomic test is Trinity which would suggest a third entity. Bob, Laura, and…the creature. One that could live inside Sarah Palmer. A parasite to attract Bob. Therefore ensuring Bob has a part in Laura’s conception.
Light of New Discoveries
The words of the Woodsman link back to words spoken above the convenience store in Fire Walk With Me/The Missing Pieces:
“From pure air. We have descended from pure air.
Going up and down.
Intercourse between the two worlds.”
Is the water and the well this world of humankind? Does air become pure by breaking it down to its atomic structure?
Twin Peaks expert John Thorne (one of the folks behind both the classic magazine Wrapped In Plastic and essential current journal Blue Rose Magazine) can be relied upon to forge paths of discovery. He’s a phenomenal asset to the Twin Peaks fan community. In the wake of Twin Peaks: The Return Part 8, John dug out the Fire Walk With Me screenplay and found a direct link to the latest installment of Twin Peaks which he shared on Twitter. These are words from the convenience store scene that never made it to screen:
Bob: “Light of new discoveries.”
Mrs Tremond: “Why not be composed of materials and combinations of atoms?”
Mrs Tremond’s Grandson: “This is no accident.”
No accident indeed. Lynch and Frost have been planning this for a long, long time.
Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955) is the most paranoid of noirs, a genre which Twin Peaks has running through its veins. The MacGuffin is a radioactive box. Except it proves not to be a MacGuffin at all and when opened unleashes terrible atomic power. Or as Scorsese puts it in A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies:
“At the end of Kiss Me Deadly, the duplicitous woman who stole the radioactive package from a secret government project was like the wife of Lot who refused to heed the warnings. Aldrich’s tale led to a few cryptic, threatening words: ‘Manhattan Project …Los Alamos…Trinity…’ This time, opening Pandora’s box meant universal annihilation – the Apocalypse.”
The Man in Back of This Place from Mulholland Drive looks akin to the Woodsmen. He is the keeper of the blue box, a powerful object that is capable of breaching worlds. The blue box appears in Betty’s handbag while at Club Silencio, that twin of the Slow 30s Room theater. Once opened the dream world cannot sustain itself. The result is apocalyptic.
David Lynch just opened the box of Twin Peaks and unleashed a visionary masterpiece upon the world. Its impact will be felt for years to come.