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Monday, September 04, 2017

That Gum I Like Never Went Out of Style


Last night, Sean and I watched, bewildered, as David Lynch and Mark Frost stayed true to their most genuine and frustrating form, refusing to provide Twin Peaks audiences with closure and instead ending the series - probably forever - on a shriek of confused, helpless horror.

Like Sean, I was disappointed by what felt like a meandering and almost cruel final hour, especially after the tease of the penultimate episode, which seemed to promise a reasonably happy, if strange, ending for characters I've loved for nearly 30 years. In that second-to-last hour, our heroes converge on Twin Peaks to rid the world of the malevolence of BOB. It's as funny, surreal, and thrilling as anything in Lynch's ouvre - but it's not enough. Dale Cooper, aided by the mysterious figures of the White Lodge, travels back in time in an effort to prevent poor, sad, lost Laura Cooper from being murdered on the fateful day of February 23, 1989. And at first, it seems to have worked. But just as Dale is leading Laura home to her mother, she slips from his grasp, vanishing with a scream, presumably whisked away by Judy, the Mother of Evil. And this is where the show failed for me last night on an emotional level - but with the benefit of a night's sleep and some difficult reflection, I have to admit that the last hour of Twin Peaks is thematically consistent and supports a dark, difficult vision that I didn't want to recognize on first viewing.

It's pointless to summarize the plot of the final hour, except to say that Dale never gives up trying to save Laura, and that is what dooms him. He finds himself, apparently, in a Texas of a different time, or a parallel world, or perhaps just a different dream state; in any event, gone is the confident, pure-hearted FBI agent we saw return so briefly in episodes 16 and 17. In the final act, Cooper is adrift, he's given a different name, and he's lost much of his joy. He uses excessive force on a trio of goons, holds an innocent at gunpoint, and shows not a flicker of delight when presented with a cup of coffee. He's not evil, but he's not the same man we knew and loved. (How could he be, after all he's experienced?) In this reality, in fact, he seems to be Richard, a callback to the very first moments of this season, in which the Giant and Dale converse in the White Lodge.

Cooper finds Laura, though she doesn't seem to think she really is Laura at all, but a woman named Carrie Page. She agrees to go with him to Twin Peaks anyway, as things seem to be bad for her here; there's a recently-murdered body in her house. Even after Dale has supposedly saved her, it appears Laura can never escape violence and darkness.

Much of the episode is spent on the long drive from Odessa, Texas, to Twin Peaks. There's barely any conversation; at one point, Carrie wonders if they're being followed, but the anonymous headlights of the vehicle behind them merely pass by.

Eventually, Dale and Carrie arrive in Twin Peaks, which is strangely devoid of traffic, though the episode doesn't call attention to this. They park in front of the Palmer home, and Dale, still intent on a quest that should have ended 25 years ago, insists on knocking on the front door and delivering Laura home.

But Sarah Palmer doesn't answer the door. It's a woman we've never seen before: Alice Tremond. Confused, Cooper wonders if they bought the house recently from someone else - the Palmers, he's certainly thinking. But the homeowner says she bought the house from Mrs. Chalfont...who, fans will remember, was the strange woman who lived with her grandson above the evil convenience store of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Cooper and Carrie walk back across the street. But after a moment of though, Cooper suddenly asks "What year is it?" And then someone - presumably Sarah Palmer - screams "LAURA!" from inside the house. Carrie screams, and I think this is where she realizes who she really is and the awful fate that's in store for her. She's awakened to the horror of her new reality, and her terrorized cries reverberate as the lights of the Palmer house flicker off, plunging all into darkness; roll credits.

Though presented obliquely, like much of Twin Peaks, the plot is really pretty simple after all; Judy, the Mother of Evil, won't let Laura go, perhaps, as revealed earlier, because Laura is the embodiment or avatar of good in the universe, as shown earlier this season. Dale Cooper is, perhaps, her White Lodge-appointed guardian, and has been all along.

Even before this finale, I realized that this third and final season of Twin Peaks was rich with layered commentary on the state of the world as it is today, as it was in some imagined Golden Age, and the nature of artistic creation itself. For example, throughout this season, Lynch and Frost teased their audience with meandering scenes of hyper-reality that seemed to have little purpose. To wit: several minutes spent watching a nameless custodian sweep the floor of the Roadhouse, the finale's endless scenes of night driving, side conversations from several characters about trivia that leads nowhere, the false foreshadowing of a young woman's underarm rash, Big Ed drinking coffee in his garage. These moments stand in stark contrast with the many episodes of horror, violence, hilarity and surreal quirkiness that define the show. I believe Lynch and Frost deliberately create this contrast to make their audiences squirm, to force us to feel the discomfort and loss of control that the characters in the show feel.

In the real world, nothing makes sense; only in constructed drama do stories pan out neatly, with satisfying conclusions and narrative closure. For all its madness, Twin Peaks is, in this way, perhaps the most realistic story ever told on television. We, the audience, feel like we deserve, if not happy endings, then at least some kind of ending we can understand and put in a comfortable box. I'll admit that I was, even if unconsciously, hoping for that, too, last night. I didn't get it, and I was disappointed.

But on reflection, even though I was hoping for better days for Dale Cooper and his friends, I realize that would have been somewhat cheap, and perhaps even monstrous in light of what I think Lynch and Frost are really trying to communicate: evil is forever with us, but we fight it anyway, with love, even if in the end it's hopeless.

Twin Peaks is full of warmth and love, even in the midst of unspeakable horror and tragedy. The show is full of people of genuine goodness, epitomized by Dale Cooper and his fellow agents in the FBI and by Sheriff Truman and his deputies in Twin Peaks. Even the show's villains, from BOB on down, are sympathetic in some way; troubled pasts are inferred, and even BOB himself didn't ask to be born; as revealed in this season's mind-blowing episode 8, human beings, through the atomic bomb, unleashed BOB and his cohorts into the world. BOB and Judy are forces of nature as much as they are villains.

But the suffering they cause is all too real. Laura Palmer's long arc of horrifying inevitability is all the more heartbreaking with the show's final revelation: Laura is doomed, was always doomed, is forever doomed, despite the valiant efforts of all the good people who try to help her.

And yet those good people keep trying, even after she's died.

It's possible that I'm rationalizing the finale somewhat, that I've overthought the ending to compensate or wish away my initial disappointment. I hope that's not true, because the disappointment is still there, but I've shifted the blame to my own perceptions rather than perceived deficiencies in the work. I think it's important to remember, too, that all along I've been utterly delighted by this third remarkable season; I admire its determination not to pander to a nostalgic audience, to create an entirely different sort of television show. Say what you will, but there is nothing else on TV like this, and maybe there never will be again.

When Twin Peaks went off the air back in 1990, I was rueful. In just a few months, that show became as important to me, if not more so, than Star Trek, not just as television entertainment, but as a lens through which to make sense of a troubled world. I never expected it to return, and I regard this season as a tremendous gift. It will haunt me for a long time.


Jeff Shyluk said...

I've mentioned this before, but you owe it to yourself to seek out The Secret History Of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost. It's a little autobiographical in that Mr. Frost has taken the childhood boogieman stories he grew up with and welded them to David Lynch's sideways ode to Marilyn Monroe: the classic Twin Peaks.

Mr. Frost is publishing a sequel at the end of October, The Twin Peaks Dossier, which promises to expand on The Secret History and bridge the two series. No closure, of course, but you can follow the threads of inevitability all the way from the First Nations version of the Pacific Northwest all the way to right this minute. Make certain you order the hardcover version as I discovered that even the dust jacket hides secrets.

Laura was doomed to die, but then so are we all. Angels redeem her, though some of them are more human than others. Twin Peaks is as rigidly deterministic as anything David Lynch has ever made.

Earl J. Woods said...

I read The Secret History before the premiere of season three, and enjoyed it very much. I've pre-ordered the Dossier and await its arrival eagerly. My two soundtrack CDs arrived yesterday!