We gave it a B-
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I found myself grieving the seven hours that remain of Twin Peaks: The Return all week leading up to Part 12. Yeah, I know: seven hours! That’s still a lot of TV! But the first 11 parts of David Lynch’s magnum opus have been such joy, knowing we’re closer to the end than the beginning is a bummer. Which is fitting. This limited series has been about many the things, but mortality has been at the heart of it: our painful awareness of our fragility and temporality, our destructive efforts to deny it, our need to find grace for it and make peace with it. Me already mourning the end of Twin Peaks: The Return here at the end of its second act? Call it the mid-life crisis of my Twin Peaks fandom. Can’t there be more? Please, David Lynch! Keep us once more from the horror, the horror of a NON-EXIST-ENT Twin Peaks! Keep the revival alive! Keep it shining, forever, and ever, and ever, and ever…
Maybe Lynch felt something similar while piecing together Part 12. It was a peculiar affair of drawn-out moods that played to me like Lynch indulging himself in various ways while he still had time for it, before the realities of time, space, and narrative obligation force him to set course for the show’s final destination and drive toward it. But coming off the brilliance of last week’s “Black Hole Sun” outing, I think fans thought Part 12 would commence a tear toward the endgame. It certainly had the title for it. “Let’s rock” — an allusion to the Man From Another Place and Agent Cooper’s first Red Room dream — suggested an acceleration, maybe 60 minutes of warp-drive Black Lodge lunacy, maybe the restoration of Cooper to full, integrated, souped-up Cooperness. The first few scenes — the origins the Blue Rose Task Force; the red curtain intro and sly deputizing of Diane; the sinister stuff with mentally unstable Sarah Palmer (a terrific Grace Zabriskie), a broken soul under the influence of spirits of all sorts (who was that clanking around in her kitchen? Some Woodsmen? Zombie Laura?!) — certainly stoked the coals for another apocalyptic barn-burner.
Nope. After a promising start, the episode decided to model Sarah’s fragmented mind and subverted, still-life existence. “Let’s rock” was a lot of anti-rocking, a collection of Lynchian cool-hand slow riffs that indulged in his interest in timing, texture, and other aesthetic obsessions, many of them embodied in the vividly lipsticked, tightly packed va-va-va-voom! feminine form of a woman only known as “French Woman” (Bérénice Marlohe), which I suspect was sly nod to the fact that Lynch has always been beloved by the French. It was an hour of stretched, deliberately paced scenes that exulted in silence and language, stares and codes, withholding and feeling. It was an episode of interstitial existentialism — people waiting on people to do something, people lost in translation or transition — and it was knowing about it, too. That sequence of Lynch’s Gordon Cole delighting in the protracted exit of French Woman was balanced by Albert Rosenfield, acting as our surrogate, punishing his self-involved boss with death glares that scream-asked ‘ARE YOU F—ING KIDDING ME?!’ You could practically the see the ticking clock of the show — and our patience — reflected in his piercing, unblinking eyes.
“Let’s rock” willfully defied the expectations of momentum, title, second-act climax, and every other TV form save one — the stall episode. It’s possible there isn’t much more “plot” left in Twin Peaks, or at least, not enough to make each of its remaining episodes a meaty, mythic, heartbreaking brain-blower. Mr. C was conspicuously MIA for the third consecutive week. Dougie was in it for a blink of sweet goofy comedy, an ill-fated game of catch with Sonny Jim Jones. But we did get one more Dr. Amp rant, one more performance by The Chromatics, and a whole bunch of artful dawdling. You got the sense that Lynch was going to use his stall episode to take some beats and enjoy himself, to please only himself, to live in the moment by making an episode about people stuck in moments of all sorts — tedious, trivial, terrifying, weird, boring, nihilistic, meaningful, mournful, loving, tragic.
“Let’s rock” was my least favorite hour of the season. (And an hour that gave us the long-awaited return of Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne, to boot!) But that’s not to say it was “bad” or that the qualities lacked meaning or purpose. Interesting that Dr. Amp referenced the ninth circle of Hell in his latest rant about the higher powers that have betrayed and sold out the American people, miring them and trapping them in a world of s—. In Dante’s Inferno, the ninth circle of hell is the lowest circle of hell. It’s the realm of those who’ve committed treason in a variety of forms — against themselves, against family, against neighbors, against society, against God. Their punishment? They’re frozen in ice for eternity. Lynch’s chill approach to this episode matched a story about treasonous behavior and spiritually frozen people trapped in personal hells both deserved and undeserved. The thwarted forward motion of “Let’s rock!” also mirrored stories about people either engaging their responsibility to progressiveness or avoiding it. I’ll unpack that claim as we go through the episode scene by scene.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Part 12 plays better in retrospect, after a few more episodes that provide more context for various scenes, most notably, the true nature of Audrey’s very peculiar situation. We might wonder how much of that odd, interminable sequence with her husband was even real. The hot theory is that Audrey is insane or trapped in some Black Lodge limbo, that Charlie, her husband, is a figment of her imagination or a demonic torturer. If true, then what we see in hindsight is a clever construction, a mirroring of psychotic episodes between two people, Sarah and Audrey, screwed over by BOB-ish evil and spoiled intimacies (presuming you believe the icky theory that BOB-possessed Mr. C raped Audrey while she was in her coma, conceiving Richard). There were scenes that bombarded us with names of people we haven’t met (again, that Audrey sequence) or asked us to be deeply concerned for a few minutes about the worries of new Roadhouse folk whom we may never see again. (I think all of us are tremendously relieved that Trick is out of house arrest!) (Arrested development: another wink-wink at the halting nature of this episode.) Maybe we’ll learn more about all these newbies in the (dwindling!) hours to come; maybe not. I’m hoping “not.”
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Some of these scenes represented interesting ways to advance dangling bits of business (an argument against Madly Dreaming Audrey theory: Charlie’s phone call seemed to be referring to the MIA guy who owned Richard’s hit-and-run truck and stood up Andy to discuss it), or impart information about other characters by showing how they impact or affect other people, from intimate acquaintances to total strangers. (My guess is that the guy who ran Trick off the road was Richard, who haunted this episode, even though he wasn’t in it.) Indeed, this episode nurtured the idea of interconnectedness and collectivity in Twin Peaks USA, a world wide web of cause and effect, mutuality and responsibility spanning space and time.
Regardless, Part 12 will surely be vigorously defended by Lynchians who argue that story is irrelevant in his work (which isn’t true) and that textures and abstractions are all that matter. Even so, the results were mixed. Some scenes were extraordinary, like the scene when Ben Horne made like Charles Foster Kane and reminisced about his proverbial Rosebud, a second-hand Schwinn bicycle, a gift from his father. Other scenes felt like Lynch doing Lynch, or maybe someone else; I saw/heard/felt a lot of Tarantino in “Let’s rock.” Bottom line: Part 12 will probably go down as the most polarizing installment of the season. I’m sure the French totally love it. (Recap continues on page 2)