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The cinema of David Lynch is full of rogue highwaymen speeding down a two-lane blacktop, running away from justice (or themselves) or barreling toward apocalyptic revelation they may or may not want. Occasionally, the director has meaningfully tweaked the motif, no more so than in The Straight Story, a tonal and philosophical doppelganger to the anti-hero horror-noirs and Ouroboros narratives of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. Starring Richard Farnsworth in an Oscar-nominated turn, The Straight Story was a rigorously linear, slow-mo odyssey inspired by true events about a stubborn old codger named Alvin Straight who travels by tractor across Iowa and Wisconsin to meet with his ailing brother, played by Harry Dean Stanton. Along the way, he reflects on his mortality, failures, and pride. A humble hero’s journey combines with humbling introspection to create a new orientation of the heart, one that helps him reconcile with his sibling, with whom he has had a dashed, jaundiced rapport, marked by pain and sorrow, silence and cowardice. The last scenes — in which these two men let go of the past, move toward each other, and enjoy a healing, redemptive kind of quiet — are (IMHO) the most spiritual moments Lynch has ever put on screen.
Part 15 of Twin Peaks: The Return (“There’s some fear in letting go”) contained passages that mirrored the heartland grace of The Straight Story. The first came at the start. We watched Nadine Hurley traverse a stretch of highway like so many other Lynch protagonists have done before — except she did so on foot, with a sunny smile on her face. She also had her golden shovel slung over her shoulder, a totem of her hard-won liberation from the mire of madness and misery, an expression of her counter-cultural opposition to the degrading muck of the world. A series of fades told us that she had been walking this walk for a long time. She followed a continuous white line toward her final destination, the service station owned by her estranged husband, Ed Hurley, where mechanics in greased overalls repaired broken transmissions and a decorative exhaust pipe puffed the clean smoke of righteous industry. She was a woman on a mission of reconciliation and release. If there was a song in her heart, it might have been Sting’s “If You Love Someone, Set Them Free.”
Nadine was here to love Ed with the most ironic of romantic of gestures; she had come to give him a divorce. Divorce of all kinds — relational disruptions; divided selves; psychotic breaks from reality — has been a recurring theme this season, and the deeper irony of Nadine is that she has represented all of them throughout all of Twin Peaks. It’s possible she might still. Ed himself wasn’t convinced his wife was in her right mind as she described herself as “jealous” and “manipulative,” a “bitch” who had “guilted” him into remaining in the marriage even as he pined for Norma. I wondered if Ed thought, as I did, that Nadine, a victim of mental illness, was being ridiculously hard on herself. As the Log Lady once said: “Sometimes when we are ill, we are not on our best behavior. By ill, I mean any of the following: physically ill, emotionally ill, mentally ill, and/or spiritually ill.” (From her Bravo introduction of episode 4, season 2.)
Ed questioned her sincerity, too, especially after learning that the riled rants of “Dr. Amp” character had provoked her newfound lucidity. Nadine praised the man — and, possibly, her new boyfriend? — as the only truth-teller left in town. I think Ed saw Dr. Jacoby as a charlatan peddling bulls— coated in fool’s gold: “Tomorrow, you’re going to wish you never said these things.”
Nadine disagreed. The long walk to Big Ed’s Gas Farm had given her time to vet her thinking. “True love is giving the other that which makes them most happy,” she said. “Ed, you are free.” She could have been talking about herself, too. If she’s as smitten with Jacoby as I suspect, divorce serves her interest, too. Regardless, she, too, was living out another bit of Log Lady wisdom by trying to change her culture with progressive change: “Negative emotions can cause severe problems in our environment and to the health of our body. Happiness, usually classified as a positive emotion, can bring good health to our body, and spread positive vibrations into our environment.”
Nadine exhorted the bug lug to run to Norma, hugged him and let him go. Ed watched her walk away with a worried look on his face, perhaps fretting about the walk-back that he was certain tomorrow would bring. Then he shook it off. Something inside him activated. Nadine may be wrong in the head, but she was right in theory. It was time for Ed to pursue his bliss. It was time to carpe f—ing diem already.
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The Power of Positive Thinking. Ed arrived at the Double R in his gold-ish truck. The color reminded me of creamed corn Garmonbozia. But pain and sorrow needn’t last forever, and sometimes, it can be transmuted into pearls of hope and joy. He brushed the work dust off his jeans so he could present himself proper for the defining moment — a threshold moment, the first of many in this episode — at hand. He walked through the door and saluted Norma with an enthusiastic wave. He told her that Nadine had set him free, and he would have told her more, but Norma stuck a pin in his mojo by walking off with business partner (and beau?) Walter for a private meeting. The song Lynch had chosen for the scene — “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” by Otis Redding — faded. A deflated Ed plopped himself on a stool. He ordered a coffee. “And a cyanide tablet,” he said.
But Norma had no interest in breaking Ed’s achy heart. She had some affairs to get in order before she could move on to new business. She announced she was exercising an option in their relationship: Walter would be buying out her share in the burgeoning chain of self-branded diners. Call it a Supreme Nadine maneuver: Walter would be setting her free – that he’d be paying her for a divorce — and there ain’t nothing he could about it. Contracts, you know. She didn’t want to be in the franchise business. She was an artist-entrepreneur. She only had passion for the original property that was the Double R; she was only interested in serving its needs. She wanted to use the buyout money to take care of her family. Walter was confused. He thought she didn’t have family. He missed the point: Norma’s family was Twin Peaks, the community she’s loved and fed and held together in her own nourishing, cherry pie-sweet way for years.
Meanwhile, Ed sat at the counter with his eyes closed. He was eavesdropping, or meditating, or trying to will a desired outcome into existence through the power of mind-over-matter positive thinking. When I saw Walter pass behind him and exit the restaurant, I, too, joined in his silent prayer, which I think was probably the words to “My Prayer,” the song sung by The Platters in Part 8. My prayer is to linger with you/At the end of the day in a dream that’s divine/My prayer is a rapture in blue/With a world far away and your lips close to mine…
He got his wish, although I’d like to think he had nothing to do with forcing or coercing or magic-thinking her decision. Otherwise, he’d be everything Nadine said about herself — manipulative, jealous, selfish. We saw Norma’s hand enter from the side of the frame and touch his shoulder. It was like watching a dream divine come true. Ed smiled. They kissed. “Marry me,” he said. “Of course I will,” she said. Shelly beamed and so did we. Otis resumed his singing, and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” reached a rapturous crescendo as Lynch cut to blue sky dotted with clouds that resembled feathery angel wings. It was heavenly.
And then we went to hell. (Recap continues on page 2)