In Lynch on Lynch, the director speaks of feeling fear in the air as a kid in the fifties, a vibe that told him attuned him to nature of appearances, that behind every bright, well-manicured façade, something more shaded and possibly pitch black rotten might reside. “I learned that just beneath the surface there’s another world, and still different worlds as you dig deeper. I knew it as a kid, but I couldn’t find the proof. It was just a feeling. There is goodness in blue sky and flowers, but another force – wild pain and decay – also accompanies everything. Like with scientists: they get down to subatomic particles and now they world becomes very abstract. They’re like abstract painters in a way. It’d be hard to talk to them they’re way down in there.”
The last line makes me laugh, because Lynch’s work inspires us – tempts us? — to be scientists: we love to descend into the subatomic particles to study it, but the more we get down in there, the more we get lost. The sane thing to do would be to remain at distance, admire the surfaces, track themes, let the mystery be.
Well, screw that! For the last time, let’s get lost in the weeds.
Fix Your Heart or Die!
or Why You Can’t Go Home Again
A Christmas Carol theory of The Return
“I usually solve problems by letting them devour me.” – Frank Kafka (Also my recap motto)
1. The beginning was the end.
Part 1 proper began with a scene of The Fireman and Agent Cooper sitting together in an otherworldly parlor room, listening to the sound of scratching emanating from a gramophone. “It is in our house now,” said The Fireman, an entity who safeguards time. The symbol points back to Lynch’s previous film, Inland Empire, which began with a gramophone playing a record called Axxon N., “the longest-running radio play in history.” The scratch is the saga of Twin Peaks; The Fireman is telling him that the story is finished, committed to the record of history. “It is?” says a shocked Cooper, his reaction a meta-joke that speaks to the legend of Twin Peaks as an unfinished tale and the godsend of The Return as an opportunity to complete it.
The Fireman then tells Cooper to remember three things. “430.” “Richard and Linda.” “Two birds one stone.” All of these “clues” speak to elements of Part 18, and specifically, the last three sections: Cooper running away into a pocket universe; Cooper betraying his character; Cooper collaborating with others on a redemptive mission. The Fireman is flagging parts of the story worth Cooper’s reflection. It is a clue to us that all of The Return is Cooper’s recollection — something, ironically, we could only see in retrospect.
Cooper listens and replies, “I understand.” The Fireman says, “You are far away,” and Cooper vanishes with a special effect associated with time travel and ret-con, or memory and confabulation. Which is how Cooper — anyone — remembers anything.
2. The problem was Sarah.
From start to finish, The Return captured the tension of holding history in a useful way, without being owned by it, so you can thrive and progress. It expressed the need to grieve yesterday’s hurts by presenting the point in negative terms, with suffering characters made uncanny from nostalgia — the Greek notion, pain from an old wound — and exacerbating it with poor remedies for coping and healing. The Return was redemptive, I believe, even if it didn’t feel that way. Feel it, anyway. There’s meaning there.
My theory is informed by a meta-theory, which I call the Everything Explains Everything Else Theory of Twin Peaks. Take the wounded drunk in the sheriff’s department holding cell, who can do nothing but parrot people, who scrapes off his bandages just so he can push on his wounds. He’s a man ruled by spirits, robbed of authenticity, and hooked on his pain. He was incarcerated inside cell No. 5, which is half of 10, which, as we learned in Part 17, is “the number of completion.” And so the drunk was living a half-life. (Opposite him, in cell 10, was Chad, a despicable man, but for a scene, Lynch abstracted him into a symbol of liberation and empowerment, as he used keys hidden in his shoes to free himself and arm himself. For a moment, Chad was a complete 10. And then Freddie knocked his lights out.)
And so the drunk is Sarah Palmer, a chain-smoking alcoholic living a half-life, caged in loops of time, and addicted to her furious suffering, too, because it keeps Laura alive. It might have kept Laura’s spirit bound to the earth, too, causing her “I’m dead, and yet, I live” predicament. The shot of her wailing and beating on Laura’s homecoming queen photo with a vodka bottle, shattering the glass but unable to destroy the picture, expressed her smoldering, poisoned, stuck-in-a-moment condition.
But I’m also struck by the metaphor of Audrey Horne, another victim of rapacious evil and broken mind vaped by nostalgia, terrorized and held captive by a manipulative, gaslighting husband who makes her question her very existence. Sarah is Audrey; Alice Tremond, the negative-entity incubus squatting in Sarah’s house/person, is Audrey’s hideous husband. I suspect Sarah’s unrelenting and intensifying crisis — magnified by supernatural forces that have preyed on her for decades — was causing psychic disturbances throughout her web of spiritual connections, perhaps throughout all of Twin Peaks.
Sarah needed to fix her heart or die. She needed one of Dr. Amp’s golden shovels to dig out of the s—. But sometimes — or maybe all the time — you can’t do that on your own. That was the real, sweet meaning of that goofy Dr. Amp business. Not the rants, not the self-help hucksterism, but how it ultimately brought Dr. Jacoby and Nadine together and sparked a love connection to assuage their loneliness. Sarah kept shutting out help, as she did when she coolly turned Hawk away from her door, a moment that presaged the show’s final scene, but lordy, did she need it. Fortunately, an intervention was coming in the form of two saviors chasing a very strange redemption scheme. I propose that Cooper, working with Laura, created a modal reality to draw the demons out and away from Sarah and her house for the purpose of banishing them once and for all. This would not solve all of Sarah’s problems. She had addictions and pain to treat. But it would be a start.
3. Part 18 was a myth retold many times.
Part 18 was informed by a few timeless texts. One was the myth of Orpheus, a man motivated by heartbreak to descend into the underworld to bring back the woman he loved. She was Eurydice, a woman terrorized by a monster: a satyr. She died while running away from him, bitten by poisonous vipers. Eurydice is Laura. Killer BOB was her satyr, and the assortment of bad men who used her and abused her and warped her — Leo Johnson, Jacques Renault, BOB-possessed Leland — were her vipers. Many men who loved her wanted to be her Orpheus, including James, the musician who idolized her into something she wasn’t. But in Part 18, the wannabe savior who tried to play Orpheus was Agent Cooper, who had fallen in love with her mystery and made her his immortality project, his denial of death.
But in the myth, Orpheus learns the hard way that there’s no turning back time, there’s no cheating death, there’s no dodging the pain and sorrow of the mortal, material world. The underworld devils are charmed by his lyre; I imagine him performing a set that includes “Just You and I,” “My Prayer,” and the complete Julee Cruise. They let Orpheus take Eurydice back to the upper world and live happily ever after, on a couple of conditions: that he lead her the entire way up the wilderness slope; and that he doesn’t look back, no matter what. At the moment of victory, Orpheus succumbs to excitement and/or anxiety — in one version of the tale, he loses his grasp on her just as he reaches the upper world; in another, she calls out to him in a panic — and he turns. Eurydice isn’t there. Forever. Put some nine-inch nails in that dream, buddy. One more time, for the final time, she’s gone away.
Remember Orpheus as we move forward.
Part 18 was also A Christmas Carol writ as horror story. An old, miserable soul encounters three spirits on Christmas Eve, ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. They are sobering confrontations with character that inspire him to change, and in the end, he is born again.
And so remember Scrooge, too.
NEXT: How I make sense of Twin Peaks mythology.