Welcome back to the Black Lodge

By Jeff Jensen
May 22, 2017 at 03:52 AM EDT
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The new Twin Peaks was all over the place, at least for a week. The first two parts of this 18-hour opus roamed the country, flitting between cities, mysteries and tones, sometimes lingering, sometimes not. The story screeched upward and spiraled downward within the multi-dimensional spaces of its psycho-spiritual world. The narrative played with time, marching forward at a deliberate pace, occasionally flipping backward, perhaps scrambling events out of sequence. The parts were imbued with a knowing, manipulative intelligence, as if possessed; they played with you. You half expected director David Lynch to go full-meta and smash through the screen and punch your brain the way that cosmic horror monstrosity escaped that glass box and furiously shredded those young lover couch potatoes. He certainly wanted to blow your mind, but on his terms, and with a vengeance, too. Did he?

Showtime’s revival of the cult classic created by Lynch and Mark Frost brought us back to the misty mountain lumber town that captured our imagination 27 years ago this spring. Once fringe-cool and freaky with quirks and secrets, Twin Peaks is now a paradox, the same and different, but the dangerous and demented denizens have been tamed or tempered by time. Take scoundrel brothel bros Ben (Richard Beymer) and Jerry (David Patrick Kelly). The former won’t make a move on his new associate Beverly (Ashley Judd) because he’s found R-E-S-P-E-C-T for women, and besides, she’s married; the latter runs a new legal pot farm. The Bang! Bang! Bar is no longer an occult roadside dive. It’s a bumpin’ hangout for those damn millennial hipsters and their nostalgic Gen X parents. To borrow from judgy, prune-faced Buella (Kathleen Deming), it’s a world of truck drivers now, authentic and otherwise.

Yet the dark woods rustled anew with unresolved mystery like a dreamer disturbed by a recurring nightmare. Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), still rocking his 3-D spectacles, opened the series by receiving a delivery of shovels at his trailer abode in the woods. Shovels are for digging up something or burying something. What’s he searching for? What’s he trying to hide?  Hawk (Michael Horse), now chief deputy, went searching for Glastonbury Grove, which we know to be the forest entrance to the Black Lodge, a topsy-turvy purgatory of demons and doppelgangers, and saw its signature feature light up the trees like an aurora, the crimson curtains of the Red Room. The piece of psychic timber cradled by the now-ailing Log Lady (the late Catherine Coulson) bleated with alarm. The stars turn, and a time presents itself. It is happening again.

RELATED: Listen To The First Two Episodes Of EW’s Twin Peaks Podcast Below:

 

And it was happening everywhere, all at once. We visited Vegas, but only for a second, to watch the show plant a flag for more story. We stayed longer in Manhattan, for an arc that had a sublime Lynchian progression, moving from oddness to absurdity to sexiness to dread to near-unbearable cover-your-eyes terror. It played like an allegory for modern television and the show’s own anxieties about coming back to it. A big glass box built to recapture old magic? C’mon.

We spent time in the Black Lodge, though how much time we can’t say, because time does not behave properly or politely here. Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), 25 years older than when we last saw him, was still trapped here among backwards-talking spirits, including two talking fir trees crowned with tiny brains, spindly and naked as Spielberg aliens, one kinda “I am Groot” cute, one a cancerous sapling that screamed things like “NON-EXIST-ENCE.” That’s right, folks. Bad twin Brain Trees. That was a thing David Lynch just made you see on your TV. Bravo.

And we parked in Buckhorn, South Dakota for a spell to bear witness to a divorce noir tragedy that seemed to be almost deliberately echoing Lynch’s previous work. The setting was resembled the generic small-town America of Blue Velvet. The themes of tainted love, marital betrayal, and psychotic breaks evoked Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. Like Twin Peaks itself, the plot was catalyzed by the discovery of corpse: the decapitated head of a female librarian had been found in bed, lying on a pillow, just above the bloated body of a man hidden under the sheets. The mystery commenced with electronics on the fritz (see: the detective who cried “Woof” and his flickering flashlight), as all Lynch mysteries must. But it was also a parody of modern soaps and serials – and/or a sincere one, though stripped of “prestige” gravitas – just the way the original Twin Peaks was. With the Fargo-ish Bill and Phyllis Hastings (Matthew Lillard, Cornelia Guest), just an average, ordinary pair of suburban fakes and unhappily married folks, we have a middle-aged man breaking bad and a desperate housewife going femme fatale. Their hate-spewing jail-cell kiss-off – both actors shot in intimate close-up, nose to nose, vibrating with emotional intensity – was over-the-top funny yet intensely real and raw. Lynch put a horror button on it, adding one of his unnerving still-life grotesques. The camera floated away from Bill, accused of killing the beheaded librarian and the headless bloat, to another cell. We saw a bearded man sat on a bunk, covered in soot or mud or something. His eyes were wide and buddy and he appeared frozen in contorted agony. Shades of: the hideous hobo in Mulholland Drive. He turned to vapor and the spectral remains of his head floated away like a balloon. We remember that in Twin Peaks, the evil that people do attracts otherworldly entities like flies to s—.

One such devil had turned South Dakota into his hunting ground. He is the corrupted copy of Agent Cooper, conformed to the image of the unholy ghost inside him, BOB, a fugitive demon of the Black Lodge. Here in the heartland of Twin Peaks Nation, this abominable man in black sows and reaps a pulpy crop of “Garmonbozia” (Black Lodge lingo for “pain and sorrow”), mostly by manipulating and murdering women. (Though in one scene, he rubs out a guy by literally rubbing the man’s face, as if massaging the life out him.) He might make or break your interest in Twin Peaks 2.0. We hate him because he’s loathsome, we hate him for not being the Cooper we want him to be, and we hate him because Lynch has decided to make MacLachlan wear Nicholas Cage-in-Con Air hair.

Refresher. We first met this counterfeit Cooper in the last moments of the original series. A creation of the Black Lodge, a bad idea made flesh, doppelgänger Dale ambushed real-deal Dale and took his place in Twin Peaks. We left this BOB-enhanced double defiling Cooper’s innate decency by faking it (“How’s Annie?” he asked, feigning concern for Cooper’s girlfriend) and then mocking it, repeating the question over and over, laughing a maniac laugh. The series concluded on that gutting cliffhanger, but it was never meant to be the end of the story; the show was canceled after Lynch shot it. In light of the TV that followed Twin Peaks, you could see the subversion of Cooper’s Dudley Do-right character and the unleashing of Dirty Cooper on the world as commencement for the anti-hero dramas and surreal dark fantasy that claim Twin Peaks as an inspiration. If I had to take an early stab at what the new Twin Peaks is all about, I’d say it’s the story of a culture gone mean and cold from unchecked evil that doubles as comment on nihilistic, ironic pop culture.

America fouled by Dirty Cooper is the unhappy ending version of Lost. It’s what would have happened if Fake Locke extinguished the light of The Island and escaped into the world and jacked it up with meaninglessness. You can also see Dirty Cooper as a comment on the state of the anti-hero. He’s clearly spent too long producing evil under the sun, because man, is Dirty Cooper one tanned, leathery dude. His fingernails are stained with filth; his hair has grown crazy-ass long. Speaking of Cage, Dirty Cooper wears his Man In Black bad-assness the way Cage’s Sailor wore his rock n’ roll snake-skinned jacket in Wild at Heart, as a symbol of his individualism and personal freedom, except it’s hardened and rotted into something hollow and toxic. He seems to have a vast network of underworld followers, including Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh), his hot-for-him secretary (Dirty Cooper has his own version of Diane!), and a family of oddballs and broken folk led by the puckered Buella.

But it does seem people are getting tired of Dirty Cooper’s brand of sinister shtick. A pair of associates, Ray (George Griffith) and Darya (Nicole LaLiberte) accepted a job to whack him for $500,000. But Dirty Cooper smoked it out. He has a tape recorder, just like Agent Cooper, and he used it capture a conversation between Darya and Ray discussing the conspiracy. (How did Dirty Cooper make that recording? Did you get the sense that his tape recorder has magical properties, like the ability to hack electronic communications?) Dirty Cooper confronted Darya, interrogated her while holding her in death-grip cuddle, and shot her dead, the second woman to get a bullet from him in the episode. (Also R.I.P. Phyllis, whom Dirty Cooper was manipulating and corrupting as part of what I’m sensing is a very complex scheme with a lot of moving parts and conspirators.) What’s the significance of Dirty Cooper’s doctored Ace of Spades card? It resembled the image of an owl, and specifically, the owl image on the jade ring that Black Lodge entities often give their human victims. Dirty Cooper showed Darya the card; he seemed to think she would or should know it. She squirmed. She either knew the symbol from somewhere, or maybe a dream, and it spooked her like an omen.

The sequence was also queasy with female objectification and violence against women that seems to be part of the point of this franchise. It was here that MacLachlan’s performance clicked for me. Dirty Cooper was hard to take seriously at first, and he might continue to be in the parts to come. But MacLachlan makes him credible and gives him meaning by muting everything about him, lowering his voice, paralyzing his face. That fresh mad spark we saw and heard at the end of the original series has faded. His evil has sunken in, taken root, and now simply abides. Dirty Cooper is a hideous, tedious zeitgeist gone native, a joke that needs to end.

His impeachment might be at hand. Not only is an earthly conspiracy targeting Dirty Cooper, but higher forces are trying to corral him, too. There’s a term limit on how long Black Lodge doppelgangers and demons can be out and about producing mayhem and mischief in the world. His clock is about to run out, although he told Darya he had a plan for evading his recall, details TBD. We saw him communicate with a muffled voice, someone he thought to be Phillip Jeffries. The name is significant. Jeffries was the teleporting FBI agent played by David Bowie in Lynch’s 1992 prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. He worked for Gordon Cole (played by David Lynch himself), who headed up an FBI unit that dealt with strange crimes, known as “Blue Rose” cases. His perplexing scene in Fire Walk With Me saw him make brief return to the bureau to ramble about a woman named Judy and report on a meeting of Black Lodge entities that he had infiltrated. Then he disappeared, and while the movie proper didn’t disclose where he went, deleted scenes released by Lynch a few years ago revealed he went to a hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was hard to tell from any of these scenes if Jeffries was still on the side of the law and order or if he had been corrupted by his undercover work.

Regardless, it wasn’t Jeffries who called Dirty Cooper. It was someone initially posing as Jeffries, a mystery person who knew that Dirty Cooper had recently met with one Major Garland Briggs in New York. After giving up the ruse, the cryptic caller vowed to bring Dirty Cooper back into the Black Lodge in order to “be with BOB again.” It should be noted that all of this aroused Dirty Cooper as much as it worried him. The rogue seems to view these threats to his existence as a “game” to be played. It’ll be interesting to see how he intends to win it.  (Refresher: Major Briggs, the father of Bobby Briggs, knew quite a bit about the Black Lodge back in the original series. He also researched and compiled a massive dossier on the occult history of Twin Peaks, which you can buy in the form of “The Secret History of Twin Peaks,” written by Mark Frost.)

Dirty Cooper might soon have one more person on his tail: the man whose life he stole. In Part 1, Agent Cooper was told that Dirty Cooper needed to return to the Black Lodge before he could truly be free of the place. By the end of Part 2, Cooper’s journey back to the land of the living had begun… maybe? Evil Brain Tree — presumably aligned with BOB — tried to stop what seemed to be an escape attempt by Cooper or the beginnings of the Black Lodge’s effort to magically retrieve Dirty Cooper from the world. We saw Cooper fall through the cracks of the ruptured chevron floor and into negative space of cancellation. We saw him get inexplicably sucked into a big glass box in New York (more on that in a minute). We saw that box do something to him – it telescoped in and out, reducing him, restoring him, crunching him like data – and then expel him back into the void, destination unknown. Honestly, I don’t have any theories yet to explain what appears to be a very complicated take on what the ancients called “the transmigration of the soul.” Translation: Cooper is in the process of being reincarnated. My hope it that our hero is spiraling back toward creation, and back to the place where he and Twin Peaks belong, to that misty mountain lumber town that misses him and needs him.

Watch the cast discuss the show’s odd universe and the revival in the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) special EW Reunites: Twin Peaks here, or download the app on your favorite mobile and streaming devices.

The new Black Lodge scenes were consistently spectacular in their strangeness, tension, and ideas. They were swamped with details we’ll be decoding and theorizing about for weeks. (If you were stumped by the Brain Trees, I can help you. I think. Good Brain Tree was dubbed “the evolution of The Arm.” In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the character known as The Man From Another Place – the dancing guy in the red velvet tux – called himself “The Arm.” The actor who played TMFAP, Michael J. Anderson, wasn’t asked back for “The Return,” so it appears that Lynch has recast him. With a talking tree!)

The Black Lodge scenes weren’t just about sending Cooper back into the world. They were also about re-establishing Laura Palmer as a major presence in the show. The moment that made the biggest impression on me was the scorching sequence in which MacLachlan and Lee recreated their famous Red Room conversation from the original series, but with expanded several new and moving moments. “I… am… dead… and yet I live,” said Laura. Lee’s reading – even with the backwards-speaking sound effect – made it clear: Laura Palmer is still raging pissed more than two decades after her murder by her BOB-possessed, incestuous-rapist father, Leland (Ray Wise). She then showed us what that life looked like – and/or what that furious anger looked like – by removing her face, as if it was a mask. Behind it? Blazing white light. She made a move to kiss him – then denied him the kiss. Tease! She whispered a secret in his ear, one that made him recoil in terror. She stepped away from him, and then things got really bizarre. The Red Room began to quake.  Laura began to seize. She became abstracted, her face lost coherency, and then she flew away, screaming.

Is Laura still being used and abused in this surreal afterlife? Or did we just witness Laura transform in to pure inchoate fury and blow out of the Black Lodge by harnessing the energy of all her accumulated rage? I’m we’ll get answers, eventually, because before Cooper left the Black Lodge himself, he received a commission from Leland’s specter: “Find Laura.”

I took these scenes to mean that Lynch (with Frost) intends to complete the project he began in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me to do right by the dead girl MacGuffin who launched his franchise. Her destruction continues to mean something. Her suffering continues to mean something. Her absence in the world and the grief of those who miss her continue to mean something. I’m wondering if Laura Palmer, like Cooper, might find new life in this new show. I’m wondering if she’s out for justice or out for revenge like the furies of myth. I’m wondering if Laura is about to wreak hot holy hell on a world gone wicked, mean, and cold.

I’m wondering if Laura is the monster in the glass box that broke free and ripped those kids’ faces off.

Much like the storytelling in these first two hours of “The Return,” my thoughts and feelings are all over the place. I’m engaged by it, clearly. But I’ve also had 48 hours to think about it. I saw Part 1 and Part 2 at the Hollywood premiere on Friday. It was a “shock of the new” experience that conflicted with my nostalgia for the original series; i really didn’t know what to make of it. I like both parts much more on re-watch. Lynch – especially difficult late Lynch – always ages well upon reflection.

The two parts pleased me the way Lynch often pleases me, with sequences that were just purely, distinctively — what’s the word? — well, Lynchian. The director brought us into the South Dakota portion of the story using his rope-a-dope strategy. We got a stretch of stretched-out scenes filled with broadly played absurd comedy (the large lady with the small dog; the banter with the cops that floods you with maybe pertinent, maybe irrelevant details and names) that suddenly pivoted into pure dread, flooring you with the horrific visual punch line of the decapitated head and bloated corpse in bed.

Watch the cast discuss the show’s odd universe and the revival in the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) special EW Reunites: Twin Peaks here, or download the app on your favorite mobile and streaming devices.

I might have enjoyed the Manhattan murder mystery story. I liked it as a thing unto itself. Indeed, for awhile, it seemed like a completely random bit of business — an allegory, perhaps, for how to view the show. But ultimately, Cooper’s arc intersected with it, suggesting interesting possibilities for all our theorizing. It was a locked-room mystery with metaphysical significance that played out like a dream and had the feel of dark creation myth and a fall myth combined. Something was born inside that glass cage. Something scary; something that’s now on the loose, like the evils of Pandora’s Box. Let’s walk through through the sequence.

A young man in a large flat sits on a couch on a raised dais and watches a giant glass box affixed to a portal window. It is also being filmed by digital cameras and linked by cables to routers and other gizmos. The young man’s loyal viewership is his livelihood. We will eventually come to understand that Sam (Benjamin Rosenfield) he’s a college student, being paid by an anonymous techno-occultist billionaire (Major Briggs? Ben Horne?) who’s trying to catch a big fish with a motion capture cage, trying to pull something magical out of thin air – a jinn, a spirit, a dream – and bottle it. It happened before, apparently. What a story it could tell if it happened again.

A young woman arrives. Her name is Tracey (Madeline Zima), and like Sam, she’s doomed. She’s attracted to him and curious as hell. She keeps trying to get up in his business in more ways than one, tempting him with an offering of damn good coffee.  On her second visit, the guard that monitors Sam goes oddly MIA. So Sam lets her in. Rules are being broken here, a sacred charge is being violated. A fall has begun.

The young man and the young woman sit on the couch. They watch the box, waiting for some action. They quickly get bored and move to a different kind of action. As the custodian and his not-so-helpful helpmate take their eyes off the prize and get naked and shameful with each other, something wicked this way comes. It’s showtime.

A cloud as black as sin accumulates behind the glass. Perhaps it was drawn to this place by the young man’s dereliction of duty or by the sex; maybe it’s just a coincidence. (Note the recurring theme of betrayal and faithlessness — adultery — in parts 1 and 2.) The murk-filled box becomes an unholy womb, conceiving a ghastly being that flickers into furious, monstrous form. It bursts through the glass and ravages the lovers, shredding their faces and spraying their pulped heads against the wall. The Death By Sex horror trope strikes again! (Note: the credits give the monster a name, “Experiment.” Some name. She was played by Erica Eynon.)

Now, remember when the young man left the room to greet the young woman on her second visit? That was when Cooper was sucked into the glass box. Which meant that Cooper’s capture occurred before Experiment materialized inside the box. Is the box engineered to draw, trap, and redirect Black Lodge entities? Did Experiment follow Cooper out of the Black Lodge and get sucked into the box, too? (If so, then perhaps Experiment isn’t Laura Palmer, but the incarnation of EOTA, aka “Evolution of The Arm,” aka Evil Brain Tree.)

The first two parts gave us many mysteries to mull, just as the two-hour pilot of the original Twin Peaks did. But I have to admit that the absence of certain conventions that even that unconventional pilot possessed — particularly a sympathetic point of view character, one who actually exists as a flesh-and-blood person, not a ghost or a concept — frustrated my investment and makes me worry for the series moving forward. The widowed scenes, the jumping around, and the slow stirring-in of contextual information created a narrative flow that was dreamy in the Lynch’s storytelling is often dreamy, but it was an impersonal, fragmented dream. The sound design helped to give the greater whole a singular personality of menace and mystery. But the minimal use of Angelo Badalamenti’s score – so essential to the original series – was striking. The absence of music may have been a deliberate choice with meaning (it was one of many ways the two parts declared their independence from the original series, and made us yearn for the town, people and feeling of Twin Peaks), but it was missed all the same.

I loved the scope. I’m all in on this ambition to extrapolate Dirty Cooper into a psycho-spiritual toxic spill, demonizing and possessing the country, em-biggening Twin Peaks into an abstract description of our cultural condition (or the authors’ view of it). The fleeting check-ins we got with select Twin Peaks icons – including Shelly and James, Lucy and Andy — served an important balancing function. They provided a pleasant melody running through so much chaos jazz, and they implicitly promise us that all roads of story will eventually lead to Twin Peaks. A few had some tremendous emotional power, enhanced by our nostalgia and franchise knowledge. In particular: the phone conversations between Hawk and the Log Lady, his tender tones and her oxygen tubes reminding those who know that the actress, longtime Lynch collaborator Catherine Coulson, filmed all her scenes shortly before her death.

If the intention was to make us pine for Twin Peaks, the gambit worked too well. Every time we went there, I wanted to stay there and play out a character arc instead of skittering away to the other things in the shadow-lands. I wanted to spend more time with Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie). We found her living alone in her haunted old house, captivated and repulsed by some sick spectacle on her TV, a gruesome nature show depicting big cats devouring a kill. The drama on her screen mirrored the themes in the Dirty Cooper/South Dakota portion the show, depicting people as owned by their animal nature and greedy, lusty consumers of each other. But that show-within-the-show drama also overshadowed the most important element of the scene, the human being in it, the person watching it, Sarah herself. If you buy my take that Lynch and Frost are commenting on TV — especially in scenes where characters watch TV — you could see the scene as a critique of TV more interested in sensationalism than humanity. But you could also see it as a metaphor for anyone who came to something called Twin Peaks wanting a story about the people of Twin Peaks, not a show full of other shows that are tangentially Twin Peaks or fill the time simply to speak coded things about Twin Peaks.

And yet, I’m engaged. We might also be wise to withhold judgment for a while. The Twin Peaks pilot and Fire Walk With Me started slow, too, their long opening acts functioning as overtures or prologue that orient us to the world, to characters, themes and style. Agent Cooper – the sympathetic point of view character of character of the original series – didn’t drive into town until 30 minutes into the thing. Ditto Laura Palmer’s arrival in the prequel flick. Parts 1 and 2 might represent a similar walk-up in a narrative that aspires to be a singular 18-hour movie, not a traditional TV series. The lesson of the big glass box suggests we should stay diligent in our observation as this dark fantasy takes shape. I can be patient. Can you?

For a deeper dive into Parts 1 and 2, you can also listen to me and Darren Franich do so right now in our podcast, “A Twin Peaks Podcast: A Podcast About Twin Peaks.” We analyze each story line, taking them city by city. (We also recorded it Saturday morning, with the experience still fresh and raw in our minds. I’m already reconsidering some of what I told Darren.) In the weeks to come in this space, you can expect recaps that take a more scene-by-scene approach to summary and analysis, offering description, impression, and a theory or two.

In the meantime: Did you enjoy the return to Twin Peaks?

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