MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
The humour and horror of Twin Peaks are both on full display in episode 10 of The Return, which features some of the series’ biggest laughs and warmest moments – Nadine’s shop! Albert’s date! – but opens with three back-to-back scenes of violence. Each of them show a different side to Lynch’s treatment of brutality. Richard Horne’s assault on Miriam is discreet but horrifying, shot from a distance with a static camera so you can’t look away. Then, with just a sweet song from Carl Rodd to help us catch our breath, we’ve got Steven’s assault on Becky, where we’re right in the middle of things, the camera apparently fixed to the shaking sofa Becky is pinned to.
Then Candie smacks Rodney Mitchum in the face with a TV remote. I knew it was coming – frankly, you know it’s coming when you watch it the first time – but I still barked with laughter. This is where Amy Shiels all but announces that she’ll be one of the funniest members of the new cast, along with Naomi Watts as Janey-E. The sight of Candie, Mandie and Sandie at home still wearing their cocktail dresses is ridiculous but weirdly right – seeing them in anything else would be like seeing Teacher from the Bash Street Kids wearing something other than a mortar board on his head.
Before making the original Twin Peaks, Lynch and Frost collaborated on a comedy screenplay called One Saliva Bubble. One Saliva Bubble shares The Return’s love of absurd comic stereotyping; it also hinges on a series of body-swaps which no-one, other than the people who have changed bodies, seems to notice. This, as well as Lynch’s long-gestating adaptation of The Metamorphosis, may explain what’s going on with Cooper at the moment.
Last episode, Bushnell Miller told the Fuscos that Dougie had been in a car accident, which explains why no-one raises an eyebrow at his current state of near-insensibility. This episode furthers the gag by pointing out that an almost-catatonic Cooper is not just indistinguishable from Dougie, he’s actually quite a lot better. He’s a better employee, he’s in better shape and – as Janey-E discovers in an unforgettable scene – he’s better in bed.
Before being replaced, we get the sense that Dougie fitted in a little too well at Lucky 7 Insurance. When he goes back to work, Anthony Sinclair asks if he’s spent the weekend in “benderville”, and a colleague casually assumes he’s “daydreaming again” when a statue of a Wild West lawman sends Cooper into a trance. Now, Sinclair is collaborating with Duncan Todd on a plot to kill Dougie – which, if my suspicion about Lorraine’s Buenos Aires office is correct, puts him three degrees of separation from Phillip Jeffries. Maybe no other show could put a sleaze like Sinclair so close to the secrets of existence.
Some characters, though, will never get there. Back in the mid-90s, when Lynch was at his commercial and critical low point, Twin Peaks was often subject to bad-faith critiques from people trying to prove that he’d been ‘bad’ all along. One of the standard lines of criticism was that it was cowardly to start exploring the topic of familial abuse and then put the whole thing down to demons and monsters, rather than human evil.
I think that badly misunderstands the metaphorical value of characters like BOB, but we can see a definite human evil in Richard Horne. His attack on his grandmother, which his seriously disabled uncle is forced to watch, is horrifying. But for all he has a little of the Black Lodge in his bloodstream, he’s not a supervillain. All of his criminal acts in this episode happen because he’s been caught on the back foot, and is desperately trying to get out of a bad situation which is his own fault. Before the attack, Peter Deming starts swirling his camera in the same way that he did in the Winkie’s Diner scene from Mulholland Drive. That nicely heralds the terrible things to come, but unlike that scene, this isn’t a nightmare about a monster. It’s a crime motivated by nothing more mysterious than the need for money, and this is what life is like in Twin Peaks now.