Twin Peaks: The Return: The Rewatch: There’s Fire Where You Are Going
MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
So far, Agent Cooper has spent seven non-consecutive episodes being nothing but completely bizarre, and everyone he meets – from Janey-E to the Detectives Fusco to Bud Mullins – has created a tenuous rational explanation for it. This feels like a metaphor for what it’s like to be David Lynch around the time you’ve got a new project out. All you’ve done is pay attention to your dream life, but people insist on putting interpretations on it. Obviously, I believe it’s worthwhile to analyse Lynch’s work, because I’ve been doing just that for eleven articles. But rather than only looking at plot and character motivation, it’s worth looking at the technical aspects of Lynch’s work. This, after all, is where a lot of the storytelling is taking place.
Episode 11 features one of my favourite sequences in any Lynch project ever: Shelly and Bobby comforting Becky, followed by Bobby investigating the gunshot outside. It’s a perfect illustration of how Lynch uses tone, camera placement and duration to create a dream-like effect. The portion of the scene that takes place inside the diner is pure dialogue-driven narrative, Twin Peaks at its soapiest. When the gunshot rings out, the camera begins prowling around Deputy Briggs, not calming down until the situation appears to be resolved. Here, it turns into a more conventional rhythm of mostly static shots and counter-shots, fooling the audience into thinking everything is normal now. That’s when it springs the real surprise on you – one of Twin Peaks’s closest engagements with the horror genre.
The scene that follows it, with Truman and Hawk studying the ancient map, is almost a guide on how to watch Twin Peaks. They look at the symbols, they interpret the symbols, then there’s a piece of absurd bathos to end. Bathos is a huge part of Lynch and Frost’s humour, and they like to deploy it when it’s least expected. The mystical clues to do with Hawk’s heritage, after all, turned out to refer to a dirty nickel and a toilet door. Likewise, the nightmarish scene of Bill Hastings being killed by a woodsman ends with Gordon Cole doing the easiest detective work of his life: “He’s dead”.
There’s a lot of eye-catching imagery in Hastings’ last scene: the vortex, the woodsmen, the shot of Ruth Davenport’s corpse, so similar to the Black Dahlia crime photos which inspired Lynch in Lost Highway and Premonitions Following an Evil Deed. But there’s also some simple meat-and-potatoes good directing. Watch it again, and notice how Diane is kept separate from the other agents, particularly Tammy, who is presented as her opposite in the composition of the wide shots.
One of the subtlest directorial touches in episode 11 comes when Becky goes up to Steven’s apartment. A more conventional director would shoot this scene following either Becky or Steven. Lynch does neither, hanging his camera unsteadily halfway up the stairs until Becky runs up them, and the viewer is almost dragged in her wake. It creates a sense of uncertainty, refusing to tell us who the protagonist or the sympathetic character is in this scene. And then, in one speeded-up tracking shot, we find Steven hiding out in another stairwell with Gersten, seemingly the last remaining Hayward in Twin Peaks.
For all things are going well in the Las Vegas scenes, there’s an increasing sense of decay in Twin Peaks. The cops are pulling over strange zombie girls, the youngsters are all on some weird Black Lodge drug, and the cops can scarcely cope with the calls they’re getting. It’s a brave move, considering most people tune into revival series hoping for everything to remain comfortingly the same. But Twin Peaks was never about comfort, and even now, past the halfway mark, it’s gearing up to take some massive leaps into new territory.