Twin Peaks: the Return: The Rewatch: What Story is That, Charlie?
MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Since we last saw them, it’s fair to say the Mitchum brothers have been getting along just famously with Cooper. They were introduced as villains and will leave with a testimony to their “hearts of gold”, so it’s worth asking what the change was? In conventional narrative and character terms, they haven’t changed that much. The fork in the road came a couple of episodes ago, when they decided to stop following the logic of a crime story and start following dream logic instead.
That’s always a good gambit in a David Lynch film, particularly when you consider the strong implication that Bradley’s cherry pie dream was sent to him by MIKE. In most other narratives, that would be a sign of a descent into madness: in Twin Peaks, it’s a redemption. Episode 13 is all about the supernatural aspects of Twin Peaks colonising the other parts of the show. We know that Sarah Palmer is more than just a grieving mother from the way her television glitches. Likewise, scenes that would be major twists in a non-paranormal crime drama – Richard Horne is in league with Ray’s gang! Sinclair has contacts in the Las Vegas police! – are completely overshadowed by the ongoing revelations about Cooper and his doppelgänger.
In Sinclair’s case, his plan to murder Cooper is derailed when Cooper notices that Sinclair has really bad dandruff. If there’s a clearer example of the thriller plot being overwritten by the absurd, it’s… well, it comes in a few episodes time with the Polish accountant, but we’re not up to that part yet. In the matter of Ray’s gang it’s a bit more complex. For all Lynch and Frost are opening up new mysteries in this series, they’re also tightening some enigmas from the old show up.
In the original two series, for example, MIKE was never evil, but you wouldn’t have bet on him acting as the angel on Cooper’s shoulder as he does in The Return. Similarly, the function of the Owl Creek ring is simplified. Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks has great fun slipping it on the finger of every infamous figure in American history – Jack Parsons, Richard Nixon, a “notorious resident of a certain eponymous tower on Fifth Avenue”. The scene with Ray in this episode clarifies that it is now specifically used for the purposes of transporting someone to the Red Room after their death, a detail which needs to be established before the finale.
It’s worth speculating how many of The Return’s apparently perplexing mysteries might turn out to have similarly straightforward explanations if the show comes back for a fourth season. Here’s one I’m going to stake my meagre reputation on: the person pretending to be Phillip Jeffries is Phillip Jeffries. We learn from Ray that the supposed ‘impostor’ knows about the room above the convenience store, which is an awfully esoteric thing for a non-Lodge entity to know about. It could, I suppose, be the Fireman – but the only evidence that it isn’t Jeffries is the fact that Jeffries denies it when confronted by Mr. C in Part 15. Seeing as Mr. C knows the impostor hired Ray and Darya to kill him, it makes sense that he’d deny it. This would make Phillip Jeffries the most active character in the whole of The Return; not bad for a big kettle.
In the middle of all this, we’ve got some scenes that are chiefly mysterious because they don’t seem to be very mysterious. Indeed, one of them – the closing scene of Big Ed eating his soup – had fans playing it back frame by frame to see if there were any mystery glitches in there. The idea that it might just be a lonely man eating soup seemed hard to credit, not least because the Audrey and Charlie scenes still appear to be a domestic row, but they’re clearly not. It’s Charlie, actually, who comes out with the most succinct summary of the series’ theme of narrative decay, asking if Audrey wants him to end her story. It’s all building towards a two-part finale which – in one interpretation – might see the final collapse of Twin Peaks as a narrative.