This week on Twin Peaks, we take a trip to the past and things get very, very weird. Even for this show.
The short version: "Gotta light?"
Wow ... where do I even ... just ... wow. When it's your job to go on and on about nerd pop culture on the internet, you kinda get in the habit of having something to say about pretty much everything, but I have to confess I spent at least 15 minutes after this week's episode ended just sitting, stupefied and waiting for my brain to reboot. We all expect Twin Peaks to be weird and beset on all sides by Lynchian dream logic, but this week Showtime basically aired a 55-minute David Lynch experimental film capable of melting the minds of even the most devoted Peaks fans.
Twin Peaks has a reputation even among its most passionate admirers for being frustrating, even incomprehensible, and while huge chunks of tonight's episode are certainly a part of the tradition, the hour was also Lynch at his spellbinding best. No, it was not an easy episode to follow, but it was visually gorgeous, endlessly imaginative and frightening, and whether you know it or not, it actually did progress the plot a bit.
The easiest piece to decipher comes right at the beginning, as DoppelDale is on the road with Ray after their release from prison. They speak cryptically about the information DoppelDale is still waiting to receive from Ray, and then Ray manages to double-cross DoppelDale and shoot him. That's when things get weird and stay weird for the whole hour. A large group of vagrant-looking figures -- the Twin Peaks mythology term seems to be "Woodsman" -- emerge from the darkness and begin smearing DoppelDale's blood around while also stirring up the dirt around his body. Slowly, as Ray grows increasingly horrified, an orb emerges from the torso and we can see BOB's grinning face, suggesting that the Woodsmen managed to extract his spirit from DoppelDale, who in past episodes was unwilling to relinquish this power. It's a tremendously eerie sequence that solidified the continued presence of BOB more than anything else The Return had done previously. But it will soon be topped.
As that sequence ends, we learn that the roadhouse has a surprisingly awesome music booker when Nine Inch Nails shows up for a performance. Frontman Trent Reznor's appearance on Twin Peaks was not a secret, as he was in the cast list released months ago, but we didn't know until now that he'd be appearing as himself. After the creepy Woodsmen sequence, hearing Reznor groan "she's gone, she's gone, she's gone" over his distinctive brand of brooding electronic thunder was evocative as hell. It reminded me of Laura Palmer, naturally, and it wasn't the last thing in the episode that would do that. After the NIN song, we cut back to DoppelDale, who sits up covered in blood, alive despite everything but perhaps no longer possessed. Then things get stranger.
I'm not even going to attempt to break down every single strange moment that came in the rest of tonight's episode, both because it would be an extraordinarily tedious task for such a nontraditional piece of storytelling and because, if you're reading this, you presumably saw it and you're still processing it too. Instead, let's focus on what we can interpret. Somehow, a 1945 nuclear test in New Mexico (where, according to The Secret History of Twin Peaks, future Twin Peaks newspaper publisher Dougie Milford was present) pierced the veil between worlds or, at least, stirred something up. Deep within the explosion (again, just interpreting; your mileage may vary), a group of Woodsmen mill around a convenience store (more on that later) and a creature listed in the credits as "The Experiment" vomits up an orb containing BOB. This orb is then noticed by The Giant (who's credited in this episode as "???????", so he may be another character altogether), who produces a golden cloud from his brain that then produces its own orb containing Laura Palmer's future smiling face. This orb is then somehow deposited into our world, though if it's still 1945 as this is happening (and in this alternate plane of existence, it may not be) Laura won't be born for nearly 30 more years and she won't look as she does in the photo until more than 40 years later.
Whatever the timeline here, it's clear that the creation of this Laura orb is done as a response to BOB's presence. Why and how is not clear, and it may never be, but the two events are very explicitly connected by the imagery, and they're given further weight by the presence of The Giant, long known as a benevolent supernatural figure in this universe. So, what does this connection mean? Who is the woman who kisses Laura's orb before sending her on her way? It's not clear, but my best guess is that Laura and BOB were always connected, and always meant to be connected.
Think back to Leland Palmer and the original series. He identified BOB's face as that of a scary man he knew as a boy, and ultimately became possessed by the same figure. Then BOB possessed Leland and stayed with him for decades, until Leland's own death, killing Laura along the way. Laura was not BOB/Leland's only victim, but we know from Fire Walk With Me that BOB didn't want to kill Laura, but possess her. Laura resisted this desire, with help from the Owl Cave Ring, right up until her death. In death, Laura was greeted by an angel and has continued to be a presence in the Lodge, which isn't true of Leland/BOB's other victims. This suggests Laura has a part to play in the story beyond being a victim, but this week's episode suggests that she always did. Laura may well have been sent by benevolent beings from BOB's world to resist him, and her death might have been meant as the first step in his eventual downfall.
I could, of course, be wrong about all of this, but Twin Peaks has hinted for a very long time that Laura Palmer was and is important not just because she was the doomed homecoming queen. Now The Return is exploring that, one avant-garde sequence at a time. I'm transfixed.
Now, when it comes to that half-frog, half-fly creature that climbed into the teen girl's mouth while a deadly Woodsman put a whole town to sleep with a cryptic message in 1956? I have no idea, but keep watching.
Absolutely no complaints this week. Granted, we're still waiting for context that might never come, but even with that in mind, I thought this was a brilliant episode.
- Remember that castle-like structure in the middle of an ocean where the Giant was alerted to BOB's emergence and created the Laura orb? That might not be the same place Cooper visited back in Part 3, but it was certainly similar.
- After he shot Cooper, Ray placed a call to "Phillip." That's Phillip Jeffries, David Bowie's character from Fire Walk With Me, who's had a role to play offscreen since The Return began. We know that he disappeared in 1989 but that he's been working on something with DoppelDale in the intervening decades. When DoppelDale tried to call him in the premiere, a stranger seemed to answer, hinting that he was keen on sending DoppelDale back to the Lodge. Either Ray does not know this or Jeffries was played with DoppelDale. Jeffries also has a connection to Argentina, which has appeared in connection with more than one murder and attempted murder in the series so far. His full role in what's happening has yet to be revealed, but his first appearance in Twin Peaks lore came after he witnessed a group of Lodge beings meeting above a convenience store (See? Told you that would come back), including the Man From Another Place, BOB, Mrs. Chalfont and two Woodsmen.
- Speaking of Woodsmen, we've also seen them at least twice in Buckhorn in connection with the murder case involving Major Garland Briggs and (indirectly for now) Dougie Jones.
- The Experiment, you may recall, was first seen coming out of that glass box in New York City and murdering two people back on night one of The Return. Has it come looking for BOB?
And that's it for this week! We'll be back in two weeks with a new episode!