Sunday, June 25, 2017

REVIEW: 'Twin Peaks' - A Death Leads to the Exploration of the Weirdness of the Universe in 'The Return: Part 8'

Showtime's Twin Peaks - Episode 3.08 "The Return: Part 8"

Gotta light?

Twin Peaks proved that it still knew how to be weird in the television landscape of 2017. It was a groundbreaking show in the 1990s because it broke from the formula and told its story in a different way. It influenced a lot of storytellers to break from the mold as well. And now, this season of Twin Peaks has revealed that David Lynch still has the ability to show everyone what weird TV actually is. It's been mesmerizing to watch. This season was shrouded in so much secrecy. No one knew what to expect before it debuted in May. And now, the new episodes are full of critical acclaim. The episodes have revealed that Lynch is still one of the finest filmmakers out there. He's executing his vision of this story. He doesn't care what anyone else thinks or expects. In fact, he toys with the audience's expectations. In an episode with a ton of forward momentum, he'll stop things completely to watch a guy sweep a floor for a couple of minutes. And now, "Part 8" opens with a massive event that could have major consequences for the story moving forward. But after that happens, Lynch breaks away to depict a completely different art form. It's bold and imaginative. It's colorful and precise. It defies any kind of rational explanation or critique. It's compelling to watch and reveals that there really was no reason to worry about any of this. Lynch is still the best of the best. He knows what he's doing. In fact, this episode may be one of the best things of his entire career. It's just so bizarre and yet strangely moving and beautiful to watch.

This is the kind of episode that works against episodic reviews. This is an hour that should sit with the audience for a long time afterwards. It's as much a statement of the people watching as it is the actual events that are being portrayed. It doesn't demand a 2000+ word review to be posted one or two hours after it debuts on Showtime. It's much more a statement that reveals strange and new things the more one thinks about it. It's like a piece of art. The longer one stares at it, the more layers one discovers. Those opinions and insights can be shared with others. But it's also a personal journey. What does this piece of art say about the person looking at it? Are they informed by the time in which they see it? Do they bring their own personal baggage with it? Everyone who looks at it takes something completely different and unique away from it. It's a personal experience that ebbs and flows. One's opinion can change and evolve over time. That adds to the brilliance of the piece. It welcomes so many different thoughts and ideas. This hour is something new and original for television. The storytelling just stops so that Lynch can go on this journey for an hour. It's something so completely Lynch. He reveals yet a new layer for what television is capable of producing. As such, it should be rewarded with as much praise and conversation as possible.

The actual plot developments of this episode are important as well. It starts with Evil Cooper and Ray driving away from prison. They've both been freed because Evil Cooper had incriminating information on the warden. And now, Ray has information that Evil Cooper needs. It connects back to the William Hastings case that started the season. And yet, that character hasn't been seen since the premiere. Evil Cooper has been spending most of his time this year in prison. He has only now escaped. It made him seem so powerful. He was always in control even though he was locked up and couldn't do what he planned on doing. He's escaped and is right back to it. But coercing the information out of Ray isn't easy. Instead, he gets shot twice in the chest. That was an unexpected moment. It's the moment that kicks all of the weirdness of this hour into motion. A character getting shot is tame compared to the rest of it. That happens because Evil Cooper isn't just a regular man. He's a different being entirely. The rules are different for him. Two spirits inhabit this body. There are forces beyond his control that have the potential to ruin this careful plan that Ray has laid out. He's mesmerized by it for awhile as well. He sees beings from a different dimension emerge to try and heal Evil Cooper from his wounds. It's a visual feast because it enjoys the chaos and the mystery of whether or not this is actually helping. Is Evil Cooper dying and the entire season is essentially going to be very anti-climatic? Or is something else going on that will only inform and enrich the story even more going forward?

It is clear that Bob dies during this ordeal while Cooper's doppelganger from the Black Lodge lives. That's the sensible conclusion to draw by the end of this sequence - which also includes a cutaway to a performance from The Nine-Inch Nails at the roadhouse. It's strange and mystifying. Bob has been killed before. He died at the same time as Leland Palmer did on the original show. And yet, his spirit actually didn't die. He returned to the Black Lodge but he was still causing problems throughout this world for Agent Cooper. This death is different though. Lynch makes sure it's stylistically different in order for the audience to accept that things won't be like they were before. Evil Cooper thrived the way he did over the past 25 years because of these two beings working together. They brought chaos throughout the world as a team. They were there for each other even during times of great difficulty. And now, one half of that personality is gone. Ripped away in a random act of violence because he was outsmarted by Ray. And now, Bob is thrusted away to some other celestial corner of the universe. One that cannot be explained but is incredibly beautiful and stunning to watch. One that ensures that his influence may never be felt in this world again. But just because he's gone doesn't mean that evil deeds will no longer happen. That may be the ultimate point of this entire episode. One form of evil has been killed but there are so many others that can pop up in the most weird and random places of time and space. Or it could just be an original story for one of the greatest evils the world has ever seen.

After Evil Cooper arises, the action cuts away to a nuclear test site in New Mexico in 1945. Most shows would use the sight of a nuclear weapon going off to illustrate the power and chaos of the world. To hint at the potential destruction if it were ever to fall into the wrong hands. A way to highlight the cruelty and pain this world can bring onto itself. Those qualities are still apparent in Lynch's depiction of the event. But it also embraces the order of the chaos and the beauty that comes out of that. It doesn't cut away as soon as the missile detonates. It lingers in the moment pushing in ever closer. It does not pull away from the stark reality of this remarkable achievement. This is a scientific marvel. It's a chain reaction of events that grow and grow until it radically changes the world around it. It's an awe-inspiring sequence that then pulls the viewer through a completely different celestial world. One of beauty and peace. And then, violence and chaos. Until it lands on a convenience store. It's seemingly out of place and time. It does not belong with the rest of this sequence. The editing is all cut up and garbled. It's a mastery of vision because the visual and audio details are so specific. They play the trick of the audience wondering if the device they are viewing it on is working correctly. It forces the audience to sit through the uncomfortable quality of watching this building get destroyed over and over again with men seemingly coming to repair it as well. And then, it just returns to the celestial place. No comment on what's happened or why it's important at all. Just once again showing the grandiosity of the universal in the grand scheme of things as compared to the little details that happen in the ordinary world.

And then, The Giant appears. Or is it The Giant? The show's credits still only refer to the character played by Carel Struycken as "???????" As such, he could be playing a completely different character this time around. A character who shares the same face and is still connected to the universe at large somehow. A connection that will go unanswered because there is no simple or easy explanation for anything that happens in this world. He seems mystified as well. That portion of the episode reveals that there may be forces beyond our control that have an impact on our lives while there are also larger forces beyond the control of those forces that affect theirs as well. It's strange and alluring. He's perplexed right alongside the audience. He hears noises too but a simple touch is enough to get them to stop. He sees the woman in the room but has no meaningful interaction with her. He sees the footage of the exact same events that the audience has just seen. It's very meta. But it's inspiring to watch as well. It is so different and out there. It works because of the complete random and mystery of it all. This man sees the face of Bob amongst the chaos. That causes him to float into the air and spill out into a new and beautiful celestial material. That material then manifests itself into a ball. A ball that the woman grabs and sees the face of a young Laura Palmer within. The grand mysteries of the universe may be unsolvable. But the connection between Bob and Laura will always be clear and present. It's defining the lives and events of this universe long after the mystery was seemingly wrapped up. In fact, all of this could only be leading to more tragedy and chaos spread throughout the universe. Their role is clear in the context of the show. But in the state of the universe, it could appear to be just as widespread and chaotic. A way to have meaning even long after death. But that meaning also comes with a ton of consequences. They are connected throughout all of time.

And finally, the action cuts back to the New Mexico desert. Except this time, it's in 1956. An insect hatches from the egg and it feels like a symbol of all the power and mystery that was just created in the sequences before it. But the world can still be completely random as well. A man not of this world appears in the desert. He comes into frame the same way that the other mystery beings who've helped heal Evil Cooper and the world did previously. His appearance is stark and dreary. He's a vision that causes nightmares for the people who encounter him in the desert. He's a creepy presence who just wants to light a cigarette. It's a simple goal that he isn't able to complete. The world would be right and full of peace if someone was able to give him the light that he needs. And yet, that doesn't happen. Instead, the natural order of things is thrown completely out of whack. He walks around this world spreading the chaos and destruction. It's a stark image in comparison to the sweet and wholesome date of two young teenagers happening nearby. Those cutaways are strange and alluring in their own way. They are the picture of simplicity. The nice and good ventures of the 1950s setting. They are corrupted by this evil that has entered this world. The man who just wants a light discovers the local radio station and broadcasts his message throughout the community. It's not a message to light his cigarette though. Instead, it's much more cryptic. Plus, it pains the people who are listening to it. They are knocked unconscious just by hearing his words. They have a transfixing quality to them. One where it sucks people in to the point that they no longer have control over their bodies. They literally pass out as a result. Their bodies are no longer theirs. The girl opens her mouth once the bug enters her room. It almost seems like it was crawling towards her. It goes into her mouth. It's so deeply unsettling and terrifying. And that's that. The man in the radio station has done his work. He has killed and brought random chaos into this world. He's done his job and can exit onto the horizon once more. Possibly having fulfilled his mission. Or possibly to reign chaos down on some other corner of the universe. Meanwhile, the girl could continue her life not knowing what had happened. Or this could be the beginning of her own saga of chaos and pain.

So, what does all of this mean for the future of Twin Peaks? That's unclear. Will this episode play any differently with the value of context? Will it serve a greater function and have an even deeper meaning once the entire 18 episodes of the season have debuted and been seen? Or is it just going to be a completely random outing in the middle of the season that proved that this show is about the experience instead of following a strict plot and emotional journey. It would be the most David Lynch thing for him to do. He knows exactly who he is as a filmmaker and it's still a marvel to watch. It's fascinating to analyze an hour like this not knowing how exactly to react to it in the immediate aftermath. I could read this review a couple of days from now or a couple of months later after seeing more of the season and think I'm completely crazy for writing things down in this way. This is just an immediate reaction after all. My first thoughts after seeing this crazy hour for the first time. I don't know if I'll revisit it sometime in the future. I don't know if it will hold up or reveal new hidden depths and meanings upon a second screening. Right now, all I'm really sure of is that I enjoyed watching it. The experience was profound and meaningful to me. It touched me in such a specific way. A way that will provoke thought for a long time coming. That's the value of art. To change the people who view it. As such, I appreciate Lynch for taking this detour in the season. It's been a wonderful journey so far. But now, it carries so much new and distinct meaning. Meaning that will reveal new and new layers the longer I think about it and the pieces that will inevitably pop up elsewhere online. This hour will provoke thought and I cannot wait to read what everyone else has to say about this stunning episode of TV.