Monday, September 04, 2017

One For the Grandkids: TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN

"I should follow YOU?"
- Miles Davis, to a fan expressing his wish that he go back to playing ballads

At the end of Episode 16 of Showtime's TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN, we saw Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) briefly rescued from mid-life marriage to a man who was something less than the man to whom she once aspired by an invitation to dance. She then returned to her husband's side and a reality-shattering crash through that illusion into what appeared to be a confrontational collision with her own makeup mirror. I spent the past week wondering where this scene would take us. In a way, it took us nowhere, because we don't see Audrey again in the miniseries' last two episodes; then again, this scene tells us exactly where we are headed.

The last two episodes, or hours (if we accept - as I think we should - David Lynch's description of this latest collaboration with Mark Frost as "an eighteen-hour film" rather than a miniseries) of this story suggest to me a one-hour or 90-minute story with a 15-16 hour prologue and a one-hour epilogue. It does not accommodate traditional narrative structure, and therefore is doomed to disappoint most audience expectations geared to that experience. Many times as the weekly chapters rolled out, I found myself responding to them not as narrative, not even as cinema, but as digital painting - making use of live actors selected much like emotional colors. As some others have observed, the quality of the digital effects suggested an unusual transparency that might look bad or cheap to those whose standard of measure was reality; but I always felt the point was never to suggest reality but different graphic ideas put into motion. A noble attempt to reclaim the viewer's right to suspend disbelief with their own senses, rather than have the technology rob them of that privilege. As the entire arc of the program is revealed, this level of artifice has a point to make.

As with the original series finale, the general response I've been seeing has been disappointment, even anger, sometimes followed by a slowly blooming acceptance and enthusiasm. The disappointment, I believe, comes from a thwarted authorial impulse: it didn't go where we wanted it to go. But as characters in the story have been saying, "The past dictates the future." Therefore, any attempt to return to the past is a sentimental urge, a romanticism doomed to failure or, if indeed such contact is made, we run the risk of monkeying with our present vantage point in the future. Which is exactly the trajectory of the final chapter. In the last moments, when Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) asks "What year is this?" I don't think he's asking which year he's inhabiting. Rather, he's questioning our expectations of the narrative, our demands for clarity and a happy ending - even a satisfying reunion. Why did we want to go back to a murder scene? What did we want to undo? Or do? Were these characters not supposed to change - though we, their creator and television itself has?

And finally, Cooper is also asking the wrong question, which points to a suggestion of his condemnation to another long detour through mystic circles - his penance for his ego in assuming superhuman responsibilities and a god-like role in setting everything right. When Cooper and Diane (Laura Dern) risk "changing everything" by riding the electrical coordinates to new identities, they soon lose each other and Dale finds himself alone in the American west, in the city of Odessa. It's not only the name of a Ukrainian city, but the feminine form of Odysseus or Ulysses, the hero of Homer's THE ODYSSEY, and finally a Greek word meaning "full of wrath." (The ODYSSEY connection to Cooper is quite interesting, particularly if we consider the interpretation that it took Odysseus so many years of wandering to return home because he didn't want to go home.) The Cooper whom we see cruising the streets of this melting pot American city is neither the all-good Cooper of the original series, nor the Bad Cooper, whose negative energies have been conquered by this point, or at least redistributed. As earlier events have shown us, Cooper's efforts came very close to saving Laura retroactively - indeed, he does seem to prevent her murder, at least on one plane of existence - but in doing so, he interfered with her own karmic destiny and sent that compulsory drama elsewhere to find its fulfillment.

But he has not yet learned this lesson, and when he sees the fateful name Judy on a restaurant sign in Odessa, he follows the sign to a breakfast interrupted by the modern-day equivalent of an Old West shootout, as he butts in to save a stranger's honor. The melting pot signs (Odessa, Maersk, etc), the open carry laws, people living in accordance with romantic ideas of freedom in a conspicuously unfree word...  Lynch's purpose here is plain - this is the America we now I habit, viewed through a pair of THEY LIVE eyeglasses, as it were. Cooper continues to take lawful responsibility for Laura Palmer's metaphysical fate by tracing Judy to her lookalike counterpart - an apparent kook and murderess whose name is not Judy but rather Carrie Page (Sheryl Lee) - and hoping to discharge the evil energies riding her existence by introducing her to her mother (Grace Zabriskie), who is dealing with devils of her own. But it's no longer her house... for the rather obvious reason that "You can't go home anymore." What Cooper may suddenly be inhabiting outside the Palmer house is not a different year, but a different tense - namely, reality. (This reading of the ending would appear to be supported by the casting of Mary Reber, the real-life owner of the Palmer House property, as its present owner Alice Tremond.)

In short, David Lynch and Mark Frost have addressed themselves to the fact that art is a thing of process and progress that does not move in reverse; only the longing of the human heart does that. In so doing, it may well motivate the creation of art, but such art is usually wrenching in its torment, bringing us to terms with more innocent times that were never really so innocent, the nostalgic songs that closer scrutiny reveal to come from places of real pain, the high school sweetheart who got away and fired a bullet through the brain of the fellow lucky enough to catch her. Because what such investigations usually signify is that the present, our present, is in some way unsatisfactory - but if we dare to move back, we risk changing or losing connection with where we were. 

The original TWIN PEAKS series still exists, and that experience can be repeated to the heart's content, leaving THE RETURN to warn us of the myriad dangers awaiting anyone careless enough to rifle backwards through the spent pages of life. 

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved. 

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