Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) – Part 8, dir. David Lynch

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This is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within.

The eighth part of The Return moves into a place no-one thought Lynch would ever go to. Twin Peaks pushed boundaries, but remained limited by ABC’s commercial limitations.

ABC would never have aired this episode.

ABC looks over at Lynch. “What’s the point in this episode? Where’s the recognisable characters? Where’s the narrative? Where’s the murder mystery?”

ABC phones up, demanding reshoots. Looking over the broadcast schedule, an executive quietly slips. We’ll make this a seventeen episode season.

Lynch creates a world very much like Eraserhead (1977), an extension of his artistic work and his experimental short films. Lynch could use 10 minutes. He takes an hour, moving within the imploding mushroom cloud and molecular disintegration. Reality becomes abstract specks, the universe reformed in its pinks, purples, reds, the fire walking with us. Ocean waves bash against cliffs, emerging from nothing. Lynch forms a tableau at the wooden convenience store, documenting human impact beyond individual lives. Behind the petrol pump, flashes emerge; smoke billows out, as Lynch constantly adjusts the depth of field. Lynch distorts the speed of human motion; walking becomes unreal, looping, glimpsing silhouettes in the window.

Lynch’s move to digital could be criticised within a world rediscovering the aesthetic quality of film for big-scale epics, like The Lost City of Z (2016), Wonder Woman and Dunkirk, yet digital remains a viable medium, able to impress with the cinematography of films like Moonlight. Lynch’s early efforts into digital through Inland Empire (2006) relied on the lossy quality of consumer grade equipment. But Lynch reminds us how valuable digital is, able to manipulate footage beyond what can be achieved with film, effects-heavy work merging perfectly.

We enter a dream state through a barrage of symbolic imagery. The clock ticks, finding ourselves in the desert, 1956. A egg hatches, revealing a insect-like cross between a fly and a frog. In bed, as a girl lays asleep, it enters her mouth, the legend of an old fable. Lynch returns us to the symbolism that defined Fire Walk with Me (1992): Laura gazes up at the angel serving the children, before, in death she is carried away by the manifestation of the angel in the Red Room.

Lynch moves between genres, refusing to be one thing. In the opening, Cooper’s doppelgänger drives with Ray (George Griffith) through the highway at night, headlights the only visible presence, like the opening of Mulholland Drive (2001), de-saturated as though no colour is present. In the car, it feels like it’s a classic noir. Later, Lynch returns to a similar situation, this time as 1950s B-horror. A middle-aged couple drive in their car through a night, the woman screaming as the Woodsman (Robert Broski) approaches, a maniacal vision.

Gotta light?

Lynch situates us within a landscape stretching into eternity, paying close attention to cinematography, silhouettes cast against. In superb monochrome, accentuating the deep greys of the Woodsman’s face, it never feels inauthentic to genre or time; sequences in the episode really do look like they were shot in the 1950s, a rediscovered classic of B-horror. Skulls are crushed, shaking, fake blood spilling out, all the more chilling from its lack of colour.

Lynch creates a western, tied to the embodied space of the United States. The doppelgänger and Ray engage in a gunfight without bullets, shot dead instantly, a flash of lightning in the mist of the moon. From his car, Ray calls for Philip, mission completed. Ghostly apparitions appear around the body, raiding for resources. As “The” Nine Inch Nails perform She’s Gone Away in the Roadhouse, hit by ghostly projections, not forgotten since their height of popularity in the 1990s, Lynch re-embodies the doppelgänger’s spirit as resurrected body. In the final shot, we walk out into the blackness of the desert to the sound of horse noises, as though it were Ethan walking out into the desert in the final shot of The Searchers (1956). The white horse glimpsed by Sarah Palmer is somewhere in the distance.

Lynch furthers the mythology, creating an origin of sorts for the Black Lodge and the entire series. Lynch’s previous attempts creating a prequel split critical opinion. What value is gained from witnessing the final days of Laura’s life in unambiguous detail, before her identity was engraved within the DNA and possessions of a corpse, remembered by the people who loved her? Lynch creates a predestined origin of the universe. We sit, in monochrome, as ??????? (Carel Struycken) and a woman, dressed in makeup and sparkly dress, sit in a room, listening to the phonograph. Lynch moves into cinematic space: we sit in an elaborate movie theater, watching the events that just unfolded upon a grey wall through a flickering projector light, living within the theater that defined Lynch’s career. The staircase, with its bright handles, and the pattern of the floor, stare out to us. ??????? levitates, defying all notions of gravity. The face of BOB is conjured upon a rock in space. As we glimpse the projection of stars, Laura’s face forms upon a golden orb, moving through a saxophone into the United States upon the globe. Her fate is engineered; as writer, producer and director, Lynch has wished it so.

We move through the tapestry of history; Twin Peaks, WA and its inhabitants are but one chapter. Lynch manipulates time, moving back to July 16th 1945, White Sands, New Mexico, 5:29am, as the atomic bomb detonates. In slow motion, through nightmarish clouds, we move into a terrifying vision, as though captured upon newsreel decades ago. The reality of nuclear holocaust disturbs films like Threads (1984). Comics like Manhattan Projects (2012-16) acquaint us with the (fictitious) history of the atomic bomb’s creators. Lynch makes his hints of the bright orange image upon the walls of the FBI headquarters a reality. Lynch was born in January 1946, into a world already acquainted with nuclear capability. As Lynch was conceived, growing within the safety of his mother’s womb, the world made a deadly motion into its present state. Through its desert ghosts, we move through history to America as nation of natives and settlers. In 1956, we witness teenage dating rituals, akin to the anachronistic teenage romance of Blue Velvet (1986), walking through the night back home. “Did you like that song?” She reaches down for a penny; their youthful, innocent infatuation knows no bounds.

White Sands, NM could be Twin Peaks, WA. It has a radio station, KPJK, broadcasting My Prayer by The Platters through the desert. Men fix cars in a garage; a woman cleans the counter in Pop’s Diner. White Sands acts as a mirror to Jacoby’s internet broadcasts and the Double R. If nuclear extinction can strike New Mexico, it can strike Twin Peaks too.

Twin Peaks’ best episodes were transcendent, moving past the limits of television to deliver something emotive and affective. The discovery of Laura’s body. Her killer’s torment. Cooper’s descent into the Red Room. Part 8 never feels like Twin Peaks, yet is intrinsically tied to the series’ lore as one of its most essential episodes. Lynch is proving Twin Peaks’ style and form is fluid: there are no boundaries to what the series should be.

The 10th Victim (1965), dir. Elio Petri

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A particular strand of science fiction is built upon a certain question: what would happen if society’s morality became unbound, creating a culture of legalised killing? In The Running Man (1987), the arena between life and death becomes state-sanctioned reality TV entertainment, with the garish aesthetics of a game show. Battle Royale’s (2000) mass violence restages this moral question as high-schoolers fight to the death upon an island, inspired by Kinji Fukasaku’s experience as a teenager in World War II. The Hunger Games (2012) situates itself as a futuristic, downtrodden dystopia, its young inhabitants randomly selected as tributes, but remains limited through its younger audience. But perhaps the most bizarre rendition of this question is The 10th Victim.

The 10th Victim is unable to escape its aesthetic; its aesthetic is its reason for being. The 10th Victim relies upon the garishness and absurdities that dominate late 60s cinema. Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) cradles a robot doll upon his chest. Bras conceal guns. An alligator is bathed in water. Saxophone plays stand motionless upon a podium, as action moves on around them. A house is surrounded by limbless statues. Part of the film’s joy is in its vision for the future, just as Fahrenheit 451 (1966) predicted the evolution of television. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) combines its 1960s fashions with tablets and modern passport control.

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Is it the future, or is it 1965?

The 10th Victim delivers a futuristic vision, with white backgrounds, city steps and computers. Petri drowns certain shots in yellows. PanAm flights land upon American tarmac; Marcello wears cool, suave sunglasses; women wear white dresses; telephones look like game controllers. Marcello is in love with The Phantom, his favourite comic book. Parts feel like an early James Bond film: both the gadgets of the Sean Connery series, and the absurd colours and throwing everything at the wall of Casino Royale (1967). As we witness the training programme, other hunts going on around parked cars, it feels as though we’ve stumbled on Bond’s training at MI6, with Q offering an array of fantastical gadgets. A cigarette is lit from a lighter emanating from a metal claw. Caroline (Ursula Andress) customises one-of-a-kind body armour to protect herself, invisible and matching her skin.

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The training sequences feel like something out of a James Bond film

Beyond its aesthetic, The 10th Victim asks questions. The 10th Victim captures a world in transformation, a hyperbolic version of the present reality. Marriage becomes a casual affair, moving between wives in rapid succession. Weddings are held on aeroplanes. IVF has given rise to a generation of women born from stem cells. Service stations are no longer a place for petrol and a bite to eat, but a place for sex amid a selection of prostitutes, where Marcello pulls a Holden Caufield, finding space to hide in a room but without desiring sexual contact. Looking out to the golden sunset of the beach, a regime of murder becomes justified by a religious cult, worshipping the sun in translucent robes with bathing suits underneath, as onlookers throw tomatoes. The 10th Victim’s youthful mortal fear isn’t so far apart from Logan’s Run (1976), where the state operates on killing its population at 30, leaving the ruins of old age as a hermit in the remains of Washington DC.

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Murder becomes justified by a religious cult

The 10th Victim begins questioning the role of the media, in a world where Marshall McLuhan’s own theories around the role of television, radio, newspapers and other mediums were gaining traction as a celebrating scholar. A giant, moving eye watches from the bedroom as a piece of abstract art, as though it were the eye of Big Brother. Caroline shoots with both her gun and her camera. Death becomes an act of performance to play towards the camera. After shooting a young Hamburg man as victim at a horse race, Marcello becomes met by constant questions from interviewers, but objects to the constant barrage. The television offers an all-seeing eye, as monitors spy on Marcello. At the Colosseum in Rome, we acknowledge a history of performed violence going back millennia. The aerial helicopter flies over Rome’s fountains, squares and churches, surveying the best location for the cameras. Death becomes a media spectacle and commercial, staged with elaborate teacups, signs and cheesy dialogue for the Ming Tea Company.

 

The 10th Victim’s most gripping sequence might be it’s opening, as we follow an Asian man’s desperate escape from death on the streets of New York City, seeking the help of a cop, intercut with the rules of the game laid out in exposition. We feel his pain as he is killed by a woman in the Masoch Club. The 10th Victim imbues itself with a socio-political reality still relevant today. America is presented as a space of violence: guns are openly carried in hunts on the streets of New York, as though the assassinations of the 1960s and the school shootings today weren’t enough. Rome becomes caught behind restrictions: churches and restaurants refuse to allow hunts to be committed in its spaces, as though its restrictions were as simple as no smoking signs today.

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Hunts are openly committed in the streets of New York City

Our animal instincts regress through state sanction, hunting game transposed against humanity itself. Where does the difference and boundaries lie? Murder becomes perversely justified: in the wake of World War II, expressing our rage and inhibitions in a controlled manner stops wars. Even Hitler would have been a member, we are told. Marcello and Caroline turn their brushes with death into a flirt, imbued with sexual tension, staging elaborate ruses and fake-outs until Caroline eventually succumbs to fate, Marcello heralded by the media. Or does she? Neither of our protagonists can escape the clutches of death.

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) – Part 7, dir. David Lynch

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Diane (Laura Dern) speaks to Cooper’s doppelgänger (Kyle MacLachlan) in the darkness, sans coffee, navigating her relationship with Cooper, screaming out in “FUCK YOUs”, helping Cole (David Lynch) and the FBI’s investigation. Cole is more restrained, whistling along, more serious than comedy makes him out to be. We see more of her personal life, her partner leaving her apartment. Cooper’s doppelgänger sits in lockup in Yankton, Sioux City: in his stares, he carries none of Cooper’s personality, unable to even respond to Diane. Even his fingerprints are an inversion of Cooper’s. His position must be negotiated with Warden Murphy (James Morrison), moved into the Sherriff’s Department in chains, his position reversed; he must be free.

Janey-E (Naomi Watts) waits by her car, a motherly figure to Dougie: her husband can’t gamble; must meet her at the specified time. As police seek a location to Dougie’s missing vehicle, she reiterates her position in life amid the stress of running a family; there’s more to life than cars. In the episode’s most beautiful sequence, Ike “The Spike” Stadtler (Christophe Zajac-Denek) storms through a crowd with a gun in the Lucky 7 courtyard, alongside the tree from the Red Room. In documentary fashion, Lynch documents the vox pops and news footage reacting to Dougie’s heroism: “he smelt funny”; it was a blur, like a cobra; a gun gets placed away as evidence.

Lynch seeks to expand upon the legend of Laura Palmer. Ben’s (Richard Beymer) secretary, Beverly (Ashley Dudd), lives in a time where Laura’s name is no longer known, faded from relevance. But her and Cooper’s identity is embedded within the haunted physical space of the Great Northern, amid its wood and Native American totems, as we feel a trace of the past in the keys to 315, the room where Cooper was shot in the finale to Season 1. In the Sherriff’s Office, Hawk (Michael Horse) retrieves missing pages from Laura’s diary, coming to terms with their significance. Hawk and Frank (Robert Forster) must attempt to reconstruct the past of who came out of the Lodge, moving a case from closed to open. Laura’s missing pages are perhaps this series’ greatest connection to Fire Walk with Me (1992) and its brutal depiction of Laura’s sexual abuse. In her scrawled handwriting, we’re reminded of the fate of Annie, and Cooper’s transformation, and Laura’s torment with the duality of embodiment of BOB and her father. These scenes feel like exposition, but it’s functional, serving to both forward and rewind the narrative. Lynch wanted ambiguity in Laura’s demise, but by reaching back to the diary, he creates a narrative path forward, filling in the shades he left open.

In the roadhouse, we sense how Laura’s story never existed in isolation; the Renaux family keep up a decades-long business, an industry in blonde 15 year old whores, not caring about age. Laura, for all her sexuality, was never special; her story found a mirror in Teresa Banks. Maybe another of these women will end up in a similar fate. It’s cyclical.

Lynch places us firmly back within Twin Peaks, WA. We travel along the natural landscapes of the pines amid the misty mountains, nature standing untouched for millennia with a spiritual connection to the past. Twin Peaks’ natural landscape is its defining aspect, an escape beyond the city. Jerry (David Patrick Kelly) phones Ben up in the Great Northern from the forest, still high, not knowing where he is. Neither do we. Lynch relies upon the absurd and abstract: Frank Skypes Doc Hayward from his desk, played by the late Warren Frost (Mark Frost’s father), out fishing. Lynch could easily be rational and place a PC or laptop on his desk, but instead frames the conversation through retro yet modern tech, a desktop display rising through the wood panelling with the crank of a lever. These may only be small details, but add to the series’ charm.

However, Lynch still restrains his geography. He relies on static shots, setting a mood. Lynch holds the frame for several minutes in the Bang Bang Bar as a janitor clears up the bar’s mess as Booker T. & the M.G.’s Green Onions plays in the background; bands can’t perform all the time. The power of Green Onions has been destroyed through its continual usage, from the mods and rockers of Quadrophenia (1979) to the faux 1960s of Legend (2015), yet Lynch somehow manages to make it listenable. In the closing shot, we see the Double R Diner at night; Shelly (Mädchen Amick), Norma (Peggy Lipton) and Heidi (Andrea Hays) serve customers, and it feels like home. Lynch continues the investigation in Buckhorn as we question what happened to Briggs’ body and Cooper’s prints, building suspense as Lieutenant Knox (Adele René) notices a looming figure behind her shoulder.