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.
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.