Sunday, May 14, 2017

Twin Peaks (third season finale)

David Lynch returned to direct the last episode of Twin Peaks and his influence is immediately evident -- the show suddenly seems dire again, propelled by dark influences.  After solving the murder of Laura Palmer, apparently in the middle of season two, the show lost its way.  Although another 13 episodes were produced, most of them are inconsequential and several, even, embarrassingly bad -- in this regard, an episode directed by Diane Keaton is particularly noteworthy for its slavish imitation of Lynch's mannerisms but without displaying the slightest understanding of the basis for those devices.  Flailing around to fill time, Twin Peaks didn't adopt the typical expedient of simply slowing down the action of the principal plot or repeating everything two or three times.  Rather, the show deserves some credit for striking out in new directions, seemingly hoping that one of the various subplots bruited about in the show would take hold and yield something substantial.  In this respect, the show's concept should be lauded, if not its execution -- the wild proliferation of subplots is ambitious if nothing else.  First, Agent Cooper is expelled from the FBI for crossing the Canadian border to solve the mystery  of Laura Palmer's death.  This means that he must be deputized as a law man employed by Sheriff Harry Truman.  Ultimately, Cooper is restored to FBI status but only after a dizzying series of other adventures.  Leo who seems to be comatose is entrusted to the care of his adulterous wife and her boyfriend -- they alternately torture and neglect him and this is played, grotesquely, for comedy.  Then, Leo revives and becomes a henchman for Agent Cooper's nemesis, Windham Earl.  Earl has earlier killed the only woman that Cooper ever loved and, now, he threatens the FBI man's new girlfriend, a ex-nun who has left the convent to join her sister at the Twin Peaks cafĂ© serving hot coffee and the place's famous pies.  There is an incomprehensible subplot involving the Packard family and their saw mills -- this involves Jack Nance and Piper Laurie in all sorts of futile bickering. (Lynch was loyal to Jack Nance up to his death, casting him in every one of his movies and the poor guy never learned to act -- he just grimaces and lurches around like a marionette on a string.)  As an element of this story, the Chinese femme fatale beloved by Sheriff Truman departs for Seattle and, more or less, vanishes from the show, but only after the Sheriff is convinced of her perfidy.  Mr. Horne, the proprietor of the Great Northern lodge, the site of most of the film's eerie happenings, goes mad and reenacts the Civil War with tiny soldiers on elaborate battlefield models built in his office.  His beautiful and seductive daughter, Audrey Horne loses her virginity to an attractive stranger in a Cessna parked at the local airport.  James, the sensitive hoodlum, has an affair with a married woman, is accused of a crime, and has to flee, also vanishing from the show.  A running gag involves the pregnancy of the dispatcher, Lucy Moran, unsure whether the father is the feckless Andy, one of Truman's cops, or the handsome and malevolent seducer, Dick Tremain.  A beauty pageant forms the subject of about four episodes, mostly played for comedy -- the pageant is a fundraiser to protect the habitat of some kind of white-footed weasel.  (The weasel earns our affection by trying to bite off the smarmy Dick Tremain's nose.)  Windham Earl murders a number of supernumerary characters and tortures his mute henchman, Leo.  Ultimately, Earl kidnaps Agent Cooper's love interest, the ex-nun, thereby triggering the confrontation in the show's final episode.  I've undoubtedly missed a number of other subplots -- something involving the one-eyed woman obsessed with drape-runners (she develops superhuman sexual and physical powers), a trial involving David Duchovny appearing in drag, another half-dozen adultery plots that I can't keep straight -- but the reader will get the impression of the chaotic superfluity and gratuitousness of the 12 shows intervening between Lynch's direction of the terrifying episode in which the Laura Palmer crime is solved and the program's finale.  It should be said that much of this material is mildly amusing, but it doesn't amount to anything and is, more or less, instantly forgettable. 

In Twin Peaks' final episode, Agent Cooper is lured to a place in the woods called the Black Lodge.  This is a focal point for the evil lurking in the woods also embodied by the owls.  There is a circle of saplings and an oval inscribed on the ground and, then, the trees dissolve into red velvet curtains, offering access to the Lodge.  In pursuit of Windham Earl and his kidnaped girlfriend, Cooper enters the Lodge and finds that it is a series of disorienting corridors, all draped in heavy red velvet curtains that enclose a series of rooms with nightmarish inhabitants. (It also reprises the velvety interior of the brothel, One-Eyed Jacks.)  During the last half of the episode, Cooper staggers from room to room, increasingly damaged by the horrors that he encounters.  This half-hour of television was unlike anything ever broadcast before and, indeed, has not really been imitated since.  The closest correlate to this elaborately staged and hallucinatory  "freak-out" is Lynch's last movie to date, the inexpressibly strange, terrifying, and ultimately tedious Inland Empire, a picture that is less a movie than the protracted sadistic martyrdom of Lynch's erstwhile girlfriend, Laura Dern.  Similarly, the end of Twin Peaks features the torture of Agent Cooper both physically and mentally by a series of nightmare apparitions -- there are giants, dancing dwarves, doppelgangers, and, even, the ineffably bizarre Little Jimmy Scott crooning a ballad.  (Jimmy Scott was an African-American hermaphrodite who's voice never deepened from the falsetto that made him famous -- he sounds a bit like a demented munchkin, although the performer had real taste and intelligence as a jazz singer.)  I have the sense that Lynch was disgusted with the project when he directed the ending and that his principal motives in staging this finale were contempt and disgust -- the thing plays like an intense "fuck you", a vehement insult administered with surly bravado to an ignorant audience.  There is no way of making any sense of the enigmas heaped on enigmas in the final episode and the cumulative effect of the show is a sort of vertiginous nausea, the same effect produced by the almost three hours of Inland Empire. Lynch makes no effort to naturalize anything -- it's all equally weird and disorienting and, furthermore, the entire enterprise has a sort of Plan 9 from Outer Space aura of cheapness, improbability, and obsession.  It doesn't cost much of anything, I suppose, to build a set consisting entirely of the quasi-digestive or vaginal folds of red velvet curtains -- the mutants that Cooper encounters don't act and, when they speak, use voices that are so severely distorted that subtitles are necessary for us to understand what they are saying.  (Of course, it doesn't really matter what they are saying -- it's all gibberish anyway).  The climax is an insult to narrative integrity or the idea of closure; it all has a desperately improvised feel.  But, Lynch, for better or worse, is a great filmmaker and the mess at the finale of Twin Peaks inspires a dream-like horror -- there is evil and it is real and present and worse, as we see in the final shot, it is not only predatory but infectious.  The show ends with the fanatically virtuous Agent Cooper smashing his forehead into a mirror, demonstrating that Bob, the monster of "Fire Walk With Me" has now taken up residency within him.   

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