Monday, June 26, 2017

Twin Peaks (The Return)

When something is broadcast on TV that is exciting, we tend to claim novelty for the program -- this image or theme or character represents something unprecedented for the medium.  Novelty is a term of praise for innovative TV for two reasons:  first, excellence in any form often involves the presentation of material in a way that allows us to see the subject in a new light; second, TV is a conservative medium, or, at least f is perceived that way by people of my generation -- sit-coms are the paradigm for a medium that sits comfortably ensconced in our living rooms, reliably providing us with well-worn pleasures.  Thus, it will not come as a surprise that I claim that the most recent episode of David Lynch's Twin Peaks (The Return) broadcast on Showtime on June 25, 2017 is something wholly unprecedented, something so new to television that I don't know how it  can be assimilated to our understanding.  If suffices to say that, for this episode, Lynch seems to have abandoned anything like conventional narrative in the interest of providing of showing us visions of a kind no one has ever seen before.  I am agnostic as to how this development will end -- indeed, while  watching the show, I remarked that I didn't see how Lynch could extricate himself from this web of pictures, all of them extraordinarily compelling in their own right, but completely inexplicable.  Readers will have to watch this groundbreaking series and form their own conclusions -- at this juncture, I can only report on what I've seen.

The hero of Twin Peaks is Agent Cooper, a FBI man trapped for 25 years in the evil snares of something called the Black Lodge.  (The Black Lodge is not so much a place as a hallucinatory loop of images from which the FBI man can not free himself.)  An evil version of Cooper has been wandering the earth as a kind of avenging wraith for this last quarter century wreaking havoc of various kinds.  The show seems to depict a congeries of multiple universes in which each place has its own version of Agent Cooper -- there is the evil Cooper of Buckhorn, South Dakota, a benign bumbling Cooper in Las Vegas, and, another, Cooper who seems to be drifting through interstellar space, now and then making appearances on this mortal coil through a weird kind of lens with its aperture in Manhattan.  In any event, the evil Cooper has escaped jail in South Dakota.  He directs his henchman to take a little road, a two-lane blacktop that rapidly devolves into a dirt track in the desert darkness.  The henchman has to urinate and gets out of the car.  Evil Cooper has a gun and steps out of the vehicle to shoot the driver.  But the driver has switched weapons and Evil Cooper's gun is unloaded.  The driver, then, guns Cooper down.  Out of the darkness, a mob of shuffling black figures, something like ghost-tramps, appear -- they are hazy and can scarcely be seen and they do something awful to Cooper's body.  (Whenever Cooper is injured or seriously endangered, Twin Peaks goes into spasms of bizarre imagery.)  Abruptly, the scene shifts to the Road House, a bar with a stage where each episode ends with a dreamy rock and roll song or some kind of techno-drone performance.  In this sequence, lasting about six to eight minutes, we see Trent Reznor's "Nine Inch Nails" perform -- the song is an abrasive roar of noise filmed with Gothic intensity.  Then, a title informs us that we are seeing the desert in New Mexico at the time of the nuclear test at White Sands.  The image shows a huge black and white aerial landscape from which the A-Bomb's mushroom cloud emerges as a tiny blister on the desert floor.  This image of the atomic bomb blast as a tiny disturbance in the center of a vast indifferent landscape is completely different from what we are used to seeing and sets the bizarre tone for the rest of the episode.  The camera slowly advances down on the mushroom cloud, entering it, and, then, apocalyptic flames fill the screen -- we see Brownian motion of stars, clouds of glowing particles, nebulae; all of this imagery is congested with darkness, sometimes, hard to see, and very alarming.  Ultimately, we see a body of light, a kind of waxy cadaver, hovering horizontally against a void and excreting through its mouth a sort of pulpy ectoplasm -- this ectoplasm is full of luminous bubbles,one of which seems to enclose the head of Bob, the villain in the first Twin Peaks' shows a quarter century ago.  Next, the camera glides over a fiercely turbulent ocean, waves roaring against one another in the darkness -- we come to pinnacle with the black sea beating against it, and the camera climbs to reveal a sort concrete bunker perched atop the sheer cliffs.  The camera glides into a vent and we find ourselves in a room where a plump woman dressed in Victorian garb is anxiously awaiting something -- she has an old-style gramophone next to her and the room is very grey and shadowy.  A handsome, elderly giant appears and he looks at her in a bemused way, then, adjusting a kind of bell-shaped dynamo extruding electrodes that sits on the other side of the room.  The giant leaves the chamber and walks through what appears to be an empty and vast old-time movie palace.  (This reveals that the woman has been waiting in the ladies' lounge downstairs from the auditorium.)  The giant goes into the theater, stands next to a screen on which there are projected images of the kind that we have previously seen -- apocalyptic fires and clouds of glowing irradiated dust.  Then, the giant levitates until he is horizontal, floating about 40 feet over the floor.  The plump woman enters the theater and looks upward to see the floating giant.  The screen is still animate with fires and explosions.  The giant's mouth is vomiting forth clouds of glowing golden ectoplasm.  A bubble from that ectoplasm floats down to the woman and she holds it lovingly.  We can see (just barely) the image of the Laura Palmer inside the bubble -- the picture of the girl on the fireplace mantle that was central to the first series of Twin Peaks.  The screen above now shows Earth's globe and the woman pushes the bubble back into the air so that enters the screen and drops onto the Earth, apparently in the American southwest.  We now see the dark floor of the desert on which there is an egg -- a title tells us that it is 1957.  The egg breaks open and a weird creature emerges -- it is a winged beetle with the hind legs of a frog.  The beetle-frog laboriously crawls across the sand.  The scene shifts to a dark image of a convenience store isolated in the desert.  In fast motion, we see blurred images of shadowy figures, the mob of tramps that mutilated Agent Cooper, ghostly dark shadows that twitch across the screen, seemingly besieging the shabby C-store.  Next, we meet a boy and girl, two innocent-looking young people, walking in the moonlit desert. The boy tentatively kisses the girl and they part.  In another part of the desert, the ghost tramps converge on a dark highway -- they stop a car and one of the ghost-tramps, a gaunt-looking scarecrow with fire-blackened skin and a long beard, asks the man and woman in the car "for a light."  The man and woman scream soundlessly.  Cut to a radio station isolated in the desert.  A DJ is playing a love ballad.  We see a tired waitress listening to the ballad in her empty café, a mechanic listening in his garage, the young girl sitting on her bed, beaming about her first kiss, also listening.  One of the ghost tramps goes into the radio station, asks for a light and, then, crushes the head of the woman in the office with his hand.  He, then, goes into the studio, seizes the DJ by the head, and commandeers the broadcast.  The ghost tramp recites something incomprehensible about water and a well and the whites of the eyes of a horse -- he has a gravely voice and he says this over and over again.  The waitress drops dead or faints.  The mechanic, hearing the strange voice, falls over onto the floor.  The girl in her bedroom is similarly affected -- she falls over, apparently comatose or asleep.  Then, the strange beetle-frog flies into her room through an open window, creeps up to her face, and, when she opens her mouth wide, clambers laboriously into the "o" made by her lips.  And this brings us to the end of the episode.  In an early review of David Lynch's Elephant Man, Pauline Kael remarked upon the director's use of blackness -- she observed that Lynch is a master of many forms of black and that his darkness is darker than that of anyone else.  This weird nocturne, wholly inexplicable in any terms but its own, proves this point.  Apparently, this show is a punctuation point -- the program will resume in two weeks.  How I don't know.  But this visionary episode is unlike anything ever broadcast -- a combination of special effects of a kind hitherto unseen, poetic night time imagery, and sheer horror. 

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