The late Catherine E. Coulson’s Log Lady is one of the few characters on Twin Peaks: The Return who feels less and less like she’s operating in the realm of the ridiculous. Such is a strange thing to say about a character who carries around a prophetic log and calls the sheriff’s office any time it has something to “say.” But her latest appearance on the series, in Part 10, confirms a strange phenomenon: the show has largely been turned upside down, and the most kooky and enigmatic character from the first seasons suddenly, in this new world, is among those who make the most sense. She’s right up there with the non-verbal contorted spirit that is Dougie/Cooper, and a coterie of aging detectives — Hawk, Albert, and Gordon Cole — who seem to be searching just as much for their place in a world that’s slipping away from them as they are for answers to the decapitations-from-the-spiritual-plane at the heart of the season.
The melodrama and romance of the original Twin Peaks was so affectedly sweet and reflective of a legacy of American TV kitsch — when the series wasn’t being callous and horrifying — that characters practically wept maple syrup. But even so, the group of teens (particularly Donna and Audrey), FBI Secret Agent Dale Cooper, Josie Packard (pre-doorknob), and Norma and Ed in the original provided emotional grounding for the series. While the overwrought displays of emotion were, in the ’90s show, often bolstered by an ever-present score that seemed to substantiate them, the new season’s frequent silence provides a strange juxtaposition — one that deliberately makes characters’ emotions seem hollow, inaccessible, and unsupported. Most people here feel like a distant echo of human life, stuck in a world that’s become an anesthetized hell. (The feeling of the Black Lodge seems to have bled further into reality over the last 26 years.)
This season has, indeed, made it nearly impossible to “connect” to characters in the traditional way — or even the way we did with the original Twin Peaks. There are so many characters, and they’re mostly witnesses to or perpetuators of weird violence and/or moments of interconnected strangeness — but they don’t experience the usual emotional arcs that get us attached to characters. The best example of this is Naomi Watts’ brilliantly oddball performance as Janey-E; this character goes to all of the heightened emotional places of the characters in the original. But without the romantic aesthetic to accompany it, we’re not led to connect with the character, but rather find her fascinating, a little disquieting in her obliviousness to the husband-swap, and mostly very funny.
Performing a pastiche of Lynchian projections of stagnant bourgeois gender roles, Janey-E in Part 10 begins a one-woman “suburban couple w/ dry sex life rediscovering each other” narrative journey, while her husband, Dougie, is still something of a zombie with a Dale Cooper stuck somewhere inside it. After a visit to the Doctor’s office to figure out what, exactly, is wrong with Dougie (hint: he was sent back to another realm where evaporated and only left behind a gold bead, while he was replaced with a former Special Agent with seeming brain damage who flew out of a power outlet, DUH) Janey-E sees her husband shirtless for the first time since he body-swapped with Dale Cooper. And suddenly both the Doctor and Janey-E seem wildly impressed with Dougie’s improvement — he’s lost all of his extra weight, and his hair incidentally looks a whole lot less dreadful. Instead of coming away with the realization that Dougie no longer exists and that it’s weird that her husband can hardly speak, Janey-E’s story of infinite projection continues, and now she has the hots for her “husband.” That night, while Dougie eats cake, Janey-E longingly stares at him and asks if he’s attracted to her. He looks at her, then looks back at his cake — and apparently that’s enough of an answer. In the next scene, they’re fucking, with Dougie weirdly flapping his arms on the bed — halfway between a dying butterfly and an enthusiastically V-card-losing teenager. Even Watts’ sincerity here is more amusing than it is meant to be at all poignant.
Meanwhile, in an even weirder section of the series, this week, we get a larger glimpse into the Vegas lair of Bradley and Rodney Mitchum, who’re being told by a messenger from Duncan Todd that Dougie Jones had, when he was actually Dougie Jones, precluded them from getting insurance money for a casino they burned down. (This appears to be an attempt to get the Mitchums to kill Dougie, who they recognize as “Mr. Jackpots,” now that Todd’s hire Ike the Spike has been arrested.) This section devotes a lot of time to another character, Candie, whose emotional outburst certainly won’t grip, but will rather further distance audiences from the emotions characters experience: in trying to crush a fly, the Mitchum employee/odd feminine prop accidentally swats a Mitchum in the forehead with a remote control, and begins to sob — for hours. It’s funny — and when it’s over, will leave you feeling all the more amusedly removed.
Meanwhile, the investigation of Cole, Albert, and Tammy gets a blue-rose-y advancement when Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee, in repurposed footage from the original) appears in a vision to Cole; the meaning of this is later reflected in a speech by the Log Lady to Hawk, as she emphasizes, “Laura is the one,” seemingly reaffirming this as a surreal take on a traditional savior narrative. (“The One” here being reminiscent of Neo in The Matrix, Harry Potter in the prophecy central to those novels, etc.)
Over in Twin Peaks, any character who isn’t acting ridiculous is just…brutalizing women (or is a woman being brutalized.) We get another look at the evils of Richard Horne, who more and more seems likely to be the son of Audrey Horne and Evil Cooper, aka BoB. Here, he nearly chokes his grandmother to death to get money from her…after having just murdered the woman who witnessed him running over a child. And history is repeating itself for Shelly’s daughter, Becky, whose husband’s Leo vibes are made all the more apparent as he leaves her cowering in another deeply disturbing scene of domestic violence. But even in these more viscerally upsetting scenes, we’re responding to what’s in front of us, rather than a rich sense of character interiority or weight.
And this is why, in “Part 10,” it’s Coulson’s Log Lady (Margaret) who seems the most human. The actress, who died of cancer soon after filming, here as in earlier episodes appears with a scarce amount of hair atop her head, using an oxygen tank — and yet despite this, or perhaps in part because of this, her character’s urgency is the most resonant, her message the most pointed, her performance the most lacking in any layer of irony of any in this episode. And her lines almost sound like she’s is speaking directly about the very atmosphere the show’s trying to create. No longer funny, no longer near-nonsensical, the Log Lady speaks words, that in their poetic vagueness, bear some of the show’s most direct statements about the its larger approach to 2010s existence:
Hawk, electricity is humming. You hear it in the mountains and rivers. You see it dance among the seas and stars and glowing around the moon. But in these days, the glow is dying.
Pair her, for example, with conspiracy theorist Dr. Jacoby and you see the fragmenting of a world at a tipping point into real and false prophets. Her words could sound just as silly as those of Jacoby in this episode (who continues televised paranoia-mongering in order to sell golden shovels to an audience of…Nadine Hurley). And yet the way the Log Lady’s framed, and the rare legitimate poignancy she conjures for the show, starkly cuts through the humor and absurdity of the rest of the episode. Across the new Twin Peaks, we get a sense of a world now connected by new technologies (particularly relevant is the weird, digital New York window into the Black Lodge world) but also flattened and endangered by them. As the sound design suggests — filling in for the frequent musical absence with a faint ominous buzz — electricity is, indeed, humming. Will it, as controlled by the types of power-hungry, power-abusing men Twin Peaks depicts, lead to anything beyond a slowly dying world?