Based on the pervasive presence of the Evil-with-a-capital-E-written-in-the-blood-of-squashed-children Richard Horne — and the pervasive absence of his presumed mother, Audrey Horne — this season has been suggesting all along that when we finally do get a look into Audrey Horne’s life, it could be very, very sinister. This episode — Part 12 in the 18 part The Return — certainly foreshadowed as much. When Ben Horne is informed by Truman 2.0 that it was his son who ran over a child — and then attempted to kill the only witness — Ben visibly grapples with Richard’s bulldozing of his quaint notions of family. (Hilarious for a man who once almost had sex with his pretending-to-be-a-sex-worker daughter to be nostalgic for old family ideals.) Yet as he does so, Audrey, who we’re obviously all thinking about, isn’t even mentioned. And so her specter turns into something even more palpable and looming, if totally shapeless given how little we know. And then we see her, a few scenes later. And she’s not, say, trapped in the purgatory of the Red Room, or being held hostage by her hellish son. Nor is she, on the flip side, leading the liberated, exciting life feat. tons of cute sweaters that some Twin Peaks fans may have fantasized for her. No, she’s just in a really stale marriage.
Our reintroduction to the beloved character at the end of the episode doesn’t even make mention of her seeming horror-son, but centers around another man: her lover, Billy, who she’s currently pressing her soporific husband, Charlie (Clark Middleton) to help her find. He, however, keeps sleepily insisting that he’s finishing his work. (“What kind of shit are you? If you were missing, would you want people finishing their fucking homework before they went looking for you?” growls Audrey in her first scene back onscreen.) When we first reunite with Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) here, she’s sitting in an office across a desk from her apparent husband-of-convenience, seething. Throughout the season, there’ve been a number of scenes that turn stale marriage into near-vaudevillian camp (every scene with Dougie and Janey-E, that is — both of whom are mostly absent from this episode), and while the dynamic between Audrey and her husband is bizarre and “Lynchian” (there’s both a disconnect between logic and emotion between the two of them), it’s not played for the same kind of laughs as the Dougie/Janey-E scenes.
Unlike Naomi Watts, whose camp-to-the-max nagging wife character (who’s stayed ignorant to the fact that her husband’s become a near-nonverbal shell) is so divinely absurd to transcend what could be stereotype territory, Fenn gives a performance that seeks to ground viewers in her emotional life. Her scene with her husband may be equally full of campy reifications of stale suburban marriage tropes, but she plays it with sincerity.
There’s an interesting stratification here: the characters from the original series — Hawk, the Log Lady, Gordon Cole, Cooper/Dougie, Albert Rosenfield, Shelly, Bobby, even dreadful Ben Horne, and now Audrey — reemerge in The Return as withered but soulful and even deepened personalities, while the new characters — Janey-E, Candy, the Mitchums, Tammy, Wally “Brando” Brendan, Charlie — often (certainly not always; Diane is a good exception) serve as cartoonish foils that provide the series’ texture of alienation. (And of course, some of the more cartoonish characters from the original have similarly evolved into more cartoony cartoons: Lucy and Andy, Dr. Jacoby, for example.)
Audrey’s return is not glamorous; it’s not nostalgic; it’s not even horrific; it’s just disenchanted in that honest way that the series has been showing as it’s revealed the 25-years-later spirits of familiar character after familiar character. What’s made all of the original characters more poignant, however, is the fact that, in spite of no longer having their whole lives ahead of them, in spite of many having become mired in habit, they retain a certain flickering passion and unwavering uniqueness. Audrey may be in a stale marriage, but she still knows how to stir up a storm. Hawk may be world-wearied, but he’s still listening to, and following, the calls of the Log Lady. Shelly may still be dating terrible men, but she’ll jump in front of her daughter’s car and cling to the windshield to stop her from making bad choices. Audrey’s reappearance is deflating in exactly the way we should have expected: she’s an adult, mired in adult problems. But that doesn’t mean those problems are totally banal or un-Twin Peaks-y: in fact, she “saw Billy in a dream last night, and he was bleeding from the nose and mouth, and dreams sometimes harken a truth.” Pretty damn Twin Peaks-y. And then there’s the whole unmentioned fact that the man who appears to be her son is murdering people and seems like the descendent of BOB. Surely the next episode will shed light on all of this. Ha.
The episode can also be frustrating in some less thematically successful ways. The above-mentioned scene with Truman and Ben stretches for far too long. (Just because length and audience endurance are tested deliberately doesn’t mean that such deliberateness always adds something.) Granted, there are many moments where I’ve appreciated the slowness of this show: one is in this very episode, wherein Gordon Cole dismisses a much-younger French woman (played by Bérénice Marlohe) with whom he was about to hook up so he can discuss serious detective business. As Rosenberg watches, somewhat bored, somewhat perturbed, maybe even a little disturbed, she and Cole engage in a minutes-long flirtation as she gathers her belongings and contemplates her unfinished Bordeaux in a French clownish erotic dance that seems like something Zach Galifianakis’ Baskets character would’ve learned in school. (Lynch gets to yell “tres chic” in his Gordon Cole staccato in a way that’s both spectacularly endearing and skeezy.) The show understands its existence as the presentation of meaning eluded and obfuscated by — until it’s ultimately achieved through — trifling absurdities. But as in a few previous episodes, sometimes scenes here feel almost unnecessary. Because the show exists in so many different places with colliding narratives, some things actually get over-explained and repeated to audiences as characters themselves hear them for the first time. We already knew, for example, that Richard Horne tried and failed to kill Miriam. We know he ran over the boy. Do we need to see the long explanation by Truman to Ben? Could we have skipped straight to Ben’s realization of what had happened, and his ensuing rumination on fatherhood and Schwinn bikes?
Another scene that surprisingly over-explains is the first: at this point, we all know that Blue Rose cases aren’t typical of what you’ll see on any old crime drama, but rather engage with the supernatural. Here, as we watch Tammy find out (and make an array of facial expressions) about her promotion into the exclusive and dangerous group of Blue Rose agents, we’re told that it’s a task force assembled within the FBI to solve a series of cases leftover from a massive, abandoned government investigation into UFOs called “Project Blue Book.” (Diane likewise gets brought on on a temporary basis — seemingly so Cole, Tammy, and Albert can keep an eye on her; this seems particularly necessary as she seems to continue texting with Evil-Cooper, and to repeat something of a Black Lodge catchphrase, “Let’s Rock,” after having been told of her promotion.) But when it comes to otherworldly stuff on this series, it’s at its most potent and terrifying when either shown nonverbally, or through flat and esoteric explanations (like those of the Man from Another Place — aka the Arm — aka blob-on-tree.) Here, however, we get an oddly straightforward, if brief, explanation.
The toweringly good Episode 8 showed a bridge between our world and the weird-world being created by the U.S.’ first successful nuclear bomb test — and that was exquisite and poetic, but if that’d solely been explained in words, it would’ve likely sounded trite. If there’s one thing the wonderful, ineffable oddity of the Black Lodge and all its inhabitants on Twin Peaks could do without, it’s being flattened by the historical pregnancy and ubiquitousness of a verbal explanation about UFOs. So hopefully the whole UFO thing is more of a false lead (or at least something that’ll ultimately be depicted visually rather than verbally).
Which brings me to a scene — the episode’s best scene — that provides a healthy antithesis to demystifying explanation. The episode’s funniest moment quickly turns into one of the season’s scariest, and it all has to do with Turkey Jerky. Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) wanders up to the check-out counter of her local supermarket to purchase enough Bloody Mary ingredients to serve a restaurant-full of anxious Williamsburg startup workers at Sunday brunch. She’s caught off-guard by a new product in the Twin Peaks market — turkey jerky. Her facial expression changes to curiosity and then to fear, as the beeping checkout sounds fade to uncomfortable silence. She tries to shake it away and continue to have a normal interaction with the woman at the checkout counter, but she can’t stop fixating on the jerky. “I don’t remember seeing those beef jerky there before.”
“What type is it?”
“It’s turkey not beef.”
“Is it smoked?”
“I think so. It’s the same as beef jerky except made from turkey.”
Suddenly, it’s not about jerky at all, and all of the trauma of Sarah Palmer’s — and Laura Palmer’s — past comes hurling out.
“Men are coming. I am trying to tell you that you have to watch out. Things can happen. Something happened to me. Something happened to me,” she screams, before running out of the store, muttering to herself.
There was no explanation needed here, no need to mention, say, UFOs. Because we all know that David Lynch — and actors like Zabriskie, who’ve worked with him for so long — know how to make something like the discussion of turkey jerky bear just as much, if not more, foreboding and anguish than any direct verbal description of the supernatural ever could.