Last night on Twin Peaks, we got to see Dougie at the height of serendipitously life-saving daftness and Mr. C continue to kill people bizarrely, in prolonged scenes that draw on the inevitability of murder for tension. The twinsies are at their peaks, something that at this point should keep anyone from holding out for the return of not-evil-or-daft Dale Cooper until perhaps the very last episode. Outside of not-quite-Coopers, this episode granted us another large window (“granted” is a weird word to use, but feels appropriate for a series that revels in being withholding) into the personal lives of Peaks-dwellers. Norma, for instance, got to do a bit more than look resignedly worried at Shelly and her daughter; Big Ed, meanwhile, made his first appearance; and Nadine had a scene where she wasn’t watching/fangirl-ing Dr. Jacoby and his shit-digging golden shovels…sort of.
Evil Cooper, aka Mr. C, gets his retribution against Ray by invading the crime ring run by Renzo, and demanding an arm wrestling match; if he loses, he’ll do their bidding; if he loses, he gets Ray. Of course he wins. Mr. C sits across from the much burlier Renzo, and systematically breaks him in with his invincible otherworldly arm. (It’s worth recalling that Dougie seems to possess a similar amount of strength, given his ability to squeeze the palms off assassins and such.) With an abrupt punch in the face that turns his skull concave, Mr. C kills Renzo, then clears out the room, interrogates Ray (Ray admits to working for Phillip Jeffries — aka David Bowie in Fire Walk With Me), and then of course splatters his head on the ground.
Meanwhile, Dougie-Cooper seemingly has, once again, transcended time, space, and continuity — though in a far less operatic and deliberate way than in Cooper’s first plunge out of the Black Lodge. (Is continuity even a thing on Twin Peaks? This is one of those annoying moments where you want to say something’s sloppy or doesn’t work, and the obnoxious critically feeble voice of TP fandom in your head says, “no, it’s just part of it. It’s all just part of it.”)
In the last episode, we saw Dougie and Sonny Jim playing ball — or, really, Sonny Jim trying to play catch with his walking wall of a semi-father, and having the ball bounce right off him. But now, that seems to have never happened (or to have happened sometime in the past or future), as Dougie is returning from his long celebratory night with the Mitchum brothers, wherein they didn’t kill him, and wherein Dougie said “damn good” about a slice of cherry pie…and then continued being Dougie. Now that Dougie’s made them $30 million, the Mitchums are ecstatic and enamored of the quiet, shuffling man, and parade into his office in a conga line, interspersed with their blonde, objectified henchwomen, who present Dougie’s boss with gifts — one of which is a BMW, which we see in the next scene that Dougie has also received. He’s also been given a brand new playground for Sonny Jim, all of which makes Janey-E — the broad personification of the consumerist values of American suburbia — deeply happy and in love with the husband she seemingly couldn’t stand before he became near-mute, half-there, hot, and BMW winning.
The most surreal, impressive moment in the episode is rather simple: watching Sonny Jim, alone, in his souped-up carnivalesque playground. The jungle gym lights up and plays a tinny music box rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Swans.” Because we know what American men so often become on this series, there’s something deeply menacing — or just sad — about a boy bounding through a maze of excess in this suburban idyll.
This episode also sees a cherry pie saving Dougie’s life for a second time. His coworker, Anthony Sinclair, is in cahoots with Duncan Todd; after the new development with the Mitchums — where they ended up doing the opposite of killing Dougie — Todd orders Sinclair to do the job. Sinclair procures poison from a police officer who’s likewise affiliated with Todd, and then invites Dougie to coffee — which, of course, greatly tickles Dougie. However, Dougie gets distracted by a cherry pie in the cafe window — leaving Sinclair with the opportunity to poison Dougie’s coffee. However, when Dougie returns, he sees Sinclair from behind, and for some reason feels the urge to massage Sinclair’s dandruff-y back — a massage so innocent and heartfelt, apparently, that Sinclair breaks down crying, runs to a urinal to pour out the poisoned coffee, and confesses.
Pie courses through the veins of the episode — which is perhaps a reason this one feels somewhat clogged as it gets deeper; a number of episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return have been front-loaded with the more exhilarating/or visibly story-driving elements, and then present fragmentary anti-climaxes through their second halves. Some of these latter, less narrative driven glimpses have been among the best moments in the new series — others can seem more like tangential check-ins leading nowhere. Those in this episode were a bit of both, at once.
Take Nadine and Jacoby for instance: for me, a scene where the two reunite with their completely bonkers soulmate (Nadine now owns a drape shop where she runs drapes silently via a computer, back and forth across a display of one of Jacoby’s golden shovels) was one of the funniest in the episode. But it didn’t so much as propel the episode forward, but rather slowing it down to the pace of the somniferous songs that often end each one at the Roadhouse. This isn’t necessarily a problem, though I certainly have found myself more viscerally engaged with the beginnings of episodes and more a weird combination of amused, moved, and bored by the endings.
When the episode shifts to Twin Peaks, we see Norma and Ed having a lovely dinner at the Double R Diner — before a big bomb is dropped; another man enters, then gives Norma a kiss; indeed she and Ed are not together. Rather, she seems to have a romantic attachment to this man who’s capitalizing on cheapening her superlative pies. For, it turns out that the Double R is now a franchise, and this man is not only ruining the future she was always supposed to have with Big Ed, but also ruining the very dish that defines o.g. Twin Peaks. As it is with everything in The Return, the idea that the not-actually-that idyllic life on view in the original has been flattened into an alienating American nightmare is infused in this long narrative about the corner-cutting franchise pies. We’re teased with what could have been, but Big Ed and Norma are quickly separated by the episode into their respective sad alternatives: Big Ed closes out the episode by sipping soup for way too long at his gas station, looking dejectedly out at the world that hasn’t done much for him. (This, incidentally, comes right after we see James Hurley singing “Just You and I” — with the original audio, with the voices of Sheryl Lee and Lara Flynn Boyle — at the Roadhouse, in a moment that couldn’t be more heavily weighed down by the shards of romantic dreams.)
Audrey, by the way, is now sobbing and questioning who she is, in the same room as in the previous episode, with her husband, Charlie. “Now, are you going to stop playing games or do I have to end your story, too?” The fact that she hasn’t appeared outside this room, that she seemingly doesn’t know where the Roadhouse is, and that her husband says this very bizarre thing about “ending” her “story” makes it seem like she may not exactly be on our plane of existence as the other Twin Peaks-ers?
As I’ve said before, some of the series’ most profound moments are in the showcasing of the humanity of the old series’ aging characters against the alienating landscape of a country driven by consumerist change and the rapid obsolescence. And so, I sometimes wish that these episodes would be structured differently — so we could feel this even more keenly. Each time we see an old character, a certain history makes them automatically somewhat poignant, and Lynch really draws on that in his systematic genre of nostalgia-bursting. However, the episodes would benefit every so often from staying in one place. (The sustained narrative of Episode 8 was one of the things that made it so stunning.) If we had a whole episode with Dougie, then a whole episode in Twin Peaks, Lynch could still be just as withholding and alienating, while also providing a dramatic structure wherein the randomized images of life-worn characters being sadder than they used to be build through repetition. (I do think that watching this straight through, in one trying 18-hour sitting, would help immensely, and ultimately have that same effect; but such is not the way it’s presented.)
Alas, the most propulsive — and here, visually interesting — moments of this episode came towards the beginning, drawing on the opposite poles of Dougie and Mr. C. One is a very passive force of good, the other, a brutally active force of evil. Such glaring and fallacious moral polarity is almost never interesting, but when it’s presented within the context of the most pathetic suburban life imaginable, or within the context of an otherworldly arm wrestling match, and then all couched within a show that’s also about the lives of much murkier characters just trying to get through life and occasionally bump into random moments of happiness, it turns out “good” v “evil” can be pretty gripping.