So, we set off down the highway of Twin Peaks: The Return “Part 8” with Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) and Ray Monroe (George Griffith). All seems to be “smooth and safe” after Mr. C dispenses with the tracking devices intended to reveal their destination. However, Mr. C and Monroe appear to have unfinished business as the road falls away beneath their beige sedan and they head towards ‘The Farm’. Monroe has something Mr. C wants, but his arrogant demands for money end the car journey real quick. “That little road off there to the right,” suggests Mr. C, is more than a way of leaving the highway. It’s a jump into an alternate plane of existence and a ride into the heart of darkness. Hold on to your hats as I try to unravel “Part 8”.
When Monroe stops to take a piss at the side of the tracks, Mr. C demands the information at gunpoint. Well, he might have been able to if the gun in the glove compartment was loaded. “Tricked you, fucker” snarls Monroe as he guns Mr. C down. Shocking as this twist is, and a bit of a relief that someone has had the guts to snuff out the evil Mr. C, what happens next takes “Part 8” into the realms of an experimental film. It’s bold, audacious, surreal, and completely David Lynch. This episode will either prompt you to get off the Twin Peaks bus or demand that Lynch the driver goes even further. It’s an incredible piece of television whichever way you want to approach it.
Monroe watches, stunned, as ghostly figures emerge from the woods, surround Mr. C’s prone body and gather for a bizarre ritual. These are referred to in the credits as ‘Woodsman’ (played by Jon-Thomas Butler, Christian Calloway and Robert Broski) and they are similar to the figures we’ve seen approaching Lieutenant Knox (Adele René) in “Part 7” and disappearing before William Hastings (Matthew Lillard) in “Part 2”. I’m of the view that ‘The Woodsmen’ are folk devils, fire spirits from another plane and connected directly to the Black Lodge. Hence, their slightly charred, blackened appearance. If they, and the likes of BOB, are elementals then, as fire spirits, they’re agents of transformation, of death, decay and regeneration. They have an immutable relationship to radiation, fire and electricity as key symbols of the series.
They also walk in brilliant, flashing strobe lights. They’re not extraterrestrial. They’re intra-terrestrial and exist in parallel to us in adjacent dimensions, such as the Black and White Lodges. If you’ve read Mark Frost’s superb book, ‘The Secret History of Twin Peaks’, then they’re also probably associated with the six men killed in the log river fire, possibly caused by a lightning strike, that engulfed Twin Peaks.
Another fire claimed the life of ‘Log Lady’ Margaret Lanterman’s husband Sam, the volunteer fire chief. Her log was taken from one of the Douglas firs that had fallen during the fire and may be linked with the fire spirits, an augur of hell fire and destruction. She once described Laura Palmer’s plight: “When this kind of fire starts, it is very hard to put out. The tender boughs of innocence burn first, and the wind rises, and then all goodness is in jeopardy.” More on this fire in a moment.
The Woodsmen appear to be conjuring the spirit of BOB out of Mr. C’s ‘dead’ body. A dark sphere expands and we see BOB’s (Frank Silva) smiling face inside it. Monroe manages to get to his car and drives away. Partly grasping what has happened, he calls Phillip, who we could assume is missing FBI agent Phillip Jeffries. He informs him that Cooper might be dead and “I saw something in Cooper. It may be the key to what this is all about.”
We cut to The Roadhouse and a performance by “The Nine Inch Nails”. Maybe they’re playing a tribute to Laura Palmer with ‘She’s Gone Away’ but the lyrics seem to pick up on the major theme of the episode: human corruption. It doesn’t fully prepare us for what happens next when Lynch cuts back to Mr. C, who sits bolt upright. He’s alive, but is he still possessed by BOB? It suggests the Woodsmen performed some kind of healing ritual rather than the removal of BOB.
‘July 16, White Sands, New Mexico, 5:29 (NWT)’ appears on screen over a black and white image of the desert and a countdown intoned over a public address system. We have gone back in time and as the countdown itself reaches zero, the screen is filled with white light, like a burning sun. The Trinity test, so named by Oppenheimer after the John Donne poem ‘Holy Sonnet XIV: Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God‘, perhaps alluding to the Christian trinity’s notion of God as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, sent a mushroom cloud seven and a half miles into the air. The slow track into the cloud is an unsettling image of dread.
Lynch is no stranger to the image of the bomb. There’s a huge picture of it on the wall of Gordon Cole’s office. There’s a small, framed picture of it in Henry’s room in Eraserhead (1977). With its cloud perched atop its spindly column of fire, it also resembles the Evolution of the Arm, that denizen of the Black Lodge. Does Cole see the bomb as the symbol of innocence lost, when the devil finally held sway over the hearts of men?
Where Kubrick used the ‘Star Gate’ sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) as a surreal and abstract invocation of humanity’s evolutionary potential, culminating with our discarding of the physical body for an existence of light and consciousness, Lynch offers something altogether darker and more realistic. The same abstract journey but to a different destination. Not outwards into the universe but inwards to a sub-atomic, quantum realm.
It’s a dazzling but nightmarish trip as Lynch’s point of view plunges us into that hellish cloud above the Jornada del Muerto desert. Like Kubrick he scores his journey with a piece by Krzysztof Penderecki, called ‘Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima’. Unlike Kubrick’s use of Penderecki’s music, Lynch employs it as a lament to another form of human achievement: mutually assured self-destruction.
Lynch proposes the nuclear explosion is a creation myth. It’s a release of the worst, most corrupt impulses inhabiting humankind. The atom splits, the free neutrons and gamma photons dance across the screen and dark, supernatural forces, finding a door has been ripped open, slip into our world. It is the ancient battle between good and evil within ourselves, carried through the myths of Sodom and Gomarrah, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita. The latter Oppenheimer quoted from in 1965 when he looked back on what he had witnessed that day in 1945 and saw how humanity was capable of unleashing death on such a massive scale.
Digressing slightly, Mark Frost also chronicled the Native American connection to the nuclear test in ‘The Secret History of Twin Peaks’ too. The plutonium used in the test was manufactured at Hanford, an enrichment plant built on land seized from the Nez Perce tribe in 1942. Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) is full-blooded Nez Perce and found the missing pages of Laura’s diary when he dropped a Buffalo-headed nickel and noticed that the bathroom door concealing the pages was made by a manufacturer called Nez Perce.
We continue inwards, down to the sub-atomic level, through apocalyptic fire and arrive at an incongruous convenience store with two gas pumps standing outside. Its doors constantly close and open, it fills with light and smoke. Perhaps it’s one of the mock buildings erected to test the impact of the Trinity blast but it seems filled with a tension and a power preventing the effects of the explosion. The Woodsmen appear again and shift around the temporary looking building, time lapsed, framed by flashing lights from the windows and gas pumps, wreathed in smoke.
It also returns us to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) where members of the Black Lodge were seen gathering to eat their garmonbozia in a room above a convenience store. Among their number were Jürgen Prochnow and David Brisbin as similar looking and credited ‘Woodsman’. One-armed Mike also claimed that he and BOB used to live above a convenience store. If we are talking about the symbolic fall of Americana, then the store and gas pumps also resemble Big Ed’s Gas Farm in the original series. “Part 8” perhaps depicts the Woodsmen as a corruption of the lumberjacks, panhandlers and miners that pushed across the frontiers of the West and were re-mythologised within those cherished but spurious ‘apple pie’ American values.
Out in space, The Experiment (Erica Eynon), a ghostly female creature similar to the one that manifested itself in the glass box in New York and ripped Sam and Tracey to shreds in “Part 1”, spews up its own garmonbozia, that negative spiritual energy of pain and suffering that the Black Lodge feeds on. Could The Experiment be the mother referred to during Coop’s escape from the Black Lodge? The vomit is a stream of weird eggs that hurtle past the camera. One of them contains BOB. This act of creation resembles African cosmogony where the god Mbombo, a giant pale skinned figure, vomited up the sun, the stars, the Earth and humankind. Has BOB been born in this sequence?
We travel to a castle on a sheer cliff above a purple ocean which resembles the location that Cooper found himself in during “Part 3”. Once again, as the camera hurtles across the ocean it feels very similar to the imagery in Kubrick’s ‘Star Gate’ sequence. I think this is the White Lodge. As The Experiment sends its stream of evil through the gap in space-time, it is observed by the Giant (Carel Struycken credited as ????????) and his companion Señorita Dido (Joy Nash) in a vintage theatre. The theatre resembles Club Silencio from Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) and maybe there’s a hint of a crossover here as Laura Palmer and Ronette Pulaski were sitting in the Silencio audience during the dream when Rita and Betty visited it. Shot in monochrome, this world also looks like something out of Eraserhead.
There are crackling electrical terminals in the theatre that warn of some imminent disaster, in keeping with how electricity in Twin Peaks always acts as the transmitter of intra-terrestrial forces. The Giant, who started this whole odyssey off eight episodes ago, observes the Trinity explosion and its dire effects. He produces a stream of golden light out of his head and from which emerges a golden sphere bearing the face of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). The sphere is sent to Earth. This suggests that perhaps Laura represents a force for good used by the White Lodge to try and prevent the incursion of BOB and the Black Lodge into our dimension. Like all the doubles and doppelgängers in the narrative, the golden globe may only look like Laura, may only be a representation of innocence and purity and not actually be her.
‘1945’ appears on screen and it ticks forward to ‘1956 August 5 New Mexico Desert’. Out on the irradiated sands, one of The Experiment’s eggs hatches open. From it crawls a insect-amphibian creature, a representation of something born from Trinity’s radiation, synthesising our fears and anxieties about atomic horrors that were the mainstay of classic 1950s science fiction B movies. That this is still in monochrome indicates something of an homage but it soon spirals into an utter, Lynchian nightmare.
A young teenage couple (Tikaeni Faircrest and Xolo Mariduena) walk past a gas station and store — resembling the Trinity building and Big Ed’s Gas Farm — and she finds a penny on the ground. “And it’s heads up. That means it’s good luck,” she says. Coins seem to be a recurring motif. Remember, Hawk found the pages of the diary by picking up a nickel and Red made a coin magically appear in Richard Horne’s mouth. Heads up coins don’t necessarily mean good luck in the world of Twin Peaks.
The Abraham Lincoln profile on the coin does acknowledge that one of the Woodsmen, who drifts down from the sky and lands in the desert, bears a striking resemblance to the former President. That’s not surprising as he’s played by Robert Broski, renowned for his Lincoln impersonations. The Woodsman halts a car on the highway, leaning in to the driver (Tad Griffith) and his wife (Leslie Berger), crackling with strange energy and croaking repeatedly, “Gotta light?”. Another Woodsman appears and the wife’s scream distorts into an unearthly growling before the driver, mesmerised by the presence of these spirits, comes to his senses and speeds off.
The Woodsman seems to be preparing the way for the creature while the two teens discuss dating and marriage. As the boy bids goodnight to the girl with a chaste kiss, the Woodsman invades the KPJK radio station. As the spirit arrives at the station, The Platters ‘My Prayer’ plays over a series of images of small town life: an old man gets under the hood of a car at a garage, a waitress cleans up in Pop’s Diner, the girl listens to the radio in her bedroom.
The Woodsman crushes the skulls of the receptionist (Tracy Phillips) and the DJ (Cullen Douglas) at the station and seizes control of the microphone, transmitting a deadly message, replacing one prayer with another: “This is the water, and this is the well. Drink full, and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within.” Anyone listening to this is rendered unconscious. The girl surrenders to sleep and, in the episode’s horrifying conclusion, the insect-amphibian flies into her room, gradually crawls inside her mouth and she swallows it.
Well, if that lot didn’t give you bad dreams then you’re made of sterner stuff than me. That final sequence might imply innocence corrupted by whatever crawled out of that egg. Or does it? Was that an early form of BOB or something else from the dimension cracked open by Trinity? Was this the sphere launched from the White Lodge?
This is Biblical mythology on a grand scale that awakens something primal in all of us. You cannot help but have a gut reaction to imagery that traces the fall of humankind after it has harnessed the means of its own destruction. On the smaller scale this is also about the end of those small town hopes and dreams as, in the darkness of our corrupted dreams, the Old World Devil comes knocking on the door.
A challenging, mesmerising, frightening hour of television. And we’re only half way through the series.