Twenty-five years ago, Twin Peaks was about the possibility of innocence in a town coping with a horrific crime. The new season has moved beyond such optimism. It’s about the chaos of self-identity after confronting desolation. It’s post-traumatic. And post-innocence.
There’s a temptation to view this as a parallel with our political climate, but David Lynch has never been interested in news headline topicality. His work is about the slipperiness of identity: the capacity of good people to be infected by contagious evils that can permeate nature, as well as having the strength to survive them.
In Twin Peaks’ new season, characters are caught between competing identities. Sarah Palmer tries to live in private grief, while holding back her violent beast within. Freddie Sykes, James Hurley’s co-worker, is meek and polite except that the permanent rubber glove attached to his hand lets him punch through bone. Ed Hurley has failed to hide from the world, and from himself, that he’s in love with Norma, and it takes his own ex-wife Nadine deprioritizing her feelings for him to set both of them free. Between seasons, Audrey Horne has somehow transformed from the flirty rich girl (who, oh yeah, pushed her baby brother down the stairs) to a desperately unhappy women decrying the inconveniences of her husband and the universe. And Agent Cooper, once the grounding audience-surrogat of this whole series (just look at how many initial complaints of season three revolved around it no longer having Cooper’s comforting verbal delight over coffee and cherry pie), is now split between the terrifying “Dark Cooper” and a silent comedy shell of a husband named Dougie Jones. Dougie’s insurance agent colleague Anthony Sinclair poisons his coffee, before sensing something from inside Dougie, himself, and perhaps another dimension, that turns him into a regretful, love-filled, weeping mess.
They’re helpless, but striving for agency.
It’s in this communion through perceivable reality, through one’s surface identity, where Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost are most inspired. It makes sense for a show about transformation that the highlight this year, and the most startling piece of American cinema in a while, is episode eight, a creation myth. In gorgeous Eraserhead black-and-grey, Twin Peaks rolls through an atomic blast to the fusion of elements, to a world of harvested electricity, roadside Americana, rock-and-roll radio, young love, and a roaming killer—the corruption that defies standard order. We are, after all, Lynch and Frost remind us, alien life on a planet in space.
The mistake I repeatedly see in discussion of David Lynch’s projects is that they’re usually approached as problems to be solved. This probably makes things feel safer for literalists, but Twin Peaks isn’t about finishing the jigsaw puzzle, because the mystery doesn’t demand resolution.
It’s the lost survivors who are the objects of interest. Everybody is a puzzle piece, left scattered.
Mark Palermo is the co-writer of the 2012 theatrical feature cult horror/comedy Detention, directed by Joseph Kahn and distributed by Sony Pictures. He’s written commercial treatments for several directors, and served as film critic for Halifax’s alternative weekly The Coast for eleven years.
Currently, he’s working toward an MFA in Creative NonFiction at the University of King’s College, and is writing several other feature film projects.