Where last week’s episode of Twin Peaks: The Return brought intimations of encroaching darkness on a tide of unflinching violence and male brutality, last night’s installment divides its time pretty evenly between domestic drama, furthering the show’s overarching mythology, and an extended set piece of seriocomic pop surrealism. In a tidy structural parallel, “Part 11” opens with a pair of scenes that extend (and complicate) events from last week. The first reveals that eyewitness Miriam Sullivan (Sarah Jean Long) somehow survived Richard Horne’s assault and attempted assassination via makeshift gas-oven-and-candle explosive. It’s safe to say that Horne’s misdeeds will now see the light of day, setting up an inevitable showdown with the authorities that seems likely to end in a hail of bullets.
In the wake of the violent confrontation with her husband, Becky Burnett (Amanda Seyfried) proves to be a far from passive victim. Tracking Steven (Caleb Landry Jones) to the apartment where she believes he’s engaged in infidelity, she puts a few rounds through the door. The camera then executes a sped-up tracking shot down hallways and staircases to disclose Steven and Gersten Hayward (Alicia Witt) huddled together in an alcove. As viewers of the original series will recall, Gersten is the younger sister of Donna Hayward, Laura Palmer’s onetime BFF. We also learn that Becky is the daughter of Shelly (Mädchen Amick) and Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), to whom Shelly turns when Becky unapologetically swipes her car.
Rather than merely serving up salacious melodrama of the Peyton Place variety, these intergenerational entanglements between characters old and new highlight an abiding theme of Twin Peaks since its inception back in 1990: laying bare the fractured and fallible nature of the (post-)nuclear family, that much-vaunted bulwark of Reagan-era “Morning in America.” In a later scene, Shelly, Bobby, and Becky gather around a table in the Double R Diner to discuss the state of Becky’s marriage. Yet Bobby probably ought to be tending to his own affairs, judging from the way Shelly brazenly runs outside to set up a rendezvous with Red (Balthazar Getty), a sort of double for her former husband Leo Johnson, while Bobby can only look on fecklessly.
History has a way of repeating itself in the town of Twin Peaks, of course. But Shelly’s behavior opens up a troubling line of inquiry: If she’s lost interest in Bobby now that he’s an upstanding representative of law and order, only to throw herself at Red, what does that say for the “true men,” as the Log Lady last week referred to the forces for good in the world? Clearly, Bobby isn’t particularly effective in handling the sudden eruption of random violence when a bullet shatters a diner window. The chaos outside, set to the sounds of incessantly blaring car horns, evokes a mood of grating gridlock and impotence. David Lynch caps things off with the ghastly sight of a sick girl (Priya Diane Niehaus) rising up out a passenger seat like a newly turned zombie, spewing blood and vomit, while the irate driver (Laura Kenny) berates Bobby with an enraged riff on Robert Frost.
That violence can be a contagion is equally suggested in the conjunction of symbols on the map that Hawk (Michael Horse) shows Sheriff Truman (Robert Forster). Black corn represents disease and death; it also suggests the cream corn-like substance of the garmonbozia that otherworldly entities such as Killer BOB feed on. The strange floppy-eared black dot glyph occurred as well on the slip of paper they found in Major Briggs’s message tube, and was glimpsed on the playing card Bad Dale showed Darya not long before he killed her back in “Part 2.” Its precise meaning remains unspoken, but it can’t be anything good. The symbol Truman mistakes for a campfire is an archetype for fire, “more like modern-day electricity,” as Hawk tells him. The resonances of this flame-and-spark imagery resound across Lynch’s entire body of work.
In this episode, these images figure most prominently in events at a compound outside Buckhorn, South Dakota, where William Hastings (Matthew Lillard) claims to have encountered Major Briggs “in the Zone.” Gordon Cole (Lynch) discovers an inter-dimensional “hot spot” accompanied by the ferocious crackling of electricity, akin to the scene in “Part 3” where Cooper approaches the oversized electrical outlet. A swirling vortex opens up in the sky, and Cole has a vision he later amusingly encapsulates as “Dirty, bearded men in a room.” These are the woodsmen last seen in “Part 8.” One of them has been lurking on the grounds, and he proceeds to tear off the top of Hastings’s head, an event that Diane (Laura Dern) nonchalantly observes, further cementing her allegiance to the Bad Dale doppelganger.
The episode’s concluding segment dials back the violence in favor of lighthearted pastiche for the build-up to Agent Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) potentially lethal meeting with Bradley (Jim Belushi) and Rodney Mitchum (Robert Knepper). Lynch lavishes his deadpan manner on seemingly telling details, from the Mitchum boys’ breakfast routine (in the middle of the afternoon), to a leisurely limo ride set to Shawn Colvin’s cover of “Viva Las Vegas.” As it turns out, Bradley’s premonitory dream—and Cooper’s stopover at a bakery prompted by the sight of the one-armed man beckoning him from the Red Room imposed over a storefront in the Lucky 7 Insurance office plaza—is all that stand between Cooper and death in the middle of the desert. Along the way, Lynch seems to lampoon Brad Pitt’s anguished “What’s in the box?” finale from David Fincher’s Seven, just for good measure.
By contrast, the final scene at Santino’s restaurant takes on a more melancholic tenor. Amid all the champagne toasts and cheery bonhomie, the pianist at the bar plays Angelo Badalamenti’s knowingly titled “Heartbreaking,” which seizes Cooper’s fickle attention. Just then, the homeless woman (Linda Porter) who gave Cooper his “Mr. Jackpots” moniker turns up, swathed in chic clothes and draped in jewelry, to repeatedly thank Cooper for changing her life. This leads us again to ponder precisely when and how Cooper’s life will undergo just such a sea change. Not even several slices of “damn good pie” have been able to bring back the old Cooper.
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