*This review contains spoilers.
If you have not watched episode 8 as of yet, you owe it to yourself to stop reading this and go watch it!
Having just finished watching episode 8 of Twin Peaks: The Return for the third time since seeing it last Sunday evening, I have certainty about one thing about this series – I am not sure what the hell director David Lynch is going to do next in a way that frightens and delights me. Make no mistake, I understand a good deal of what is going on here and have tried make sense of it, but even after multiple viewings I remain so completely mesmerized by it that perhaps I will fail in my attempt to do justice to the art, the craft, and vision that is on full display in this episode.
Whatever L ynch and his co-writer and conspirator Mark Frost are doing here is unprecedented on television, though it features elements from Lynch’s film oeuvre (Eraserhead and Blue Velvet). For most of the viewing public conditioned by watching the formulaic Pablum that is generated by weekly episodic TV series, they can sit comfortably with remote in hand and another device (tablet or phone) in the other. You cannot do that with Lynch – his work, especially this episode, demands attention and deserves it.
Lynch lulls us into thinking this will be a mostly standard episode when the first scene features Evil Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Ray Monroe (George Griffith) in an excruciatingly tense car ride after leaving Lankton Prison in South Dakota. The tension builds as the anger is obviously simmering in Evil Cooper who wants some kind of information from Ray, who announces he thinks he should be paid big for it.
Going off the road and into the darkness – isn’t that what Twin Peaks has always been really all about? – Ray gets out of the car to take a leak, and Evil Cooper gets out with a gun ready to kill him. The twist here is that Ray has not only disabled Evil Cooper’s gun but has one of his own and shoots him twice. Almost immediately the smoky men we have been seeing (in the jail and police station at Buckhorn) come out of the woods and do a dance of death (or is that life?) around Evil Cooper, jabbing his body with their hands and rubbing blood from his wounds all over him until a blob emerges with the face of Laura Palmer’s killer Bob (the late Frank Silva) within it.
Ray watches in horror-amazement-fear as this happens until he comes to his senses and runs to the car and drives away. This is when he calls Phillip Jeffries (the late David Bowie) to let him know what happened. He tells him he realizes that he has seen something important, the “key” to everything. This makes it clear that Ray not only knows about Bob but understands that this is connected to something even bigger than anyone can possibly comprehend.
We head back to The Bang Bang Bar in Twin Peaks where “the” Nine Inch Nails (according to the announcer) perform “She’s Gone Away” for what seems like a long time. In previous episodes Lynch ends the hour with a band performance, but here it seems interminable (actually around six minutes). While the performance is amazing – and seems to allude to the now long dead Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) – it really stops things dramatically until the song is over. We switch back to Evil Cooper who – like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees after being shot – springs up a bloody mess, making it certain that Ray (and countless others) is in for the killer’s wrath.
The scene then shifts to the past and the atomic bomb test in White Sands, New Mexico, in 1945 (beautifully frightening black and white CGI). At first the perspective is from a distance, almost like being observed from space, and then what follows is a surreal array of images and fire and smoke that fills the screen and draws the viewer deeper into the metaphorical explosion that seems to be at the heart of the series (new and old). If you doubt this, remember that FBI Director Gordon Cole (played by Lynch himself) has a huge poster of this event on the wall in his office.
To the chaotic sound of “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” by Krzysztof Penderecki, this horrific human act of detonating a devastating weapon and unleashing all its collateral fury – revealing human desire to be daringly close to acting like an evil god – is depicted as shaking the world literally as well as figuratively, as an obviously female creature floating in outer space spews forth a stream of vomit that includes protoplasm, eggs, and orbs, including one orb that contains killer Bob’s face (similar to the one the smoky men had earlier removed from wounded Evil Cooper). The connection is clear that Bob’s evil (and perhaps many other Bobs) was the progeny of this cataclysmic event.
While the sequence is long, it is completely fascinating, alternating between billowing smoke and fire and static and a sort of nuclear winter snowstorm. We get an idea that time has almost stopped and restarted on the ground, as witnessed at a convenience store where the smoky men wander back and forth as smoke billows out of the place and gets sucked back in. Lynch intends for us to understand that the atomic test not only shook the world but the heavens as well, forcing them to respond in kind to send the Bob-blob.
Afterwards away from the smoke we move across a distant sea to a fortress of some kind on top of a mountain. Here a woman, (Joy Nash) listed as Señorita Dido in the credits, listens to a gramophone record in the black and white room where the Giant (Carel Struycken) spoke with Good Cooper in the first episode. He enters the frame and stands next to a huge electronic bell that is sounding an alarm. The slow-paced movement of this scene is deliberate (as is everything Lynchian) as the Giant turns off the alarm and then proceeds upstairs to a movie theater (that is very reminiscent of the one in Lynch’s film Mullholland Drive).
He watches the atomic test on the movie screen and the space creature giving birth to the Bob-blob, and the Giant’s reaction is to levitate and begin a process that spews light from his head. Señorita Dido enters the room and watches as this unfolds until the Giant gives “birth” to his own entity, a golden ball that drops down into Dido’s hands. She stares at it lovingly and inside the ball we see the image of Laura Palmer. Dido releases the ball and it moves up toward the movie screen, goes inside of it, and drops down to an image of the earth.
What seems to be happening here is that Lynch lets us know that for every action there is a reaction. The atomic test causes the space creature to spew her progeny, and then her action inspires the Giant to release the golden orb. Since we know that this is 1945, it is impossible for the Laura Palmer globe to go down to earth and immediately produce her (Laura was 18 during the original series making her year of birth 1972); however, the implication is some sort of balance to the Bob-blob.
The clock ticks forward to 1956 and then we see one of those eggs spewed from the space creature 11 years before on the desert floor. After all this time it suddenly hatches, and the creature that emerges is sort of mutant amphibian-insect. This creepy looking thing starts crawling along and we know it is heading to cause trouble somewhere.
The scene shifts to a young couple walking along on a road after attending a dance or party. The boy (Xolo Mariduen) and the girl (Tikaeni Faircrest) share innocent banter until the girl finds a penny heads up (meaning supposed good luck). They proceed to finish their walk home, and the boy asks if he can kiss her, and she shyly allows him to do so. The girl then goes into her house and the boy smiles. All of this chaste young love seems out of place and frightening in its innocence – I was expecting the smoky men to pop up any second.
Some of the smoky men do descend into a desert. They terrorize motorists on a secluded road and one of them, listed as the Woodsman, (Robert Broski looking eerily like a burnt Abraham Lincoln) holds up a cigarette and keeps asking, “Gotta light?” After the motorists drive away, the Woodsman wanders across the desert to a desolate radio station where he repeats the same question to the receptionist before crushing her skull with one hand. He then enters the radio booth and murders the DJ, all the while holding the microphone in the other hand and repeating, “This is the water, and this is the well. Drink deep and descend.” It is a sort of mantra that we see starts making the people in the town fall asleep, including the sweet young girl who is in her room listening to the radio.
The final sequence is most terrifying – the mutant creature crawls toward the girl’s house, employs its convenient wings (as if manufactured specifically for this purpose), and flies into her room through an open window. On cue the girl opens her mouth and this mutant creature promptly crawls all the way in and disappears. She closes her mouth and with a slight smile resumes sleep, but she (and we) will obviously never be the same.
Thus, the episode ends with startling questions. Doing the math, the girl couldn’t be Bob’s mother because Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) said that he saw Bob when he was a boy. If Palmer was about 40 in the original series, that would mean he was born in 1950. Another thought is perhaps the girl is Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriske), because the girl is around 15, but that would make Sarah 49 during the original series, which is too old for that character.
Whoever this girl is we know that she now has a bun – a pretty disgusting one at that – in the oven. Evil Cooper is out for vengeance, and the Woodsman probably is still wandering around looking for some poor schelp to light his cigarette.
Now that this episode is in the books, the biggest question most people keep asking is when are we going to see the Good Cooper emerge from Dougie Jones? I think the answer may not please everyone, but Lynch seems in no rush to bring him back or even sink us into the town of Twin Peaks and let us see all the old faces more than for a few seconds. He and Frost have a new story to tell, and old characters are seemingly incidental in it at this point.
This weekend there is no episode, so there is plenty to contemplate as we await the next installment. With only ten episodes left, I can honestly say I do not know what to expect from the next one, and what a wonderful feeling that is.